Yes, Sgrena's car was speeding, but can satellite images really show that?

Ok, since The Jawa Report has been Sgrena debunking central since, well, since way before debunking Giuliana Sgrena became a popular sport, I'm all on board with the CBS report that vindicates what American soldiers have been saying all along--Sgrena's car was speeding.

But, I have this lingering feeling that the alleged satellite images that CBS claims proves the U.S. version of the story are bogus.

Why? Well, because in order to calculate speed the satellite would have needed to take two seperate still images of the car's route within seconds of each other. That's how you measure speed. Speed = Distance x Time. In order to measure distance you need a start and a finish point.

That, or you're telling me that the CIA is now using live-image streaming from their satellites. And if the latter is the case then that satellite just happened to be broadcasting images of a road on the outskirts of Baghdad? At the very moment when Sgrena's car is speeding toward a checkpoint?

I'm sorry, this is just way too far-fetched to believe. As noted here at least umpteen bajillion times, Giuliana Sgrena is a serial liar who's sole purpose in life is to discredit the United States and who will do anything or say anything to that end.

Here's the story:

A US satellite reportedly recorded a checkpoint shooting in Iraq last month, enabling investigators to reconstruct how fast a car carrying a top Italian intelligence official and a freed hostage was traveling when US troops opened fire.

CBS, citing Pentagon officials, said the satellite recording enabled investigators to reconstruct the event without having to rely on the eyewitness accounts....

It said the soldiers manning the checkpoint first spotted the Italian car when it was 137 yards (meters) away. By the time they opened fire and brought the car to a halt, it was 46 yards (meters) away. CBS said that happened in less than three seconds, which meant the car had to be going over 60 miles an hour.

CBS said Italian investigators refused to accept that the Americans were justified in shooting so quickly, arguing among other things that the checkpoint was not properly marked.

Again, I hate to be the one to point out the obvious that the satellite image claim seems dubious--especially since if such evidence would back up the claim I've been making since day one--but we all are very aware of just how sloppy CBS reporting really is.

Again, if someone has some better info on the capabilities of satellites, I'd love to hear from them. And by info, I don't mean 'I saw this JAG episode once where....'

I'm actually quite shocked that Captain Ed isn't questioning this story or the voice of moderation himself, Joe Gandalman. Look, I just don't want us all piling on to what very well may be a bogus story. Maybe CBS is being overzealous in disproving their bias in the same way they were overzealous in 'proving' that Bush was AWOL.

UPDATE: Charles 'Smack those bitches at CBS down' Johnson doesn't even question this report. Are all of us letting our wishful thinking get the best of us? The report could be true, I'd just like someone elses word besides CBS on this.

UPDATE II: Say Anything, Hyscience too.

UPDATE III: And Betsy's Page, Pirate King, Cracker Barrel Philosopher, Dangerous Dan, Vista on Current Events, The Knock Down Rule and others.

UPDATE IV 5/02: TRADERROB takes up the arguement here and does a good job rebutting me.

But here's something important, I think. I recieved an e-mail from USAF Intelligence Officer who has been on the job for 19 years, so I take it he knows what he's talking about. I'll leave his name out of the post since the e-mail he sent is from a .mil address and says 'Classified' in the signature. The crux of it is that I am right to be skeptical about the satellite claim, however, it may be that CBS simply inferred that the images were from a satellite and misreported that info.

He says, "The most obvious source of data on how fast a vehicle was moving would be a JSTARS using their Moving Target Indicator (MTI) radar. I don't know for a fact if they're still in the area but they were at the start of the war and I'd be willing to bet that they're still there. Piece of cake for them to record an entire mission and later analyze this type of thing."

He also sends a link to a site which explains how JSTARS and Global Hawk actually do give real time data. Pretty cool stuff. So, maybe we do have the goods on Sgrena and the data is their to prove it.

Related stories from The Jawa Report:
60 Minutes Interviews Lying Journalist Giuliana Sgrena (ironic)
Iraqis: Italians Not Cooperating in Sgrena InvestigationGiuliana Sgrena Admits Hostage HoaxNPR Misses Sgrena's Big LieWhy We Shot at Sgrena and Killed Nicola CalipariSgrena Finds Oswald's 'Magic Bullet'Giuliana Sgrena's Lies, Inconsistencies, and Treason
On the 100 MPH question.
Images of Sgrena's Car (Updated-now fortified with essential Sgrena lies!)
Sgrena's Fallujah vs. US Marines' FallujahGiuliana Sgrena's Blood Libel Against the USGiuliana Sgrena Admits to Helping Terrorists, Lies About Shooting (UPDATED)Sgrena Mia Culpa (Rusty apologizes for moonbat theory)
Italian Woman Taken Hostage in Iraq (Updated)
Italian Hostage: Hoax or the Fruits of anti-American Activism?
Italian Hostage Hoax: Terrorists to Release Giuliana Sgrena
Giuliana Sgrena Alive and Well
Italian Hostage Video Released (UPDATE)
Italians Lobby for Release of Hostage by Calling for End to Occupation
Iraqi Minister Claims Italian Hostage Release Imminent

Posted by: Rusty at 04:54 PM


1 Whether this report is accurate or not, I have no doubt that this commie woman, whose freedom the Italians paid terroists for, is trying to exploit her situation for personal and poitical gain.

