Trump Defends ‘Absolute Right’ to Release High-Resolution Photo of Iranian Missile Launch Site
During an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn, President Donald Trump defended his “absolute right” to release a highly detailed, possibly classified photo of the aftermath of a missile explosion at an Iranian launch site.
On Thursday, an Iranian Safir SLV set to launch a satellite into orbit exploded on the ground at the Semnan Site One facility in northern Iran prior to liftoff. NPR acquired commercial satellite imagery showing the destruction not long after incident. But the resolution of that photo was markedly less detailed than the apparent aerial reconnaissance image Trump Tweeted out on Friday afternoon, which appeared to be a cellphone snapshot of a printed-out photo.
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. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One. pic.twitter.com/z0iDj2L0Y3
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
Immediately after posting the photo, online observers noted the small, blacked out section in the upper left corner of the image, which suggested the president or someone else in the White House may have redacted a classification marker that typically appears on intelligence materials.
Trump hinted at, but did not confirm, the image was classified with his comments to the press, as the president’s declassification powers are absolute. However, CNBC has reported that the image did come from the National Reconnaissance Office and was part of a classified intel briefing given to the president.
“We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump told the press. When asked off-screen by another reporter where he got the image from, he demurred. “You’ll have to figure that one out yourself. But we’ll see what happens. They had a big mishap. It’s unfortunate. So Iran, as you probably know, they were going to set off a big missile and it didn’t work out too well. It had nothing to do with us.”
Even if the image was de facto declassified by Trump, many national security observers were concerned that its release could have recklessly compromised a classified platform or other secret US intelligence spying capability.
This looks like the worst high-level national OPSEC disaster in recent history, but we’re all doomed anyway so it’s kinda ok too.. (i guess) https://t.co/3IjUJDAIGN
— Akin Unver (@AkinUnver) August 30, 2019
This is apparently a photo Trump got during a presidential intelligence briefing (and almost certainly TS), from which Iran can draw valuable inferences about our aerial surveillance capabilities. Heck of a job, Donnie. https://t.co/jVL8ygcCki
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) August 30, 2019
Experts say this image is higher resolution than is available outside government. Does it come from a White House intelligence briefing? Did POTUS declassify it? (he has the legal right but is that wise?) Is he suggesting some other country could have sabotaged Iran’s launch? https://t.co/Eb1uxnmU4t
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) August 30, 2019
Compare commercial imagery of Iran’s failed SLV launch (right) with what Trump tweeted (left). Who knows where the latter came from, but one thing seems clear: the technology that imaged it is much more advanced, and the analysts who annotated have a good deal of insight. pic.twitter.com/HuozqRmXcA
— Ned Price (@nedprice) August 30, 2019
This is huge and breaking. Career professionals who look at satellite photography for a living are stunned. https://t.co/ukdpIzWmd1
— alex lockie (@alexjlockie) August 30, 2019
Watch the video above, via CNN.
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org