SUDAN WATCH: Satellite Sentinel Project: George Clooney plans to hire private satellites to track troop movements in Sudan

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Satellite Sentinel Project: George Clooney plans to hire private satellites to track troop movements in Sudan

George Clooney Is "The Antigenocide Paparazzi"
Source: Swampland blog at TIME.com - www.swampland.blogs.time.com
Author: Michael Scherer
Date: Tuesday, 28 December 2010 at 3:40 pm. Full copy:



[Photo: UN Messenger for Peace George Clooney (L) and US President Barack Obama (R)]

Mark Benjamin breaks some news with a TIME.com story about George Clooney's plans (yes, that George Clooney) to hire private satellites to track troop movements in Sudan, in the hopes of stopping another genocide. He writes:
Starting Dec. 30, the Satellite Sentinel Project — a joint experiment by the U.N.'s Operational Satellite Applications Programme, Harvard University, the Enough Project and Clooney's posse of Hollywood funders — will hire private satellites to monitor troop movements starting with the oil-rich region of Abyei. The images will be analyzed and made public at www.satsentinel.org (which goes live on Dec. 29) within 24 hours of an event to remind the leaders of northern and southern Sudan that they are being watched. "We are the antigenocide paparazzi," Clooney tells TIME. "We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get. If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum."
Read the whole story here:

Clooney's "Anti-Genocide Paparazzi": Watching Sudan
Source: TIME.com - www.time.com
Author: Mark Benjamin
Date: Tuesday, 28 December 2010. Full copy:



George Clooney visits Sudan to draw attention to the dangers that could result should southern Sudan vote to separate from the north. (Tim Freccia / Enough Project)

George Clooney and John Prendergast slumped down at a wooden table in a dusty school compound in southern Sudan. It was Oct. 4, and the two men were in the hometown of Valentino Achak Deng, whose experiences wandering the desert as a refugee during Sudan's last civil war were the basis for the best-selling book What Is the What.

Clooney, the actor, and Prendergast, a human-rights activist with 25 years of experience in Africa, had heard enough on their seven-day visit to know that a new round of atrocities could follow the January referendum on independence. If it did, the likelihood was that no one would be held accountable. Why not, Clooney asked, "work out some sort of a deal to spin a satellite" above southern Sudan and let the world watch to see what happens?
(See photos of Clooney in Sudan.)

Three months later, Clooney's idea is about to go live. Starting Dec. 30, the Satellite Sentinel Project — a joint experiment by the U.N.'s Operational Satellite Applications Programme, Harvard University, the Enough Project and Clooney's posse of Hollywood funders — will hire private satellites to monitor troop movements starting with the oil-rich region of Abyei. The images will be analyzed and made public at www.satsentinel.org (which goes live on Dec. 29) within 24 hours of an event to remind the leaders of northern and southern Sudan that they are being watched. "We are the antigenocide paparazzi," Clooney tells TIME. "We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get. If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum."

You don't have to be a spook to have an eye in the sky anymore. Private firms with names like GeoEye, DigitalGlobe and ImageSat International have a half-dozen "birds" circling the globe every 90 minutes in low-Earth orbit, about 297 miles (478 km) up. The best images from these satellites display about 8 sq. in. (50 sq. cm) of the ground in each pixel on a computer screen. That is not enough granularity to read a car's license plate or ID a person, but analysts can tell the difference between cars and trucks and track the movements of troops or horses. "It is Google Earth on lots of steroids," says Lars Bromley, a top U.N. imagery analyst.
(See pictures of Southern Sudan preparing for nationhood.)

But you need money for it. A hurry-up order of what Bromley calls a "single shot" from a satellite covers an area of about 105 sq. mi. (272 sq. km) and costs $10,000. A rush job on a "full strip" image of land roughly 70 miles (115 km) long and 9 miles (14 km) wide could run nearly $70,000. Sentinel is launching with $750,000 in seed money from Not On Our Watch, the human rights organization Clooney founded along with Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman and Jerry Weintraub. Clooney predicted he won't have much trouble raising more money once the project goes live.
(See the top 10 world news stories of 2010.)

Prendergast's group, the Enough Project, is the human-rights arm of the liberal Center for American Progress; it recruited Bromley's team at the U.N. and brought in analysts from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to pore over the images as they arrive. "Generally, what we have done in the past is an after-the-fact documentation exercise," Bromley explains. "This is proactive, wide-area monitoring," he says.

