Friday, May 05, 2023

Bamford in the Nation 

On September 29, 2022, a British electronic surveillance plane assigned to NATO took off from RAF Waddington in England, flew over Europe, and headed to the Black Sea. Its mission—codenamed Rivet Joint—was to eavesdrop on military and intelligence communications taking place in Russian-controlled Crimea. The aircraft, an RC-135W (a variant of a Boeing 707), was manned by a crew of about 30, and had an exterior covered with a porcupine-like array of antennas.

It was a very dangerous time. Just three days earlier, in a deliberate act of war, saboteurs had blown up the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines resting on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Almost immediately—but without offering any evidence—both Russia and the United States began pointing fingers of blame at each other. Thus, by the time the British spy plane began its surveillance flight off the volatile Crimean coast, tensions between the US and Russia had greatly escalated. Adding to Moscow’s anger was the likelihood that the flights—increased from every 10 days to four flights a week—were able to intercept vast amounts of sensitive military communications as well as target its entire “electronic order of battle.”

To counter these flights, Russian fighters would regularly take to the skies to observe, and occasionally harass, the spy planes. According to a Pentagon document marked SECRET/NOFORN (allegedly leaked by Airman Jack Teixeira on a Discord group chat), as the British RC-135W entered the airspace above the Black Sea that September morning, a pair of Russian SU-27 fighters scrambled skyward to shadow him. Then, responding to an order from his command center (likely Belbek Airbase on Crimea) a Russian pilot launched a missile directly at the NATO reconnaissance jet packed with 30 or more Royal Air Force personnel. In that moment, the Russian fighter pilot came very close to igniting World War III. Under NATO’s treaty, if one member of the military alliance falls victim to an armed attack, all members of the alliance are obliged to consider it an attack on all of them—and to collectively respond.

The only thing that saved the dozens of British crew members from what the secret US documents called a “near shoot down” was a technical glitch that caused the missile to miss its target. And it was another glitch that caused the pilot to fire the missile in the first place. As revealed in the massive trove of recently leaked secret Pentagon documents, the firing was due to a miscommunication between the fighter pilot and his base. As a result, the spy planes are now escorted by a pair of British Typhoon fighters while operating over the Black Sea. While protecting the RC-135 aircraft, this change in procedure also increases the danger of an airborne shoot-out between NATO and Russian fighters.

It was covered earlier in the Times, but not seriously. 

"We'll meet again...

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