WASHINGTON: Russia is seeking permission to start flying surveillance planes with super powered digital cameras while U.S intelligence and military officials warn that such flights will help Russia gather intelligence on the United States.
Both, Russia and the United States are signatories to the Open Skies Treaty that allows observation flights over the territories of all 34 member states, which in turn fosters transparency about military activity.
U.S. intelligence and military officials fear Russia is taking advantage of advances in technology to violate the spirit of the Open Skies Treaty.
According to media reports, Russia is expected to ask the Open Skies Consultative Commission in Vienna for permission to fly an aircraft equipped with high-tech sensors over the U.S.
The Obama administration will have to decide whether to allow Russia to use the surveillance equipment at a time when the State Department compliance report claims Russia is failing to meet obligations under the Open Skies Treaty.
“The treaty has become a critical component of Russia’s intelligence collection capability directed at the United States,” Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, wrote in a letter earlier this year to Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of a House subcommittee on strategic forces.
“In addition to overflying military installations, Russian Open Skies flights can overfly and collect on Department of Defense and national security or national critical infrastructure,” Haney said. “The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize.”
According to sources, member-states had not received notice of the Russian request. If the request is pushed through it will still require a 120-day advance notice in compliance with the treaty before any such flights can take place.