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the actual range is classified, but between 250 and 300 nautical miles is what
I can read.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, take a ride on a NATO
AWACS. And, critiquing the CIA.
MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world
affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley
Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. For
the first time ever foreign troops are patrolling American airspace.
MCHUGH: NATO AWACS planes are
assisting the US military in watching the
skies for suspicious aircraft. The historic flights began after Article V of
the NATO treaty was invoked following the terrorist attacks on the United States. Article V states an attack
against one country in the NATO alliance is an attack against all of the
PORTER: Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman recently flew along on a mission
with one of the NATO crews.
AWACS PILOT: [speaking over an intercom
system, with the sound of jet engines in the background] This is the pilot.
We’ll be cleared for takeoff shortly.
[sound of the aircraft taking off]
It’s 6:00 in the morning and below freezing both outside and
inside our plane. It warms quickly though as we begin our flight. We leave
Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, headed toward the skies
over New York and Washington, DC. Once there we’ll fly in
big circles using sophisticated radar to look for suspicious planes. “Boring
holes in the sky,” the military tells us. A NATO plane in US airspace with a foreign
commander, a lieutenant colonel in the German Air Force.
GERMAN OFFICER: We are pleased that, that
on our particular part we can help you out in your home defense over here, and
that’s a great job for us to be over here.
BROCKMAN: Did you ever think that
NATO would be patrolling the United States?
Not before the Article V was to come into effect.
BROCKMAN: What is your specific role?
Yeah, I’m the tactical director is what we call it in NATO. I’m responsible for
the, what we call mission accomplishment. That means I’m telling the, my flight
deck at what orbit, at what altitude they have to fly. And also supervising the
weapons and surveillance section, the detection, tracking, and weapons control.
And I also monitor the technicians at the radars and all the systems, including
BROCKMAN: The 17 crew members come
from Turkey, Canada, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States. This crew has been here
two weeks and will stay a total of six weeks, perhaps longer. When they leave
another NATO crew will follow. All told, NATO has five AWACS planes stationed
at Tinker. By doing this, US AWACS planes are freed up to fly overseas,
presumably over Afghanistan, although our information
officer isn’t allowed to officially confirm that.
This plane is a converted Boeing 707 with a large
radar dome mounted on top. Inside it’s stuffed with radar and communications
equipment. There are no weapons on board. Flight information officer Jonathan
says the AWACS is a flying command center.
INFORMATION OFFICER JONATHAN: Right now we’re in the mission crew area. There are
nine stations in our crew area. Any of the stations can be programmed to, for
people to fulfill any of the jobs that we require. But typically we split it up
into three different sections. The section toward the back of the aircraft is
our weapons section. They’re the ones that generally, in the event that there’s
an emergency, they’re the ones that would communicate with other fighters
flying in the air and would direct them towards targets and ensure that they
get where they need to go. When they aren’t doing that, which hopefully they
don’t do that very often. When they aren’t doing that, they can perform other
kinds of surveillance—looking at specific areas or staying in touch with other
air traffic or guiding fighters that might be flying to tankers when they need
to refuel, or things like that.
In the middle section we have our tactical director
and our surveillance officer. These front three screens are typically, we configure
them to be our surveillance area. We have our surveillance operators here.
They’re keeping an eye on the aircraft and looking for suspicious aircraft,
etc. And keeping an eye on kind of the big picture and the specific areas of
BROCKMAN: And there are really no
windows in the plane.
INFORMATION OFFICER JONATHAN: Right. The reason behind that is twofold. One, the
radar on top of the aircraft puts out a significant amount of energy and so in terms
of ensuring that everybody inside the aircraft is shielded from, from the power
of the radar, not having windows helps with that. Also, you can imagine about
nine or ten people gathered around computer monitors; it makes it easier to
control the light so that you can see what’s going on, and you can look at
those small little dots and notations on the computer screens.
BROCKMAN: Surveillance is the crew’s
main mission. During our flight to the East Coast a tech sergeant, who’s
nicknamed “Tank,” busily gets the radar dome operating.
Well, we have a 30-foot dish on top of the E-3. It weighs about six tons and it
rotates at six rotations a minute. And it gives us the advantage of having a
look-down capability. We can actually see, we can see down, see low and
slow-moving targets with this type of radar. And we also have the ability of
mobility. Basically we can move the thing around and if there’s a track of
interest somewhere we can move the airplane to that particular track. It’s a very
unique system in the fact that we can track very low-moving targets, low and
slow-moving targets. So basically if you go fast enough in your car we can
BROCKMAN: What kind of advantages
would this have over a ground-based radar?
