In my CIA paramilitary unit, we used a program called Falcon View. FalconView is a Windows mapping system that displays various types of maps and geographically referenced overlays. Many types of maps are supported, but the primary ones of interest to most users are aeronautical charts, satellite images and elevation maps. FalconView also supports a large number of overlay types that can be displayed over any map background. The current overlay set is targeted toward military mission planning users and is oriented towards aviators and aviation support personnel. Think Google Earth on steroids.
We also had a couple handheld Blue Force Tracker (BFT) with Falcon View. Simply put, the BFT is a satellite communication device that relays location or duress signals. This enabled us to be tracked and to track our other teammates. I remember the BFT was marked with a big “X” on it. My team was instructed to shoot the X if we were ever compromised. We would also pilot drones with this same technology. Before going on an operation, we would “burn” the route with a UAV. This involves flying the drone over the planned route and area of operation. The drone sends down a series of radio frequencies to detonate any improvised explosive devises prior to us going wheels up. Most of the time, this software was stored on a Toughbook laptop for mobility.
We would also have surveillance drones. These are hand held UAVs that require forward momentum for take off. We would launch them from our vehicle windows. Using the military grid reference system, we would plot the drone’s landing zone. The drone fits in a brief case and comes with replacement wings because they tend to break off on landing.
The Central Intelligence Agency is directly responsible for Google Earth. That’s right. Every time you turn on that GPS, someone in the CIA slaved long and hard to create the technology for you to navigate carefree.
In February 2003, the CIA-funded venture-capitalist firm In-Q-Tel made a strategic investment in Keyhole, Inc., a pioneer of interactive 3-D earth visualization and creator of the groundbreaking rich-mapping Earth Viewer 3D system. CIA worked closely with other Intelligence Community organizations to tailor Keyhole’s systems to meet their needs. The finished product transformed the way intelligence officers interacted with geographic information and earth imagery.
Users could now easily combine complicated sets of data and imagery into clear, realistic visual representations. Users could “fly” from space to street level seamlessly while interactively exploring layers of information including roads, schools, businesses, and demographics. In the private sector, this flyover capability was so compelling that multiple TV networks used Earth Viewer 3D to fly over Iraqi cities and landscapes in news broadcasts using publicly available satellite images. All of this acclaim eventually caught the attention of Google Inc., a multinational cyber-focused corporation, which acquired Keyhole in 2004, thereby laying the groundwork for the development of Google Earth (CIA Kent Center).
Feature image courtesy of youtube
Cited cia.gov and nga.mil