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CIA Releases New 'Noah's Ark' Documents
Posted Nov. 13, 2002
By Timothy W. Maier

Is it the Ark, or just a piece of rock?
Is it the Ark, or just a piece of rock?
Two years after Insight filed an appeal charging that the CIA withheld documents and imagery concerning the Mount Ararat anomaly in Turkey, the CIA has released two new documents to Insight that indicate the search for "Noah's Ark" reached the level of the White House under former president George H.W. Bush.

The appeal, filed one month after Insight's exclusive story (see "Anomaly or Noah's Ark?"; Nov. 20, 2000), comes on the heels of the CIA's releasing thousands of satellite images, which soon will be available at National Imagery and Mapping Agency Website. It is unclear whether images of Mount Ararat will be included. Insight's exclusive story marked the first time the public was able to see high-resolution photographs of the anomaly, located at 39 degrees 42 minutes north latitude and 44 degrees 16 minutes east longitude. Insight contracted with Space Imaging to maneuver its IKONOS satellite to zoom in on the anomaly. Afterwards, Insight hired a team of scientists and engineers to examine the pictures and to deterimine whether the object in question was man-made or rock. Four of the experts claim it's man-made, two believe it's rock and one says the evidence is inconclusive.

Unfortunately, the release of the additional records does not offer any more proof of what the object might be, but only raises more questions as to why the CIA continues to hold such records as classified.

One of the records released is a 1995 memo from an agent who had a coversation with John Hanford, then a member of Sen. Richard Lugar's (R-Ind.) staff. Hanford apparently recalled a White House meeting under the George H.W. Bush administration in which Robert Gates, then National Security director, showed one of the old images of the Mount Ararat area to various people at the meeting. "Mr. Hanford said that imagery showed something sticking out from the ice and snow but that it could have been almost anything."

The memo was triggered by a newspaper article that suggested Mount Ararat imagery might be made public under former president Bill Clinton's decision to release historical documents. The CIA agent says in the memo that such imagery "might or might not be included in the declassified materials."

The other record concerned a review the George H.W. Bush administration conducted between 1990 and 1992 concerning Mount Ararat. The record was in response to former CIA director James Woolsey's requesting what it might cost to undertake a more exhaustive review of all the material. At the time, the price was considered too high to do such a search. Woolsey was told it would take an analyst six months to complete such a study. It appears that study never was completed.

Insight still may receive additional records. The CIA has asked other agencies to review specific records for possible release in the near future. In the meantime, Insight is reviewing its options on whether to pursue in federal court images taken by the CIA with its KH-9 remote-sensing satellite in 1973 and its KH-11 satellite in 1976, 1990 and 1992.

Timothy Maier is a writer for Insight.
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Anomaly or Noah's Ark?

During a routine U.S. Air Force mission over Turkey on June, 17, 1949, cameras captured something strange on the northwest corner of the Western Plateau of Mount Ararat at about 15,500 feet. The excited fliers thought they had stumbled on the ruins of Noah's Ark. According to the Book of Genesis, the first in the Bible, the Ark "came to rest on the mountains of Ararat" after spending 150 days at sea.

Their superiors reviewed the film, wrote a report and filed it under "Ararat Anomaly," where it remained classified as "Secret" for half a century. In 1993, Porcher Taylor began asking hard questions about the file. Taylor is a scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies specializing in satellite intelligence and diplomacy. He also is a professor of law at the University of Richmond Law School and knows how to ask questions.

To Taylor's amazement, this professional scholar discovered that in addition to the 1949 military film footage there also were classified photographs of the anomaly snapped by a U-2 spy plane in 1956, high-resolution images taken by the CIA in 1973 using a KH-9 military remote-sensing satellite and even more sophisticated images obtained by the CIA from flyovers in 1976, 1990 and 1992 by an advanced KH-11 satellite.

