Did US Send CIA Rendition Jet To Europe In The Hope Of Grabbing Snowden?

from the far-from-hopeless dept

Although we have various details of Edward Snowden’s journey from Hong Kong to asylum in Russia, we unsurprisingly know almost nothing of what the US was doing during this time as it tried to catch him. That makes the following story in The Register particularly intriguing:

As the whistleblowing NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden made his dramatic escape to Russia a year ago, a secret US government jet — previously employed in CIA “rendition” flights on which terror suspects disappeared into invisible “black” imprisonment — flew into Europe in a bid to spirit him back to America, the Register can reveal.

The story’s credibility is greatly enhanced by virtue of who wrote it. Duncan Campbell has an unmatched track record for covering the world of spies and surveillance, which includes being the first to reveal the existence of both GCHQ and Echelon, the precursor to today’s Five Eyes surveillance system.

Whether or not you are convinced that the jet in question was sent to Europe in the expectation that it would come back with Snowden, Campbell’s story is well-worth reading, not least for this explanation of how the jet was tracked:

[The CIA’s Gulfstream V jet] N977GA was not reporting its progress to air-traffic controllers, and thus it would normally have been necessary to use a massive commercial or military radar installation to follow its path. But, even if pilots have turned off automated location data feeds, ordinary enthusiasts equipped with nothing more than suitable radio receivers connected to the internet can measure differences in the time at which an aircraft’s radar transponder signal reaches locations on the ground. Using the technique of multilateration, this information is sufficient to calculate the transponder’s position and so track the aircraft.

Several such online tracking networks are active in the UK, using this and other sources of information: they include www.flightradar24.com, www.planefinder.net, Planeplotter (www.coaa.co.uk/planeplotter.htm) and www.radarvirtuel.com. UK-based Planeplotter is one of the more sophisticated of these global “virtual radar” systems. It boasts 2,000 members with receivers hooked up to the internet.

That’s a wonderful example of how a network of enthusiasts, using low-tech kit and the Internet, are able to piece together highly-sensitive information like the flight paths of CIA rendition jets. It’s a useful reminder that no matter how much the odds seem stacked against ordinary citizens, human ingenuity has a way of making the struggle against even the most powerful adversaries far from hopeless.

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Comments on “Did US Send CIA Rendition Jet To Europe In The Hope Of Grabbing Snowden?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Nice to see the story...

But did not need it to know that of course America would kidnap his arse the moment they had a chance to disappear Snowden without anyone the wiser. Now they don’t want to do anything because they are going to get the blame regardless of the truth because they know we cannot trust them.

Anonymous Coward says:


I wonder what was used to track that jet. Since flightradar24 was mentioned, I’m guessing it was ADS-B, where the plane broadcasts its identity and coordinates to anyone who is nearby. It’s the same transponder used by the anticollision system (TCAS), so it would be unwise to turn it off. It can be received by anyone with an ordinary PC, a digital TV dongle, and a good quality antenna.

But ADS-B does not need multilateration, the plane itself sends its GPS coordinates. What was really used to track it, then?

Case says:

When not ferrying abducted persons to be tortured, sodomized with broomsticks, and ultimately killed, N977GA is also part of of US Marshal’s “Con Air” fleet and ferrying people guilty of abduction, aggravated assault, rape, and murder through the penal system.

Given than Snowden had already revealed his identity before traveling to Russia, I think the latter is more what TPTB had in mind…disappearing the guy who is currently on every front page would have been too revealing, so a gas deal here, a political concession there, and he would have been flawlessly turned over.

PS: And remember, the flight information is just metadata?, nothing to worry about.

zip says:

it makes perfect sense

Considering that the President of Bolivia’s plane was forced down while flying over Austria, then raided and searched by police — all in a futile effort to find Snowden– then surely there must have been a plan in place to take Snowden back to the US (or even Guantanamo)


Anonymous Coward says:

” human ingenuity has a way of making the struggle against even the most powerful adversaries far from hopeless. “

Well, make my day!

You just called the CIA/NSA/FBI/HSA apparatus, “powerful adversaries” pitted against us “ordinary citizens”.

By the Gods, I think there just might be hope for the human race after all. Could the sleeping giant be stirring??

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

ADSB, TCAS, and 45,000

ADS-B is not in any way connected with TCAS. TCAS uses the “normal” Mode C/Mode S “transponder” onboard the aircraft. All of them can be turned off as needed so that for example a malfunctioning transmitter can be removed from interfering with other aircraft signals.

If you fly at or above 18000FT MSL in the US then you are in Class-A airspace and must have a flight plan but in other countries such as the Netherlands, above 19,500ft you’re above their Class-A and are not tracked. However, most jet turbine aircraft MUST fly at the higher altitudes (24,000 and higher) to get useful fuel mileage. They often therefore fly at the highest altitude the aircraft is rated for that meets the direction they are going and has appropriate weather.

There’s nothing nefarious, evil, underhanded, sneaky, black-ops, or noteworthy that they flew at 45,000. Suggesting that they flew at 45,000 feet **IN ORDER TO NOT FILE A FLIGHT PLAN** is reading a cart into a grazing horse.

Commercial helicopter pilot
Tucson AZ US

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