Reliable Security Information

Status of Classified Imagery Declassification Farce

Unfortunately internal community & politics appear to be holding back the declassification of the US "good stuff" Keyhole (KH-8 & KH-9) imagery.

In spite of National Reconnaissance Office (NRO's) 50th., Anniversary planning to declassify the KH-8 and KH-9 systems programs & imagery on September 17, 2011 there was no assurance or indication that those programs imagery & associated analysis reports will also be declassified anytime soon by NGA or Director-Office National Intelligence (D-ONI).

Wholly separate from the President's declassification of "Cold War" Intelligence deadline of December 31, 2013 which will apparently not be met even for this imagery declassification. Other issue that may be contributing to the delays is the contracted digital copying instead of wet film coping of the imagery that severely degrades its true resolution to the public. This would greatly degrade it historical value to historians.

Indeed it could take as much as three and one half years after that to happen if then for imagery materials and because of the discovery of un-reviewed materials documents in the Presidential, NARA libraries and Agencies stored documents. Based on experience getting anything out of NGA is very close to impossible short of outright ......

Though this situation had at that time of this writing only partially changed as I was informed by NGA as stated in a Mandatory Declassification Review response to this author, "Be further advised, that KH-9 imagery is in the process of being declassified by the Office of National Intelligence. However, the process is not yet complete.

With respect to your request for imagery reports, those are documents under the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency, and your request is being referred to that agency." Nothing heard from CIA etc. The agencies continue to bounce it back and forth like a tennis ball from the last accounts received.

Note: This still does not include the last of the KH-7 and all the KH-8 Imagery deemed the best the U. S. ever got.

"This year's (2011) 50th, Anniversary of the NRO (established in 1961) will be accompanied by some new declassification activity. "Almost all" of the historical intelligence imagery from the KH-9 Satellite 1971-1986) will be declassified within a few months, said Douglas G. Richards of the Joint Staff at an August 23, [2011] forum sponsored by the National Declassification Center." (5)

The KH-7/KH-8/KH-9 imagery declassification remains under NGA and the DNI office for consideration control for possible declassification according to NRO. Contract proposals have been solicited for image digitizing copying for the public to purchase. Copying KH-9 imagery would take a year or more to accomplish. The remaining imagery of critical national security importance to Israel & other Middle Eastern countries and China remaining off limits from declassification as official U. S. government policy. The last reports still indicates this is not a done deal for 2013 through 2016. In reality only the wide area KH-9 imagery is in the running for this declassification in the next few years. Declassification of the last of the KH-7 and the full KH-8 imagery remains very problematical at best. The intelligence community is very reluctant to let go of its historic "holy grail", "crown jewels" imagery the best they ever got. It still has not been fulfilled through 2012. At this point I expect nothing to appear before December 31, 2013 if then...

The following MDR response from the office of the DNI dated October 25, 2012 seems to confirm that no KH-8/Gambit imagery will be declassified any time in the foreseeable future.

"Your email of 17 February 2012 requested an Executive Order 13526 mandatory declassification review of "the declassification of U.S. Intelligence, selected KH-8 and KH-9 imagery."

Upon review, it is determined that the information responsive to your request is currently and properly classified and must be denied in its entirety pursuant to Section 3.3 (b)( l) of the Order and cannot be released in sanitized form. As you are aware, the KH-9 system was declared obsolete in January 2011 and a phased declassification of its imagery has ensued. This imagery is currently being reviewed for declassification and should be available, along with finding reports, by the end of 2013."


This simply means there will be no last of KH-7 or Gambit-3/KH-8 imagery declassified for the foreseeable future.

This is truly a tragic loss to the history community studying Soviet space history through the years 1967-1975. The two samples of the imagery shown below are clearly not of the known quality. Where is the "better than 2 feet to 2" resolution credited to this imagery system Gambit-3? Both of these images are images from the KH-8/Gambit-3 system and they are indeed degradede images As the community has been doing since World War-II if not earlier. What is it going to take to get this imagery declassified short of a...........?


5. SECRECY NEWS, NRO HAS "MOST AGGRESSIVE" LAUNCH RECORD IN 25 YEARS, FAS Project on Government Secrecy, Volume 2011; Issue No. 81, August 25, 2011.
6. SECRECY NEWS," DECLASSIFICATION OF INTELLIGENCE SATELLITE IMAGERY STALLED", FAS Project on Government Secrecy, Volume 2011, Issue No. 106 November 16, 2011
10. SECRECY NEWS, from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, Volume 2012, Issue No. 108, October 22, 2012, INTELLIGENCE IMAGERY SET TO BE DISCLOSED IN 2013

CIA ISCAP declassified image of June 10, 1969 of the 1M1 facilities systems logistics test "J" vehicle on the J-2 pad from the declassified CIA CIB of August 15, 1969.

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Recently the DNI office authorized the declassification of several images during October 2011 of a series of images for some NRO posters setting a legal precedent that was released January 26th, 2012. It is a Gambit-3/KH-8 image of the 1M1, "J" Vehicle undergoing ground testing on the J-1 launch pad.

View image

Sincerely Yours,
Charles P. Vick
Senior Technical & Space Policy Analyst, press

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