October 31, 2019

Do efforts to kill the Open Skies Treaty, and the al-Baghdadi raid, cross paths?

Aircrew members assigned to Russian air force Open Skies
and Airmen assigned to the 15th Wing, pose for a group photo
at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 14, 2019
Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman, 15th Wing Public Affairs, USAF
There have been a series of startling things in the media which have compelled me to document and draw attention to the timing of events.
Are they related, or a coincidence?

Based on information from multiple leaks, during the 1st week of October, Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s Russia and Europe director, put some sort of letter of intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty under Donald Trump’s fingers while a pen was in them, finishing off the paperwork that John Bolton had drafted before leaving, and progressing a personal quest of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has been on for years, to kill the Open Skies Treaty. Did I mention Tim, Tom, and John are all on the same page about the Open Skies Treaty? Well, they’re three peas in a pod.
On Friday October 4th, 2019 a meeting invite went out to several departments of the United States Government for an NSC meeting on October 7th, Monday, without a set agenda.

On Saturday October 5th, Turkish President Erdogan announced an operation involving Turkish forces in Northern Syria would commence, also on Monday October 7th.

By Sunday October 6th the public was aware that the US Military would be withdrawing, leaving the Kurds to fight the Turks, and it was all defence correspondents were reporting on.

On Monday October 7th there was the aforementioned meeting between members of the NSC, and other government departments. From my understanding, all departments were told that they would have to be prepared for October 26th when they would exit the Open Skies Treaty, because Trump already signed a letter of intent to exit the treaty; which didn’t make any sense to me, since withdrawing from a treaty takes months of negotiations. I asked around if this was something about an NDAA deadline, or some other event that I was unaware of - nobody I asked knew.

On Wednesday October 9th Slate published an article giving a significant amount of detail about the story, 

Several articles were written by many experts (WSJ published one from George P. Shultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn), even the NYT editorial board, all in support of the treaty, and no interviews were granted to anyone at the White House or National Security Council. The leak was real, and the article by Slate was true - nobody at the NSC was ready to talk about any of it, yet.

Over the next two weeks I spent a lot of time tutoring journalists on the Open Skies Treaty, laying trails of breadcrumbs on Twitter so people could find their own information, hooking them up with experts in the field, publicising new developments about the Open Skies Treaty crisis, and tweeting background for the media and the public. All the while I was being mindful that one of the principal enemies of the treaty was at the helm, in the NSC, destroying the treaty; Tim Morrison. But what would be happening October 26th?

October 23rd, CSIS published an article on the Open Skies Treaty, and when I contacted the author for edits to the piece to make a significant detail unambiguous, he refused to make any changes - not one word - saying he stood behind every word and gave three references to other articles (including The Economist, which he may not have noticed I contributed to). Upon reviewing the articles, none supported his position.

I had contacted the author of the paper, and rethought my many objections, condensing them down to changing just one word toward the top of the article that could be changed to make it clear to the public that flights over Kaliningrad are *not* being blocked; Open Skies Treaty flights are being *frustrated*, by a 500 km limit, and the RCAF has characterised that limit as not significant to their missions over Kaliningrad.  That’s unusual, I thought, but CSIS is a think tank; there is no reason to think they would have any desire to change the piece at all. Why did they publish the piece on October 23rd, two weeks after Slate broke the story on Oct 9th? I still don’t know. That’s unusual, I thought, but CSIS is a think tank, not a newspaper; there is no reason to think they would have any desire to change the piece at all. But why did they publish the piece on October 23rd, two weeks after Slate broke the story on Oct 9th?

This is the 2nd time I’ve run into an Open Skies Treaty article related to someone at CSIS which I’ve found ambiguously worded and riddled with issues, and the author refused to make any changes then too. The last was written by Kath Hicks (and/or her research assistant), for The Cipher Brief. Not one change made out of 8 pages of feedback; I find that fascinating. Perhaps people at CSIS have been, or are being, targeted with disinformation from sources close to Cotton and Morrison; maybe John Bolton is going to appear shortly as one of their senior fellows, time will tell.

(after months of nothing in response to my email, I published the corrections publicly)

October 26th, the strike on Al-Baghdadi happened, and all leads were about the raid on Sunday, October 27th.

