What the Pentagon has lost
April 2, 2001 4:53 PM   Subscribe

What the Pentagon has lost The American spy plane carried very sophisticted andf important snoopware...did they destroy what they could before landing?
posted by Postroad (25 comments total)
Let's all muse about what would be if the reverse happened; a Chinese spy-plane knocks down an American fighter jet off the coast of Texas. It makes an emergency landing say, a few miles outside of Houston. Marines discover the crew and a truckload of intelligence information.

And Jiang Zemin demanding we hurry up, they need the plane back. Very sensitive equipment inside. Besides, we wouldn't want to harm our relationship.

You bet.
posted by coyroy at 5:38 PM on April 2, 2001

Yeah, but this is the US we are talking about, they are used to getting everything they want... or else.
posted by bytecode at 6:18 PM on April 2, 2001

Eh, information wants to be free... ;-)

Let 'em have it. Wouldn't everyone be happier if we all shared? Okay, half-seriously, though, if everyone had the same stuff, and knew it, wouldn't things be a little more laid back?
posted by whatnotever at 6:22 PM on April 2, 2001

coyroy is right on...if i was in charge i'd keep the plane for forensic studies while investigating the cause of the crash. And if i happened to remove all the hardware inside...well, that's just being thorough.
posted by th3ph17 at 7:15 PM on April 2, 2001

But you'd give the crew back, right? I mean, that is really outrageous behavior by the Chinese. Keep the damn plane. But give the people back. They should know nothing pisses off America like a good ol' hostage crisis.
posted by norm at 7:28 PM on April 2, 2001

I'd give them back after a thorough debriefing and statements being recorded, etc...

what if the flight-recorder or testimony shows internationally recognized criminal behavior or something? or active espionage rather than information gathering? If you were a chinese intelligence officer, what would you do?
posted by th3ph17 at 7:55 PM on April 2, 2001

Good lord, people. These uniformed soldiers were operating in INTERNATIONAL airspace. And explain to me how a 737 can run right into a supersonic fighter without the fighter doing something to let it happen (heck, maybe he watched Top Gun before he flew out on the intercept).
And how would those guys be doing something criminal? They're in an airplane!

This crap really ticks me off. The Chinese publish these ludicrous claims and people actually believe it. It's hogwash, folks.
posted by CRS at 8:50 PM on April 2, 2001

crs: after reading your post, now i even distrust the chinese take out menu. i think they are secretly serving me tofu disguised as general tso's chicken.

how do you know the plane was on international waters? did the pentagon release the actual flight plan to you?

lest we forget - i think i saw at least three posts on the front page of MeFi on TiVo "secretly collecting data" of the service subscribers. now imagine how the chinese must feel when americans are gathering information on them.

espionage IS NOT A RIGHT. it's a risky game. and everyone knows it. if the 24 crewmen were lost at sea - had they crashed - or - god forbid, shot down, CIA/Pentagon and their media cohorts would've spun this in a very different way.

the media needs a villain other than the daily suburban kid who keeps shooting people in high schools. now they have the chinese.
posted by tamim at 9:08 PM on April 2, 2001

Not only was the plane in international airspace, even on the ground, the plane and the crew are covered by an international agreement which considers everything to be sovereign to the U.S. and not to be tampered with in any way, shape or form.

If China wants to violate that sovereignty agreement, let them. We can them yank their MFN and tell them to take all of their cheap crap Happy Meal toys and prison labour sweatsocks and go straight to hell.
posted by Dreama at 9:10 PM on April 2, 2001

The Chinese publish these ludicrous claims and people actually believe it.

..and the Americans don't do the same?
posted by cmacleod at 9:13 PM on April 2, 2001

Of course this type of reconnaisance is dangerous, tamim, and I'm sure the Chinese don't like it any more than the U.S. does when someone does it to them. But the fact is that it is not a crime.

As to where the plane was exactly, even the Chinese don't claim that it was in Chinese airspace. And accidents do happen in this "game" that almost every country plays. I remember collisions between U.S. and Russian planes during the Cold War. But nobody was ever accused of a crime when they were operating in international airspace. If you don't like people eavesdropping, don't talk so loudly.

So don't tell me they're guilty of crimes like th3ph17 implied. They're not. And if the Chinese don't release them soon, they'll all but assure the sale of those nice Kidd-class destroyers to Taiwan.
posted by CRS at 9:56 PM on April 2, 2001

Hold your horse there CRS, i wasn't implying. I was just saying what i would do if i were a chinese intelligence officer in charge of whats going on.

I was merely pointing out that there is more than one perspective to this, governments/military institutions Lie sometimes. Sometimes i want to know what they lie about, and sometimes i realize that i'll sleep better not knowing. Why can't the chinese be a little distrustful and cautious? Are we so self-righteous in the US that we forget there are other viewpoints?

In all probability the chinese are at fault. So? You don't think they are willing to risk some bad press in exchange for taking that plane apart? And do you really think any other nation wouldn't do the same thing?

tamin hits it dead-on....Spying is a game. A dangerous one. People die. Points are scored by the bad guys. Two planes playing cat and mouse or two ships running into each other or borderguards taking random shots at their opposites is nothing new at all. The US crew is unharmed as far as we know, but probably nervous as hell. But i'd be willing to bet a coffee that there are strategists who would have rather seen the plane & crew smashed to little bits rather than lose precious secrets.

don't get lost in the political/media spin. And please, please don't mistake me throwing scenarios around for a belief or something i'm out to prove....i think the whole thing is nothing more than a stupid accident.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:55 PM on April 2, 2001

24 spies get captured? I'm supposed to give a shit? That's the breaks... Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. I'm frankly embarrassed by American indignation. What are you people trying to do? Get everyone wound up so they get behind a George Bush War 2: The Sequel?

