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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: cia, crowdsourced intelligence, ed snowden, open source intelligence, rendition jet

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


    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.

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