How SEAL Team Six Fed Live Video of the Raid to Obama

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One of the most iconic photographs to come out of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout has turned out to be the one portraying President Obama and his national security team as they “receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House,” according to the photo’s caption on Flickr.


It had been reported that Obama and his team were able to watch live streaming video of the raid, though the BBC now reports that “Obama is understood to have seen real-time footage of the approach to the compound but no direct video feed from the operation itself.”

Regardless of which parts of the raid the national security team did or didn’t see, the technology behind streaming video live from helmet-mounted cameras isn’t actually all that complicated.

The BBC has a short video detailing how such a camera system may have been used during the bin Laden raid as explained by Gerald Fairbairn, a security communications expert from a company in the UK called Indicomm:

“For soldiers wearing cameras on their helmets with a video link back to command center, from what we’ve seen in the past they have a small box that they’ll probably drop down which will be able to receive live imagery from about five or six helmet cams. And that will be transmitted directly to the helicopter and, again, that would be transmitted up to a satellite which would then beam straight down to the White House.”

Fairbairn adds, “This is very similar to your house Wi-Fi but this is a lot bigger and a lot more powerful.”

From the sounds of it, each of the helmet cams have a transmitting device which relays video to a nearby box that acts as a repeater to again relay the video to a transmitter on a nearby helicopter, which then shoots the footage up to a satellite. The White House is locked on to the satellite’s position and pulls the footage down to its own video screens.

I’d guess that the repeater box may not be necessary if the helicopter’s within close enough range of the soldiers already, but it doesn’t hurt anything to sit in the middle and strengthen the original video signals.

As for concerns about the security of streaming live video during a combat mission, Fairbairn says, “There is a fear that the enemy can hack the Wi-Fi systems but as the technology moves on, it’s becoming more and more sophisticated and more difficult with encryption methods.”

Check out the video over on the BBC’s website.

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