Posted by: jwbrown1969 at April 30, 2005 05:05 PM

2 Well, this did happen on the road to Baghdad Airport, arguably the most dangerous road in the world right now... given that, I am sure we have been watching that road rather closely... it could be coincidence that our satellites (whatever their capabilities may be) caught it on tape, or perhaps we actually were watching the road... and still are... constantly. Besides, I doubt the public will ever know the true capabilities of our satellites... I mean, look at how good they work on 24! ;)

Posted by: Ariya at April 30, 2005 05:10 PM

3 Honestly, though, except for on TV, I've never heard any one claim that satellites now run streaming video. At least, not at a high enough resolution that could pick out Sgrena's car.

I could be wrong, though. It just seems more like, well, an episode of 24 than anything else.

Posted by: Rusty Shackleford at April 30, 2005 05:13 PM

4 Speed= distance / time

not speed= distance x time.

but what you said is right. one would need to photos where one can measure the distance and the time between the photos.

Posted by: Wernero at April 30, 2005 05:45 PM

5 I tend to believe the U.S. version.

Posted by: Stefania at April 30, 2005 05:59 PM

6 Good work, we don't want to be like the Kos crowd, crowing about anything just because we agree with it.

Here's a question I haven't been able to answer: a reader took me to task, saying that Sgrena & her paper are not Communist but Socialst. The two terms aren't interchangeable, & I'd like to know for sure. I'm guilty of called her a Stalinist, but if she & her paper are socialst, that's bogus. I still think she's scum, but I'd like to know what denomination of scum...

[fyi the spam bot won't let you type socialst correctly, because of the viagra-like drug it includes]

Posted by: jeff at April 30, 2005 06:14 PM

7 Perhaps it wasn't really satellite imagery that they used, but local recon assets. Like a gun camera on a helicopter or a drone flying surveillance on the road.

I have no actual knowledge if such recon flights occur or not, but it isn't unreasonable. In this case, the only (bleep) up by CBS would be "satellite" versus "unmanned drone" or some such.

But, this is pure speculation.

Posted by: Mark Flacy at April 30, 2005 06:22 PM

8 No information exactly, but a simple comment. It is possible to estimate speed somewhat accurately with a still image... If the exposure time is long enough (but not too long) to show 'ghosting' or motion blur, and the exposure time is known (or course the exposure time would be known) then a time and distance could be estimated. It would also be best to know the length of the car so that could be removed from the calculation.

For those of you wondering, exposure time is a term used with film, but it is relevant to digital images as well. It is usually on the order of milliseconds, but for low light or high magnification it is frequently on the order of multiple seconds, even minutes.


Posted by: Chad at April 30, 2005 06:25 PM

9 The obvious times that would be used for a non-video picture would be the time that the lens opened, and the time that the lens closed. That puts the car as a blur, and the length of the blur would be related to the speed.

If the video was from a synthetic aperature radar, the image of the road is given from a moving satillite looking from several different angles. Because the image from a synthetic image is made up from many reflections over time, moving vehicles are plotted off the road. The distance of the image of a vehicle from the synthetic image of the road can be related to the speed of the vehicle.

Posted by: Don Meaker at April 30, 2005 06:26 PM

10 Satellite photos are time-stamped. When you have the distance covered over a set time period, you can extrapolate the velocity using basic physics equations.

Posted by: kim at April 30, 2005 07:03 PM

11 Jeff,

Sgrena is a commie, not a socialst. Il Manifesto is her commie paper.


The technology to shoot streaming video (from space, or anywhere else) has been around for decades, so I'd find it odd if we didn't have it deployed in fairly substantial amounts in orbit cansidering its usefulness, though as Mark mentioned, it could have easily been shot from a UAV.

Our intelligence ops possibly picked up that specific vehicle for one or more of many reasons: potential white-on-white intel ops (or in this instance, white on gray), suspicious movement (where, when, how), or simply tracked across it because of dumb luck. I prefer to think that they were tracking the vehicle on purpose (white-on-gray), but who knows...

