Let's get all the facts in line over China, and see if we can figure out who's at fault.
- The incident occurred beyond the twelve-mile boundary, in International Waters, but within the 200 mile Economic Interest zone where China claims the right to intercept military vessels, exactly like the United States claims the right to intercept military (including reconnaissance) vessels within 200 miles of our shores.
- Our plane is an EP-3, four prop, high-tech, electronic surveillance plane with a crew of 24. It's land based, not carrier based.
- The Chinese sent two F-8 jets to intercept our spy plane.
- This sort of spy and intercept game had been going on for months.
- Our plane was damaged on the bottom of the nose, on the underside of the left wing, and on the left prop.
- The Chinese fighter crashed into the South China Sea, the pilot is missing and presumed dead.
- The other Chinese fighter requested his ground command grant him permission to fire, but was denied.
- The US plane safely landed at a Chinese military base on the island of Hainan.
- The Navy says the plane was on autopilot, and therefore should have been in a level, stable flight.
- The Navy adds that since the plane was on autopilot, it may have reached a waypoint and made a sudden banked turn.
Here are a few observations and leading questions that are up to you to mull over.
The terms "agile, quick, and smaller" are thrown around to describe the fighters, in order to make the EP-3 look like a freight train lumbering through the sky, as though its path is somehow immutable. The fact is that the plane is maneuverable, if not as fast as a fighter. This is not a 747. Keep that in mind, and redraw any cartoon images of gnats buzzing around a buffalo to proper perspective.
If I were a Chinese military strategist, and knew the profile of this particular spy plane, as well as the routine, I would equip several interceptor-style military jets with jamming devices and send them right up next to the plane to blast bad Chinese pop music and "Paper Tiger" speeches by Chairman Mao across all frequencies, to generally make electronic eavesdropping difficult.
If I were a pilot of one of the Chinese planes so equipped, I would fly as close as possible to the plane's antennae, and since the plane (in the air) is monitoring communications (on, and emanating from the ground), the best place to fly would be between the plane and the ground, coincidentally the location of the damage to the US plane. This leads to another question. Who is more likely to have rammed whom? a fighter with a glass canopy and clear visibility above, flying underneath a plane, or a low wing plane flying above said fighter. Position aside, why would a smaller Chinese jet intentionally ram a larger US twin prop? If they wanted to bring it down, certainly a missile or even guns would work better than a kamikaze mission with one of China's few fighters and best pilots. Then add in the announcement that the plane was on autopilot, and "may" have made a sudden turn; suddenly all our military brass denouncing the Chinese for ramming us "going on common sense" seems a little, well, suspect. (Besides the obvious gig about common sense in the military)
If I were trying to force a plane to land somewhere, I would fly above, and in front of it, not below; from the latest reports, that's just what the other Chinese pilot did AFTER his comrade splashed down.
Would a US spy plane keep all intercepted transmissions on board, or would it package everything up and feed it, encrypted in real time to a ship? The Chinese claim their pilot radioed permission to shoot the plane down. Wouldn't the most advanced US spy plane around have a channel or too dedicated to listening to the communications of their unfriendly military escorts less than 400 meters away? If so, do we have a recorded radio log of Chinese military communications intercepted by our spy plane, or our naval vessels in the area? Why don't we play it? Do you think that a damaged spy plane headed for hostile territory will have a shred of video, audio, or telemetry information left that might indicate that the spy plane was in the wrong? That stuff was burned faster than FBI forensics about Waco. The Chinese probably don't have any relevant cockpit video from their jet either, or we'd already be seeing an endless loop-back of Yankee aggression on CNN. So, barring recovery of anything interesting from the downed fighter, or a freedom of information act request thirty years from now for transcripts beamed to any nearby US surface vessels, we're reduced to relying on events as told in the sworn testimony of the two parties most compelled to lie.
