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Spy in the sky

If you’re at a large-scale event in the US, a Spy in the Sky may be watching you. The activities of a little-known branch of the US Defense Department are now brushing against, “the fine line between protecting the public and performing illegal government spying on Americans,” says a US News story.

Since the September 11 attacks, some of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s most sophisticated aerial imaging equipment has been focused on what’s going on in the US.

“For instance,” continues the report, “the agency has modified basic maps of the nation’s capital to highlight the location of hospitals, linking them to data on the number of beds or the burn unit in each. To secure the Ronald Reagan funeral procession, the agency merged aerial photographs and 3D images, allowing security planners to virtually walk, drive or fly through the Simi Valley, Calif., route.

“The agency is especially watchful of big events or targets that might attract terrorists – political conventions, for example, or nuclear power plants.”

It’s not interested in information on US citizens, office director Bert Beaulieu is quoted as saying, but Steven Aftergood, who oversees a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, says, “What it all boils down to is ‘Trust us. Our intentions are good’.”

The NGA says it has aggressive internal oversight and its employees go through annual training on what is and isn’t allowed, states the US News report, adding that Aftergood says while intelligence budgets have increased dramatically in the last five years, congressional oversight budgets have not.