Yesterday afternoon a Russian jet violated the sacred P-56 secure airspace over the White House. The spy cameras on board are so highly sophisticated they put American equipment to shame. Not only did it fly over the place where President Trump lives and works, it took surveillance photos of other high value targets including the nation’s capitol building, the pentagon, CIA headquarters and Joint Base Andrews which houses Air Force One, but nobody seemed to care.
Far from being alarmed at the intrusion and scrambling for the big red button, Trump probably made sure he was wearing a fresh, red, “Make America Great Again” hat to stand out against the green of his golf course and ensure Putin got a good snap of him as the plane came back for another pass. Secret Service was well aware the flight path included the Trump Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ where trump is hanging out while the west wing gets renovated.
There were two good reasons everyone was so calm and collected as the russkies roared overhead. One was that they were expected. Everything had been worked out in advance as part of the Open Skies treaty started way back in 1992. Not only that, we probably flew twice as many similar flights over the Kremlin last week. The only thing that makes anyone the slightest bit uneasy is the fact that their cameras are better than our cameras.
The Open Skies treaty is one of our most useful tools to build peaceful relations with not just Russia but other nations too. The whole deal got started with Sputnik. When the Russians became the first to orbit a satellite, Dwight Eisenhower was faced with a tricky question. He had a choice of allowing the irritating piece of space junk to keep going round and round overhead, which meant agreeing to Russia’s claim they had the right to do it, or… shoot it down.
Hitting a basketball sized target somewhere between 134 and 583 miles away and moving at 18,000 mph was a little beyond America’s level of capability in 1957. Going to war on the ground over it was not much of a better alternative. Ike bit the bullet and opted for transparency, knowing the knife cuts both ways and there were advantages to be had in the long run.
When the man born with a hammer and sickle plastered on his forehead, Mikhail Gorbachev, opened his side of the iron curtain in 1983 with “glasnost,” George H.W. Bush agreed to observers in war games. Reagan’s “trust but verify” gained inspection visits to missile factories and launch bases. Then in 1992 with Open Skies, “Cooperative aerial observation flights became possible from Vancouver all the way to Vladivostok.”
Under the Obama administration, military funding was pushed to the back burner in favor of throwing money at social justice issues. Obama chose to prioritize contraception for nuns over cameras and guns. This allowed the Russians to slip ahead by upgrading their surveillance cameras to digital while we were stuck with analog film.
State of the art Russian cameras use digital “electro-optical sensors” that record in four bands of the spectrum, red, green, and blue optical ranges as well as near-infrared. This means the quality of the pictures taken are so much better that General Stewart was quoted as saying. “The things that you can see, the amount of data you can collect, the things you can do with post-processing, allows Russia, in my opinion, to get incredible foundational intelligence on critical infrastructure, bases, ports, all of our facilities… So from my perspective, it gives them a significant advantage.”
President Trump is well aware of the situation and is doing his part to boost the funding and get new cameras. By filing a formal objection to a proposed funding bill, the administration is on record fighting for the funds.
“The Administration objects to section 1235(b), which would prohibit the expenditure of funds for procurement for the Digital Visual Imaging System to modify the United States sensors and aircraft. This section will prevent the United States from keeping pace with Russian Open Skies aircraft sensor upgrades, fully implementing the Open Skies Treaty, and increasing the value of the treaty to United States national security. Cancellation of the project at this late date, after significant resources have already been expended, would further put the United States in breach of contract, thus incurring cancellation fees. The provision would result in limited or no cost savings and possibly a cost increase, which would be an unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”
After all, it is only fair if Putin can read Trump’s cap, Trump should be able to see what kind of fish Vlad holds up next time he goes fishing.