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No C-802s For You

Hats off to US SatInt personnel for detecting a fresh shipment of C-802 anti-ship missiles from Iran to Hizballah during the Israeli campaign against Hizballah last month. John Diamond does some excellent reporting for USA Today in bringing the story of how US diplomats took that intelligence and persuaded both Iraq and Turkey to deny the Iranian cargo jet entry into their airspace.

Last night, Diamond published an article that could be called Missile Spotting that detailed how the SatIntel crew arrived at their conclusion.

In the closed world of spy satellite photo analysis, it's called "crate-ology": the science of identifying a weapon or some other key component by the size and shape of its box.

The technique came into play last month when a U.S. spy satellite, looking down on an Iranian air base, captured images of military crews loading what U.S. intelligence analysts concluded were eight C-802 Noor anti-ship cruise missiles on board a transport plane, according to intelligence officials.

The episode was detailed by one U.S. intelligence official who saw a report on the incident. It was confirmed by a U.S. official from a second intelligence agency and by a diplomat with a foreign government. They did not want their names used because they were not authorized to discuss the incident.

The ability of U.S. analysts to say with confidence what was in the boxes set off a chain of events that blocked the shipment to Syria, the U.S. intelligence officials said. They said the weapons were to be forwarded to Hezbollah guerrillas fighting Israeli forces in Lebanon.

The C-802 is "the size of a small truck," says Robert Hewson, a missile expert with Jane's, an authoritative military reference service. Information about the crate, proximity to the place of manufacture and shipping route would enable an analyst to identify it with near certainty as a C-802, he says.

Not normally a big fan of USA Today (beyond the national Sports Page, when such luxury presents itself), John Diamond's work is excellent here, and the accompanying graphics that were compiled for the report are simple yet informative.

At a time when much of the established media is rightly taking many hits square on the jaw from many different directions, it is great to see this in the USA Today...today. Readers want to hear about what we do right and well, too, sometimes. Kudos to both John Diamond and his newspaper.