Well, the biggest advantage is the fact that we can move it. We can move this
thing. We can also have the fact that, say if a ground-based radar, a mountain
gets in the way, we can actually move this system to the other side of the
mountain and look down in the gullies and the valleys. Ground-based radars have
more power, but, because they don’t have to move things around as much, they
don’t have to be mobile. But the biggest advantage is mobility. We can look
down, give our weapons controllers a very good picture as to what’s happening
in the air and also we can actually downlink our picture to the ground so our
commanders on the ground can see what’s going on as well.
BROCKMAN: What kind of range does it
Well, the actual range is classified, but between 250 and 300 nautical miles is
what I can brief. The radar beam will intersect with the airplane at the tips
of the wings, the tail, and the nose, but we have software that blanks that
out. So we don’t actually get any returns from that,, that we see on our
BROCKMAN: And it’s not really a dead
spot then, either?
Not, not really. We, because we can, the radar is so powerful at ranges that
far out we’re still gonna pick up targets. No
BROCKMAN: The radar dome displays its
data on computer monitors just forward of where “Tank” sits. “Eden” is a 10-year Air Force
veteran whose been a surveillance operator with NATO for the past two years.
“EDEN”: Basically what we’re
looking for are any air tracks that, you know, say, could vary off of
established air routes. Anything that basically looks suspicious. You know,
changing altitudes, drastic variations, that sort of thing. We were also paying
attention to anything that the FAA or, you know, our ground control will pass
up to us to have a look at and keep an eye on. You know, where they’re going
and what they’re doing.
BROCKMAN: What are those things that
we’re looking at there? Those commercial jets?
“EDEN”: Most of ‘em are commercial or civil aviation traffic. Some are
military aircraft and some are law enforcement. We have a number of established
air routes. Places, for example, going into Dulles, going into, or passing
through say, Martinsburg or Baltimore-Washington International. And what we
look for are aircraft that are supposed to be in those routes within the
altitude locks basically to stay in there. Anytime we see, you know, any
drastic deviations in altitude or in route, then that’s the sort of thing that
we’d report in.
BROCKMAN: Have you seen anything so
“EDEN”: Not today.
BROCKMAN: How do you stay alert?
“EDEN”: Basically just keep your
eyes moving. Keep your eyes moving and you can’t fall asleep. And, of course,
you have the other guys here too, you know, knock you in the shoulder if you
start to doze. So we’ll usually divide it up into sections to make it a little
easier, to cover the whole area closely.
BROCKMAN: The flight is lengthy. Even
if everything is routine the crew must stay alert. Crew members take staggered frequent
short breaks. Usually it’s to the galley for a cup of coffee, water, or a TV
dinner. “John,” a communications officer, is from Canada.
“JOHN”: Today we got up, or I got
up at two o’clock. We are into work at just
before four to get the necessary equipment I needed for the mission. We took
off a couple of hours after that. And here we are. We’re transiting to the
orbit area. We never really know how long the day’s going to be. It can be
anywhere typically here 12 to 15 hours flying time. So a duty day could be 18,
BROCKMAN: And then it’s back.
“JOHN”: Then it’s back, get some
rest, and do it all over again.
BROCKMAN: It’s a serious mission. But
there’s time for a little fun as well. Remember “Tank,” the radar operator? He
doubles as a magician during his breaks.
“TANK”: Now, what I’m gonna do is, I’m gonna run
through the deck like this. You say “Stop” anywhere you want. And whatever card
you stop at, I’m gonna put it back in the deck. You
can shuffle the deck and just lose it anywhere you want. I will find your card.
If I don’t find your card I will give you $100. If I don’t find—or if I do find
your card you don’t owe me anything. So there’s no way you’re gonna lose. Would that be your card right there?
“TANK”: OK, good. You have the
eight of diamonds. All right. Good deal. I usually don’t win any money. I try
not to take money off people. But it’s just a way to pass the time up here.
Occasionally you get long, long missions.
