June 11, 2009
By Bill Gertz
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
In the secret world of intelligence, it goes by the bland name of the "Ararat Anomaly." But former intelligence officials say soon-to-be-released U.S. spy photographs of the odd formation high on Turkey''s Mount Ararat could reveal something far more explosive: the remnants of Noah''s Ark, the ancient vessel from the Bible that safely preserved a pair of every creature on Earth in the midst of a global flood.
"The pictures are real clear. You see the whole summit and lots of rock formations," said Dino A. Brugioni, a retired CIA photographic specialist who was directed to study the high-resolution photographs of the unusual Mount Ararat site two decades ago.
A series of images snapped by a U-2 spy plane at the end of a 3,000-mile reconnaissance flight from what was then the Soviet Union to Turkey caught the attention of a photo interpreter in his section.
"We measured things, but none of them fell within the dimensions given in the Bible," he said. "If you didn''t have the biblical dimensions in cubits, you could pick up those pictures and say they look like a ship. But when you measure it, it doesn''t come out right. ... At no time did we say we saw an ark."
For more than two decades, highflying U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and satellites routinely photographed the "Ararat Anomaly" site. But over the next few months, the CIA will begin releasing more detailed high-resolution spy pictures of the distinctive formation near the summit.
High-level U.S. government interest in the search for Noah''s Ark led to a study by the CIA''s National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) of the Ararat Anomaly back in the 1970s, and the Defense Intelligence Agency conducted a second, more recent analysis.
The Bible in Genesis tells of God''s command to Noah to build an ark 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. (A cubit is an ancient measurement of about 20 inches, making the ark approximately 500 feet long, 83.3 feet wide, and 50 feet high.)
God then made it rain for 40 days "and the waters increased and bore up the ark and it rose high above the earth ... so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the heavens were covered," the Bible says.
According to the CIA, the U-2 photographs of the Ararat Anomaly will be released in the next few months as part of a batch of hundreds of thousands of spy photographs taken on U-2 and SR-71 spy plane missions between the 1950s and mid-1970s.
CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said the release of the U-2 photographs will contain pictures of the Ararat Anomaly. But other photos taken by KH-9 and KH-11 high-resolution spy satellites are not likely to be made public any time soon, intelligence sources said.
Getting the public to see the photographs of Mount Ararat has been a four-year quest for Porcher L. Taylor III, a University of Richmond professor who first heard rumors about the spy pictures of Noah''s Ark as a cadet at West Point in 1973.
"Although it is remote that the Ark could survive for 4,500 years in a moving glacier, some CIA photo interpreters have not ruled this out," Mr. Taylor said.
"It doesn''t really matter what the anomaly may be," he added. "The CIA has photographic evidence that can shed light on the enduring mystery of Mount Ararat, and it has a duty to the public, archaeology and the scientific community to release all of its Ararat Anomaly file, be it photos of a bunch of rocks *or* a nautical structure of unknown origin."
Jews and Christians shouldn''t be the only ones interested, the professor said. The Quran also mentions the Ark, and several ancient historians, dating back to 275 B.C., have written of a vessel and timbers from a ship being spotted near the summit.
Mr. Taylor said his interest in the formation increased when the late George Carver, a respected top CIA official, told a gathering in Florida several years ago "that there were clear indications that there was something up on Mount Ararat which was rather strange," according to a transcript of his remarks.
Since then, Mr. Taylor has mounted a concerted campaign to win the release of the aircraft and spy satellite photos under the Freedom of Information Act.
The effort bore fruit when the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1995 released aerial photographs of the curved formation located about 1 and a half miles below the western summit of the almost 17,000-foot peak. The photos were taken by an Air Force plane on June 17, 1949.
The DIA also produced an analysis of the anomaly for Mr. Porcher using the images and a composite "stereo enlargement." The report described the unusual site as a combination of shadows, ice and snow.
"The accumulated ice and snow along this precipice obviously fall down the side of mountain at frequent intervals, often leaving long linear facades," the report says. "It appears that the ''anomaly'' is one of these linear facades in the glacial ice underlying more recently accumulated ice and snow.
"Further, the tone and texture of the ''anomaly'' and avalanche debris immediately below are consistent with that of the shadowed snow, ice and debris prevalent along the face of the precipice."
But other former intelligence officials said later photographs, including those produced by the KH-11 series of spy satellites, provide better views.
A former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official who has seen a satellite photograph of the site produced around 1973 said analysts at the time were surprised when close-ups revealed what looked like three large curved wooden beams -- resembling part of the hull of a boat -- protruding from the snow.
"They sort of curved over and formed up what would have been the bow of something *or* other poking out of the ice," the former official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Enlargements of the spy photographs also produced what appeared to be "striations" on the formation that gave the appearance of what was once wood, he said.
One analyst wanted to believe "very badly" that the structure in the photographs was Noah''s Ark, but other interpreters prevailed in concluding "it was just rock," he said.
"I was skeptical on the advice of my experts," he added. "But I have felt from the beginning the thing ought to be looked at more carefully. It''s worth looking into."
The search for the ark on Mount Ararat has been greatly complicated after the Turkish government closed off the area to visitors, Mr. Taylor said. The government cited problems with Kurdish rebels and the site''s proximity to borders with Iran and Armenia.
In 1991, five archaeologists near the mountain were kidnapped by Kurdish rebels -- the same year the Turks closed Mount Ararat to outside visitors.
The mountain is permanently snow-capped and is often covered in clouds. The peak rises 16,945 feet and is located not far from the Armenian and Iranian borders.
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