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[casi] Meteorologist:" Pumping oil out of Iraq?"

Meteorologist's work featured in national weather magazine

By Billy Cox

On May 25, while scanning the Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite
Program images pipelined into his desktop from 450 miles in orbit, Hank
Brandli skidded at a nighttime photo of Iraq. It looked familiar. But not

Brandli retrieved another DMSP image he'd archived from May 3. He compared
the two. The most recent photo showed a blazing corridor of light running
the length of Kuwait, south to north, all the way to the Iraqi border. The
image wasn't there on May 3.

"It's going right up to Iraq's oil fields," says the retired Air Force
colonel from his home in Palm Bay. "Maybe I'm full of s---. Maybe all
they're doing is building a highway to put in McDonald's and sell
hamburgers. But why go that way? I think we're in bed with Kuwait. I think
we're pumping oil out of Iraq to pay for this war."

That's an audacious observation. Especially considering those labyrinthine
lines of exasperated motorists waiting to gas up at the fuel pumps in
Baghdad. Not to mention the fact that Iraq's infrastructure officially won't
be capable of exporting oil for another week or so.

But as the May-June issue of Weatherwise magazine makes clear, Brandli isn't
a conspiracy zealot squinting for guppies in the fig trees. An article
titled "Weathering History" profiles the Vietnam veteran as a pioneer in
satellite meteorology who was unable to discuss much of his defense work
until 1995. That's the year President Clinton declassified vaults of Cold
War satellite images.

Now 63, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus isn't allowing
multiple sclerosis to derail his passion for eye-in-the-sky technology.
Three times a day, he checks his the latest unclassified downloads from
American and Russian weather satellites filtering into his home-wired
receivers. He found last month's DMSP nocturnal shots over Baghdad
especially compelling.
"You look for patterns. Patterns tell you things," says Brandli, who has
masters degrees in meteorology, aeronautics and astronautics, and the author
of "Satellite Meteorology" for the Air Force's Air Weather Service in 1976.
"With night photos, you can distinguish natural gas burnoff, which looks
globular, from city lights. And suddenly, over just a few weeks, we've got
this straight line of lights leading all the way to those beautiful wells in
southeastern Iraq.

"If you're building pipelines, you've got to have power, you've got to have
light -- trucks and personnel and food and all sorts of support. If I had to
bet, I'd say it looks like we're running Iraqi oil through Kuwait. It would
make sense, because Kuwait's got its infrastructure intact."
At the State Department in Washington, D.C., David Staples on the Future of
Iraqi Projects desk says he doesn't know if Iraq's oil is flowing into
Kuwait. He referred the query to the Defense Department.

A DoD spokesman suggested contacting the Office of Coalition of Provisional
Authority (OCPA) in Baghdad. OCPA was not immediately available for comment.
In Indialantic, retired Air Force Col. Hyko Gayikian isn't sure what to make
of Brandli's speculation. He wonders if maybe Kuwait's lights were
pre-existing features that were temporarily shut down during the war.
(Brandli says no, that he checked other photos prior to the March war
campaign and could find no such lights.)

Either way, Gayikian has nothing but praise for Brandli's abilities. He was
Brandli's commander at the Southeast Asia Tactical Forecast Center's
intelligence compound in South Vietnam beginning in 1966. "Hank is one of
the most knowledgeable people in satellite meteorology I've ever known,"
Gayikian says. "He's a real pro, and he's stuck with it. He'll always call
to tell me about unusual satellite pictures he's just gotten his hands on."

As the Weatherwise article makes clear, Brandli's judgment was a valued
Pentagon asset during the Vietnam era. But the clandestine nature of his
work often thrust him into thorny dilemmas, none more profound than the
Apollo 11 splashdown in 1969.

Four days before America's first moon walkers were scheduled to return to
Earth, weather photos from classified DMSP spy technology -- far more
advanced than NASA's resources -- indicated the astronauts' designated
Pacific landing zone would be under siege from "screaming eagles." Screaming
eagles are thunderheads peaking out at 50,000 feet; full blown, they could
produce winds capable of shredding the Apollo capsule's parachutes and
killing the crew.

Under strict orders to share his photos with no one without "Special Access"
badges, Brandli, then a meteorologist at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii,
felt there was no time to work through the tedious chain of bureaucracy. So
he briefed Fleet Weather Central commander Capt. Sam Houston in a parking
lot, took him into the vault and showed him the screaming eagle photos.
Unable to present the data as evidence, Houston nonetheless persuaded NASA
to reconfigure a new landing zone and the Navy to reposition its recovery
vessel, the USS Hornet, to safer waters. Houston never revealed where he got
his information. Apollo 11 landed safely; sure enough, the original impact
area became an untenable soup of dangerous wind and waves.
"That's part of what makes Hank so good at what he does, his ability to win
people over," says Frank Iverson, an Air Force colleague in Hawaii who now
lives in Castle Rock, Colo. "He has this wonderful, contagious enthusiasm
for his work. He always gets up for the big game. It's like the Super Bowl
for him."

Perhaps Brandli's Weatherwise tale, which discusses everything from cloud
seeding in Vietnam to the recovery of "Corona" spy film ejected in tiny
rocket canisters from satellites, will open up a new chapter in military
history. "It's amazing to me," he says, "how many guys who've come up to me
over the years and said, 'We read all these books on Vietnam, but nobody
mentions the weather.' That's because it's been hushed up for so long. But
with military operations, weather intelligence is always your first

By no accident, then, does Brandli view the world, including politics,
through satellite meteorology. One of his favorite photos is a DMSP
nighttime view of North Korea. Wedged against the glittering metropolitan
constellations of China, South Korea and Japan, the totalitarian state of
Kim Jong Il is little more than a year-zero black hole.

"It's amazing to think about going to war with a country that's so bloody
poor," Brandli says. "It's empty, it's vacant. They've got nothing. Not even
Brandli even views the 9/11 terrorist attacks through the lens of weather.
"They spent months, maybe years, planning this thing," he says. "But it had
to come down to a last-second call, because there was a hurricane coming up
the coast and a cold front moving out.
"Think about it: September is the worst month in the world to be planning
anything in the air on the East Coast, because you're at the height of
hurricane season. In fact, climatologically speaking, Sept. 3 is the worst
day of the entire year to plan a flight. And yet, you had this day where the
weather was perfect, from Maine all the way down to Washington. You can't
plan that far out and hope you get lucky.
"What I'm saying is, I think they had a weather guy on their team to help
set it up."

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