Keeping an eye on repression

The Famous IKONOS Satellite Image of Azadi Square


Keeping an eye on repression
by Ari Siletz

In the days prior to the Bahman 22 anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Khamenei’s forces were making furious efforts to tighten a blindfold on the media so that the world could not see the magnitude of the Iranian opposition. At the same time the opposition movement, with far fewer resources, had to find a way to get the truth out with as little bloodshed as possible.

It was during this time that Mark Brender, the Vice President of Communications at GeoEye (, an operator of high-resolution Earth imaging satellites, received a call from an unusual customer. A professor at one of Iran’s universities was wondering if a GeoEye satellite would be in position on 11 February, 2010 to take a picture of Azadi Square at the time when Ahamadinejad was giving his 22 Bahman speech.

I spoke with Mr. Brender who received that historic call, and he was eager to read some of the emails he received from grateful Iranians:

“Dear sirs, I want to say thank you, thank you…” signed a Persian member of the Green Movement.” The Green Movement member was thankful that the satellite image showed the area inside Azadi Square as mostly empty, whereas the streets leading to the square were packed with crowds the regime did not trust enough to let inside. That is, potential opposition supporters.

Here’s another email, “You guys are so incredibly awesome for publicly exposing the fascist Iranian regime and its claim to millions of supporters to the critical eyes of the free...” Awesome because the image also suggests that even the regime’s few trusted supporters may not be very committed. The long line of buses to the south of the square shows how the regime was able to gather the few supporters that it did. They were bused to the location in an organized government effort to pack the event.

One more email, “Your image of Azadi Square is a big help for democracy and the Green Movement in Iran. In all social networks people are expressing their appreciation.”

You get the picture, no need to go on.

I asked Mr. Brender how he felt about GeoEye’s role in giving the world an accurate picture of the democracy movement in Iran, and he humbly said, “We were just the photographers.” Yet he obviously understood the significance of the Iranian professor’s request.

In fact, it was GeoEye who contacted Google to let them know there was a “hot” picture available that the whole world would be interested in seeing. Google then loaded the one-meter resolution, IKONOS image to GeoEye’s Google Earth layer and posted the image on their lat/long blog.

Of course it was by no means certain that GeoEye would be able to fulfill the request of the Iranian professor. He wasn’t just asking for any image of Azadi Square, which would have been a cinch for GeoEye. He was asking for Azadi Square at a particular time, a much taller order for a satellite that’s in orbit around the Earth.

There were two elements of luck involved in getting this time-sensitive satellite image. First, Azadi Square had to be clear of clouds at the time of the ceremonies. Bahman is a winter month in Tehran, increasing the likelihood of clouds. Second, one of GeoEye’s satellites had to be in the right place in its orbit at that time.

Mr. Brender explained the timing problem in this way, “The satellites are sun-synchronous, meaning they follow the sun to get optimal light and consistent shadowing on the ground. They are also only overhead mid-morning on any given day. Just imagine, these satellites are flying 681 kilometers above the earth at an average speed of 7.5 kilometers per second. The Earth’s rotation also decides where they are going to be, since the satellites are in a fixed orbit and make 15 orbits per day while the Earth is constantly spinning beneath them.”

Simply put, the task needed Nature’s cooperation.

The weather obviously cooperated. But to appreciate the second element of luck let’s see what odds we were up against relative to the satellite being in the right place. GeoEye operates two high-resolution imaging satellites, and between the two of them they are able to image any point on the planet every 24 to 36 hours. These polar-orbiting satellites can approximately revisit any point on Earth once every three days or sooner (they repeat their exact orbit every 144 days). So, if customers order a desired location they have to wait until the satellite comes around again in its orbit. If this were a poker game you’d have to be holding a two pair to beat the odds of getting a picture within a one-hour window of the desired time.

GeoEye checked the flight path of their newer, higher resolution satellite, GeoEye-1, well in advance of 11 Feb, and it was scheduled to be nowhere near the right place. If it weren’t for IKONOS, GeoEye’s very first high-resolution satellite, the regime would not have been exposed in this way. IKONOS happened to be passing 225 kilometers to the east of Tehran (somewhere on top of Dasht e Kavir) at 10:47 A.M. on that day. Commanding the satellite to tilt its gaze about 20 degrees to the west, GeoEye caught Despotism in an embarrassing moment.

I light-heartedly asked Brender if GeoEye would be sending a bill to the Iranian freedom movement for this image. He said, “No charge.”

Though their images are usually custom-ordered for a fee, there are special public interest circumstances--the Haiti earthquake, for example -- where providing free images helps with humanitarian causes, while bringing name recognition to the company. Another way of humbly saying, “We were just the photographers.”

