home | about | documents | news | postings | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list

Electronic Briefing
Books Main Index


More Archive Resources on U.S. Intelligence
Civilians, Spies, and Blue Suits
The bureaucratic war for control of overhead reconnaissance,
The U-2, OXCART, and the SR-71
U.S. aerial espionage in the Cold War and beyond
Science, Technology and the CIA
From satellites to psychics
The Pentagon's Spies
Documents detail histories of once secret spy units
Reconnaissance Flights and Sino-American Relations
Policy developments and a Hainan Island incident, 1969-1970
Operation Desert Storm: Ten Years After
Documents shed light on role of intelligence, stealth technology and space systems in the Gulf War
The NRO Declassified
The creation and evolution of America's secretive spy satellite agency
The National Security Agency Declassified
Newly declassified directive governs interception of communications involving "U.S. persons"
U.S. Satellite Imagery, 1960-1999





Pre- and post-strike overhead imagery of an Iraqi military headquarters compound.

Eyes on Saddam
U.S. Overhead Imagery of Iraq

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 88

Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson

April 30, 2003

The ability of the United States to gather overhead imagery of targets in foreign nations has evolved dramatically over the last sixty years. Modified bombers and fighters used in World War II and the early years of the Cold War gave way to specialized reconnaissance aircraft, such as the U-2 and SR-71, and to a variety of satellite systems. The capabilities of satellite systems have also evolved dramatically over the last four decades - from satellites that returned film days or weeks after the images were obtained to satellites that return their imagery virtually instantaneously. In addition, the details that could be extracted from those images has also risen sharply over the years, as the resolution of the imagery produced by the satellites has improved dramatically. (Note 1)

Today the United States maintains a variety of aerial and space systems that yield imagery of foreign territory. Aerial systems included manned aircraft such as the U-2 as well as the as the Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Space systems include the advanced KH-11 electro-optical satellites, the ONYX radar imagery satellite, and, possibly, one or more MISTY stealth satellites. (Note 2)

Not only has there been an evolution in the capabilities of U.S. overhead imagery systems, but there has also been an evolution of policy with regard to the public release of such imagery - particularly with regard to the release of satellite imagery. At one time, the very "fact of" satellite reconnaissance was classified. Despite the acknowledgment of a satellite reconnaissance effort in 1978 and the existence of the National Reconnaissance Office in 1992, it was not until 1995 that the U.S. first released imagery obtained by the CORONA satellites that operated during the 1960-1972 period as well as images obtained by the ARGON and LANYARD systems that operated in the early 1960s. (Note 3)

The Clinton administration, on occasion, released imagery obtained by advanced KH-11 satellites, although in degraded form - so as not to reveal the full capabilities of the satellites, particularly their resolution. The selective releases were associated with U.S. military operations - including strikes against terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan (in response to the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania), strikes against Yugoslavian targets in support of U.S. operations in the Balkans, and the air strikes against Iraqi targets that constituted Operation Desert Fox. The images released were those used by Pentagon briefers to illustrate U.S. aerial attacks and their consequences. (Note 4)

From the fall of 2002 through April 2003, the White House, Defense Department, and State Department released over seventy images, most obtained by satellite, of portions of Iraq. One objective, in the time before the beginning of military operations, was to provide evidence to support U.S. claims about the nature of Saddam Hussein's regime as well as claims about Iraq's failure to comply with U.N. resolutions concerning its weapons of mass destruction programs. Once military operations began, Defense Department and Central Command briefings made extensive use of overhead, including satellite, imagery to provide pre- and post-attack views of targets attacked by coalition air forces.

The overhead imagery presented here is a selection of pre-war and wartime imagery, and falls into six categories: presidential and other palaces; weapons of mass destruction sites; other military targets; command, control, and communications sites; security and guard facilities; and civilian sites.

