The Pentagon is disputing suggestions NATO security has been compromised by the transmission on commercial satellites of pictures taken by spy planes operating over the Balkans.
The claim by the Center for Public Integrity is stunning. As it put it this week in a new report, "the war on terrorism in Europe is being undermined by a military communications system that makes it easier for terrorists to tune into live video of U.S. intelligence operations than to watch Disney cartoons..."
The U.S.-based watchdog group, working with a British satellite television enthusiast, was referring to surveillance video taken by manned and unmanned U.S. spy planes operating in the Balkans in support of NATO peacekeeping efforts. It alleges anyone with a normal satellite TV receiver can watch the videos, which are beamed over open, commercial channels.
The Center suggests it is a serious security lapse and claims U.S. defense officials ignored several warnings from the British engineer who uncovered the open satellite transmissions.
But the Pentagon says there is no scandal. A spokesman tells VOA there is no evidence the open broadcasts have had any effect on the security of NATO forces. He says the surveillance video is all unclassified information. If the material on the videos was deemed sensitive, the spokesman says it would be encrypted or the signal scrambled to prevent any unauthorized interceptions.
The official says the surveillance effort in the Balkans is intended to help provide a safe and secure environment, not to support offensive military operations, like those now under way in Afghanistan.
Surveillance aircraft are heavily involved in monitoring potential terrorist activity in Afghanistan. But the spokesman notes no claims have been made of any of the surveillance video from there being viewed by the public on open, commercial satellite links.
Some published reports suggest the Pentagon, prompted by the latest disclosures, is now poised to make the Balkan transmissions more secure. But the Defense spokesman says there are no such plans at the moment.