Yet GeoEye gave the public an important photograph that no journalist in the world was able to achieve, all taken from outer space where individual governments don’t have any control.

Please, Pulitzer Prize committee, keep this in mind!


1. GeoEye is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ: GEOY) and independent of Google Inc. (NYT: GOOG). Google happens to be one of their customers.

2. GeoEye’s “map-accurate” images can help with accurate crowd estimates. For example, each digital pixel in a GeoEye-1 satellite image represents an object on the ground which measures.41-meter resolution, so it’s capable of seeing the home plate on a baseball diamond. It also offers three-meter geolocation accuracy, which means that customers can map natural and man-made features to within three meters of their actual location on the surface of the Earth without ground control points. In this way any area of Azadi Square or surrounding streets can be calculated to high accuracy, and the crowd estimated. To get a scale for headcount per unit area, you can use the satellite photo of, say, the Obama inauguration ceremony and the figure of 1.5 million attendees for that event.

3. Over the years, GeoEye has helped expose many other secrets in Iran. Their GeoEye-1 satellite image of the enrichment facility north of Qom was seen all around the world. As was their imagery of the Natanz nuclear complex.


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Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Zanboor: Please be honest enough to report that people in 4 streets were headed towards Azadi Square. 


Ari: Yes they were.


Zanboor: The picture was taken whilst people were on their way to the main venue.


Ari: Yes, it was and the satellite photo shows they were stopped by the barricades around the square.


3. Zanboor: Ethically and academically dishonest...


Ari: Nope! Kayhan has had the opportunity to respond with IRI's own aerial photo. So far their response has been the following:


Ba Salam
E-mail Shoma Daryaft Shod .
Dar Asrae vaght Mail Shoma Barresi Khahad Shod .
Ba Tashakor Az Shoma .

Here's their email address:

Knock yourself out!




Good Work Ari... We need more focus on this

by AlexInFlorida on

The picture and the time it was taken say it all.  And it's very different from what the IRI projected for the very same time.  The IRI is sneeky, brutal and cunning no doubt about it. 



ZGM - What are those people on the streets doing?

by MM on

For a sample of what all those people next to the white roofed buses on the streets are doing, go to:


Note the white roofed buses in both the picture and in the video.  I am pretty sure we would have heard the crowd answer: tirakhtooor, tirakhtooor in Tabriz or eeemshi, eeemshi in Ahvaz.


Ari - ethically and academically dishonest observation

by zanboor_ghavi_mannyslawyer on

THe image also shows throngs and masses of people in the four major streets branching out of Azadi sq.  I don't think those people were in the streets because Walmart had a special going on.

Please be honest enough to report that people in 4 streets were headed towards Azadi Square.  The picture was taken whilst people were on their way to the main venue.



Dear Benross: Sorry, I did

by vildemose on

Dear Benross: Sorry, I did not inquire about Ann Coulter. I was curious to know about Jaleho since you implied to AO that you know her.



by benross on

Is she actually a teacher?? What does she teach?? English Literature?

I suppose you are referring to Ann Coulter. No I don't think she is. Actually I don't know her very well. I saw her few times commenting on different issues and that's enough for me. Actually more than I need to know!


vildemose, the majority of Iranians feel as frustrated

by minadadvar on

as you are.  But, sooner or later, this brutal/corrupt regime, will fall.  

It is not "shah gholam".  It is "Shah of all (iri) gholams."  


Mina Jan: Exactly.

by vildemose on

Mina Jan: Exactly. Unfortuantely, the money is going to support the likes of Iranianmilitaryforum and shah gholam...So frustrating that we can't do much about it...


Dear Ari, Thank you for your fine post

by mehdi2009 on

Dear Ari,

Thank you again for the wonderful picture, and the outstanding follow up article. The Mullah's Murderous Regime's Apologists on this Forum can bitch and moan till cows come home, as they live in a parallel universe where Lies, deception and Family Ridicule is the Norm for them.

Ari-e Aziz Damet Garm.

Salutations to ALL the TRUE Sons and Daughters of Iran.  



Dear vildemose

by minadadvar on

You are right.  The pictures/video clip of people trying to get a piece of fruit is heartbreaking. Iran is a rich country.  People should chant "Where is my money?"  




...see the larger picture please...

by saadat bahar on

The article fails to show the whole picture! Please see:
Note the crowds to the east and north of Azadi Sq. We need to see reality as it is.


True Journalism

by divaneh on

Dear Ari, thanks for this investigative article. An eye opener that has made us indebted to GeoEye.