Imagery of Presidential Palaces and VIP Facilities

Saddam's numerous presidential palaces, reportedly more than 50, were used by the Bush administration to illustrate their argument that Iraq's president was diverting resources that belonged to the Iraqi people to support an exceedingly ostentatious life style. There was also concern that they might be used to conceal documentation concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs, and the U.N. inspection regime that commenced in late 2002 provided for inspections of such facilities.

Image 1 and Image 2 show two presidential palaces in Baghdad - Abu Ghurayb (located near what is now Baghdad International Airport), and Al-Salam, which was built over the site of a Republican Guards headquarters that was destroyed during the first Gulf War (and where after the fall of the regime "locals tossed grenades in [the] ponds ... and set fire to the main house"). Image 3, which appeared in the 1999 State Department publication, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, shows Saddamiat al Tharthar, an extensive lakeside vacation resort, located 85 miles west of Bahgdad. Its grounds contain stadiums, an amusement park, special hospitals, and over 600 homes for government officials. (Note 5)


Image 1: Abu Ghurayb Presidential Grounds

Image 2: Baghdad Al Salam

Image 3: Saddamiat al Tharthar

The final two images are pre-and post strike images of a VIP facility in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's ancestral home.


Image 4: Regime VIP Facility, Tikrit: Pre-Strike

Image 5: Regime VIP Facility, Tikrit: Post-Strike

Weapons of Mass Destruction Sites

The rationale for U.N. inspections of Iraqi facilities, and then for U.S. military action, was the concern that despite the disarmament commitment it made at the conclusion of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq was not in full compliance -- that it continued to maintain the infrastructure and programs to produce weapons of mass destruction and was reconstituting those programs following the departure of U.N. inspectors in late 1998.

In the fall of 2002, at the same time that the U.S. brought its concerns to the U.N. Security Council and argued that action needed to be taken to completely eliminate Iraqi holdings of, and its ability to produce, WMD, the CIA released an unclassified version of its new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD, which contained several satellite images of Iraqi facilities of concern. Images were also released at the time President Bush gave an October 7 speech on the Iraqi issue and the following day as part of a Defense Department briefing on Iraqi denial and deception. (Note 6)

Image 6 shows changes in the status of the Al Furat facility between December 1998 and September 2002. Construction of the building in the image was suspended in 1991 and resumed in 2001. The building was originally intended to house a centrifuge enrichment cascade operation supporting Iraq's uranium enrichment program. (Note 7) Image 7 and Image 8 are of two components of a facility at Habbaniyah, located about 36 miles northwest of Baghdad. Fallujah II was one of Iraq's principal chemical weapons precursor facilities before the Gulf War. In 2000 and 2001, intelligence reports indicated that Iraq upgraded the facility and brought in new chemical reactor vessels and shipping containers with a large amount of production equipment. The Fallujah III Castor Oil Production Plant (Image 8) was described by the CIA as "situated on a large complex with an historical connection to Iraq's CW program" and also of concern with respect to its biological weapons potential. Image 9 is the "Abu Ghurayb BW Facility," which Iraq claimed was a baby milk factory. U.S. intelligence had classified it as biological warfare facility since 1988, and Image 9 is one of several (including some from commercial satellites) presented in the DoD briefing in October 2002 on Iraqi denial and deception. (Note 8)


Image 6: Al Furat Manufacturing Facility

Image 7: Fallujah II

Image 8 : Fallujah III

Image 9: Abu Ghurayb BW Facility

The next three images concern Iraqi missile activities. The image (Image 10) of the Al Mamoun plant, the CIA reported, showed that "the Iraqis ... have rebuilt structures damaged during the Gulf War and dismantled by UNSCOM that originally were built to manufacture propellant motors for the Badr-2000 program." The Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, shown in Image 11, was destroyed during Operation Desert Fox. It had produced centrifuge and electro-magnetic isotope separation components prior to Desert Storm, according to the IAEA. Imagery interpreters concluded that the right portion of the image shows the "subsequent reconstruction of machining buildings assessed to be capable of producing precision components for centrifuges and missiles." Image 12 was described by John Yurechko, the DIA Defense Intelligence Officer for Information Operations and Denial and Deception, as indicating testing facilities for both short-range missiles and a missile with a much greater range, and noted that "Iraq recently has taken some measures to conceal some of the activities at this site." (Note 9)