Indeed, Taylor found evidence of images of the Mount Ararat Anomaly spanning nearly 50 years - and all of it classified. After many thwarted attempts to learn why, Taylor filed Freedom of Information Act requests, which also were rejected. That is, until the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington released six photo frames from the 1949 military footage.

To Taylor and others in search of Noah's Ark, the images were stunning - even though made too far away to determine whether this was a man-made structure or a rock slab. The only way to make sure was either to climb the mountain - which Ark explorers have attempted over many decades, only to be restricted routinely by the Turkish government - or to pursue alternative means to obtain images the U.S. government has held under lock and key for 51 years. Until recently, the access to such images was strictly limited.

Now, thanks to government decisions to allow commercial uses of previously classified technologies, high-resolution satellite cameras are finding their way into the private sector for such uses as mapping geological formations that may reveal underground oil reserves, sunken treasure ships or ancient roadways buried under thousands of years of dust.

One of the beneficiaries of this private-sector conversion is Space Imaging, based in Denver. Frustrated in his quest for answers from the U.S. government, Taylor came to Insight with the idea of buying time from Space Imaging, which has the world's only high-resolution, remote-sensing, commercial-satellite cameras capable of shooting images at 1-meter spatial resolution. When the U.S. military and intelligence agencies also denied Insight access to the official images of the Mount Ararat Anomaly, this magazine contracted with Space Imaging to photograph the Western Plateau. Because so many federal agencies for so long have kept secret whatever is atop Mount Ararat, Insight prepared to report the contents of those satellite photos regardless of what they showed.

Serving as a space-based Indiana Jones, the IKONOS satellite was tasked to explore whatever lay buried under so many centuries of mystery and intrigue. And, just as in the Indiana Jones movies starring Harrison Ford, the Space Imaging/Insight team had a map to help locate what some believe on faith to be the biblical Ark. Ironically, in 1995 a senior Pentagon official had confided to Taylor the then-secret coordinates of the Mount Ararat Anomaly at 39 degrees 42 minutes 10 seconds north longitude and 44 degrees 16 minutes 30 seconds east latitude.

The Space Imaging/Insight team began work in secret to get IKONOS positioned to zoom its supersophisticated lens to within 100 yards of the coordinates Taylor had obtained from military sources. The results, about a half-dozen digital images, proved to be stunning - with an amazing clarity and definition none dared even hope for when the project started.

IKONOS snapped a series of photos sufficient for analytical purposes, with the best shots taken on Aug. 5, 11 and 30 and Sept. 13. Space Imaging also located in its archives an Oct. 5, 1999 shot of the approximate area, which Taylor purchased for the project. That shot proved significant because it helped identify snow melt as well as shadowing.

Even Ark explorers who have been adamant that the 1949 anomaly is not a man-made structure will be hard-pressed not to be excited at the chance to review the entire IKONOS digital imagery for other areas on the mountain that can be enlarged for further scientific study.

One of the most difficult problems in photographing the Mount Ararat Anomaly was getting a cloud-free picture, as well as enough melt of the snow and ice to expose the anomaly. Space Imaging guarantees 80 percent cloud-free photos, which is why it took four months for IKONOS to obtain the contracted images.

Luck, though, was on Insight's side, because this summer Turkey experienced some of the hottest temperatures in 60 years. Even the thick cloud cover that drapes the mountain disappeared for a few critical days and, as a result, IKONOS had several direct hits - including cloud-free images and enough snow melt clearly to photograph the anomaly stuck in the northwest ledge of the Western Plateau.

That surprised experienced Ark searcher John McIntosh, who managed to get Turkey's permission to climb 7,000 feet of Mount Ararat in late August but was unable to see the Western Plateau anomaly. He says Ark searchers never had seen it before because it always seemed to be "buried deep in snow and ice." But IKONOS found enough of it exposed to snap brilliant bird's-eye images of a three-piece object perched on a ledge in the same general position on the mountain that Sir John Chardin described in his 1711 book, Travels in Persia.

