Team B-

The proliferation of commercial satellites that take photos-for-sale of the Earth’s surface long ago spawned a small industry of shops that will study these pictures and tell you what they think is going on down there. Applications for agriculture, city planning, et cetera are obvious, but there is a lucrative subset of the business that employs former spies who learned how to look for trouble and find it for eager customers. Surely they must miss the extremely high resolution of bonafide military/intelligence satellites, but never mind. They talk the talk of GEOINT and know how to put together an expensive, hair-raising analytical product. Today there is news apparently derived from such a source that posits the imminence of North Korean missile-launching submarines. American, Japanese, and South Korean navy ships happen to be practicing how to hunt for enemy subs and running computer simulations of missile tracking, part of joint exercises that have been going on for months amid rising tensions in the region. A New York Times reporter in Hong Kong links this activity willy-nilly to a November 16 article in a publication from SAIS, the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington (a “division” of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, rather in the same free-standing mode as the Peabody School of Music) that scrutinized some DigitalGlobe commercial pix of a North Korean shipyard.  The author concluded that there was evidence of “an aggressive schedule to build and deploy” that strange country’s first operational ballistic missile submarine. Now SAIS is formally named after Paul Nitze, an investment banker who started its storefront precursor with his Brahmin friend Rep. Christian Herter (R, Mass.) during World War II, seven years before it became part of the Hopkins brand in 1950.  Nitze eventually found a higher calling as the Truman Administration hardliner who created NSC-68, the secret 1950 policy document that established a permanent post-war wartime economy to oppose the Soviet Union. He also helped spawn the CIA’s alarmist “Team B” assessments of Soviet behavior in the 1970s that supported the vast Pentagon buildup of the Reagan era. So here we have a deeply satisfying resonance of continuity in the intellectual apparatus that has inflated American defense budgets for more than six decades and shows no sign of running out of wind.

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