Image 10: Al Mamoun Solid-Propellant Plant

Image 11: Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility

Image 12: Al Rafah/Shayit Test Stand

On February 5, 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the U.N. Security Council on the issue of Iraq and disarmament. He presented a combination of imagery and signals intelligence intended to persuade the council members and others that Iraq had not disarmed and was seeking to deceive the U.N. and its inspectors. The imagery presented (images 13-16 below), Powell stated, provided evidence of Iraq's failure - including images of sanitization of ammunition dumps, and of chemical weapons being moved from a storage site.

Thus, Image 13, Powell charged, showed unmistakable signs of arrangements associated with a chemical weapons facility - a security bunker and a decontamination vehicle. Image 14, showed a cargo truck preparing to move missile components, according to Powell, while Image 15 showed a truck caravan appearing two days before inspection resumed, a caravan "we almost never see at this facility." The final image, obtained in May 2002, (Image 16) shows trucks at the Al Mussayyib chemical complex along with a decontamination vehicle. Powell reported that human intelligence reporting confirmed that "movement of chemical weapons occurred at this site at this time." (Note 10)


Image 13: Sanitization of Ammunition Dump at Taji

Image 14: Pre-inspection: Al Fatah Missile Removal

Image 15: Pre-inspection: Material Removal, Amiryah Serum and Vaccine Institute

Image 16: Chemical weapons leaving Al-Musayyib

Other Military Sites

The great majority of the imagery released of terrorist and other military sites in Iraq was released as part of Defense Department or Central Command briefings after the beginning of hostilities. The exceptions (images 17-18) concern terrorist facilities. Image 17 shows the headquarters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), also known as the National Liberation Army of Iran and classified as a terrorist group by the State Department, which describes it as "following a philosophy that mixes Marxism and Islam," and having "developed into the largest and most active armed Iranian dissident group." The group maintains both tanks and artillery on the border with Iran. As part of the 2003 Gulf War military operation, the U.S. bombed the bases of the MEK. (Note 11)

Image 18 was shown to the U.N. Security Council during Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 presentation. Powell described it as showing a terrorist poison and explosive factory in Iraq, operated by an Islamic terrorist group, Ansar al-Islam, with ties to Al-Qaeda. Image 19 and Image 20 show the status of the camp before and after air strikes in late March. At a Pentagon briefing General Richard Myers described image 20 as an "image of the former terrorist camp - training camp at Khurmal" and went on to say that "I stress 'former' since it is no longer an active terrorist camp. We struck this camp in northeastern Iraq early last week with several dozen Tomahawk missiles and precision air strikes ..." (Note 12)


Image 17: MEK Headquarters Complex

Image 18: Terrorist Poison and Explosive Factory

Image 19: Terrorist Camp - Pre Strike

Image 20: Terrorist Camp - Post Strike

The remaining images represent pre-and post- strike of a military headquarters compound (Image 21), a division and brigade installation (Image 22 and Image 23), and a missile facility at Mosul (Image 24 and Image 25).

Image 22: Division and Bridge Installation - Pre Strike

Image 23: Division and Brigade Installation - Post Strike

Image 24: Missile Facility, Mosul - Pre Strike

Image 25: Missile Facility, Mosul - Post Strike

Command, Control, and Communications

A prime objective of the coalition strategy in the war was to decapitate the Iraqi regime - as illustrated by the March 19 attack on a facility where it had been reported that Saddam Hussein and his sons were located. (Note 13) In addition to seeking to eliminate the primary leadership of the Iraqi regime, in the expectation that their deaths would severely reduce the ability to the Iraqi military and security forces to resist coalition military activities, the coalition also targeted command, control, and communication (C3) facilities - so that even if Iraqi leaders survived the attacks they, and their key subordinates, would be unable to exercise coherent command of their forces.

