US military officials believe Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian aircraft, according to a CNN report published on Sept. 17, 2018.
Syrian anti-aircraft artillery reportedly responded to a number of Israeli missiles that were launched towards the coastal city of Latakia when it accidentally shot the Russian maritime patrol aircraft, according to a US military official cited in the report.
Syria, Russia’s ally in a prolonged proxy war in the region, claimed its air defenses “intercepted a number” of the missiles headed toward the city, Reuters reported on Sept. 17, 2018, citing state-media.
Russia’s defense ministry also announced it had lost contact with an IL-20 aircraft carrying 14 service members, Syria’s state-run media reported. Russia’s presence in Latakia includes a large naval base, which was reportedly under attack by an unclaimed missile strike that Syria alleges to have come from Israel.
Although Israeli Defense Forces also declined to comment on the missile strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sept. 16, 2018, that his country will be “taking action to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with advanced weaponry.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A US Central Command spokesman did not comment on where the strikes originated from but denied US forces were involved: “The US was not involved in any strikes in Western Syria or in the shoot down of any planes tonight,” US Navy Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement to Business Insider.
Russia and the Syrian regime have previously boasted about their air defense capabilities. After an airstrike in which US and its allies fired over 100 missiles towards suspected chemical weapons facilities in April 2018, Russian forces claimed the “high-effectiveness” of Russian-supplied weapons and “excellent training of Syrian servicemen” had shot down 71 missiles.
Russia’s claim was contradicted by US reports that said Syria’s air defenses were “largely ineffective” in response to its “precise and overwhelming” strikes.
“The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective in all domains,” US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie said at the time.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Barrett M82, known by members of the U.S. military as the M107 .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle, is one of the military’s most beloved weapons in use today. Its service history is as storied – and as American – as the history of its inventor, Ronnie Barrett.
Before his name became synonymous with American military supremacy, Barrett was a professional photographer in his home state of Tennessee. He never studied science or engineering in college – in fact, he didn’t go to college at all. He went to Murfreesboro High School before going out and starting a photography studio.
That all changed during the course of his usual work.
And many, many U.S. and allied troops are better off for it.
In 1982, Barrett was snapping a photo of a river patrol gunboat during a military exercise on the Stones River near Nashville, Tenn. Mounted on that boat were two M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns. The size of the ammunition cartridge got Ronnie Barrett thinking. He was “wowed” by the Ma Deuce, but he wanted to know if the .50-caliber cartridge could be fired from a shoulder-mounted sniper rifle.
He was out on the water that day to snap promotional photos for the Browning Firearms Company, but he ended up starting a rival firm, one that would become as closely-linked with the U.S. military as Browning.
The photo also won a first-place award from the Tennessee Professional Photographers Association. No joke.
(Photo by Ronnie Barrett)
Barrett went home and began work on a 3D sketch of what would soon become the Model 82A1 – M107. Within just seven years, Barrett was able to sell his powerful sniper rifle to the Swedish military and eventually the United States Marine Corps, then the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.
Not bad at all for someone with no college education, but a whole lotta vision. Welcome to Ronnie Barrett’s America, folks.
This month is Mental Health Month, so we sat down the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Director of Innovation and Collaboration for the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Dr. Wendy Tenhula. The good doctor was very outgoing in explaining how to spot trouble signs of mental health issues and answering our podcast listeners’ burning questions about the use of recreational drugs to treat PTSD.
The VA healthcare system is the largest in the United States. The Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest cabinet-level office in the U.S. government — just behind the Pentagon.
Those of us who require the services of the VA healthcare system know that navigating it can be a daunting task. Do you need a psychiatrist or a psychologist? What’s the difference between the two? Which is better for your situation? Do you have to take drugs? Do I even have a choice?
The answer to the last question may surprise you: yes, you do.
But first it’s important to realize if you have a mental health condition. Or perhaps you see problems in a loved one that didn’t exist before their deployment or separation from the military. It’s harder to recognize a mental health condition than it is to recognize a physical condition. Everyone is different and the unique ways in which we internally respond to external problems makes it difficult to categorize ourselves. How do you know when you have a mental health issue and when you’re just having a bad day?
