Open-source researchers in the WMD nonproliferation field consistently use optical imagery to analyze sites of interest. We have the ability to monitor site construction and development, identify changes and levels of activity, explore site history, and confirm the location of relevant ground imagery. However, optical imagery has limitations – cloud cover or infrequent collection can mean loss of data for significant periods of time. Radar-based data circumvents these obstacles and can help fill in the gaps in optical imagery.
If optical imagery is considered the default option for imagery analysis, SAR data is sometimes erroneously relegated to the category of an “added bonus” or an “extra” – if its acquisition is not possible for one reason or another, it is often not considered to be a significant information loss. Instead, regular use of SAR data should be considered a failsafe, catch-all imagery solution that is critical to continuously and thoroughly monitor covert proliferation activities because it defies the conventional limits of optical imagery. Beyond this, SAR can also characterize minute levels of change and portray these in a quantifiable, deliverable fashion.L
This presentation will use two case studies that illustrate the benefits of SAR imagery utilization in open-source nonproliferation research. The first case study overviews the use of SAR on the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea. Interferometric SAR was particularly useful in detecting subsidence in the mountain after its latest and largest nuclear test in September 2017. In this case, InSAR augmented other sources of open-source information, like seismic data and state media reports, to confirm nuclear testing, and provided compelling evidence that cued further investigation and analysis into the site: a methodological example clearly transferable to future work.
The second case study will use SAR imagery to analyze the Al Kibar nuclear reactor site near Deir Alzour in the Syrian Arab Republic, and demonstrate that the insights derived from traditional optical satellite imagery analysis can be augmented with SAR. Initial implementation SAR into open-source analysis of the site could have helped prevent the rapid spread of misinformation in the aftermath of its bombing, and more concrete evidence of covert activity could have been elucidated and highlighted in the open-source, which in turn could have been useful to those in leadership and decision-making capacities.