The Panoptiswarm Swarms On


Picking up on Monday’s panoptiswarm theme here’s this wonderful story from Wired’s Danger Room about how swarms of amateurs are cataloguing installations in North Korea. (Danger Room calls them “online spies” which is a pretty heady title for people scouring satellite photos.)

What are they finding? Secret underground airfields!

Sunchon appears to have a “1350 meter taxiway extend[ing] from the UGF [underground facility] to a point beyond the main parking aprons. This taxiway may in fact be an auxiliary runway, allowing aircraft to be prepared for flight while concealed within the UGF and then launched with little or no warning for a strike” against South Korea.

Noah Shachtman for Danger Room Online Spies Spot North Korea’s Underground Airfields

There’s a lot going on in the article.

For one thing, there is the glorious Thunderbirds/Voltron/Power Rangers (pick according to age and nostalgia) resonance.

For another, think about profoundly weird the balance between information and analysis has shifted in this arena. Instead of carefully hoarded classified satellite imagery, we have such a surfeit of data that it’s worthwhile to just let amateurs run amok.

This kind of searching isn’t just for military surveillance either. The world’s largest beaver dam was discovered using Google Earth imagery and then further analyzed by digging through historical aerial photography of the area.

In related news, amateurs are combing through the Toronto G20 videos, looking for evidence of agents provocateurs. They think they’ve found one. I don’t know what to think.