“If it’s getting in the way of your life,” says Dr. Tenhula. “Things like going to school, getting a job, maintaining relationships — then that’s a clue that you may have a mental health condition. It’s not necessarily a bad day.”
If identifying that you have a problem is the first step, where do we go from there?
There are a number of specialized, professional counselors that can help with your specific condition. But where the VA has started truly innovating is through the use of peer specialists — veterans who have had mental health struggles of their own. They know, first-hand, what a returning veteran is going through and they know the system.
Mental health treatments can often take time and some individual sessions can make veterans feel worse than when they came in. Treatment for post-traumatic stress often requires painfully and honestly revisiting traumatic experiences — and that’s hard. The VA’s peer specialists are also there to keep vets from getting discouraged.
(VA photo by Tami Schutter)
There is always more than one treatment option available and veterans have a choice to make — but it takes work, honesty, and a real partnership with your practitioner.
For more about the VA’s renewed push to reach more veterans through Mental Health Month and its Make the Connection campaign, listen to this episode of WATM’s Mandatory Fun podcast. Then, check out the Make the Connection website.
Audible: For you, the listeners of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out some of the books and authors featured on Mandatory Fun. To download your free audiobook today go to audibletrial.com/MandatoryFun.
Some military traditions make sense to nearly everyone — little things that show mutual respect, like leaders serving food to their subordinates on holidays or NCOs electing to eat after their guys. Other traditions are odd at first blush, like messing with the new guy or passing through an archway after graduating a class or achieving a higher rank, but civilians can generally understand where they come from.
But then there are the ones that require a lot of explaining to your civilian family members. Every time, these story begins with a, “well, you see. It kinda goes back to…” and more often than not, the explanation just makes them tilt their head in confusion.
At one point, the following traditions may have meant something to one person or a group, but today, the original meaning is buried beneath decades of military bearing and tradition. We mostly just do them because, well, if it ain’t broke — and no one’s getting UCMJ’d for it — why bother stopping?
10. Paratroopers and cherry pies
When you finish going through Army Airborne School, your head will be spinning, filled with all of the information you’ll need to not shatter every bone in your body when you make a landing. You’ll have to master the art of hooking up your static line and perform countless parachute landing falls before you’re even able to get the chance to actually jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Finally, the moment of truth arrives — you finally get to jump with your unit in the 82nd. Your superiors will recommend that you fill your cargo pockets with Hostess Cherry Pies first. They’ll often say it’s for some reason like, “in case you get hungry when you land” or whatever. Who are you to argue?
When your big moment finally comes and you take in the sights while falling gracefully, you’ll hopefully have your PLFs burnt into the back of your mind as second nature. Everything will happen so fast that you’ll forget those cherry pies in your pants. When you land, you’ll squish all those pies and leave a nice red stain on your uniform.
9. Actual callsigns
In pop culture, callsigns are the coolest things ever. You’ll often see some badass names, like Iceman, Maverick, or Snake used in TV and movies. They’re always just made up because they sound cool and the storytellers don’t really know how the military works.
In reality, callsigns are usually unit designations followed by a number to signify who they are in said unit. So, for example, the commander of the Alpha company “Black Sheep” would be known as “Black Sheep 6,” and the first sergeant of the same unit is “Black Sheep 7.”
If you’re looking for unique callsigns, those are in the aviation world, and they’re typically less cool and more nonsensical. For example, if you eat a Pop-Tart one time in front of another pilot, your callsign is now forever “Pop-Tart.” Good going, Pop-Tart. That’s your callsign until the end of time.
8. The grog bowl
At civilian parties, if there’s a punch bowl, it’ll be centrally placed and it may or may not have some kind of alcohol in it. Whenever the military throws a unit ball, that punch bowl will most certainly have alcohol in it… plus a whole slew of other random things that would make anyone throw up.
Most of the leadership of the unit gets a chance to add one ingredient to the grog bowl (which is a toilet bowl) and offer some kind of nonsense to explain why their chosen ingredient has some kind of significance to the unit.
You can expect classic grog bowl ingredients, like hot sauce, because of the deserts the unit deploys to, ground coffee, because of the long hours the troops works, a cup of salt, because of the sweat that troops give to the cause, and a dirty sock because… reasons?