Clooney, who has made four trips to Sudan since 2006, believes Sentinel might have applications in other global hot spots. "This is as if this were 1943 and we had a camera inside Auschwitz and we said, 'O.K., if you guys don't want to do anything about it, that's one thing,'" Clooney says. "But you can't say you did not know.
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Related Reports

Harvard group joins effort to monitor Sudan
Boston Globe by Michael J Bailey - www.boston.com
Tuesday, 28 December 28, 06:25 PM. Excerpts:
WASHINGTON - A team of human right experts at Harvard University will begin analyzing satellite images of Sudan later this week in the hopes of staving off a civil war after the southern section of the troubled nation votes in a January referendum on whether to secede.

The Satellite Sentinel Project, which is being funded by actor and activist George Clooney's humanitarian group, Not on Our Watch, will rely on the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to assess the situation on the ground, where hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Darfur region have been slaughtered over the past decade in ethnic violence.

"We want to see if we actually make a difference in keeping people safe," said Nathaniel Raymond, the program director at Harvard.

The project, which will officially get underway on Dec. 30, is intended to influence the behavior of the Sudanese government, which is blamed for perpetrating the genocide. It will be funded over the next six months by $750,000 that will also cover the cost of buying time on privately owned imaging satellites.

The launch was announced earlier today by Clooney in an interview with Time. [...]

At Harvard's Kennedy School, three full-time analysts will pore over satellite images provided by the United Nations' Operational Satellite Applications Programme and gather other research from public and private sources to determine what Raymond called the "human rights context."

They will be supported by a variety of other specialists at Harvard, including experts in international law, the military, and humanitarian operations.

"What do the abuses shown in the images mean?" Raymond explained. "We want to determine the difference between an attack on a hospital, an attack on a village, or an attack on water supplies, and how that relates to international law and human rights standards."

The project, which will publish all of its findings at www.satsentinel.org, is also designed to shame the international community into taking action if the upcoming referendum prompts the Sudanese regime to perpetrate more abuses. [...]
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Clooney, Google, UN team up to watch Sudan border - Coalition will use satellite surveillance to watch border — and prevent civil war
The Associated Press - www.google.com
Tuesday, 28 December 2010. Full copy:
WASHINGTON (AP) - A group founded by actor George Clooney is teaming up with Google, a U.N. agency and anti-genocide organizations to launch satellite surveillance of the border between north and south Sudan to try to prevent a new civil war after the south votes in a secession referendum next month.

Organizers said Wednesday that Clooney's Not On Our Watch is funding the start-up phase Satellite Sentinel Project that will collect real-time satellite imagery and combine it with field analysis from the Enough Project and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

It will point out movements of troops, civilians and other signs of impending conflict. The U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Programme and Google will then publish the findings online.

The groups hope that early warnings will reduce the risk of violence.
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Clooney, Google, UN team up to monitor Sudan border
The Associated Press by Matthew Lee - www.msnbc.msn.com
Tuesday, 28 December 2010. Excerpt:
Clooney's Not On Our Watch is funding the start-up phase Satellite Sentinel Project that will collect real-time satellite imagery and combine it with field analysis from the Enough Project and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, organizers said.

The data will point out movements of troops, civilians and other signs of impending conflict. The U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Program and Google will then publish the findings online.

"We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we're watching, the world is watching," Clooney said in a statement. "War criminals thrive in the dark. It's a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight."

The groups hope that early warnings will reduce the risk of violence. [...]

Organizers said the Satellite Sentinel Project will be available online Wednesday at www.satsentinel.org.
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Sudan: George Clooney and Friends Fund Eye-in-the-Sky to Avert War
AllAfrica by Cindy Shiner - www.allafrica.com
Tuesday, 28 December 2010. Full copy:
A human rights project using satellite imagery that the general public can access is being launched tomorrow to help deter a resumption of war between north and south Sudan linked to a crucial referendum in January.

The Satellite Sentinel Project, which is backed by American actor George Clooney, combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google's Map Maker technology to monitor the area marking the boundary between and the nation of Sudan and Southern Sudan, which is expected to become Africa's 55th country, following the voting that begins on 9 January.

"There used to be a bumper sticker that said, 'What if they threw a war and nobody came?' said Jonathan Hutson, director of communications for the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group. "That's been rewritten: 'What if they threw a war and everybody came to stop it?' That's the power of crowd-sourcing information, using public technology platforms and leading edge advocacy for waging peace."

Commercial satellites passing over the border areas between north and south Sudan will be able to capture images of possible troop movements and build ups, potential attacks on villages, the movement of displaced people, or other possible threats to civilians, Hutson said. The project aims to provide an early warning system to focus world attention and generate rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns.

