Video: N. Korea news spreads like wildfire

By Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 10/9/2006 4:34:53 PM ET 2006-10-09T20:34:53
COMMENTARY

Just moments after North Korea tested a nuclear device, people online were charting the precise location of the blast on Google Earth using seismic readings.

The result is an aerial view of mountainous terrain and the entrance of a mine entrance where the blast may have occurred.

If you’re not tech savvy enough to download Google Earth, the image is on many blogs today and was even printed in The New York Times.

As Times writer William Broad points out, back in 1949, during the Cold War, it took the United States a few weeks to confirm a Soviet nuclear test.

Monitoring news 24/7
In this day and age, information travels a bit faster, partly due to the Internet, which gives us an opportunity to, literally, monitor the world continuously.

In this case, it’s also a fact that Kim Jong Il is making no attempt to keep this program under wraps. He practically sent out Evites to announce it.

While he probably approves of curious Westerners hunting for the blast site on Google Earth, many world leaders are less enthusiastic about new satellite technologies that give everyone access to a kind of cyber spy plane.

If you have never used Google Earth, go try it.  There are stored examples of popular searches, like the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, which will load for you at the click of a mouse.

Notice the extreme detail of the image.  It comes from a satellite in outer space, but the detail is so refined that you can see that there are people at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, or the size difference between a car and a truck on the bridge.

Satellite mapping sparks concern
Some security experts worry that the technology could expose secret government programs or possibly the clandestine movement of military troops.

In some cases, governments have requested that sensitive areas be pixilated to eliminate detail on a map.

Vice President Cheney’s residence at Observatory Circle, for example, is blurred on Google Earth.  That does seem unnecessary given that the exact location is on every tourist map in Washington, and the fact the White House is not pixilated, but so be it.

While the security concerns are certainly not silly, many experts feel they are negligible.

I went to a user forum called Google Earth Community.  There is a military section where some have speculated about strange things they saw on the maps or the reason why an area has restricted air space.

Some of the conversations might be too close for comfort if you work at the Pentagon.

For the most part, though, people use the Google Earth tool after news breaks. 

Once the blast has occurred, it is hardly a state secret any longer.

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