October 27th, the Wall Street Journal published what I would call an unusual article, it didn’t “flow” like any previous reporting about the potential Open Skies Treaty pull-out by the Americans. The article had some treaty-positive information, and also spread propaganda from the opponents of the Open Skies Treaty. I felt it missed some obvious counter-arguments about why the treaty should be kept, and it had the first quote that I’ve seen on the topic from Tim Morrison, the aforementioned NSC official who is spearheading the murder of this 34-country treaty. This was October 27th, one day after October 26th, the date given by NSC officials October 7th to be prepared for, or as we now know it, the day of the Al-Baghdadi raid. The published timeline of events so far suggests Tim Morrison would have been aware of the upcoming Al-Baghdadi raid, and I believe the leak to the WSJ was already part of the plan on October 7th. I believe it is reasonable to think Tim delayed the “leak” by “officials” to the WSJ, about their intent to kill the Open Skies Treaty until October 26th. He would be in a position to know it would take that long to get all their domestic allies on the same page, arrange information operations, get their favourite think tanks on board, “experts” lined up for interviews with the major news networks, the Al-Baghdadi raid would provide cover for the bombshell news, and would get the Open Skies Treaty announcement pushed back to a less prominent position in the daily news cycle.

  • Where does that leave CSIS and the WSJ?
  • Are they clandestinely operated by the White House?
  • Do they only publish what the National Security Council ask them to?

No, I’m not that paranoid.

I believe the answer is more human, less conspiracy. Every journalist is under deadlines, and with a limited amount of research, they need to send to press something at the end of the day, even when nobody calls them back, or maybe previous references are less than clear. Also, every journalist and researcher have their trusted sources on the topics that they’re focused on - myself included. Some of those journalists have Tim Morrison in their Rolodex (look it up kids), the guy who is actively trying to kill the treaty (and provided an exclusive quote to the WSJ), and some have John Bolton, or Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) as their sources; three different people, that will give them the same story, more or less. That’s all the due diligence a journalist might need, to prove they’ve researched a story, if their editor didn’t understand that those three people were the greatest threat to the treaty, and were actually the people trying to kill it. Isn’t it presumptive of me to assume they spoke to one of those three? What if they spoke to none of them? Well, those three people are very influential, themselves having contacts at right-wing think tanks, and other people around Washington, who will also parrot their talking points; they don’t live in a bubble. There is no shortage of former White House and DoD officials who have heard their anti-Open Skies Treaty talking points, and most wouldn’t know that they’re mostly trumped up (no pun intended). Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and his allies have been slandering the treaty with disinformation for years, feeding half-truths to the media, committees, and the public; since Obama, at least. This faction of American government does not represent the will of the people. They represent their own interests, and should be treated as a radical, well funded, fringe group, out to endanger the world for their own reasons.

The Russian air force Open Skies Tupolev Tu-154M RF-85655,
lands at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 14, 2019
Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman, 15th Wing Public Affairs, USAF

The NYT, Slate, Vox, and many others are already on record about what’s been going on with the Open Skies Treaty. Journalists have been contacting sources and writing articles since October ~8th. I can’t understand how the Wall Street Journal was able to delay by over two weeks covering the story, but I’m now watching for others who haven’t, or won’t, write about it as well because they can’t figure out what’s going on.

I hope my efforts in publicising what’s really going on disrupt any disinformation that’s being spread about the Open Skies Treaty. Any journalist with questions about the treaty or what’s been going on is free to email me questions or catch me on Twitter. I’m more than happy to brief them on the history of the treaty, give references to official documents, and referrals to more arms control academics and experts than you can shake a stick at.

Previous Important Open Skies Posts:

April 20, 2019

The HMCS Toronto had an identity crisis while deployed with NATO SNMG2 in the Black Sea

There are some things that happen in world military affairs that only I get upset about, and this is probably one of those things.

According to their AIS transponder, HMCS Toronto departed 2019-01-21 ~11:45Z from CFB Halifax for a six month tour with NATO Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (#SNMG2), and unlike previous Royal Canadian Navy-NATO deployments (like HMCS St Johns), HMCS Toronto has been operating with their AIS transponder off the whole time, for months.. until they entered the Black Sea and seem to have started broadcasting the MMSI of the HMCS Charlottetown. In some form or fashion, whatever had been entered manually into the transponder was not as it should be - but I don't know how it happened. From my seat here in Ottawa, one of my windows to the deployed maritime world is MarineTraffic.com, which has a worldwide network of AIS receivers. Along the way, in the Black Sea (and now in the Med), HMCS Toronto has been near many of those receivers, and I was able to put them on a map to illustrate where they were. Each place where they were broadcasting their location using AIS was being heard by not just the MarineTraffic.com receivers when they were close to shore, by design they were being "heard" by any ship, including Russian Navy SIGINT vessels in the area, without going through MarineTraffic.com. I mention this to make sure you have at the forefront of your mind that the HMCS Toronto itself is broadcasting their precise location, over marine VHF, and through the miracle of technology, are transmitting that location to everyone around the world; it isn't just Russian AGIs that know where the HMCS Toronto is - and that's not a problem or cause for concern!