7. Blood wings and blood stripes
When civilians get promoted or graduate some school, the accomplishment is usually met with a party or a card that’s signed by everyone in the office. That sounds pleasant. Troops, on the other hand, almost always lose a bit of blood over it.
Blood wings and blood stripes are, essentially, the same thing. You get the wings from a school and the stripes from a promotion. Then, everyone takes turn punching it in. It’s technically considered hazing, but the troop receiving the blood wings/stripes usually agrees to it. There (typically) isn’t any malice or hate involved in the ceremony and troops usually walk away with a bit more pride in whoever bled for their new badge/rank.
6. Challenge coin “duels”
There’s nothing really odd about challenge coins in general. It’s basically the same thing as collecting trading cards as a kid, but instead of aiming for a holographic Charizard, you’re aiming for the coolest-looking coin with the most badass backstory.
Usually, officers will keep the coolest coins on their desk in their office to casually gloat about and enlisted troops keep them in some drawer at home, but sh*t gets real when troops take their coins to the bars. The ensuing game basically goes like this:
Troops unsheathe their coolest coin. If you don’t have your coin on you, you buy the drinks. If everyone has a coin, whoever has the “least valuable coin” buys the drinks. Since the “value” is determined by backstory and design — both of which are subjective — this game almost always ends in a shouting match over who has to pick up the tab.
5. ‘Stache contests
In case you haven’t nailed down the common thread between all of these traditions, the military is engaged in a perpetual pissing contest. Troops are in constant contest to see who can do literally anything better than the next guy; to see who is the most macho of the troops. It should come as no surprise that one of the most macho things out there, facial hair, gets quantified into some sort of challenge.
The problem with this is that the military doesn’t allow most versions of facial hair — that is, with the exception of a very thin mustache. A word of warning: The first two weeks of a mustache-off makes every contestant look pathetic.
Mustache contests usually begin at the start of the deployment (presumably, when troops’ wives have less of a say in the matter) and, after a certain point, someone is declared a winner. Yet, the Air Force has unanimously decided to make March their official contest month. Whichever airman grows the best mustache by the end of March wins a high five or whatever.
4. The West Point pillow battle royale
At some point during the first years of the most intense academy for the U.S. Army’s future officers, students are offered a unique way of handling the stresses of simultaneously earning a college education while enduring four years of constant military training. These future warriors, trained in all things warfare with the intention of becoming the Army’s next generation of great leaders, settle things the exact same way as children at slumber parties — with a pillow fight.
As goofy as this sounds, things got serious. Yes. “got” — very much in the past tense, as this tradition was unceremoniously banned in 2015 in response to numerous injuries. Most cadets donned full kevlars and vests and beat the hell out of each other with pillows. More than thirty plebes that year were sent to the hospital for serious injuries, despite the strict no-hard-objects-in-the-pillows rule.
Thankfully, they had PT belts on or this could have gotten even more out of hand.
3. Blasting up the lieutenant’s patrol cap
In the technical terms, a “blasting cap” is a small, sensitive primary explosive device used to detonate a larger, more powerful and less-sensitive secondary explosive. Soldiers in the artillery world take this term literally whenever they welcome a new platoon leader.
When the platoon first goes out for a live-fire exercise with a brand new lieutenant, they’ll take the officer’s patrol cap (either willingly or otherwise) and tape it to the end of the barrel or backplate of a rocket pod. Then, the first round goes off; it’ll take the cap with it. The officer is then expected to retrieve the nearly-burnt-to-a-crisp cap so they can remain in uniform after the ceremony is done.
No one really knows when or where this began, but every artillery officer since then has had to buy a new cap the following day.
2. The sword butt tap at weddings
Most of the traditions on this list are kept within the realm of the military and don’t often affect civilians directly — with the major exception of military weddings. They are one of the most beautiful ways to introduce a new civilian spouse into our world. The troop’s comrades will attend wearing full dress uniforms, each carrying a sword to signify the protection they’ll offer the new spouse, as he or she is now kin.
The new comrades will serve as either groomsmen or bridesmaids and post guard outside of the chapel, or wherever the ceremony is held, and form a beautiful archway with their swords under which the married couple will walk.