Same Shit, Different Day. I'll give this one a pass...
posted by TheShovel at 11:47 PM on April 2, 2001

posted by Postroad at 4:28 AM on April 3, 2001

What bothers me most about this incident is that it is fueling the fire of a new cold war. I think the reference to the U.S. and Soviet planes and the cold war most telling. Its deja vu all over again....
posted by trox at 7:08 AM on April 3, 2001

Hmm... could be time to invest in Lockheed, GE, and whoever makes those $200 toilet seats.
posted by gimli at 8:07 AM on April 3, 2001

These servicepeople were not spies, TheShovel. They were not sneaking into forbidden areas or stealing information. They were in international airspace, conducting reconnaissance and observation.

The media refers to the plane as a "spy" plane because many Americans don't know what the word reconnaissance means, (or how to spell it, thank you Matt for the Spell Check) but they understand what spying is. (It's also good to hype the ratings.) What they've done is no different than going to the top of a hill to see what the folks down in the valley are up to - taking advantage of an available, legal vantage point in order to collect non-secret information.

To write them off as "spies" and say "Oh well, why should I care?" is callous and inhumane - they are men and women who were simply going about a routine segment of their jobs, and now their lives are in peril.
posted by Dreama at 8:23 AM on April 3, 2001

It is callous to dismiss the lives of the crew as disposable just because they were spying. But there shouldn't be too much doubt over what they were up to. Like coyroy suggested, how would we feel if a Chinese military plane loaded with "reconnaissance" equipment were to make an emergency landing in Houston because it collided with one of ours while flying in nearby international airspace?

Would the US government return their plane if it had been the other way around? They'd take it apart piece by piece until they could everything they can learn from it. This is just what the Chinese will do.

The crew, on the other hand, may be held by the Chinese government as a bargaining chip. This isn't to say I condone the practice, but it's a political reality. They will probably insist that the US not go ahead with the sale of Aegis-class warships to Taiwan, and they may hold them prisoner longer than we would like, but they will probably (hopefully) not be harmed.

Anyway, it would be nice to see Sino-Americans improve for the better, for a change. If I'm going to pray for Dubya, it's so that he don't screw-up.
posted by Loudmax at 9:14 AM on April 3, 2001

i don't think the lives of the crew are in danger.

It is a chess game. Hold on to the crew while gutting the plane, then give the crew back--who will probably say that apart from some nervous moments they were treated pretty well.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:40 AM on April 3, 2001

I found it interesting that the initial reports said, "All crewmembers are safe," and it wasn't until the second day that the news agencies added, "The search continues for the Chinese fighter pilot." So apparently the word "all" doesn't cover Chinese fighter pilots. And it wasn't until the third day that the US extended an offer to assist in the search for the Chinese pilot.

The Washington Post notes that when a Russian pilot landed in Japan in 1976, the US disassembled his MiG fighter.
posted by raymondc at 9:47 AM on April 3, 2001

Dreama: These crewmembers were spies. The plane was equiped with equipment that can receive any radio/radar band, can listen into phone conversations. Hell, the plane can even intercept electronic communications such as email.

If we are 'callous and inhumane' for thinking the US military was using a spy plane to spy, I think you're a bit naive. This plane was either being used to search for/exploit backdoors in/listen into Chinese communication networks or was on it's way to do it to somebody else.
posted by Neb at 11:26 AM on April 3, 2001

"espionage IS NOT A RIGHT"

No, it's more than that. It's a responsibility. Even libertarians admit protection the national security is one of the true duties of a government. I for one sleep better at night knowing that U.S. agencies are trying (admittedly not always succeeding) to stay one step ahead of our enemies.
posted by darren at 11:27 AM on April 3, 2001

If we are 'callous and inhumane' for thinking the US military was using a spy plane to spy, I think you're a bit naive.

No, the callous and inhumane label applies to comments such as "I don't give a shit" about these people who are hanging in the balance of international drama not of their own making. Regardless of what they were doing - which was not illegal, not secret nor underhanded - they deserve better than that.
posted by Dreama at 11:49 AM on April 3, 2001

Agreed. Spies should be treated well when all the world's media knows they've been captured.
posted by Neb at 12:13 PM on April 3, 2001

(Dreama & CRS: I very much appreciate your rational thinking on this one.) Please note that the USA is the most honest, moral, and principled nation in the world (ever). We are, in an almost literal sense, the protectors & defenders of the world - certainly more than any other single nation or group. Do we always do a great job? No - but we DO IT, and constantly try to do it better. Those crewmembers (male & female) are serving our nation, doing what is right for the USA and for the general betterment of the entire world, in the long run. And from a libertarian perspective, I'll heartily agree with Darren: national defense is one of the few true responsibilities of a moral government, along with judiciary, police, and precious few other services.
posted by davidmsc at 4:22 PM on April 3, 2001

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