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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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:05pm

    Boy, we really could have used www.flightradar24.my or www.planefinder.my a couple of months ago.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:24pm

    And yet...

    They still couldn't find that plane in Malaysia.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:26pm

    A rendition jet sure sounds menacing. I'd hate to be on that flight, because once it lands. It's interrogation and torture time!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:29pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    MadAsASnake (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:33pm

    Re: And yet...

    Because there are very few people living in the Indian Ocean with these receivers..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    MadAsASnake (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:34pm

    Of, course, there is no problem here because it is only MetaData

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    limbodog (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:58pm

    Liberty and Justice for All

    Unless you expose criminal behavior in the government, then you're headed to an oubliette, never to be heard from again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 1:09pm

    Re: Nice to see the story...

    Yes, but but knowing isn't the value -- after all, we knew pretty much everything that Snowden has revealed before he released the docs. The value is in the fact that there's a big difference between knowing something and proving it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 1:44pm

    ADS-B?

    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?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 1:46pm

    Re: Liberty and Justice for All

    It should be when, not unless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:05pm

    Link for more info?

    Is there a good place to go for the setup to participate in these programs? Im located in Minnesota.

    Thanks Much!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Link for more info?

    Well that would be a good way to get the agencies interested in you if they're not already. The probability that these groups aren't infiltrated or monitored must be approx 0.00. Just mentioning it, some folk might not be comfortable with that risk, some would.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 3:44pm

    "I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,"
    - Obama

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Case, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 3:45pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    orbitalinsertion (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 3:47pm

    CIA Rendition Jet To Europe

    Notice: Stolen without attribution and trademarked as a band name.

    Thank you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 4:17pm

    turf war theory lurking

    Did the CIA stage the whole trip?

    Is Snowden really a CIA agent in a turf war with the NSA?

    Is Snowden really in New York?

    Is there any hard evidence he left the country?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 5:11pm

    The feds also filed for a warrant with Irish gov to intercept Russian plane to Habana, which stops there (judge said to take a hike on technicality).

    There is more then one CIA plane on hand in Europe at any given time.

    Seems like all is SOP to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 5:53pm

    Well, they sure didn't send the Soul Plane.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    zip, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 6:43pm

    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)

    http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/130703/bolivian-presidents-plane-searched-a mid-suspected-snowden-carg

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    hggdh, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:04pm

    by the way

    this is actually a good example of metadata collection in action.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    toyotabedzrock (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:06pm

    There used to be a twitter feed that also tracked planes coming and going.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    tomczerniawski, Jun 14th, 2014 @ 8:49am

    Wow...

    The US government is pretty goddamn evil.

    Those rendition aircraft of theirs have an amusing tendency to crash with a bunch of cocaine aboard.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2014 @ 1:51pm

    " 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??

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Elvira Sanchez, Jun 14th, 2014 @ 1:53pm

    Good on the CIA!

    Too bad they didn't have a chance to get him and bring him home to face trial.

    Now he just gets to be a smug asshole until his treasure trove of info runs out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), Jun 14th, 2014 @ 9:23pm

    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.

    Ehud
    Commercial helicopter pilot
    Tucson AZ US

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    Aaron (profile), Jun 15th, 2014 @ 3:32am

    Honestly...

    What blows my mind is I had no idea tracking planes like this was possible/legal. I probably shouldn't be surprised but I am. I would think this would be against the law or something, tracking a damn military plane or the like by civilians. And no, I didn't read any of the posted links.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 4:50pm

    Snowden coming home? Why would they want that?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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