BROCKMAN: There’s no magic to being
away from home and family. But the crew, including our tactical commander, all
say Oklahoma City has tried to make them feel at home. They’ve
been invited to local speaking engagements, given free tickets to a variety of
events, and invited to local homes for dinner.
The reception was really great. I was here the last time six years ago on a
different subject so I was familiar with people over here. They are very
friendly and helpful. But this time it’s really, I must really say
overwhelming, the reception, the kindness. They are really friendly people over
here. So we are very pleased, because we not always get this really nice and
kind reception like we got in here.
BROCKMAN: Even so, our Turkish pilot
says it’s not quite like home.
TURKISH PILOT: I have a wife and a little
BROCKMAN: Tough being away from them?
TURKISH PILOT: Absolutely. But there are
times that we need to understand the priorities. Families are important, but
freedom is a lot important than families. If you don’t have freedom you have no
BROCKMAN: Here on the flight deck
things get a little more exciting. We’re about half way through and the plane must
be refueled. Rather than waste time landing the fuel comes to us. It’s on board
another specially designed plane. Our flight engineer, “Jim,” explains what’s
happening as we watch.
“JIM”: We’re refueling behind a
KC-135 tanker. We’re about 15 feet behind it and maybe 20 feet below it. It has
a refueling probe that sticks into the front of our plane and pumps us gas.
Right now we’re taking about 20,000 gallons of gas right now.
BROCKMAN: How long will this
“JIM”: Anywhere between 20 minutes
to 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how fast the gas pumps.
BROCKMAN: What are some of the
difficulties or the challenges in a situation like this, refueling?
“JIM”: Well, for the pilots, they
have to follow the movements of the other plane. If they don’t follow they have
to disconnect us or we’ll damage the refueling boom.
BROCKMAN: Indeed, both the pilot and
co-pilot are studies in extreme concentration as they match each slight
movement of the plane right above us. The flight is bumpy while we’re doing
this, but the refueling goes smoothly. Then it’s back to our mission as the
tanker pulls away.
[sound of radio traffic between the two aircraft]
BROCKMAN: Several more hours pass
with no signs of anything suspicious. Eventually another AWACS plane arrives to
take over. As the crew puts its, the plane is now off-station just a little
early, and we head back to Tinker Air Force Base. Once the mission crew
finishes filing its inevitable reports, they’re free to take a nap or read.
Everyone that is, except the men on the flight deck.
[more radio traffic]
BROCKMAN: The view from the flight
deck is impressive despite the thick clouds below us. At one point our Turkish
navigator tells me we’re above Springfield, Missouri. About that time the clouds
break and we can see down to the ground for the rest of the flight. Finally, we
see Oklahoma City in the distance.
[more radio traffic]
BROCKMAN: The tactical commander
helps strap me in with a shoulder harness on the flight deck. The landing gear
lowers and we land.
[sound of the aircraft landing]
BROCKMAN: And taxi to a stop. We’ve
been in the air for 12 hours. For our crew there will be some rest, relaxation,
and some ground work. Then in a couple of days they’ll do it all over again.
[more radio traffic]
BROCKMAN: For Common Ground I’m Cliff Brockman, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City.
MCHUGH: Cliff reports prior to
September 11, AWACS flights over the US were only used for training
purposes. Currently the skies over New York and Washington, DC are patrolled 24 hours a
day, seven days a week. The rest of the country is patrolled on a random basis.
There’s been no decision yet on how long the current AWACS flights and NATO
involvement will continue.
MCHUGH: Retired Admiral Stansfield Turner has had a long and distinguished career
in military and government service. He is a Rhodes Scholar and a former
President of the NavalWarCollege. He served as Commander of
both the US Second Fleet and NATO’s southern flank. In 1977 he became President
Jimmy Carter’s Director of Central Intelligence.
PORTER: Since leaving the CIA,
Admiral Turner has written a number of books on terrorism, democracy, and the
need to better control nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Lately he has
been concerned about problems with the US intelligence system, which
may have kept American officials from preventing the September 11 terrorist
There certainly should be an investigation. And secondly, the excuse that we
should postpone the investigation because we’re still in the middle of all
this, I don’t believe is wise. We’re going to be in the middle of all this for
a long time and if there is something wrong with our intelligence apparatus and
the way it’s operating we’ve got to correct it quickly, not wait till war is
over. I don’t know how to speculate on whether if you pulled all the clues that
were available on 9/10 that would have told us there was an attack coming at
the WorldTradeCenter and Pentagon on 9/11. I doubt it. But it’s
conceivable, and it’s why we need an investigation. And if that reveals there
was enough evidence, we certainly need to take corrective action and ensure
that it doesn’t happen again.
