Monday, April 13, 2015

CSIS Using Satellite Intel to Track Asian Islands Dispute

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently landed on the front page of The New York Times for satellite images it has analyzed apparently showing that China has been building up land mass in disputed island territories in the South China Sea.  Here is an excerpt:

China has long asserted ownership of the archipelago in the South China Sea known as the Spratly Islands, also claimed by at least three other countries, including the Philippines, an American ally. But the series of detailed photographs taken of Mischief Reef shows the remarkable speed, scale and ambition of China’s effort to literally gain ground in the dispute.
The photographs show that since January, China has been dredging enormous amounts of sand from around the reef and using it to build up land mass — what military analysts at the Pentagon are calling “facts on the water” — hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland.

Here is China's response to the satellite images, which were taken by DigitalGlobe, a commercial satellite imagery provider, and then analyzed by CSIS.

More specifically, the analysis is being done by CSIS's Asia Transparency Maritime Initiative (AMTI), which the think tank describes as an "interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia."  The think tank also says that AMTI was "conceived and designed" by CSIS and takes no position on territorial or maritime claims.

AMTI says that it generally gets its information from news sources and various research institutes and NGOs, but in certain instances it "may be asked to keep the source of a particular piece of information confidential," suggesting that the US or other foreign governments may be providing it with some information.

CSIS receives funding from a variety of governments, including the US government, and governments of Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam, among others.

A variety of former US government security and intelligence officials are advisors and/or contributors to the program.

AMTI says that the source of its funding is from CSIS's Asia Program, as well as a start-up grant from the think tank's Brzezinski Institute of Geostrategy.  It also says it is soliciting funds from governments in Asia and corporations and foundations.

AMTI's "Island Tracker" can be viewed here.  And here are 18 maps that explain maritime security in Asia.

The NYT also commented about the images in an editorial on April 11.

CSIS was recently ranked as the world's top defense and national security think tank by the 2015 University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.