The Obama Administration often criticizes its opponents for living in the past. Yet, the president continues to see the world through the Cold War lens of a progressive – that is believing American policy is the source of the world’s ills. Rapprochement with Cuba wrongly assumed the island nation represents 21st century Latin America, for example. The administration then significantly changed U.S. policy without demanding any substantial political modifications from Cuba.
It now appears the United States is not only prolonging useless Cold War treaties but failing to place common sense parameters around their modern application. The Associated press reports that “Russia will ask permission on Monday to start flying surveillance planes equipped with high-powered digital cameras amid warnings from U.S. intelligence and military officials that such overflights help Moscow collect intelligence on the United States.” This is absolute nonsense. The fact that Russia would even consider such a proposal demonstrates what little regard it has for the United States and how weak it perceives this administration. Putin is playing chess while Obama plays checkers.
In my experience with these Open Sky operations, the whole process has become a Russian intelligence versus American counterintelligence game of chance. They send delegations, of which one or two are inevitably spooks posing as cultural or military attachés. The rest of the event is a dog-and-pony show that’s used to check a box.
Russia asking for overflight permission is simply insane. Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, is absolutely correct when he says that the “treaty has become a critical component of Russia’s intelligence collection capability directed at the United States,” and that in addition to overflying military installations, “will allow Russia to collect on Department of Defense and national security or national critical infrastructure.” The vulnerability “exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize.”
And then there is Rose Gottemoeller, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. She says that what Moscow gains from the observation flights is “incremental” to what they collect through other means. “One of the advantages of the Open Skies Treaty is that information – imagery – that is taken is shared openly among all the treaty parties.” Therefore, one of the advantages with the Open Skies Treaty is “that we know exactly what the Russians are imaging, because they must share the imagery with us.”
Once again, we somehow believe that Russia will play by the rules. At what point in history, especially recent history, as Putin and the Kremlin demonstrated a willingness to obey protocol? What does Russia have to fear if they do not share their imagery? How do we even know IF they are sharing all their work? The administration has shown very little resolve in confronting the Bear and this thinking has become dangerously prevalent in U.S. government circles. Remember, President Bush said he looked into his eyes. Indeed, the former president failed to recognize that Putin was a trained intelligence officer, a professional people manipulator. And we still haven’t learned our lesson.
First, Congress needs to immediately condemn this Russian idea and tell the administration that money for open skies will be cut off if this measure is approved. Second, Congress must completely overhaul this treaty or consider dropping it altogether by nixing military participation and access to military installations through the NDAA. Third, and this is more philosophical, the United States must rid itself of the “Gottemoeller-effect” and recognize that Russia is no friend. They are not a sworn enemy, per-se, but they are no friend.
That is another reason why NCPA has launched its “Provide for the Common Defense Now!” petition in order to ensure the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes measures that protect the United States from this type of threat. Sign it today.