The more I think about it, the more it sounds possible that a GlobalHawk was probably the camera platform, and was tasked to patrol this specific road because of past incidents. They have the streaming video technology, and fly at high altitudes (45,000 ft. or more, from what I've heard) that would give a top-down look similar to a satellite picture.

So I guess what I'm saying is that though it very well could have been a satellite that was lucky, I think it most likely a tasked UAV, and the high-flying GlobalHawk would seem the most likely one, and targeting the road for vehicles of interest, not Sgrena in specific.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 30, 2005 07:46 PM

12 My understanding is that they were expecting Negropante to be arriving at the airport so I suspect surveillance on that road would have been heavy.

I believe the US version. However, this will not convince the Italians who have a need to play the victim in this incident.

Posted by: Kate at April 30, 2005 08:34 PM

13 What I find hard to believe in this is that the US Gov't would have certainly shared this with the Italians to prove that Sgrena was lying through her bad communist teeth, yet nary a word from the Italian gov;t about it. Once they start commenting, I will believe it.

Posted by: William Teach at April 30, 2005 09:43 PM

14 Rusty, I've seen reports that the latest Keyhole surveillance satellites do real-time video. Whether or not there was actually on-going surveillance at the time is of course arguable.

Posted by: Robin Roberts at April 30, 2005 09:44 PM

15 There is some discussion of space-based radar here:

Maybe a misleading leak to CBS was made to affect the congressional debate referenced in that article, to show how valuable such as system would be.

Here are so farther out goals, if you are interested:

Posted by: Jon Cohen at May 01, 2005 01:28 AM

16 The US have unclassified a report with the conclusions of the investigations.
The document distribuited to the press was a .pdf and had many omisseses (mainly regarding the name of the involved soldiers and the details of some US army procedures).
Well, Italian press is now laughing... the .pdf wasn't encrypted and allowed the copy. With a complex as complex as cutting and pasting it, all the omisses may (and have) been removed.

Posted by: paul at May 01, 2005 07:21 AM

17 Maybe they don't want YOU to know how they are doing it? Why would they put out in public what they are doing to monitor anything in Iraq? Why would they let the terrorists know? Surely we have realtime video from plenty of places in Iraq, after all, what do you think all those drones are doing? Maybe the drones fly the airport road at night looking for terrorists planting bombs for tommorrow? Wouldn't the JAWA drones be doing this?

I would bet they shared the real data with the recalcitrant Italians though -- but Commies do what Commies do, they lie. When caught, like the LATimes, they just lie some more. See Patterico's report for the latest LATimes lies.

I think your analysis is correct, but your facts may be garnered from misinformation -- that would be on purpose misleading information about ways and means of collecting intelligence information.

Posted by: bill at May 01, 2005 07:55 AM

18 from the report:

I. (U) Recommendations
(S//NF) Recommend the Force Protection Working Group consider the use of
additional non-lethal measures (e.g., spike strips, temporary speed bumps, and wire) be
emplaced to slow down or stop vehicles before the use of disabling shots. The intent is to
provide as many non-lethal options as possible before asking a Soldier to focus on firing
the weapon.

yeah, good idea, isn'it?

Posted by: paul at May 01, 2005 08:05 AM

19 Yes Paul, if the troops had been trained and equipped for police work they would be better policemen. And, if you had been traveling at 100 kph toward that checkpoint I would hope that they would blast away at your car until it was totally disabled. If you were struck and killed by a stray shot then you, and you alone, would be responsible for your death. I see no point in debating what "could have" happened, if they were following procedure that is all you can ask of the troops. Are we to change workable procedures because someone somewhere sometime might do something stupid?

Posted by: RicardoVerde at May 01, 2005 01:01 PM

20 I've personally done satellite image analysis in a research capacity, and based on my knowledge from that I would urge EXTREME CAUTION in evaluating this claim. If it even exists on a satellite yet, real-time image streaming is going to be rare, and it's unlikely the spooks would waste the capability on observing a roadblock. The possibility of getting two time-separated shots that both contain the same vehicle is similarly unlikely, though not impossible -- the platform is most likely going to outpace the automobile, and the probability of it just happening to be overhead at the right time to begin with is small.

My guess is that if this imagery does exist, it is in fact video footage from a surveillance drone or other aircraft.

Posted by: Varenius at May 01, 2005 04:48 PM

21 So, what is being questioned? CBS's report or the fact that the US has incontivertable evidence to the speed of the vehicle. If the U.S really is saying that it has the evidence then obvioulsy it does. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they would never tell a lie, but the military lying about something that could so easily proved wrong just doesn't seem very likely.

Posted by: Michael at May 01, 2005 05:32 PM

22 There are lots of satellites... And their orbits are known... So you would just have to find for the right satellite that was over the area... There will always be a satellite over an area... The question is only whether it was one the US government would have access to... Not only that but there are drones doing recognizance and images could have been obtained from a drone... The story may or may not be true, but the availability of a satellite that could have imaged the scene is not in question...

