When Russia’s leading mapping service attempted to blur out each and every military facility in Israel and Turkey, it inadvertently revealed their exact locations, perimeters, and potential functions to “anyone curious enough to find them all,” according to Matt Korda of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, the researcher who discovered the error, Quartz said.
The obscured sites on Yandex Maps’ web-based mapping service range from airfields and munitions-storage bunkers to what Korda described as “small, nondescript buildings within city blocks.” The laborious task of blurring each location was almost certainly done at the behest of both Israel and Turkey, not of the company’s own volition, Korda said on the FAS Strategic Security blog. No locations in Russia, including nuclear facilities, submarine bases, air bases, and launch sites, were obscured in any way.
“Mapping services like Yandex typically play a reactive role in these cases, as they are responding to requests from outside sources to obscure a pre-defined list of sites,” Korda told Quartz. “Since no Russian sites have been blurred, I would assume that the Russian Ministry of Defense hasn’t asked Yandex to do so.”
“Our mapping product in Israel conforms to the national public map published by the government of Israel as it pertains to the blurring of military assets and locations,” a Yandex spokesperson told Quartz. “Our Turkish map product observes local rules and regulations similarly.”
Korda said his interest was initially piqued after hearing rumors that Yandex was selectively blurring out certain sites around the world, but he didn’t have anything more specific to go on. After doing a manual search that identified Israel and Turkey as the two nations whose satellite imagery Yandex had altered, Korda then spent a couple of weeks going through the maps of both countries section by section, dropping pins in Google Earth on the spots that were obscured.
So far, he’s pinned over 300 distinct sites in Israel and Turkey, from airfields and ports to bunkers, storage sites, bases, barracks, nuclear facilities, and random buildings. At least two NATO facilities in Turkey have been blurred by Yandex, including Incirlik Air Base, where approximately 50 American B61 nuclear bombs are housed, according to the US Congressional Research Service.