George Clooney, Satellite Spymaster


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Syriana and Oceans 11 star George Clooney said he was inspired by the paparazzi’s incessant lights and cameras buzzing around him – so much so, he decided to set up his own constellation of five satellites to spy on Sudan and shine a light on alleged human rights abuses.

Now the Clooney Foundation for Justice is planning to investigate war crimes in Ukraine. Not content to just play spies in the movies, Clooney appears keen to direct and star in his own, real-life political thriller. So what’s the low-down on Clooney’s real-life Batman escapades? 

George Clooney, the Satellite Spy
George Clooney as Bruce Wayne in Batman & Robin

George Clooney: Self-made satellite spy

Clooney and Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast dreamed up The Satellite Sentinel Project during their October 2010 visit to South Sudan.

Teaming up with experts at the UN and Google, they intended to use satellites to record threats to civilians and deter Sudan’s return to full-scale civil war between north and south. Clooney and Predergast planned to analyze satellite imagery for warning signs including the build-ups of troops, tanks, and artillery preparing for invasion – then sound the alarm to stop human rights abuses.

Did it work? Yes and no. The initiative and Clooney’s tireless campaigning certainly focused the world’s attention but surveillance without consequences wasn’t necessarily a deterrent. That’s when Clooney and Prendergast moved on to the next stage. 

George Clooney, the Satellite Spy
George Clooney plays a CIA spy in Syrianna

George Clooney: Follow the money

Clooney and Prendergast expanded their project’s scope to investigate how crooks finance the illegal activities, who enables them, and where the stolen assets are stashed.

“We want to follow the money,” Clooney said. “Where is the money coming from and where is it being hidden?”

Prendergast, Clooney’s partner and a former Africa director at the US National Security Council, said they wanted to examine how the trade in diamonds, gold, and ivory helped finance criminals.

George Clooney, the Satellite Spy
Clooney reportedly donated $1m for The Sentry and conducts fundraising

The Sentry

The next stage involved the launch of The Sentry, a group that produces investigative reports and dossiers on individuals connected to large-scale corruption and violence. Sudan is no longer the only target country and The Sentry doesn’t work alone, either. The team coordinates with law enforcement worldwide to dismantle networks and track the financing of conflicts. 

The Sentry boasts of impressive results on its website: “Money laundering routes have been exposed and shut down, assets have been frozen, travel has been banned, and corrupt networks have been cut off from the international financial system.” 

The Sentry also listed details of specific achievements, including investigations that resulted in sanctions linked to billionaires including Benjamin Bol Mel and others. 

George Clooney, the Satellite Spy
Not On Our Watch, founded by Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt & Don Cheadle merged with The Sentry in 2019

Clooney has been criticized over the years for mixing his celebrity status with complex conflict zones – essentially dabbling in international politics – but Akshaya Kumar, a policy analyst with Enough Project, told Al Jazeera in 2015 that no one was under the illusion that celebrity activism made George Clooney an expert on the matters at hand.

“Mr. Clooney hopes to once again deploy his celebrity in service of the people of South Sudan,” she added.


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