Posted by: Iris at May 01, 2005 05:54 PM

23 Satellite photos taken at night tend to have long shutter speeds and moving objects can easily have accurate speeds determined by the length of the shutter speed vs. distance traveled. No need for live video feed. Ever see a picture of the stars at night taken with a long exposure? Even though the satellite photos aren't on film, the "eye" needs more exposure time in low light settings.

Posted by: bullwinkle at May 01, 2005 06:07 PM

24 I am 100% with you, fella. This "news" is CBS reporting that the Pentagon says that it (the Pentagon) has seen satellite footage.
This is not "news" and the fact Charlie Johnson is all over it without questioning it is shocking. It's real disappointing too. CNever mind Sgrena - Calipari is dead. this deserves something more than what smacks of a "news whitewash".

Posted by: WB at May 01, 2005 08:18 PM

25 RE: Unlikelihood that a satellite was watching that spot at that time.

News reports said that a top US official (Negroponte?) went through the airport about that time.
Satellite video could have been called up for his protection, and then picked up the Italian's car fortuitously.

Posted by: Strobe at May 01, 2005 11:45 PM

26 "this deserves something more than what smacks of a "news whitewash"."

A news whitewash?? Don't you think you're being just a little bit of a drama queen?
So far there doesn't seem to be any evidence at all to suggest that the report is incorrect. This thread raised some questions, but several answers also seem to easily dispel any concerns.

Really when you look at it, calling this story a "whitewash" when there is no real reason to believe it's anything but correct (other than CBS's poor record of accuracy) looks like nothing more than moonbat dismay at being proved wrong.

Posted by: Michael at May 02, 2005 03:15 AM

27 Jeff,

Sgrena calls herself a communist. And Il Manifesto is a communist paper.

Posted by: Oyster at May 02, 2005 07:25 AM

28 "Sgrena calls herself a communist. And Il Manifesto is a communist paper."

And so? Do you have a problem with this? Do you make look that a bad thing... :-)
The communist party is perfectly legal in Italy, and get around 8-10% of the votes. The ex-communist party gets another 20-25% and, together, those parties are likely to rule the country after next year elections.
Il Manifesto is not 'the Pravda'. It is a normal newspaper that sells 50000 copies every day.
They don't like US very much, that is sure, but that doesn't mean that they always lie...

Posted by: paul at May 02, 2005 08:00 AM

29 First, I agree with Confederate Yankee: how widespread it is I don't know, but some "still" cameras can expose several hundred frames per second, vs video (even "streaming") of about 20 fps.

Not that I trust CBS (or worse, Agence France Presse, which posted it Sunday May 1) to know whether it was a permanent satellite, overflight by aircraft/drone, or even visual image vs radar imagery. As an example, look at the big news about a planet being "observed": it's been known about for several years via radio imaging - size, orbit, mass, average temperature, and all sorts of info. Now the very large visual scope the EU uses has been able to see it, which is news, but...

I think officially the Italians will back off on all but one point: they say the CIA was kept informed, so it is still our fault. Kinda like "we told France it was going to rain in Estonia, so it's Estonia's fault for not being prepared for flooding." Unofficially, of course, we deliberately targeted wossername.

Posted by: John Anderson at May 02, 2005 08:19 AM

30 "Yes, Sgrena's car was speeding, but can satellite images really show that?"


We don't really know if the car was speeding or not.

Posted by: greg at May 02, 2005 10:54 AM

31 I don't think the US Army has a movie or something that shows the car speeding. If they have why Thay don't give that to the Italian intelligence? But that's not the problem. I don't believe also that the US soldiers have shooting the car on purpose. The truth is that the US soldiers in Iraq are too young and they don't have experience. They are there for to have money for their families, or for to pay the college. That is the truth. But, of course, the US Army they will never admit that their soldier are too young, without proper training ( the average of training is 6 months. Do you think it's enough for a training?). For instance there is a big difference between Communist and Socialist.

Posted by: Mauro at May 31, 2005 02:39 PM

32 I'm coming late to the game, but I do not doubt that there is detailed imagery of the incident, nor is there sufficient benefit to release it.

I am currently a couple hundred meters west of Airport Road. If I step outside, I can easily see 2 tethered blimps which are kept aloft almost continuously. One blimp is a mile or 2 northwest of here, the other is about a mile east (on the far side of Airport Road). The existence of these blimps is no secret, nor is the fact that the insurgents have reportedly tried to bring them down. You can use whatever style of educated guessing you want to surmise what might be on board those balloons, and why there would be reasons not to release imagery which demonstrates any sensing capabilities of whatever is on board.

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