The commander of SNMG2, Commodore Boudewijn Boots of the Royal Netherlands Navy, engages with the public over social media, bringing pictures from the bridge to Twitter, letting you know where they are regularly; so I have absolutely no doubt the location of the ships is in no way a "secret", and revealing the location of HMCS Toronto is in no way compromising their security - they are broadcasting their location themselves, but are showing up on MarineTraffic.com as using the identification number (MMSI) of the HMCS Charottetown.

Are they trying to impersonate HMCS Charlottetown? What happened?

There are many Twitter accounts that are not operated by individuals, and are actually detractors put there to hijack the conversation and mislead the public; that said, I haven't given up on the platform yet, even though its extremely difficult to tell the difference between outraged soccer moms and paid disinformation operatives conducting their affairs in bad faith.

One inventive answer is that it was a prank or otherwise inside joke among the comms operators on the HMCS Toronto referencing when HMCS Charlottetown was performing exercises near Florida and labelled itself a "Pleasure Craft" (rather than a warship) over it's AIS transponder.
I'm not convinced that's the case.

I always appreciate messages from people who may know something but can't tell me anything because I don't have a need to know; "There are things at play here that are beyond the letter of the book." Okay, that's almost Yoda-worthy.

We also have at least two organisations' standard operating procedures in competition with each other, along with the personal views of the commanding officier (Cdr Martin Fluet), the commander of SNMG2, NATO itself, and the Royal Canadian Navy. Something changed, and I don't know who gave what orders to whom.

I was not paying any attention to HMCS Toronto's movements, because after they left Halifax and turned off their transponder, I didn't expect to see them for six months. When they departed the Black Sea, and I noticed they were using the MMSI assigned to the HMCS Charlottetown, I was quite surprised. You'll remember they were the ones who lost power / caught fire / broke down off the coast of Scotland and we were able to track them as they were limping around. Maybe they decided that was too transparent, and have gone in the other direction? The problem with that mentality is the underlying reason to turn off their transponder; to avoid public scrutiny, not t avoid the Russian Navy - who I'll guess are the primary adversary when conducting European war games. The Russians have their own national technical means to monitor and track NATO ships; and AIS, used by commercial ships the world over to avoid collisions, is not their primary method to detect or monitor #NATO ships. Does it help? Sure, everything helps, I'll give you that. If the Russians think the USS Ross is at a specific location, and they can "hear" USS Ross broadcasting its information from that same location, it does act as a confirmation, but if there's ever a shooting war, the first thing all the NATO ships would do is turn off their transponder - not just change their name, or pick a different MMSI.

Changing the ship's MMSI doesn't hide the location of the ship from anyone; why do it?

That is what I was losing my mind over.

It is ultimately the commander of the HMCS Toronto who is responsible for the safety of his crew and his ship. The commander's choices are guided by directives from his superiors.
  • What advice was provided to him from NATO? or the Royal Canadian Navy? I don't know.
  • Was there a new directive or was the SOP changed? I have no way of telling, 
  • Did Commodore Boudewijn Boots and Cdr Martin Fluet, actually change nothing, but someone made a typo when entering the transponder number in the system? Maybe. The MMSI for HMCS Toronto and HMCS Charlottetown are only one number off.

My frustration is fundamentally that it is unrealistic to think the Russian Navy, who were following SNMG2 the whole time, mistook HMCS Toronto for HMCS Charlottetown. Nobody in the world was fooled. There was absolutely no improvement made to the security of the ship, or the mission, as far as I can tell.

  • If it was an act of obfuscation or deception it was completely useless and didn't warrant doing.
  • If this was done on purpose, in order to deceive, what does that say about the Royal Canadian Navy's level of maritime domain awareness? Did they think it would change something?
    That's what greatly concerns me.
  • If this was a typo, a major system on the ship shouldn't have typos, and at the time they left Halifax they were using the right transponder number, meaning they changed it along the way. That's disturbing.

I would love to discover that this was all a ruse by the Royal Canadian Navy, and this was a repainted HMCS Charlottetown that actually transited to the Black Sea because the HMCS Toronto had much more extensive damage than had been previously reported; but I have no evidence to support that, I just made it up.

Derrick cracked me up with this, and it's at least partially true. The Royal Canadian Navy, and by extension NATO, and the American DoD, I believe, need a lot of help in understanding what is or isn't effective in hiding their movements. I follow the ships I do to remind the public and journalists that we (the people) can and should track our military with the transponders they broadcast their location to their adversaries with, and are aware they are using, so we can know as much as they do. Why should the Russian Navy know where Canadian ships are, when the Canadian public doesn't? If "they" know, *you* should know.

