The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency on Friday formally declassified an image then-US President Donald Trump tweeted in 2019 of a highly classified satellite photograph depicting the site of a failed Iranian rocket launch.
NPR reported that the NGA declassified the image after a “grueling Pentagon-wide review to determine whether the briefing slide it came from could be shared with the public” in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the radio network.
- Many details on the original image remain redacted – a clear sign that Trump was sharing some of the US government’s most prized intelligence on social media, said Steven Aftergood, specialist in secrecy and classification at the Federation of American Scientists.
- “He was getting literally a bird’s eye view of some of the most sensitive US intelligence on Iran,” he told NPR
- “And the first thing he seemed to want to do was to blurt it out over Twitter.”
In August of 2019, Iran attempted to fire a rocket which exploded on its launch pad at a space center in northern Iran.
A day later, Trump wrote on Twitter that the United States was not involved with the failed rocket launch.
- “The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” he wrote, adding, “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”
The tweet included a satellite image of the failed launch.
Just days after Trump tweeted out the image showing the aftermath of the explosion at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center, amateur sleuths determined the high-quality photograph had to have come from a satellite designated USA 224, which the US National Reconnaissance Office launched into space in 2011, reported The Independent.
According to Marco Langbroek, a satellite tracker in the Netherlands who spoke to NPR at the time, it was believed that USA 224 is one of America’s KH-11 spy satellites.
As a matter of law, a sitting president has the ability to declassify even the most secret classified information, but US defense experts say even presidents have to transmit declassification orders through proper channels.
According to reports, Trump first saw the image as part of a daily intelligence briefing on the morning after the Iranian launch failure. In the most complete account of what happened next, published last year by Yahoo! News, Trump asked to keep a copy of the photo. An hour later, he sent it out to more than 60 million followers on Twitter.
NPR has not independently verified that reporting, but Jeffrey Lewis, who studies satellite imagery at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told the network that what is clear is that the image in the tweet was a photograph of a sheet of physical paper. Visible at the center of Trump’s tweet is the shine of overhead lights or a flash, and a shadow, possibly from Trump or an aid, photographing the image with a camera.
After he tweeted the image, Trump said that he did nothing wrong.
Aftergood told NPR that Trump was probably within his legal rights to publicize the image.
- The report comes as the FBI is investigating a slew of classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate this past August.
- A Washington Post report indicated that a document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents during the search of Trump’s home.
- A subsequent report said some of the classified documents recovered in Mar-a-Lago included highly sensitive intelligence regarding Iran and China.
Source: Elad Benari – Arutz Sheva