Declassified documents confirm former President Donald Trump illegally posted a satellite image of a failed rocket launch in Iran on Twitter in 2019. The image showed a rocket that exploded on a launch pad after country officials unsuccessfully tried to launch a satellite. Trump reportedly published the image to seemingly prove the U.S. was not involved in the incident.
“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” Trump tweeted at the time. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”
The image was so sharp that some experts suspected it wasn’t taken by satellite at all. “This picture is so exquisite, and you see so much detail,” Jeffrey Lewis, who studies satellite imagery at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey told NPR. “At first, I thought it must have been taken by a drone or something.”
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, NPR obtained the original image from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The outlet says they went through a thorough review with the Pentagon to confirm the image could now be shared with the public. However, several details remain redacted.
Steven Aftergood, a specialist in secrecy and classification at the Federation of American Scientists told NPR this decision shows Trump seemed to have no problem sharing highly sensitive information on social media while president.
“He was getting literally a bird’s eye view of some of the most sensitive US intelligence on Iran,” Aftergood told the outlet. “And the first thing he seemed to want to do was to blurt it out over Twitter.”
When the image was first posted, aerospace experts determined the photo was taken by a classified spacecraft called USA 224, believed to be a multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance aircraft. The spacecraft is similar to the Hubble Telescope, but instead of getting a closer look at the stars, it views the Earth’s surface.
According to reports last year by Yahoo! News, Trump was shown the satellite image during a daily intelligence briefing with top national security advisors. According to Yahoo, a former Trump administration official told the outlet that Trump had asked whether he could keep the photo. After some hesitation, he was told he could. About an hour later, Trump tweeted out the image to his millions of followers.
Aftergood told NPR that by releasing the image, Trump may have provided invaluable information to other countries, including Russia and Iran, saying if one of those countries had released a similar image, the U.S. would have assembled a task force to learn what they could about the information.
This new information comes only days after Trump formally announced his bid to run for president in 2024. That announcement now makes him immune to fact-checking on Facebook, according to Meta’s policies preventing moderators from weighing-in on politicians’ posts. And it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll continue to post whatever he wants on Truth Social or whether he’ll go back to his old stomping grounds, pending the green light from Twitter after being banned for his role in January 6.
News of the reckless posting of classified photos might not be that surprising for those following along. The former President seemed to have a thing for classified information. Over the summer, the FBI seized troves of classified documents from his Mar-a-Lago estate.
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