April 17, 2019

Did you hear the one about a Russian Yacht circling Puerto Rico, like a shark with lasers?

Dateline November 17, 2017: The Bermuda-flagged super-yacht "Eclipse" sailed into The Port of Palm Beach Florida. Eclipse is Roman Abramovich's yacht; and he's a very rich Russian with ties to Vladimir Putin, so naturally rumours started to circulate among a faction of people, who were still in shock over Donald Trump's election win. One of the stories was about clandestine meetings at Mar-a-Lago; Russian yachts moored off the coast, and their "oligarch" owners slipped in to shore, maybe under the cover of darkness. It was a great story to lift the spirits of those who felt they'd lost the election, and helped smooth over any criticism of Hillary Clinton's election loss. The Russian yacht-clandestine meeting narrative would fan the flames of the story it was the Russians, not the American voters, who were to blame. The yacht story would also prove to be quite absurd.

"don’t get all collusion-delusional"

-Tony Doris, Journalist with the Palm Beach Post covering the last yacht story

As reputable media organisations reported, Roman Abramovich wasn't on his yacht in Florida in 2017.
  • That's what his publicist said.
  • That's what the press said.
  • That's what I said.

Why? How can I be so sure? Because there were no helicopters, no fast cars, no entourage, no limo... and no Roman. Where Roman Abramovich goes, so does the Paparazzi. There were no Paparazzi staking out the ship, because Roman Abramovich wasn't there. Some people wanted to believe the yacht, owned by a rich Russian, was a sign of Russian influence. The yacht was parked for weeks at the end of 11th Avenue in Palm Beach, having preparations done for its usual winter season spent in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the yacht's presence was all the evidence some people needed. Believing the yacht's owner is nearby may be a good guess for someone's weekend cabin cruiser, it doesn't scale to the mega-rich, with yachts that are the size of cruise ships.

Despite the rumour not being even remotely plausible, let alone true, the story plays to a crowd who would very much like to believe Russian yachts are following the President of the United States up and down the United States East Coast, and somehow meeting with him, despite closed airspace overhead, and secret service agents hiding in the bushes. Mega-yachts of the rich and famous are not following Donald J Trump around. The story is quite ridiculous, and easily shown to be false; all multi-million dollar yachts have AIS transponders, all are tracked, but the rumour has staying power, because people want to believe it. It is quite impossible to smuggle a Russian billionaire into the USA using a yacht that's worth hundreds of millions of dollars unnoticed.

Skip ahead to April 2019, and another (in)famous Russian's yacht sailed into a US harbour, this time, into the Port of San Juan; Andrey Melnichenko's super-yacht "A" - to a crowd of impressed onlookers.


Since Donald J Trump isn't in Puerto Rico (I hear he's not popular with the locals for some reason), how can this non-event be spun to be something nefarious and Russian-y? The rumour is the yacht stopped near a dozen different American military bases in Puerto Rico, the insinuation is they are conducting SIGINT/ELINT/COMINT/(etc); someone even made a list of the bases... but it's not entirely as it seems; it's a truism. Truisms make great springboards for propaganda, especially when people don't understand they're truisms to begin with.

Picture a rectangular dining table, standing on four legs. In your imagination, walk around the table. Now picture the headline as; "Suspicious person seen circling 4 table legs; citizens monitoring situation for signs of vandalism." It misses the obvious, an uses exaggeration for effect; but it's still the same story, phrased differently; spin, propaganda, disinformation - whatever you want to call it.

I want you to think about this. I invite you to look at a map of Puerto Rico. Answer me this; in what direction can you sail around the island, approaching from the East, and loop around the island (ending up heading East again, like a horse shoe) without passing "near" a dozen military bases? Do you sail around the island clockwise, or counterclockwise, to avoid the bases? What do other yachts do? What's is the baseline from which you determine that this trip is at all unusual or out of the ordinary.

unknown source, picture making the rounds with the rumour
I hear Puerto Rico is lovely, but it isn't very big. All of the military bases are close to shore if not on the shore. No matter where you are in Puerto Rico, you're already near a US military base. Even using terms like nearby and close are subjective, and could be an attempt to make the claim impervious to criticism. These are the usual wiggle-words that we, the consumers of propaganda, need to be on-the-lookout for. Additionally, the claim doesn't elaborate regarding the speed or where the ship stopped; it is only referred to as circling the island, and stopping near bases, which is true, they did sail around the island counter clockwise. If they had sailed around the island clockwise would that have avoided scrutiny? My point in pointing out the absurdity of these allegations is they're totally baseless. As a truism those that make the claims can say they're factually correct; and they are. There was a big yacht, owned by a Russian (not a Russian yacht - there's a difference), that sailed around the island of Puerto Rico, as it had previously done around many other Caribbean islands. There's nothing weird or nefarious about it. It's the same route taken by millions of other ships before them, and completely unrelated to Venezuela; which is a new red herring that could have been thrown in by the Venezuela regime change propaganda campaign for all I know.