Conspiracy theories aside, this whole spy plane incident begs a larger question. What is the reason for spying in the first place? What kind of information could, should, and would be gathered? We already have satellites that would alert us to a Chinese invasion fleet even preparing to steam across the straits to Taiwan, much less the logically and logistically impossible fleet needed to transport an invasion force across the Pacific. The pundits go on about how China might invade Taiwan. It would be a shame to see another round in that particular civil war, but let's not kid ourselves. With our current aversion to casualties of any kind , we would sooner mount an expedition to Mars then defend Taiwan from an invasion from mainland China. Even if we were ready for another Southeast Asian adventure, have we learned nothing about the bloody price of fighting someone else's wars? Those intent on rousing the specter of the Global Communist Threat should take a deep breath and remember that another lesson we should have learned over the last 50 years is that the communist command economy, and therefore communism itself, doesn't work in the long run. Maybe that's why China largely left Hong Kong alone when the British lease was up. The ChiComms learned the lessons of the Great Leap Forward far better than the socialist morons in control of our government, probably because keeping a nation of over a billion from starving, and therefore rioting, is the first priority of the ruling regime. So, give our freedom loving Taiwanese friends all the satellite pictures of Chinese port cities and military preparations they want. They can defend their shores from a mainland invasion that may or may not come. In the mean time, they can continue to lead the rest of China towards free markets and freedom by their example.
Setting aside Taiwan, however, China, and every other nation on the planet for that matter, is not a conventional military threat to the United States. "We still need spy planes" and all the cold war apparatus of government control, the shrill voices cry. "The Chinese stole all our nuclear secrets, and we have to know what they're doing!" Folks, the atomic bomb is over 50 years old; take 10 Kilos of U235 in two separate masses, one shaped like a pie wedge, one shaped like a sphere, TNT to slam it together to achieve critical mass, and boom, Manhattan hits the Hudson in one fell swoop of atomic Hell. So what's the big secret? The argument over a 5 megaton versus 60 megaton design is so much hairsplitting. If anything, the fact that the Chinese could walk into the Whitehouse and buy the latest warhead design is all the more reason to stop government research on these monstrous devices. Private industry is much better prepared to guard what are basically trade secrets than the corrupt pols in DC.
Just what is China's nuclear threat? It's credibly estimated at twenty to our thousands, but what country would launch even one ICBM against the US? Retaliation would be so severe as to guarantee destruction. So you always have the possibility of a suicidal sociopath or two in the military getting hold of a nuke, right? With a flight time of 30 minutes, and all kinds of destruct and abort codes controlled by the central (presumably sane, or at least self-preservationist) military, a “Spies Like Us” movie scenario gets pretty unlikely.
What are we left with? The major boogey-men of modern US military thinking are:
- Backpack Nukes (A Tom Clancy specialty)
- Terrorist suicide bombings (Cole, Khobar Towers, World Trade Center, and many more)
- Domestic Terrorism (Tim McVeigh in Oklahoma City)
- Cyber-Terrorism (Mafia-boy takes down Yahoo)
- Biological Weapons (Anthrax from a Cessna over New York)
- Chemical Weapons (Nerve Gas, etc.)
Rather than trying to rate the likelihood of these events happening or recurring, lets ask the simple question of whether or not sticking our troops, spy planes, CIA and FBI Agents, submarines, Jets, and Tomahawk missiles all over the world increases or decreases the chances of any one taking place. The answer is simple when you consider that the Swiss don't have a problem with Islamic fundamentalists blowing holes in their Destroyers. If you need more than thought experiment evidence, Chalmers Johnson has dedicated an entire book to the cause and effect relationship between our interventions and the repercussions.
On the cyber-terror front, we have hackers capable of the monstrous terror of defacing a government web site and taking down online services for a few hours before backbone providers could react. Gasp, I can't check my stocks every 5 minutes! These annoyances are painted by our government into some twisted Terminator-futurescape a few mouse-clicks away, with the Yellow-Terror Chinese government capable of opening Hoover Dam's flood gates or turning off power in California with the press of a button in Nanking. Please, the Communists in California already took care of the second. The “government must do something” crowd crows for the Office of Government Email Screening, Internet Strangulation, and Taxation along with $5 Billion in funding.
Which do you fear more: Some bored teenager doing the equivalent of a graffiti job on your website, or being permanently added to a government database thanks to the NSA intercepting your Lew Rockwell page views and tagging you as a potential "trouble maker". For that matter, are you more afraid of the threat of a terrorist poisoning your drinking water, or an IRS audit?
So, what are we spying for anyhow? Jude Wanniski puts it perfectly when he describes “those watchdogs who bark at any rustling in the trees”. What information could be gleaned by these same cloak-and-dagger goofballs who missed the impending collapse of the Soviet Union? Nothing.
Here's all the information they need: The Chinese have not, are not preparing to, and could not militarily invade the US. They are greatly deterred from a nuclear war with us. When the Chinese government spies on us, they get all the info the need from their men at the top. Why not shoot the traitors in our midst, and stop spying on the Chinese. Better yet, strip our government of anything foreign governments would want, and avoid the problem altogether.
April 11, 2001