Dear benross: Is she

by vildemose on

Dear benross: Is she actually a teacher?? What does she teach?? English Literature?

Anonymous Observer


by Anonymous Observer on

no, but equally as repulsive!


Anonymous Observer

by benross on

a lot of people on this site, me included, know who she actually is.

So I'm left behind. But let me guess... Ann Coulter? 


I just watched Mikos' set of

by vildemose on

I just watched Mikos' set of pictures of Feb. 11. It made me really sad instead of vindicated...

Noosh Afarin

با تشکر از شما آقای آری گرامی

Noosh Afarin


 با تشکر از شما آقای آری گرامی برای تحقیق و تهیه این مقالهء بسیار ارزشمند.

دولت فاسد سرکوبگر سانسورچی ایران برای تحت فشار قرار دادن آزادیخواهان ما، با قطع کردن رسانه های صوتی، تصويری و يا کانالهای ماهواره ای و از همه مهمتر اینترنت تماماً فيلتر شده با سرعت بسيار پايين (٣٣ کيلوبيت بر ثانيه) که تنها رسانهء ارتباطی بین مردم بود، دست به یک بازی احمقانه زد که بیش از پیش در چشم ایرانیان و جهانیان بیِ آبروترش کرد.

 شرکت گوگل  بعد از بسته شدن ( جی میل ) و قطع رسانه های اینترنتی با پخش تصاویر ماهواره ای روز ٢٢ بهمن یک تودهنی بزرگ به دولت دمکرات سرکوبگر و سانسورچی ماموت احمقی و سلطان علیشاه خامنه زد. و به آنها یاد آور شدند که ما در عصر تکنولوژی زندگی میکنیم که حاکمان جبار به هیچ وجه قدرت کنترل و سانسور کردن آنرا ندارنند.

مردم سبز آزادیخواه  ايران زير شديد ترين فشارها از جانب حکومت فاسد و ديکتاتور جمهوری اسلامی قرار دارند و  به همين دليل اين عمل گوگل در پخش تصاوير ماهواره ای از تظاهرات 22 بهمن ١٣٨٨ برای مردم آزادیخواه ايران بسيار بسيار با ارزش و فراموش نشدنی است. با اینکار گوگل جایگاه بزرگی را در بین ایرانیان طرفدار آزادی به خود اختصاص داد. نوشه جانشان!


با تشکر مجدد از شما آقای آری، مقالهء شما را برای اقوامم در چند کشور مختلف فرستادم.
شاد و پاینده باشید.



 پی نوشت:  دولت فاسد، سانسورچی ایران با برقراری حکومت نظامی در تهران ، انهم در روزی که ظرف ٣٠ سال گذشته هیچ شهروندی شرط و شروط و فشاری را که امسال دولت برای شرکت خودجوش مردم در سالگرد سی و یکمین سال ربودن انقلاب نافرجام مردم آزادیخواه ایران روا داشتند را تجربه نکرده بودنند را شاهد شدند.  به گفته های چندین اقوامم:سالهای گذشته مردم دیگر اهمیتی به ٢٢ بهمن نمیدانند و صدا و سیما با استفاده از فیلمهای سالهای قبل سعی میکرد که ٢٢ بهمن را با شکوه نشان دهد. ولی امسال  موضوع فرق کرد؛ از طرف مدرسه پسر خواهرم؛ به خواهرم چند روز قبل از ٢٢ بهمن تلفن کردنند که به مدرسه برود، و خواهرم بسیار نگران که چرا او را به مدرسه احضار کردنند چونکه فرزندش شاگرد ممتاز مدرسه است. بحرحال با آشفتگی به مدرسهء پسرش رفت که بداند چه اتفاقی افتاده که او خبر ندارد. بعد از چند لحظه صحبت با مدیر مدرسه، مدیر برگه ای به خواهرم داد و گفت که لطفاً اینرا بخوانید و امضاء کنید. به گفتهء خواهرم: در آن برگه خواهرم باید تعهُد میداد که پسر ١٥ ساله اش در روز ٢٢ بهمن به مدرسه برود تا در راهپیمائی خودجوش روز ٢٢ بهمن شرکت کند... و اتوبوسی از جلوی درب مدرسه آنها را به میدان آزادی خواهد برد و بعد از اتمام برنامه انها را به مدرسه برمیگردانند. و در متن آمده بود که این یک امر اجباریست، سرباز زدن از آن برای والدین پیگرد قانونی دارد.... اینبار فريبکاری های حکومت ديکتاتور جمهوری اسلامی برای همگان بیشتر اشکار شد، جز سینه چاکان مزدورش ، ولی خب بر کسی پوشیده نیست که سینه چاکان  فقط یک دستمال بزرگ در دستشان دارنند.