MarineTraffic.com AIS-T and AIS-S Tracking Data

Using MarineTraffic.com data of the ship's movements shows their pattern of movement matches what you'd expect the route would be for any incredibly expensive yacht; they're sailing from beach to beach, Caribbean vista to Caribbean vista. Overlaying that they're stopping near American military bases is true, but only because Puerto Rico has so many military bases; it's a truism. Every ship that circles the island or stops anywhere near Puerto Rico is "near" a military base.

February 06, 2019

2019-01-26: NORAD intercepted two RuAF long range aviation Tu-160 bombers over the Arctic.

Two Tu-160 "Blackjacks" Photo Credit: Unknown
(2019-02-08 edit added at the bottom)
On January 26th 2019 Russian Air Force Tu-160 bombers took a spin around the Arctic and drew out a welcoming party of two F-22s and two CF-188s; NORAD announced the incursion into their self-assigned "Air Defence Identification Zone" or ADIZ for short. The ADIZ is international airspace, but serves as a buffer where unidentified or suspect planes are intercepted, to make sure they don't get too close to Canada or the United States in case they have hostile intentions. While too close is subjective and the ADIZ arbitrary, potential hostile aircraft should be intercepted before they are within sovereign airspace, which only extends 12 nautical miles out to sea.

These intercepts happen routinely, anywhere from none, to fifteen times in a year
(per official NORAD numbers between 2007 and 2016 (incl.))

Here is NORAD's initial tweet from Saturday January 26th, 2019:

Subsequently, on Monday, January 28th 2019, NORAD issued this longer statement:
An E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System, two F-22 and two CF-18 fighter jets from the North American Aerospace Defense Command positively identified two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone on January 26, 2019.
NORAD employs a layered defense network of radars, satellites, and fighter aircraft to identify aircraft and determine the appropriate response. The identification and monitoring of aircraft entering a US or Canadian ADIZ demonstrates how NORAD executes its aerospace warning and aerospace control missions for the United States and Canada.
“NORAD’s top priority is defending Canada and the United States. Our ability to protect our nations starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace,” said General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD Commander. “NORAD is on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
Operation NOBLE EAGLE is the name given to the military response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and applies to all air sovereignty and air defense missions in North America. NORAD is a binational command focused on the defense of both the U.S. and Canada, the response to potential aerospace threats does not distinguish between the two nations, and draws on forces from both countries. -NORAD Public Affairs (source)


Here is a summary of the facts, derived from the original text displayed above, which you won't see on Fox, VOA, or Axios. These are the facts conveyed by NORAD themselves. Anything beyond the above details you just read came from somewhere other than two public official NORAD statements; one Saturday (Twitter), and one Monday posted to the NORAD web site. Did the journalists speak with NORAD? Did they say so? Did they cite their source? If not, they may have made it up, or maybe their editor made it up. Call them out for it.
  • The Russian planes were in the ADIZ
  • (at least) 5 NORAD planes were involved
    • 2x USAF F-22 Raptors 
    • 2x RCAF CF-188 Hornets, and 
    • 1x E-3 Sentry (aka AWACS)
  • 2 RuAF planes were "Positively identified" by NORAD; which suggests they intercepted, then flew alongside the RuAF Tu-160s, which were always in international airspace, for a period of time, until they were satisfied they were not a threat. However, I'm extrapolating my understanding from what little they said.

To Recap:
  • 2 RuAF Tu-160s were "positively identified" in the ADIZ by 4 NORAD fighters.
That is the whole story.


  • Additional USAF refuelling aircraft were likely providing gas to NORAD thirsty travellers, but that is unconfirmed. 
  • It is unlikely all four planes were escorting the Tu-160s the entire time. There would likely have been a "hand off" from one pair to the other at some point.


  • "Russian bombers buzz North American coastline" was coined by Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) and Fox News producers. I can't say that a NORAD person never said those words to Lucas and his editor/producer, nor does Lucas claim they did, or quote them - someone editorialized what NORAD said. However, the statement is unlike anything I've ever heard from anyone at NORAD I've ever spoken to. "Buzzed" would imply proximity to the shore or "coast". NORAD's statement specifically said they had not entered sovereign airspace, which extends 12 Nautical Miles from shore; so factually, citing NORAD, I can tell you they were not "Buzzing" the coast, and that Fox has deliberately mis-characterized the flight for the sake of sensationalist reporting; for propaganda even.
  • Unfortunately, other media outlets and bloggers jumped on this "coast" narrative and made it the news of the day, regardless of the facts. I hope journalists and editors realize they were used by partisan politics in propagandizing the routine flight in international airspace and will be more wary next time, but have little hope that will be the case.