The images below represent pre- and post-strike images of regime C3 facilities at a number of locations - Saddam International Airport, Baghdad, and Tikrit.


Image 26: TV & Communications Facility: - Pre & Post- Strike

Image 27: Regime Command and Control Facility Saddam International Airport: Pre-Strike

Image 28: Regime Command and Control Facility, Saddam International Airport: Post-Strike

Image 29: Command and Control Facility, Tikrit: Pre & Post- Strike

Image 30: Military Command and Control Facility: Pre & Post-Strike

Image 31: Regime Command and Control Facility, Baghdad: Pre-Strike

Image 32: Regime Command and Control Facility, Baghdad: Post-Strike

Security and Intelligence Facilities

A key element of the ability of the Iraqi regime to survive was its extensive use of security and intelligence organizations. Indeed, the regime maintained five different such organizations which were involved in intelligence collection, denial and deception activities, acquisition of prohibited weapons material, suppression of dissent, and counterintelligence. The organizations were also used to watch each other, to prevent them from supporting a coup. (Note 14)

The images below represent pre- and post-strike images on two of the most important of these organizations - the Special Security Organization and the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The Special Security Organization (SSO) was headed since 1992 by Saddam's son, Qusay, and had 5,000 members. Its responsibilities included providing presidential security, securing presidential facilities, supervising other security and intelligence organizations, monitoring government ministries and the leadership of the armed forces, supervising internal security operations against Kurdish and Shi'a opposition, purchasing foreign arms and technology, and directing efforts to conceal Iraqi WMD programs. (Note 15)


Image 33: SSO, Baghdad, Pre-Strike

Image 34: SSO, Baghdad, Post-Strike

The Iraqi Intelligence Service (al Mukhabarat) or General Intelligence was partially an internal agency. Its functions included, but were not limited to, monitoring the Ba'ath Party, counterespionage, eliminating opposition to the regime, monitoring foreign embassies in Iraq, monitoring foreigners in Iraq. (Note 16)


Image 35: Iraqi Intelligence Service, Baghdad - Pre strike

Image 36: Iraqi Intelligence Service, Baghdad - Post strike

Civilian Sites

Imagery of civilian areas was used to illustrate three arguments made by the Bush administration - Iraqi deception with regard to matters in addition to WMD, its attempts to use civilian and civilian areas as shields to prevent attacks on military equipment, and its willingness to extinguish groups considered a threat to the regime. Most of the imagery below (images 38-43) were released as part of pre-war publications or a DoD briefing.

One image (Image 37) is a pre-war image of the petroleum facility at Basrah - Iraq's second largest city and a key coalition objective.


Image 37: Basrah Petroleum Refinery

One image relates to Iraqi charges from the 1991 Persian Gulf War that allied forces had bombed a mosque - the top of which U.S. imagery (Image 38) shows to have been cleanly cut off.

The State Department's Apparatus of Lies reports that the dome was deliberately removed on February 11, 1991 and points out that there was no damage to the area surrounding the dome. (Note 17)


Image 38: Al Basrah Mosque

Another two images (Image 39 and Image 40) show the ancient citadel at Kirkuk before and after Iraqi military operations devastated the area. According to a 1999 State Department publication, Saddam Hussein's Iraq: "in the 1970s and 1980s, the Iraqi regime destroyed over 3,000 Kurdish villages. The destruction Kurdish and Turkomen homes is still going on ... as evidenced [by] the destruction by Iraqi forces of civilian homes in the citadel of Kirkuk." (Note 18)


Image 39: Ancient citadel before clearing operation Kirkuk, Iraq; Regime Destroys
Kurdish Neighborhood (Before: September 1997)

Image 40: Ancient citadel before clearing operation Kirkuk, Iraq; Regime Destroys
Kurdish Neighborhood (After: July 1998)

Three images (41, 42 and 43) show military equipment dispersed to civilian locations - including a mosque, a historical site, and a water treatment facility.


