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Map flap: Is U.S. consulate image classified or Google fodder?

Published October 10, 2012 4:56 pm

Map flap • Utah's Chaffetz objects to public display, but Democrat says, 'You can Google this!'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Don't let the terrorists near Google Maps.

That concern arose Wednesday in a congressional hearing when Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, objected to a State Department official showing a satellite image of the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, where four Americans were killed last month.

"I would renew my deep concern that we're getting into an area that is classified and should be classified," Chaffetz said. "The dealing with the map is one issue. I believe that the markings on that map were terribly inappropriate, that the activities there could cost lives."

"You can Google this!" responded an exasperated Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Sure enough, typing the words "U.S. Consulate," "Libya" and "Benghazi" into the world's largest Internet search engine brings up an instant shot of the site where extremists killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and members of his security detail. The building is labeled U.S. Consulate with a small flag icon.

There is no Google Street View of the site, but the image is similar to that shown in the committee room, live on C-SPAN and streamed on the Internet.

"So that we'll be clear because we don't want any misconceptions," said Cummings of Maryland. "Mister Ambassador, can we get that on Google?"

Former Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, now a State Department undersecretary, wasn't allowed to answer by the chairman of the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

But the answer appears to be yes.

The image shown in the committee is from a company called DigitalGlobe, which provides most of the images to Google for use in its mapping site.

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for the Republicans on the Oversight Committee, said members were advised not to talk about the annex building and who worked there, based on national security concerns.

"But today the administration highlighted satellite photos of it in an open forum," Hill said.

Kennedy, a career-long foreign service official, said under oath that there was no reason for concern. "The information that we are presenting today in open session is entirely unclassified," he said.

And, apparently, also on Google.

tburr@sltrib.com