Anonymous Observer

We know

by Anonymous Observer on

a lot of people on this site, me included, know who she actually is.

Here, see Mammad's comment on this thread:


hamsade ghadimi


by hamsade ghadimi on

who said he was a she anyway?  that's just a persona in which he revels.  not that there's anything wrong with it.

Anonymous Observer


by Anonymous Observer on

Pretty funny.  Just picture Jaleho, on a short trip to Iran from Boston (of course, she won't actually "live" in the IRI utopia), returning from an Ahamdinejad shing-ding, dressed in a black chador, and carrying a bag full of free bananas and narangi that she just got at the rally.  She gets home, and her own family don't believe her and make fun of her, to the extent that she has to show them pictures so they actually believe her.  I guess we're not the only ones who have figured out that this character has no credibility.  Her own family were way ahead of us in coming to that conclusion!

hamsade ghadimi

thanks ari, miko, jahelo

by hamsade ghadimi on

ari, i enjoyed your article and appreciate the effort you put into it.

miko, thanks for the pictures.  it showed the family fun atmosphere of azadi square on 22 bahman, the type that you find exactly at the boston pops.  not many people know that the boston pops distributes free bananas, oranges, gift packages, bus rides, tear gas, billyclubs, and punches (not the hawaiian kind) for those who don't even make it to the concert grounds.  just like all of ahmadi's gigs in iran except for the "throw darts at picture of u.s. president."

jahelo, thanks for the laugh (both comments).  i wonder why your family doesn't even believe you in your own home (1st comment) when you say many people attend ahmadi's speeches.  maybe maz jobrani can find you a spot in his axis of evil comedy tour.


Ari, I assume you realize that you are now guilty of

by oktaby on

Treason, being a Mohareb, stooge of the West, and a Zionist.

If that is not bad enough, according to IRR fan club, you are pooping on a party of Boston Pops class.



What are those people next to the white buses doing?

by MM on

For a sample of what all those people next to the white roofed buses are doing, go to:


I am pretty sure we would have heard the crowd answer: tirakhtooor, tirakhtooor in Tabriz or eeemshi, eeemshi in Ahvaz.



Great Pictures Miko

by thexmaster on

It looks like some redneck carnival from the US.  

Anonymous Observer

Yes, it was just like the Boston Pops concert

by Anonymous Observer on

but with tens of thousands of tear gas throwing, cattle prop using, motor cycle riding, heavily armored thugs beating people up on the streets, and thousands of bussed in goons from villages.  That's how they do it in Boston as well.  Everyone around Charles River gets tear gassed and gets the crap beaten out of him.  They are then taken to a secret prison in the suburbs of Boston, held in shipping containers and then raped.

Is there anything that the IRI trash won't say to justify the murderous regime?

Hovakh: no, there is no tax on arajeef.  That's why you see these low lives spewing their nonsense on the internet and beyond.  Also, it's a function of being a wine drinking Boston residing, out of touch blind ideologue.  if you're such a person, you can sit next to your fireplace in Boston and tell the people of Iran that they should suffer under a brutal military dictatorship so that israel can be thought a lesson!     


Video showing people only

by vildemose on

Video showing people only care about food and drink.


All This Crowd Cares For Here is one footage of the pro-government supporters on 11th Feb. See them fight for handouts and how they even step on a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini thats on the ground. This crowd has no convictions, but they have a hungry stomach and they will go to any rally where they can get hold of a bite to eat.



Yep. When I see thousands of troops, guns and thugs, streets

by Hovakhshatare on

closed, Internet and just about any network communication mostly shut down. People arrested in hordes for weeks leading to the event...

I immediately think music, festivities and Esplande Boston.

or New Orleans Mardi Gras, or NY 4th of July. They are soooooo similar.

Is there no tax/liability on mozakhraf? 


Ari, thanks for the info.

by Cost-of-Progress on

And I'd like to spread the word, with your permission, to ensure others benefit from this piece.

Also, equally as valuable, is the fact that you interrupted professor's mid day prayer to post her rebuttal. I'm still confused about that one: an academic - supposedly a female - who lives in the US, enjoys all the freedom and yet is agaisnt the west and supports IR.  Typical, I know, but hard to fathom...







Boston concert

by Miko on

I wonder if in Boston concert they give free Narengi and Mooz? //


It's good to see Jaleho

by vildemose on

It's good to see Jaleho squirm. Ari, you deserve a medal for that

 "Support the Dissidents"

Perviz Khazaii