Image 41: Mosque collocated with ammunition depot, Iraq

Image 42: Military Aircraft dispersed during Operation Desert Storm to Historical
Site Near Tallil, Iraq

Image 43: Water Treatment Facility (SRBM Hide site): Pre & Post- Strike


1. See William E. Burrows, Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security (New York: Random House, 1986).

2. Jeffrey T. Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community (Boulder, Co.: Westview, 1999), pp. 150-179.

3. Dwayne A. Day, John M. Logsdon, and Brian Latell (eds.), Eye in the Sky: The Story of the Corona Spy Satellites (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1998), pp. 1-21.

4. The imagery is archived on the DoD web site - http://www.defenselink.mil. Some of the imagery can be found in the National Security Archive briefing book, U.S. Satellite Imagery, 1960-1999, April 14, 1999.

5. "Inside Baghdad," Time, March 14, 2003, pp. 58-59; "Pinpointing Baghdad," Time, March 31, 2003, pp. 48-49; "With Nothing Left, Looters blow up the fish in Saddam's ponds," April 15, 2003, http://www.seafood.com; "Photos bolster U.S. campaign against Iraq's Hussein," September 14, 1999, http://www.cnn.com; U.S. Department of State, Saddam Hussein's Iraq (Washington, D.C., 1999), not paginated.

6. Central Intelligence Agency, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, (Washington, D.C: CIA, 2002); DoD, Iraqi Denial and Deception for Weapons of Mass Destruction & Ballistic Missile Programs, October 8, 2002, http://www.defenselink.mil; President George W. Bush, "Remarks by the President on Iraq, Cincinnati Museum Center - Cincinnati Union Terminal," October 7, 2002, http://www.whitehouse.gov.

7. "Declassified intelligence photos of Iraqi nuclear weapons-related facilities/Al Furat," October 9, 2002, http://brownback.senate.gov.

8. "Fallujah/Habbaniyah," http://www.globalsecurity.org; Central Intelligence Agency, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, p.11; DoD, Iraqi Denial and Deception for Weapons of Mass Destruction & Ballistic Missile Programs, slide 14; "Abu Ghurabyb, Project 600," http://www.fas.org.

9. Central Intelligence Agency, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, p.21; "Declassified intelligence photos of Iraqi nuclear weapons-related programs/Nassr," October 9, 2002, http://brownback.senate.gov; Dr. John Yurechko, "DoD Briefing on Iraqi Denial and Deception," October 8, 2002, p. 10. http://www.defenselink.mil.

10. Secretary Colin L. Powell, "Remarks to the United Nations Security Council," February 5, 2003, http://www.state.gov, pp. 5-6, 11-12.

11. U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001), p. 65; Douglas Jehl, "U.S. Bombs Iranian Guerilla Forces Based in Iraq," New York Times, April 17, 2003, pp. B1, B2.

12. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, "Failing to Disarm," Presentation to the UN Security Council, February 5, 2003, http://www.state.gov; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld and General Richard Myers, "DoD News Briefing, April 1, 2003," http://www.defenselink.mil .

13. Evan Thomas and Daniel Klaidman, "The War Room," Newsweek, March 31, 2003, pp. 22-31.

14. Ibrahim al-Marashi, "Iraq's Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis," Middle East Review of International Affairs 6, 3 (September 2003), pp. 1-13.

15. Ibid., p.3.

16. Ibid, pp. 5-6; see also Melinda Liu, Rob Nordland, and Evan Thomas, "The Saddam Files," Newsweek, April 28, 2003.

17. U.S. Department of State, Apparatus of Lies: Saddam's Disinformation and Propaganda, 1990-2003 (Washington, D.C.: 2003), p. 25.

18. U.S. Department of State, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, not paginated.

Contents of this website Copyright 1995-2017 National Security Archive. All rights reserved.
Terms and conditions for use of materials found on this website.