While in the IKONOS shots snow consumes the surrounding mountain terrain, there indeed does appear to be a broken-up rectangular object that juts from the snow as if it had different thermal characteristics, or the snow somehow had failed to fall on that one oddly angled strip of the mountain. When Space Imaging brought up the pictures on its computers, a crowd of curious employees gathered around to see the magnificent digital details. All wanted to know: Did IKONOS find Noah's Ark?

Indeed, it is a question with no easy answer - at least not yet. But history is in the making. Based on the surrounding terrain, geologists, image analysts and former CIA agents confirmed to Insight that the anomaly IKONOS hit is the same object pictured in the now-declassified 1949 Air Force photos supplied to Taylor and, according to military and intelligence sources in the federal government, which also was observed by the CIA in its KH-9 hits in 1973. While the military spy satellite KH-11 provides digital images six times sharper than the IKONOS images, with a resolution capability of six inches - close enough, perhaps, to detect license-plate numbers from space - the IKONOS imagery is dazzling compared with its declassified Mount Ararat predecessors, such as the French SPOT imagery from September 1989, LANDSAT imagery from the 1970s and NASA's Space Shuttle imagery from 1994.

However, Space Imaging is the first to offer 1-meter resolution, compared to the 2- to 5-meter resolution of its predecessors. The difference is notable when conducting analysis because there is less shadow and greater detail.

John Copple, chief executive officer of Space Imaging, says his firm soon may be the first company to produce 0.5-meter resolution images from space. In fact, Insight has learned that the National Security Council has approved the Space Imaging application. "We have a way to visualize information," Harris says. "We're in powerful demand with governments all over the world."

The success of IKONOS broke nationally in January with such a crisp shot of Washington, D.C., that nearly every federal building was identifiable. It also assisted authorities in tracking the forest wildfires in the West this summer and is involved in other contracts with the federal government because U.S. satellites are being overtasked, according to intelligence sources. Space Imaging had the confidence and professionalism even to enter virgin territory, as the IKONOS lens inquired into one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of ancient times.

Taylor and Insight provided the spectacular IKONOS imagery and the declassified 1949 Air Force photos to a team of independent scientists and imagery analysts assembled for this project. Each of the experts was asked a simple question: What is it? In turn, the experts provided oral and written reports detailing their observations. None were paid or provided with information about the analyses of other experts. The team consisted of Clifford Paiva, a retired senior physicist and satellite imagery analyst of the U.S. Navy's Naval Surface Warfare Center, Countermeasures Technologies Applications Branch; Farouk El-Baz, who heads the prestigious Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University; Peter K. Hsu, a forensic Naval engineer who worked on the Titanic and Bismarck forensic teams for National Geographic; Brad Miller, an experienced mechanical and manufacturing engineer skilled in evaluating spatial representation of 3-D objects; David Barak, a digital-imaging expert who worked as a military-photo and submarine target-recognition interpreter for the U.S. Navy; and Roman Gomez, a digital-imagery expert formerly with Dicomed, a leading U.S. supplier of electronic hardware.

The final team member was a senior Pentagon intelligence contractor in the reconnaissance field who asked for anonymity to avoid being caught up in the expected controversy over the anomaly.

Indeed, controversy already has erupted as news about the Insight project has seeped out in advance of publication. E-mail messages and telephone calls have come in from around the world concerning what may or may not have been found. And it seems likely the views of the independent experts assembled by Insight will only begin the debate about the images and stunning assessments.

For now, specifically: The object appears to be about 534 feet in length and 80 to 98 feet wide. Its height could not be measured because it is unclear how deep it is seated into the snow and ice. Still, the measurements are comparable to the Ark described in Genesis - 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. Biblical scholars say a cubit is about 20 inches, which would make the Ark about 500 feet long, 83 feet wide and 50 feet high.

