NIMA Sponsors Historical Imagery Declassification Conference America's Eyes: What We Were Seeing

Press Release From: National Imagery and Mapping Agency
Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2002

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) recently co- sponsored with the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) a Historical Imagery Declassification (HID) Conference. The event was held on Sept. 20, 2002, at the UMUC Inn and Conference Center in Adelphi, Md.

NIMA is leading a U.S. Government effort to declassify and release to the public a variety of historical information about our nation's Intelligence Systems. The Agency's mechanism is the Historical Imagery Declassification (HID) Program. The HID Program has three goals: promote the spirit of open governance, demonstrate results of taxpayer investment in national security and ensure that researchers -- from environmentalists to historians -- have access to useful and unique sources of information.

The HID Conference, "America's Eyes: What We Were Seeing," was the capstone of a NIMA-led effort with other Intelligence, Department of Defense and civil organizations to review and declassify Keyhole (KH) imagery from the KH-7 surveillance imaging system and KH-9 mapping system. It marked the official transfer of the original satellite imagery from NIMA to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), as stipulated by Executive Order (EO) 12951. Signed on February 22, 1995, the EO directs the release of certain scientific or environmentally useful imagery, consistent with national security, to the public and creates a research repository for the images and complimentary material.

NIMA's Deputy Director Joanne O. Isham presented a film canister, representing declassified imagery to Dr. Michael J. Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Records Services. She said, "The program's goal of promoting the spirit of open governance is in keeping with finest traditions of this great country."

Dr. Gerald Heeger, president, University of Maryland, welcomed the attendees to the conference and to the University of Maryland. "In the use of technology in education, UMUC is a leader, just as NIMA is a leader in its use of technology. And, like NIMA, we think of ourselves as part of the defense community," he said pointing to an alumni group of more than 1,000,000 U.S. service men and women and 50 flag officers.

The Honorable J. Robert Kerrey, President, New School University, gave the keynote address, and said of NIMA "Your work saves lives. It's that simple. Better decisions by policy makers?enable the power of the United States to be leveraged many times over."

UMUC history professor John Newman called the images "a treasure trove" and commended NIMA for the great academic benefit they serve. "This kind of release assists the people, the historians, the scientists and the politicians to learn from mistakes and avoid making them in the future," said Newman, a 2002 Stanley Drazek Teaching Excellence Award recipient.

A series of panel discussions concluded the event.

The high-resolution KH-7 surveillance imaging satellite, flown from July 1963 to June 1967, monitored key targets such as ICBM complexes, radar systems, and hot spots around the globe. This system complemented the CORONA search system. Whereas the CORONA missions were dedicated to answering: "Is there something there?" this higher- resolution system assisted imagery analysts in watching that something, to learn more about it, identify it, and classify it. This system also provided the basis for producing large-scale maps of airfields, harbors, cities, and missile defense systems.

The lower-resolution KH-9 mapping system was devoted exclusively to gathering information for mapmaking, and collected imagery from March 1973 to October 1980. Geodetic data, including precise geopositioning, elevation, and other information provided the DoD with accurate point locations for air, sea and ground operations. This system was also used for tactical and strategic weapons system planning. For more about Historical Imagery Declassification, America's Eyes: What We Were Seeing, visit

Together, these two systems acquired about 50,000 images (about 93,000 linear feet of film). The NARA will archive the original imagery and make a duplicate copy available for the public. The United States Geological Survey's EROS Data Center (EDC) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will receive a duplicate negative of this imagery, the metadata associated with the frames, and browse images for the public to view on their web site before ordering. The public can order prints and film transparencies from EDC via the Internet at URL -- just as they can do today for the CORONA imagery.

NIMA is a national intelligence and combat support agency whose mission is to provide timely, relevant and accurate Geospatial Intelligence in support of our national security. Geospatial Intelligence is the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., NIMA has major facilities in the Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and St. Louis, Mo., areas with NIMA support teams worldwide.

University of Maryland University College (UMUC), one of 11 accredited, degree-granting institutions in the University System of Maryland, is the second largest university in the state, offering programs and services tailored for working adults. It is a leader in higher education for adults. The university currently has more than 80,000 students worldwide, nearly 15,000 of which are Maryland residents. For more information about UMUC, visit

[NOTE: Images supporting this release are available at ]

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