If you’ve played around with Google Earth, you’ve probably been struck by the fact that it’s kind of creepy. It’s fascinating and technologically amazing, for sure, but it can feel a tad invasive. So it should really come as no surprise that the CIA claims credit for Google Earth.
In 1999, as technology pushed aside traditional cloak-and-dagger spy tactics, the CIA founded its own venture capital fund — In-Q-Tel. CIA officials wanted to ensure they had access to the best startup ideas, which came more quickly and at a smaller price tag than government R&D efforts.
TechHistory: Did you know that #GoogleEarth stemmed from a venture capital fund founded by the CIA?
The early beginnings of Google Earth
One of In-Q-Tel’s earliest investments was in the company Keyhole, which had created 3D satellite imagery software called EarthViewer. The CIA worked with Keyhole to modify EarthViewer for use in the Iraq War. The software seamlessly integrated satellite imagery with data, allowing analysts to look for changes in Iraqi military installations and camps. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, TV networks including ABC, CBS, and CNN used EarthViewer and publicly available satellite imagery to keep those on the homefront informed.
Google took note of the interest in EarthViewer, and in 2004, the search engine-turned-tech giant acquired Keyhole for an undisclosed amount. Google revamped the software and in 2005 launched Google Earth, the first widely available interactive map of the world, compiling imagery from NASA satellites, National Geographic, and more.
(And if you ever start feeling too creepy about Google Earth, consider that it reunited a man named Saroo Brierley with his biological mother in India. Catch up on this story in the 2016 movie Lion.)
Photo: dennizn / Shutterstock.