Where in the world is Osama bin Laden? Uh … try checking Google Earth. After Google recently updated its satellite images of parts of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, much of the region still looked blotchy — the kind of low resolution that persists in coverage of, say, upstate New York. But several small squares (they stand out as off-color patches from 680 miles up) suddenly became as detailed as the images of Manhattan. These sectors happen to be precisely where the US governÂment has been hunting for bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Turns out, Google gets its images from many of the same satellite companies — DigitalGlobe, TerraMetrics, and others-that provide reconnaissance to US intelligence agencies. And when the CIA requests close-ups of the area around Peshawar in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, Google Earth reaps the benefits (although usually six to 18 months later). This is also why remote parts of Asia went hi-res after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and the Kashmir earthquake in 2005.