"The launch of this project puts all parties on notice that they can be held accountable for their obligations under international human rights law as well as [Sudan's] Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005," Hutson told allAfrica. "The imagery will be out there for all the world to see and respond. This is public information from commercial satellites that will be published on open-source platforms and analyzed in a neutral way to hold all parties accountable."

Southern Sudanese armies fought a decades-long war against northern domination that claimed more than two million lives. The 2005 peace accord provided for a power-sharing arrangement leading to a referendum on self-determination for the oil-rich South. The voting will take place over five days in early January. The north, which has historically benefited from oil located largely in the south, has been hostile to southern independence, and there are fears that one of the world's longest and bloodiest conflicts could re-ignite over the poll.

The Sentinel Project is a collaboration between Not On Our Watch, the Enough Project, UNOSAT (the United Nations UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme), the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google, and Internet strategy and development firm Trellon, LLC. The Enough Project, co-founded in 2007 by Africa experts Gayle Smith and John Prendergast, contributes field reports, provides policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch, puts pressure on policymakers by urging the public to act. Not On Our Watch is a human rights organization co-founded by Clooney.

Hutson said there were a few proofs of concept using satellite imagery that helped inspire the Satellite Sentinel Project. Those included Amnesty International's Eyes on Darfur project, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Crisis in Darfur project, and use of satellite images by Physicians for Human Rights and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to gather evidence of mass grave tampering in Afghanistan.

But Hutson said the Sentinel Project is the first to use sustained, public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential conflicts and threats to security along a border, within 24-36 hours of their occurrence.

"Up until now, projects have documented mass atrocities after the fact. This visionary project aims to deter war crimes by observing troop buildups and troop movements in advance," he said. "The project offers an open source, anti-war platform to observe in near real time troop buildups and movements, and potential war crimes, and gather evidence if necessary that can be presented at the International Criminal Court."

A deterrent to using satellite images in the past has been the expense of commercial satellite images, which can cost about U.S.$2,500 per image. Not On Our Watch has funded a U.S.$750,000 six-month start-up phase of the Sentinel Project.

For the project, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative will provide system-wide research and lead the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the satellite imagery. UNOSAT leads the collection and analysis of the images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the web platform for the public to easily access the images and reports.

"The imagery tends to be worthless if no one looks at it - if no one can make use of it," Lars Bromley, an analyst at UNOSAT told allAfrica. "Once you get it out there and built into a site like this, that's really where it's getting exciting. Finally all these elements are starting to come together, where we are able to proactively address some of these issues instead of just documenting it after the fact."

The Satellite Sentinel Project will be available on December 29 at www.satsentinel.org. The aim of the project's funder, Not On Our Watch - co-founded by Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub - is to focus global attention and resources toward putting an end to mass atrocities around the world.

Hutson said one goal of the project is to teach the world best practices in using commercially available satellite imagery along with crowd-sourced mapping tools to provide better, faster responses. These could be responses to potential human rights abuses, conflicts, humanitarian crises, or natural disasters, he said.

"More simply put, we're leveraging technology 3.0 with stronger, better satellite imagery to create better, faster responses," he said. "Now the crisis at hand is in Sudan. But this project, we hope, will inspire other efforts around the world."
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Clooney, Google, U.N. watch Sudan using satellites
Reuters CANADA - Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Chris Wilson
Tuesday, 28 December 2010. Excerpts:
Google and Trellon Llc, an Internet development firm, designed a Web platform for public access to information with the goal of pressuring Sudanese officials and other groups. [...]

On December 24, Vice President Joe Biden phoned Sudanese Second Vice President Ali Osman Mohmed Taha to express Washington's concern about violence leading up to the vote.
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Postscript from Sudan Watch editor
Thought for the Day:
How easy is satellite jamming?
And how many Sudan activists work within Google?
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UPDATE:

Televised Debate over Sudan’s Referendum Set Wednesday
VOA by Peter Clottey - Tuesday, 28 December 2010. Excerpts:
An official of the Sudan’s referendum commission said his organization Wednesday will begin the first in a series of debates between high-ranking representatives of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) ahead of the 9th January referendum.

The live debate is expected to be broadcast nationwide.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Patrick Meier said...

Thanks for this post. Here's one I wrote:

Will Using ‘Live’ Satellite Imagery to Prevent War in the Sudan Actually Work?

http://irevolution.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/sat-sentinel-project

Thursday, December 30, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked for two years in Sudan (Darfur province) in the 80's as a teacher. Even then the animist/christian South was fighting for independance from Khartoum while the world ignored the fighting and bloodshed. As ever, oil before people. Well done to George Clooney for putting the spotlight on a people we in the fat western world just don't care about.Shame on us! Hope it works.

Friday, January 07, 2011  

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