Then, whoever is at the very end of the archway on the civilian spouse’s side will give a loving spank with their sword. Not a hard one, mind you, just a nice gentle way of letting them know that they’re now a part of the grander military family.
1. The Court of Neptune
Whenever a Navy vessel crosses a certain point on the globe, all sailors who’ve never done so get to be initiated into an unofficial fraternity of sailors who’ve been there before. The most famous example of these ceremonies is the moment a vessel crosses the Equator at any point in the world.
Officially, it’s called the “Crossing the Line” ceremony, but sailors know it as “the Court of Neptune.” The uninitiated (known as “slimy polliwogs”) must bow before King Neptune (as portrayed by the ship’s captain) and entertain his queen, Davy Jones, the Royal Baby, and his dignitaries (portrayed by other high ranking members of the crew) with a talent show.
Regardless of how the young sailors perform, they’re found guilty of being polliwogs and must answer for their crimes. They’re “punished” by eating an extremely spicy or disgusting breakfast and are forced kiss the Royal Baby’s greasy belly. Only then can they have their slimy polliwoginess washed in seawater to finally become trusty shellbacks.
Follow any of that? Neither did any of us other slimy polliwogs…
The recovery of a lost wallet is always a relief. In the case of 91-year-old Navy veteran Paul Grisham, it was nothing short of a miracle. This is because Grisham lost his wallet during his tour on Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica 53 years ago.
Grisham was a Navy meteorologist who specialized as a weather technician and forecaster. The Arizona native enlisted in the Navy in 1948. In October 1967, Grisham was a Lt. JG when he received orders to Antarctica. “I went down there kicking and screaming,” he told the San Diego Union Tribune. Grisham was married with two toddlers and the 13-month assignment would take him away from them. But, like a good sailor, he followed his orders and shipped out to the bottom of the world.
Grisham was assigned to McMurdo Station on Ross Island. It was there that he lost his wallet. Unable to find it, he wrote it off and actually forgot about it later in life. However, in 2014, Grisham’s wallet was found behind a locker during a demolition building. Oddly enough, his was one of two wallets that was found. Returning the wallet was an endeavor that was undertaken by amateur sleuths Brian McKee, Stephen Decato and his daughter Sarah Lindbergh.
The trio had previously worked together to return a Navy ID bracelet to its original owner. Decato had worked in Antarctica for George Blaisdell who sent the two McMurdo wallets to him to return. McKee reached out to the Naval Weather Service Association to track down the owners. Grisham, a member of the association, was identified and reunited with his long-lost wallet on January 30, 2021. Sadly, the second wallet’s owner passed away in 2016. His wallet was returned to his family.
Grisham’s wallet was returned to him intact. It still contained Navy ID card, driver’s license, a beer ration punch card (arguably the greatest loss, especially at a posting like McMurdo), a tax withholding statement, receipts for money orders sent to his wife, and a pocket reference on what to do during a CBRN attack. “I was just blown away,” Grisham said about the return of his wallet. “There was a long series of people involved who tracked me down and ran me to ground.”
Grisham retired from the Navy in 1977. He lived in Monterey, California with his wife, Wilma, who passed away in 2000. He married his current wife, Carole Salazar, in 2003. The couple lives in San Diego.
The United States Armed Forces, for all of its serious and mission-oriented mannerisms, has always gone out of its way to keep the magic alive around Christmas time. The Marines have Gunny Claus and Toys for Tots, the Army has celebrated with fun runs and lavish feasts, and the Navy, presumably, just drinks plenty of eggnog.
Meanwhile, the men and women of NORAD, a joint effort between the United States Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force, monitor the movements of Santa Claus so all the good boys and girls can know when he’s coming.
This yearly tradition is beloved by many, but it all started because of a simple typo and a good-spirited colonel.
I mean, how else would the kids know to get a hold of Santa?
In the winter of 1955, Sears ran an advertisement in the Colorado Springs local paper encouraging people to call Santa Claus directly. The hope was that kids would call in and ask for a toy and Santa would tell them they could find it at their local Sears.
Problem was, no one ever got a hold of Santa. The number listed in the advertisement was off by one number, and it directed thousands of kids to call the extremely sensitive red phone of Col. Harry Shoup at the Combat Alert Center of NORAD.