If there were enough pieces out there it would be
because some information from a flight training school in Minnesota didn’t get down here to the
Immigration and Naturalization Service that knew this man was an illegal alien
in our country, which didn’t get over to the FBI, or which didn’t get to the
CIA—you see what I mean? But it’s broader than that. And that’s why we do have
to hope that Governor Ridge can bring the homeland defense program together. He
should not try to coordinate the internal workings of the intelligence
community. But he should be sure that the intelligence community is sharing
information with and obtaining information from the Immigration Service, the
Health Service, the other—Border Patrol—you know, all these other agencies that
have clues. And we’ve never really thought about bringing that together.
PORTER: As the former Director of
the CIA I’m wondering if there are things that you think we could have done
differently that would have prevented the September 11 attacks?
TURNER: Yes. When you go way back
to 1941 we missed the call with our intelligence of Pearl Harbor. We investigated that and
one of the conclusions was that there was more information available than we
were utilizing. It was compartmented. Army had some, the Navy had some, the
State Department had some. And they didn’t share it adequately. We still have
that problem, which is almost criminal. And we need to go back and revisit the
law that we created in 1947, after World War II, to avoid the Pearl Harbor syndrome. We created a
Director of Central Intelligence who was to coordinate all of the intelligence
activities, whether they were housed in the CIA, or the Defense Department, or
the State Department, or the FBI, or wherever. But we never gave that
individual—the Director of Central Intelligence—authority over the other
agencies to ensure they shared information, to ensure they coordinated so they
didn’t all look at the same problem and nobody look at a different problem, so
that the clues that one operation collected by photographs were used by the
people doing electronic listening, and that the electronic listening clues were
used by the human intelligence people. And so on. So, we really need today to
correct that situation by giving the Director of Central Intelligence authority
to manage the intelligence community.
PORTER: Are there specific steps
that the Bush administration should take along those lines?
TURNER: They should give the
Director of Central Intelligence authority to direct the collecting activities
of the photographic people, of the electronic people, of the human intelligence
people. Secondly, they should give the Director of Central Intelligence the
authority to command that each one of those agencies share its information with
the others. Now, I don’t mean total sharing because there is a reason for
people not wanting to share. That is, maybe you obtained this information from
a human spy. And revelation of that information might lead to that spy being
identified and killed. So there’s reason to keep it very limited in its
distribution. But today, the person in charge of human spying is the one who
determines how much distribution there is. It should be the Director of Central
Intelligence who says, “No, that is so important that we must share it a little
bit, at least.” And he would then—he or she—would then direct how much sharing
and with whom. Somebody with a broader perspective than the individual in
charge of the spying element should determine how much of that.
So those are the two principle things. The third one
I would want to give the Director of Central Intelligence authority to put
together the budgets of all the intelligence community. Why? Because you again
want them to be cooperative, not overlapping. You want to put a theme behind
your budget. That is, where are we taking intelligence? Where do we see the
future? Is it in more satellites? Is it in more humans? Is it in more analysis?
Whatever. But somebody who has the overall perspective should be looking at
that and saying, “I’m putting this budget together in a way that will emphasize
whatever needs to be emphasized.”
PORTER: Looking back over recent
history, especially since the end of the Cold War to perhaps September 11, what
could we have done differently to make the world a safer place? Were there big
missed opportunities during that time frame?
TURNER: I wish we had understood
earlier how important all of the other nations of the world are to our
well-being. And therefore been a little more willing to take into account the
problems of other countries before they festered into envy and resentment
against us because we do things differently, we live on so much higher a
standard of living. We sometimes appear to the rest of the world to be
imperious and unilateralist. We should have tried to understand that without a
major enemy like we believed Communism and the Soviet Union were that we should have
taken a greater interest in our fellow human beings who were less privileged
than we. You and I believe in that in our country. We try to help the poor.
We’re very magnanimous. When you look at the United States one of the things that
differentiates it from any other
society that I know of is the fact that we have such charitable institutions
here. Other countries count on governments to do this. We have that sense of
respect for and interest in our fellow human beings that says, “Yes, I’ll give
to this foundation,” or that, or this charity, or that. But we haven’t
translated that into a global sense.
