The Central Intelligence Agency Tuesday took the wraps off a top-secret technology designed to detect military targets, permitting it to be used to find very early breast cancers in women.
“Technologies developed by the intelligence community to safeguard our national security may one day help save nearly a third of the 46,000 women who might otherwise die of breast cancer each year,” Acting CIA Director William O. Studeman said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said the new techniques must be field-tested, but should be available to cancer doctors in two to five years.
“If we can image a missile 15,000 miles away, surely we should use this technology to detect a small lump in a woman’s breast,” said Assistant Surgeon General Susan Blumenthal, the federal government’s top specialist in women’s health.
Blumenthal said the imagematching technique can pinpoint tumors one to two years before a lump in the breast is large enough to be felt.
Studeman, the CIA chief, explained how the newly declassified technology works:
Ten years ago, he said, the intelligence community developed computer techniques that allow it to detect changes, such as roads and missile sites, by comparing aerial images taken at different times.
The digital images are superimposed over each other, and features that have not changed are removed, leaving only the differences between the images, which an analyst can easily spot.