~4 hours before NORAD tweeted about the intercept, the Russian Military TV Channel "Star" broadcast the Tu-160 story, from their point of view.

(2019-01-26 16:48 Moscow (13:48Z)
"Два стратегических ракетоносца Ту-160 выполнили плановый полет в воздушном пространстве над нейтральными водами акваторий Северного Ледовитого океана, Баренцева, Лаптевых и Карского морей.
Продолжительность полета составила более 15 часов. В ходе полета экипажи Ту-160 отработали дозаправку топливом в воздухе."
or, Google Translated...
"Two strategic missile carriers Tu-160 performed a planned flight in airspace over the neutral waters of the Arctic Ocean, the Barents, Laptev and Kara seas.
The flight duration was more than 15 hours. During the flight, the crews of the Tu-160 worked refueling in the air."

2019-01-26 19:40 Moscow (16:40Z)
"Плановый полет прошел над нейтральными водами акваторий Северного Ледовитого океана, моря Лаптевых, а также Баренцева и Карского морей."
"The scheduled flight took place over the neutral waters of the Arctic Ocean, Laptev Sea, and the Barents and Kara Seas."

2019-01-26 12:40 EST (17:40Z) NORAD releases statement via Twitter
"An E-3 AWACS, 2x F-22, 2x CF-18 fighter jets from NORAD positively identified 2x Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone on January 26, 2019. Bombers remained in international airspace and did not enter sovereign territory"

2019-01-26 23:59 Moscow (20:59Z)
«Полет был для нас более обычным и привычным. 16 часов – это не максимум, который мы летали»
“The flight was more ordinary and familiar to us. 16 hours is not the maximum that (we've flown)” -Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Zheludkov, RuAF

2019-01-27 03:59 Moscow (00:59Z)
"Опубликованы кадры ночной дозаправки Ту-160 над водами Арктики"
"(Zvezda) Published footage (of) night refueling of the Tu-160 over the waters of the Arctic"

2019-01-27 04:44 Moscow (01:44Z)
"Пять военных самолетов США и Канады подняли по тревоге из-за Ту-160"
"Five military aircraft of the United States and Canada raised the alarm because of the Tu-160"

Whereas TV Zvezda is the Russian military TV network, and usually provides original Russian-sourced information, Sputnik usually mirrors what is being broadcast in the United States with an alternative view from a Russian angle (mileage may vary); take this post which could have referred to Russian sources, but instead reported on American sources in English, and added what sort of weapons loadout they could have (not what weapons they *did* have, because all indicators point to the plane being empty).

2019-01-27 11:07 Moscow (08:07Z)
US, Canadian Jets ‘Identified’ Russian Bombers in Airspace Near Canada - NORAD

2019-01-28 Zulu
"An E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System, two F-22 and two CF-18 fighter jets from the North American Aerospace Defense Command positively identified two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone on January 26, 2019."

I think it's quite possible they intentionally schedule the flight when they expected the least response from NORAD Public Affairs and he public; my impression is these get more coverage on weekdays rather than weekends. I could be wrong.


Unfortunately, unlike the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces who post a summary of Russian air movements in their air-defence zone, NORAD does not give us any context where the flights took place. This obfuscation is said to be for "Operational Security" reasons, but I don't quite understand that, since we're referring to Russian planes who know they were intercepted.

Japanese Joint Chiefs of Staff Press Release (via Twitter) including map of Russian operations near Japan; you've never seen anything like this issued by NORAD because they've never done so.

I can't see why NORAD would seem to feel releasing the above Japanese-style map would compromise national security, but it would greatly improve the understanding of NORAD operations for the public at large, and neuter any attempts at disinformation efforts that would portray the event as something more than it was.


This is a screenshot of OpenStreetMaps which shows you the 12 nautical mile limit as a thin purple line. Please note that between the coast of Russia, and the line; that's Russian airspace. Between the Alaskan coast and the purple line; that's American airspace. That's all of it; 12 Nautical Miles. It's not very far at all, especially by plane.