There still is no certainty about what the anomaly is, but four of the experts say it could be man-made; two believe it's a rock; and one calls the evidence inconclusive. Gomez says the 1-meter resolution is not high enough to make a final determination, although his review of just the 1949 photographs suggests it may be man-made because, he says, nothing like it appears to exist elsewhere on the mountain.

While Paiva says it could be "geological," he tells Insight it is more likely a man-made structure because of the 90-degree angles. He also notes that there is "nearly 300 feet depth of ice i in the anomaly area, easily burying an object" the size of the Ark.

Likewise, Hsu says "it is too linear to be a rock. It could be a man-made object. The resting place has moved because half of it is on one edge. But, whatever it is, it does resemble a structure." One of Hsu's theories is that a glacier may have rolled the "structure" to its current resting place, while others say either the volcanic eruption of 1840 or the earthquake of 1883 could have split the structure into two or three pieces.

Miller's calculations also suggest the anomaly has moved. "In the 1949 photo the eastern part of the anomaly appeared to be higher than the western portion. In the 2000 IKONOS photos, the eastern part appears lower than the western part. This indicates that the anomaly has moved slightly over the years. That is encouraging because, if it is true, then at least the anomaly is not a part of the mountain but is made of some foreign matter, as it has moved in relation to the ridgeline," says Miller.

While Paiva believes the anomaly could be artifacts of a village or town of some 3,000 years ago that have been broken into large pieces and scattered across the Western Plateau, El-Baz is convinced it's nothing more than a rock slab. After consulting with Bradford Washburn III, the honorary director of the Boston Museum of Science, and Mutlu Ozdogan, a doctoral candidate at Boston University and Turkish citizen, El-Baz remains convinced it`s a natural land formation. "It's a high notch on the ledge that is covered by snow and ice. There is nothing peculiar or unnatural here," he says. "It is a high notch on that continuous ledge. However, there is no way of telling what is beneath that rock surface."

Barak says it's more than a notch. "Over the 51 years since the anomaly was photographed by the U.S. Air Force in 1949, the position, orientation and size of the object have remained constant," he notes. "This suggests that it's not just a snow cliff or other snow formation that's subject to melting or drift, but something much more stable."

As Barak sees it, "Based on the orientation and shape of the anomaly, it doesn't appear to be a part of the natural terrain. It's not oriented in any natural-appearing way with the rest of the terrain and the shape doesn't suggest that it's a large stone broken away from the rest of the mountain. The most recent [IKONOS] photos show a significant melt of the usual snow cover on the Western Plateau of Mount Ararat. In fact, the snow has melted right up to the edge of the anomaly. Judging from the appearance of the anomaly and the way the snow melted, it's apparent that the anomaly is made of a different material than the surrounding terrain."

He adds: "If you look at [1949 Air Force frame 2] there appears to be a slight overhang of ice and snow, with the dark area below being shadows cast by a vertical face. If this is the case, then the vertical face should be as dark as the shadows, as both would be in shadow. This leads me to believe that this is in fact a solid convex object, not a concave notch in the snow and rock. It's the same feature that shows up in the IKONOS images."

El-Baz, however, maintains that the ice sheets at the site of the anomaly and elsewhere on the mountain flanks have been fractured to form crevasses. He says the setting of the anomaly is due "to shadowing effects, and the parallel striations are a result of snow accumulations by wind action much like linear dunes in deserts over massive ice sheets."

Barak disagrees and says that the "thermal characteristics are different" than the stone and dirt in the area and "the color and reflective properties are different." Even the shadows don't seem to make sense because some of these didn't line up with other shadows, he notes. For that to be true, the "sun would apparently have shone down from two different directions." He concludes: "Yes, based on the photos, I would lean toward it being man-made."

No way, counters El-Baz: "There is no anomaly. The displayed features are part of the natural setting that might characterize any high-elevation peak, such as that of Mount Ararat or any glacier in a mountainous area."

Paiva disagrees. "There is an anomaly up there," he says firmly. While Paiva - who had access to the 1973 KH-9 and 1976 KH-11 hits but refuses to talk about what's in those images because they are classified - he isn't buying the denials. "There's something up there and that's the only issue," he says. "I'm not saying it's the Ark. But there is something up there."

