Soviets used civilian airliners to gather intelligence, documents show

Soviet Aeroflot airlinerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Soviet spy agencies routinely used civilian airplanes to collect aerial intelligence over Western military installations, according to newly declassified documents. The revelation is contained in British government files from 1982 that were declassified on Friday, following the expiration of the United Kingdom’s 30-year classification rule. According to Bloomberg’s Robet Hutton and Thomas Penny, who accessed the files, they include a detailed memorandum addressed to Conservative Party politician Margaret Thatcher, who was serving as Britain’s Prime Minister at the time. The memorandum, which was authored by then Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, informed Mrs. Thatcher that the airborne behavior of airliners belonging to Aeroflot, the Soviet Union’s state-owned civilian air carrier, appeared suspicious. Secretary Nott wrote in the memo that Britain’s Royal Air Force had “established that some [Soviet] aircraft deviated from their flight-plan routes” when flying over Western military bases. He goes on to describe an “incident of particular interest”, in which an Aeroflot Ilyushin IL62 airplane descended without authorization from 35,000 feet to 10,000 feet right above the village of Boulmer. Located in Northumberland, England, Boulmer is adjacent to a Royal Air Force base, which at the time featured a newly modernized radar system. The same Aeroflot airplane behaved in similar fashion while flying over a United States Navy base in Groton, Connecticut, which at the time hosted the first US submarine equipped with Trident Ballistic Missiles. The memorandum states that the circumstances surrounding the flight patterns of Aeroflot airliners had led the Royal Air Force to assume that the Soviet airplanes “were gathering intelligence” on Western military targets. In response, British counterintelligence planners had decided to monitor the flight patterns of “the thousand or so Warsaw Pact [not just Soviet] airliners which fly over the UK each month”. The newly declassified documents, which were released by the National Archives, an executive agency operating under the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Justice, also reflect Mrs. Thatcher’s undiplomatic feelings toward the Soviet Union. In one memorandum addressed to the British Prime Minister, her Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Peter Carrington, strongly urged her to publicly congratulate Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev on the occasion of his 75th birthday. The memorandum was returned to the Foreign Secretary by Mrs. Thatcher, who wrote in the margins “Afghanistan?” —referring to the then-recent invasion of that country by the Soviet Red Army. “I really don’t think we should send a message”, added Mrs. Thatcher, underlining the words “don’t”.

5 Responses to Soviets used civilian airliners to gather intelligence, documents show

  1. Peter Wallerberger says:

    In retrospect ; in all fairness, it was also suggested at the time that the deviation from flight
    path of a certain K.A.L civilian airliner was due to it being used to photograph / activate certain
    Russian coastal radar installations – hence why the airliner was tragically ‘eliminated.’

    Such use of civil airliners to collect photographic intelligence is nothing new – the German
    airline Lufthansa did it over England well prior to WWII – with amazing accuracy.

    Likewise as history has shown – the United States itself is certainly no stranger to foreign airspace incursions and covert aerial photography.(the word ‘Helio Courier’ springs to mind
    for some reason !! – not to mention ‘U2’ !!)

  2. Mari Arinna Mandoria says:

    In other words they are all as bad/guilty as each other.

  3. Kidd says:

    spying/intel collecting is the most intriguing, beautiful sport in the world. how dull life would be without the search for others secrets. the mind is fully functioning when the meter is set to spying.medals should be handed out.

  4. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Nice bit of KIWI logic you have there Mari Mandoria – except if you look up any Intelligence dictionary – under the letter B it won’t list “Bad” and for some reason a further check under the letter G it certainly will not reveal the word “Guilty” .
    (I’m sure though – in your case if you look up the letter “A” if you are lucky you might find the
    word ‘Alderbaran’ which I’m sure you personally will find much more interesting and enlightening !!)

  5. pHIL says:

    Well; DUHHHHHH. Remember Francis Gary Powers?

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