Now, we can’t raise the standard of living of every
person in Africa, where the standards are so low. But we probably can do a good bit
more than we are doing and I think that’s maybe where we missed the boat the
PORTER: I know you’ve been very
vocal on the control of nuclear weapons and on nuclear proliferation in
particular. Are there opportunities that we missed there? Are there things that
we could have been doing over that decade that we weren’t doing?
TURNER: Over this decade the
Russians have been unable to maintain the size of their nuclear arsenal. They
built their nuclear weaponry to last about 15 years and then they intended to
replace it piece by piece. We built our weaponry to last much longer and
refurbish it as it goes along, so that it will have a longer shelf life. Well,
it’s been ten years now of the 15 in a sense, and they haven’t replaced much of
anything because they are too poor. We should have taken advantage of that as
soon as we perceived it and said, “Hey, Russia! Let’s go down!” Here the
two of us are sitting up here on—they’ve got maybe 20,000 nuclear warheads this
afternoon and we have maybe 10,000. Nobody else has more than five, six hundred
and that’s only China. And then the rest are down
in the lower hundreds.
So why are we sitting up here at these absurd
numbers? It’s because of a artifact of the Cold War. We got carried away with
ourselves and we said, “Well, if they’ve got 10 we’ve got to have 12.” And if
they said, “Well, they’ve got 12, we’ve got to have 14.” And it went on up to
the unbelievable number of 70,000 nuclear warheads between our two countries.
We should have certainly as soon as the Cold War ended have said, “Let’s really
take this down to something that is much more reasonable.”
PORTER: Several years ago you wrote
a book about the tension that exists between the desire to live in an open
society and the desire to prevent terrorism. How are we doing along those
lines? Are we making the right decisions?
TURNER: I’m a little concerned
today that we can’t get too carried away with ourselves. But I don’t think
we’ve gone too far at this point. The military tribunals that have been
authorized are probably the most controversial intrusion into our normal due
process of law. Yet I believe because they can be kept secret, because they can
be conducted overseas, and because they allow you to deal quickly with a
problem, that they are worthwhile. We haven’t authorized any yet, we just said
they’re there in theory. So we’ll have to see how we actually apply that. And
in the one or two cases that have arisen, we’ve not resorted to military
tribunals. We need to maintain an alertness here that we don’t go helter skelter in too much intrusion.
PORTER: I have a question for you
about this split between unilateralism and multilateralism in US foreign policy. It seems as
if we’re really going it alone on so many things these days. What do you think
about that? I mean, should we be making a greater effort to act in cooperation
with our allies?
TURNER: One of the key lessons of
the events of 9/11 is that we have to have cooperation from other nations. This
is a global fight against terrorism. It is not a fight just against terrorism
versus Americans. And therefore we can’t go it alone entirely. On the other
hand, when you’ve seen the squeamishness of our allies over the President’s
statement about an evil axis—and I happen to think it was not a wise
statement—but nonetheless, the allies and friends were much more squeamish than
I think they deserved to be. You realize how, how difficult it is to get other
people to go along with controversial actions like bombing and such forth. So
we have to be willing to go unilaterally at times. I think we’ve emphasized it
too much—or more than that I think we’ve given the impression we want to be
unilateral. More than we really are being unilateral. And we need to avoid
exacerbating people’s concerns as we did with the phrase “evil axis.”
PORTER: You mentioned our European
allies and you are a former commander of NATO’s Southern Region. And I’m
wondering about the split between the United States and NATO. It seems as if
we’re drifting farther and farther apart both politically and technologically.
There have been articles written recently about how we can do so much more
technologically than our NATO allies can with their military. Does NATO still
have a strong bright future?
TURNER: NATO has a strong bright
future as a political alliance. I don’t see any way the NATO allies other than Britain and perhaps Germany will catch up with us or be
willing to, able to, play with us militarily on the battlefield. And I would
say to you as a former NATO commander that this is nothing new. In my day I
didn’t feel that NATO was much more than a political structure. That if there
was going to be real fighting we would have to do it. That the other armies and
navies and air forces in most of those countries—again, excepting the British
and perhaps the Germans—were not really well trained or equipped for battle.
PORTER: That is Stansfield
Turner, Director of Central Intelligence during the Carter administration.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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