This is what the NORAD command center has looked like ever since.
(NORAD Public Affairs, Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braym)
His number was only ever given to four-star generals and to the Pentagon. This was at the height of the Cold War, and this phone was only ever meant to ring if the Russians were expected to attack North America. And yet, it was ringing non-stop with requests for toys. He suspected that something was amiss when he received his first phone call asking, “is this Santa Claus?”
Shoup was a little annoyed and, apparently, made the child cry. Feeling guilty, he played along in hopes of getting to the bottom of what had happened. He asked the kid to put his mother on the phone, who was understandably upset at the thought of Santa making her child cry. She told him that the number was in a Sears ad. As a result, Shoup assigned lower-ranking airmen to answer the phone until he could take it down.
As troops do, they poked fun at Col. Shoup for his mistake. They placed Santa-themed decor all around the command center, just to egg him on. At the center of the room was a giant glass map that tracked all air traffic in North America, and on Christmas Eve, there was a crudely drawn Santa on his sleigh in one of the corners — just to drive the joke home further.
He asked his troops, “what is that?” They replied, “Colonel, we’re sorry. We were just making a joke. Do you want us to take that down?” In a his-heart-grew-three-sizes-that-day kind of moment, Col. Shoup smiled, walked over to the radio and said,
“This is the commander at the Combat Alert Center, and we have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh.”
On the other ends of the radio, other military personnel and air traffic controllers weren’t in on the joke, but understood immediately. Because they, too, were working Christmas Eve night, they wanted in on some of the holiday spirit and continued asking for updates on Santa’s location.
The children still trying to call Santa would also be told of his whereabouts. The junior airmen would reply to the kids with a cheery, “he’s not in at the moment, he’s currently over Nebraska” or wherever Col. Shoup indicated he was.
Year after year, kids continued calling NORAD to get updates on Santa’s location and every year NORAD played along – presumably with a different phone number than the red phone on the commander’s desk. As time went on, NORAD began keeping tabs on Santa through their website and social media.
A submarine that just missed serving in World War II may soon find itself making one last dive off the coast of Florida.
According to WPTV.com, the Balao-class submarine USS Clamagore (SS 343) could be towed to a point off Palm Beach County and sunk as an artificial reef. The vessel is currently at the Patriot’s Point Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, along with the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 10) and the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724).
According to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, the Clamagore is the only surviving GUPPY III-class submarine in the world. Nine GUPPY III-class submarines were built. According to a web page serving as a tribute to these diesel-electric submarines, most of the vessels modified under the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program were scrapped, sunk as targets, or sold to foreign countries.
The reason she is going to wind up becoming a reef? The report from WPTV states it is about money.
“The museum up in Charleston is losing money and they would really like to unload this as quickly as possible,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche told the TV station. The alternative to turning the 2,480-ton submarine into an artificial reef is to scrap her.
“We wanted to honor the people that served on it, we wanted to honor the submarine service in general,” Valeche said.
Several organizations are trying to save the Clagamore for continued service as a museum. A 2012 FoxNews.com report indicated that at least $3 million was needed to repair the vessel.
When Matthew Callahan was first introduced to the movie Top Gun at 2 years old, the film became an instant favorite.
So when the award-winning video producer for the Navy’s All Hands Magazine was tasked with producing a series of videos for Naval Air Station Oceana’s Virtual Air Show last month, Callahan drew inspiration from director Tony Scott’s Cold War classic.
“Top Gun was my first true love of cinema,” Callahan told Coffee or Die Magazine. “It’s a movie of its time — the late ’80s, when they were just overdoing everything — but the way it’s filmed is beautiful. I’ll never forget that opening scene with footage at sunrise or sunset on the ship. You don’t often see military personnel and equipment framed that way, where it’s kind of treated like a total spectacle, and I try and capture that same feeling with a lot of my stuff because it cuts through a lot of noise.”
Callahan was part of a three-man production team including All Hands video producer Jimmy Shea and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Jorge. Together, they spent five days producing eight videos for NAS Oceana’s virtual air show. Trying to convey the excitement and spectacle of an air show with a series of short videos is no easy task, but Callahan and his team worked hard to translate their own passion for viewers.