Hsu says the predominant features suggest the shape of a structure below might be man-made. "The most interesting feature is that some of them appeared to form an almost-90-degree edge, similar to a boxlike structure," he says. "They appear strongly, suggesting that man-made structures are underneath the snow, in particular, and when triangulated with the 1949 DIA photo since they all appear consistent."

El-Baz was not alone in his dissent. By using a computer to remove shadows from the IKONOS Sept. 13 shot, you could see three croppings, says the Pentagon intelligence contractor. "Upon consulting with terrain analysts, we both agree that it is a rock or a geological formation. We even got a name for the formation - it's called `Arett.' I don't know why anyone thinks this is special. When we took the shadow out we could see the snowcap and the cliff, and broken away down the hill is very rough rubble."

Asked if they are 100-percent sure, the source replied: "It's probably geological. But there is no way to confirm it with 1-meter resolution."

The only way to settle the dispute is to have Congress work out a scientific expedition with Turkey, says Hsu. "Turkey should request the U.S. to fly [a team] down in the name of science," says Hsu. "If it turns out to be a rock or man-made, it doesn't matter. We can do a lot of science together."

But don't expect that to happen anytime soon, even though Turkish Brig. Gen. Salih Centinkaya, formerly Ankara's military attache in Washington, says the Turkish people long have believed something of great archaeological significance is at the location of the Western Plateau anomaly. Yet the House International Relations Committee's endorsement of a resolution recognizing the 1915-1923 killings of Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire as genocide could jeopardize any joint U.S.-Turkey expeditions for years. The ongoing war with Kurdish guerrillas in eastern Turkey also has made it difficult to get access to Mount Ararat, which has been under military rule since 1990. Even McIntosh, who was held up at gunpoint by terrorists during one of his climbs, fears Turkey now may implement sanctions against the U.S. that could stop his Ark search team, which hopes to launch another expedition next summer.

Despite the IKONOS imagery, next summer's expedition will not focus on the Western Plateau as a high priority, says Liberty University professor James Hall, who plans to go to Turkey to seek permits for next summer's climb. Hall's area of interest is east of the Western Plateau, in the Ahora Gorge. Most Ark explorers, including McIntosh and late astronaut Col. James Irwin, have concentrated in the Ahora Gorge because Armenian shepherd George Hagopian and U.S. Army Sgt. Ed Davis, both deceased, claimed independently to have seen the Ark in that area, though skeptics say their stories were inconsistent as to where and what they saw.

McIntosh claims he found an odd-looking rectangular shape in the gorge similar to one where Davis said he saw the Ark but reports he couldn't get close enough to identify what it may be.

"Our take is that the Western Plateau area is not where the Ark is," Hall says. "We feel all the evidence - the more viable evidence - points to the Ahora Gorge. But, Hall says, the Western Plateau anomaly should not be ruled out completely until someone goes up there and touches it.

As for the ruins of Noah's Ark surviving 5,000 years or more, Paiva chuckles at the thought. "I can't tell you it's the Ark," he says. "C'mon."

But could it? Miller says it could. "Although wood deteriorates over time, after a period of about 1,000 years the object will gradually slow its deterioration rate and any material not deteriorated at this time will tend to be more resilient to natural forces," he advises. "The Bible says Noah built the Ark of gopher wood, which many scholars believe is a form of cypress or cedar. The experience of the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory shows high natural-decay resistance for both cypress and cedar woods."

Coating the Ark with a thick pitch, Miller adds, could have had the effect of preserving the organic wood - similar to the preservation of the 5,000- year-old Iceman found fully intact in 1991 under a melting glacier in Austria.

Probable? Maybe not, but neither was survival of the body of the Iceman. Remember the adage: "Noah's Ark was built by amateurs. The Titanic was built by professionals."