Here we have an FAA-data driven Google Earth image showing the ADIZ. If a Russian Air Force plane flies through the green zone shown below, NORAD may send an interceptor to say Hi. They might not. The idea is to keep the Russians guessing regarding when and where they are detected by coastal radar or other national technical means. Did they, or didn't they see them flying by? You'll notice that the ADIZ is mostly over international waters, which is where you'd need to be to intercept a Russian bomber, before it unloads ALCMs at CONUS; that's the idea anyway.

Most of the time people do not see the earth from the top, and do not appreciate that Russia is just on the other side of the pole. I believe people know they are there, on the other side, but just never see what that means, like this, over the top - withe the ADIZ in green:

Exactly where the Tu-160 took off from and landed was not published, but they did say they travelled over the Arctic, Laptev, Barents, and Kara Sea - and always in international airspace; which is easy to do, since it's all international airspace past 12 nautical miles from shore.

I can hope that someone at NORAD sees my butchery of Google Earth maps / the ADIZ and demands they publish better maps so they never have to be subjected to my graphics "prowess" again.


Unfortunately Lieutenant-General Sergey Kobylash, the commander of long-range aviation of the RuAF isn't a Twitter guy, so I don't think I'll be able to ask him any specifics on the mission, but here are the videos they published of the flight (the same flight) as NORAD announced. You may not be aware, but NORAD has no obligation to Canadians or Americans to tell us every time they perform one of these interceptions; they only release the information if the Russians publish something about it, or if someone at the Pentagon leaks it to the press, forcing their hand.

As an aside; it sure would be nice to get 1080p or 4k NORAD footage, wouldn't it?

The news media routinely make the same mistakes, with clickbait headlines about intrusions into North American airspace, every single time one of these flights takes place, but NORAD every single time diligently tells the public no national airspace was crossed, and the bombers were never in sovereign airspace. Why editors and producers of the news ignore this can only be because of clicks, because it certainly isn't from being accurate. Kudos to you journalists who didn't fall for the "buzz the coast" narrative, and a finger wag to those of who who spread the story in that "Fake News" light.

2019-02-08 Update

Thank you to the mystery person (and people!) who are monitoring the Russian HF radio networks the bombers talk to each other (unencrypted, old school, voice comms) while performing operations, live tweeting it for the world to read as it happens. I completely missed this thread on Twitter, and several side-bar threads of people I follow, and who follow me on Twitter; so I profusely apologize to them for not noticing and not including the information they had put out there while the action was going on.

We knew the Russians said they were doing refuelling up over the Arctic on their 15 hour training flight, but now we know the composition of that effort.
  • 2x Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers (58401, 58402)
  • 1x Tu-160 strategic bombers acting as a communication relay (58403)
  • 4x Ilyushin Il-78 refuelling planes (90722, 90723, 90724, 90725)
That's a pretty impressive sortie, I'd say.

January 25, 2019

The public's ability to use OSINT to track planes should not be underestimated by the RCMP.

( Cropped Pilatus PR Photo - underbelly of the PC-12 NG "Spectre" showing its electro-optical sensor)

At least one RCMP surveillance plane, believed to be outfitted with electo-optical night vision and thermal sensors, circled ~6000-7000ft over Kingston for almost two weeks in January, keeping residents awake, annoyed, and curious, all night long, while they were investigating a National Security case in Kingston.

It turns out the noise was from at least one nondescript, primarily white in colour, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pilatus PC-12, registration number C-GMPB, ICAO Hex C065E0, and a serial number of 1304. C-GMPB departed London Ontario on January 4th headed toward Ottawa. On January 4th a local Kingstonian PlaneSpotter, Neil Aird, heard the plane, and checked his own ADS-B/Mode-S transponder receiver to catch the tail number as it flew overhead and around Kingston.

The same plane seemed to head home on January 7th, then back towards Ottawa January 8th, operating in the area until January 15th when the plane was flown back to Southern Ontario, to the Division "O" headquarters, but not before getting photographed by Neil on January 14th. I speculate the jaunt to London Ontario could have been a crew change, or something similarly practical and mundane.

Let's check in on the capabilities of the plane, which are naturally not mentioned by the RCMP. For cost savings, I suspect the plane is COTS, so we can refer to the marketing material around the two or three PC-12 "Spectre" variants the RCMP purchased. The last official number I could find was two, but I think more have been upgraded/converted or delivered since. The plane would have been outfitted with the top of the line IR/Electro-Optical and Thermal sensors. Here is their brochure; in short, they'll kit it out with whatever sensors you want, or leave you the hook ups exposed so you can customize it yourself. Glossy: here.

Below we have a sister-plane to C-GMPB taking off from Ottawa International YOW/CYOW in 2018. Notice the paint scheme is different from older RCMP planes with rainbow racing stripes.


