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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
UK secret site photos 'must go'
Part of the high-resolution aerial photograph of GCHQ obtained by the BBC from Getmapping
Intelligence bases like GCHQ can be seen on the web
Defence analysts have called for photos of UK defence and intelligence bases - including GCHQ and Sellafield - to be banned from sale on a British company's website.

Getmapping.com openly advertises aerial pictures of the centres on its website, which it calls a complete photo survey of the country.

The images were approved by the Ministry of Defence because similar satellite images were available elsewhere.

But counter-terrorism experts said they could pose a new security threat following 11 September.


An attack on these sort of installations would be greatly facilitated by this sort of detailed photograph

Anti-terror expert Charles Shoebridge

Former chairman of the Commons intelligence committee Lord (Tom) King said there was a "completely new situation" in the wake of the US attacks - and the MoD policy should be changed.

"All democrat societies [need] to really tighten up on their security. Of course they may be available elsewhere, but you don't make it easier for people," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I certainly think they need to revise completely their advice on this matter."

'Detailed reconnaissance'

The website - in which the Queen invested during the dot.com boom - enables customers to enter postcodes or map coordinates, to view photographs of their chosen area.


If people have something they need to hide... they must find some other way of covering it

Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson

It provides a list of what it calls "secret places", including Aldermaston nuclear weapons research facility, of which high-resolution prints can be bought for 45 plus VAT.

Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson, the defence official who issued Getmapping the advice, said security advice must adapt to take into account technological advancements.

"If people have something they need to hide for security reasons, some detail, they must find some other way of covering it locally on site - for example putting up a cover or a roof."

But Charles Shoebridge, a former anti-terrorist intelligence officer, told Today the images could be "incredibly useful" to terrorists.

Part of the high-resolution aerial photograph of Sellafield
Sellafield has been highlighted as a potential terror target
"The resolution is crystal-clear - absolutely everything that you would want to be able to see, you can see on these photographs.

"You can see pipework, you can see buildings, large tanks presumably containing chemicals of some sort.

"An attack on these sort of installations would be greatly facilitated by having this sort of detailed photograph available.

"What you've got here is essentially a very high-quality and very detailed reconnaissance of the area.

"You could identify key points, key locations for explosives, for example to cause the maximum damage.

"It seems ridiculous that these sort of detailed photographs can be available - particularly as these are easily identified as potential terrorist targets."

'Height of folly'

Retired colonel Michael Dewar, defence and counter-terrorism analyst, said putting such security-sensitive material onto the web was "the height of folly and the height of irresponsibility".

David Rendel, Liberal Democrat MP for Newbury, Berkshire, was also concerned about enabling a terror attack on nearby Aldermaston.


[Defence officials] need to revise completely their advice on this matter

Lord King

"There's no reason why we should give the terrorists the sort of information they're looking for as easily as providing it over the internet. We want to make life difficult for them."

But Getmapping's MD Tristram Cary told BBC News Online the MoD had told him its pre-11 September advice still stood.

A letter sent to him in 2000 said there were "no security problems whatsoever" - and when he checked on Thursday he was told the advice was the same.

'No security problems'

Mr Cary said that if sites such as his needed a new policy, then so did various other areas of national security.

Part of the high-resolution aerial photograph of Aldermaston
Residents are worried about an attack on Aldermaston nuclear facility
"We need to have a coherent approach. Besides other websites with high-resolution satellite data, people can visit some of these sites - you can visit Sellafield, you can take photographs from the perimeter fence."

He pointed out that there was also an "open skies" policy in the UK, under which anyone could fly 3,000ft over sites and take their own detailed photographs.

He suggested that perhaps MI5 welcomed the site as a "controlled channel", as buyers had to leave their credit-card details and e-mail addresses, thus leaving an identity trail.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Angus Stickler
"The Queen is thought to have invested... in the company"
Getmapping MD Tristram Cary
"We've taken a responsible approach"
See also:

07 Mar 02 | England
07 Apr 00 | Business
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