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George Clooney's Satellite-Equipped "Antigenocide Paparazzi"

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, January 6 2011

Photo credit: Tim Freccia/Not On Our Watch

Time Magazine's Mark Benjamin had a bit of news overlooked during the holiday season. George Clooney is helping to lead an effort to collect and post satellite imagery of trouble spots in Sudan around that country's referendum vote happening this weekend over granting independence to its south. Here's more from Benjamin:

Starting Dec. 30, the Satellite Sentinel Project -- a joint experiment by the U.N.'s Operational Satellite Applications Programme, Harvard University, the Enough Project and Clooney's posse of Hollywood funders -- will hire private satellites to monitor troop movements starting with the oil-rich region of Abyei. The images will be analyzed and made public at www.satsentinel.org (which goes live on Dec. 29) within 24 hours of an event to remind the leaders of northern and southern Sudan that they are being watched. "We are the antigenocide paparazzi," Clooney tells TIME. "We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get. If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum."

Clooney puts things in context:

"This is as if this were 1943 and we had a camera inside Auschwitz and we said, 'O.K., if you guys don't want to do anything about it, that's one thing... But you can't say you did not know."

Clooney has the eye of the public on him, he knows it, and he's figured out a way to rather literally reflect that attention upon what's going down in Sudan. (Not for nothing does "we are the antigenocide paparazzi" sound like it would be the tagline on a dramatic film starring George Clooney, maybe with Steven Soderbergh taking up directing duties.) Benjamin's piece suggests that the actual generation of the images, taken from 300 miles above, will be handled by a private company -- and it's not a particularly cheap tactic. "A rush job on a 'full strip' image of land roughly 70 miles (115 km) long and 9 miles (14 km) wide," writes Benjamin, "could run nearly $70,000."

A spokesperson for the Enough Project described Sattelite Sentinal to the Harvard Crimson's Jane Seo as "the first open source platform to stop the war before it happens." The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is also a partner in the project, and Seo reports that that group will be working to both document the human rights situation that can be deduced from the images and then study how the project worked. Clooney tells Time that he sees potential non-Sudan uses for the approach; one notices that "Satellite Sentinal" doesn't bind the project to any particular part of the world.

You can check out the project at the Satellite Sentinal website, and follow along with the Sudan implementation on Twitter.