Here is another sister-plane to the aircraft that had been circling Kingston, on and off, from January 4th to January 14th, 2018. Notice the paint scheme; not the usual RCMP colours.


What did we learn from this?

  • The RCMP have sixteen Pilatus PC-12 planes, and the same type of plane has several different configurations, with potentially overlapping duties. There is a surveillance variant called the "Spectre" and the RCMP has 2 of those on the books. I believe it's one of those that caused the din above Kingston. I have not been able to conclusively pick out the registration numbers of the two "Spectre" variants out of the 16 plane fleet, yet. (specs)
  • Singled out as being the only single engine plane circling for over a week over a city makes you "overt", not "covert". Kingston has ~125,000 people, and more than a few noticed the RCMP was circling overhead and kept them awake all night for days; that's overt, not covert surveillance. I was contacted by a couple of people in Kingston who'd seen me written up previously (here, here, or here), but I really didn't think there would be such a paper trail for an RCMP surveillance aircraft, I thought they would have been super-stealthy. I guess not!
  • Even before we knew the tail number from Neil's work, the plane operated all night long, that's a very specific behaviour. I ask you rhetorically, who else would possibly be flying, at 3 am, over Kingston in the cold. I live near the Carp Airport (CYRP) and twice a year helicopter pilots get re-certified for night operation or some other paperwork. They fly helicopters over the neighbourhood until ~10pm, and then go home - because they're human and have families to go home to. There is no activity, other than LEO, that would keep employees circling that long at that time in that pattern. I speculated it could be something corporate, doing some sort of survey,... but realistically, no. It's really likely any circling plane at 3am over any town of 125k people is some variety of LEO; local, provincial, national, or border services.
  • The plane was circling for hours. Again, this is a behavioural tell.
    Take an example.. Sightseeing biplanes take off from CYRP; depending how much you want to spend, you can get a short tour, or a long tour of Ottawa. Either way, you're taking off from CYRP, flying around, and returning during the daytime, within a short-ish period. Minutes, not hours. There isn't anything that would justify circling for hours and days on end. The pattern of the plane's movement, the time, the altitude, this all paints a picture, but I still don't know why a white van parked across the street (yeah I know it's a movie trope) wouldn't be sufficient? SURE the plane is nice, but was it necessary? I don't know. That's past what I can realistically criticize, since they won't say why they needed the plane to begin with (even after today's 1pm press conference).
  • Initially many wondered if it could have been military? With CFB Trenton so close, it seemed like it could have been, but Trenton has a transport squadron, and while there are other people who I'd rather not mention in the area, none that would do reconnaissance from a small plane that fits that description, that I'm aware of. I liked the idea they were testing a drone's optics or something, but that didn't pan out either. Early distant photos of the plane showed it was a small plane, that looked like a PC-12, but was not confirmed at the time.
  • On January 4th the public (Neil in this case) knew that an RCMP operation was going on from the noise coming from their not-so-covert platform circling at < 7000ft for hours at night, by checking for the closest transponders that were beaconing in the area. The operational security implications of this are huge, as organised crime could easily look for all RCMP planes' presence in the future. I'm sure there are reasons why Mode-S has to be used, rather than being turned off entirely, which gives away the location of the plane, but shouldn't there be something they can do? Use a different mode? Neil is one of the good guys, and expecting the bad guys to not notice an RCMP plane circling overhead when they can precisely triangulate their position with < $1000 of computer gear bought off Amazon.
Why am I bringing all this up? Because nothing changes if you leave it alone. The RCMP is performing surveillance with a plane that's (figuratively) screaming "HEY! I'm with the RCMP and you're within line-of-sight of this transponder that's on a plane overhead, else your laptop wouldn't be able to hear me!", over 1090 MHz, over and over, as it circles all night long, if you're listening. I believe this was a good use case for why the RCMP needs a Predator-sized drone, which could fly higher, see farther, and loiter longer - drones don't eat or sleep. If the plane hadn't been noticed from its sound, nobody would have looked it up and tried to piece it together with relatively easily available present hobbyist technology.

Here's Global News talking with Neil, who's really the Plane-Spotter hero of this story, in my opinion.
Also, the title of the report should be "MYSTERY SOLVED!". Neil nailed it, and Steph Crosier first reported it in The Whig January 22nd 2018.


Snapshot of all Pilatus PC-12 planes in the RCMP inventory, per the Canadian Government. (source, source)


2019-01-22 "Kingston's mystery plane captured on camera" (Kingston Whig Standard)

2019-01-22 "Mystery plane that keeps flying over Kingston in the dead of night baffles citizens" (National Post)

2019-01-23 "Kingston mystery plane solved?" (Global News)