“We produced eight or nine video products in five days,” Callahan said. “The tempo was pretty nonstop. It was exhausting but also amazing.”
The Next Generation: VFA-106 Prepares F/A-18 Aircrew For Fleet
The standout production from the trip is a roughly three-minute video about NAS Oceana’s Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106. The Virginia Beach-based training squadron prepares freshly minted F-18 aircrews for fleet service.
Callahan said for that video he supplemented the team’s production from Virginia with footage provided by the Navy’s advertising agency.
“I asked for cool, sexy carrier footage, and the ad agency really delivered,” Callahan said. “It seems like Top Gun really set a kind of visual precedent for filming jets on an aircraft carrier, and I wanted to produce something fast but serious in a brass-tacks kind of way.”
Callahan said that while he realizes most of his audience engages with his productions online or on mobile devices, he still tries to include some audio and visual treats for true cinephiles who might watch on a larger TV screen or with noise-canceling headphones.
“I’m always editing and creating soundscapes for that one person who might wanna watch these stories on a big display with a good sound system,” he said. “It’s almost never the case, with most folks engaging on mobile, but there’s always gonna be someone who does. I hope that there’s a payoff for those few who chose to watch that way.”
Oscar-nominated Sam Elliott will narrate the four-part docuseries Honor Guard, which follows U.S. Army soldiers throughout the grueling training required to serve at the 3rd Infantry Regiment. Also known as The Old Guard, the 3rd Infantry Regiment is perhaps best known for hosting the Sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Honor Guard is the follow-up to Time to Kill Productions’ award-winning 2016 feature documentary The Unknowns, which follows the training of the Sentinels. Creators Neal Schrodetzki and Ethan Morse, who served together as guards at the Tomb, will now follow the intense training cycles that prepare soldiers for The Regiment, the Honor Guard Caisson Platoon, the U.S. Army Drill Team, or a Full-Honors funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
Morse and Schrodetzki have exclusive access provided by the United States Army to capture these never-before documented training cycles. Their mission is the same as Sam Elliott’s, and the reason he agreed to join the project: to honor the fallen.
Elliott’s contributions to military story-telling helped inspired Morse to serve in the first place. “I first became interested in the military after seeing Sam Elliott as the Union Cavalry General John Buford in Gettysburg. Fast forward a few years and I’m serving in the California Army National Guard, just like Mr. Elliott did.”
Elliott has a distinguished and longstanding reputation with the military community, due in part to the iconic roles he has played in films like We Were Soldiers and Once an Eagle.
Plus, his voice is smooth as molasses. You just know it is.
At first glance, Mr. Smith’s in the trendy Georgetown area of Washington, DC, may seem like a regular bar.
On any given day — at least before COVID-19 — you’d find a cross-section of Washington’s society there for the burgers and the beer. Drunk tourists, young Capitol Hill staffers, K Street lobbyists with money to burn, and cynical old Washingtonians sharing inside-the-Beltway gossip all gather there.
Like dozens of other sites in the city, however, the bar has a dark past. It was at this bar in 1985, then known as Chadwicks, that CIA officer Aldrich Ames betrayed his country by meeting with Victor Cherkashin, a KGB counterintelligence officer stationed at the Soviet embassy in Washington.
Over weeks and months of meetings at the bar — which proclaimed itself “casual dining at its best” — Ames revealed the identities of more than 100 CIA assets operating in the Soviet Union, many of whom promptly “vanished” or were executed. His reward? A total of $4.6 million. He was finally arrested in 1994 after the CIA began looking into his lavish lifestyle, which included a $540,000 house in nearby Arlington paid for in cash, a $50,000 Jaguar, and tailor-made suits that even his bosses couldn’t afford on a government salary.
Mr. Smith’s replaced Chadwicks in Georgetown, where CIA officer Aldrich Ames betrayed the US by meeting with a Soviet counterintelligence officer. Photo courtesy of Mr. Smith’s/Facebook.
Chadwicks is just one of dozens of sites across the Washington area that speak to its past, present, and future as a hub of foreign espionage activity and American efforts to stop it.
“DC is a hotspot of espionage activity, between all of the embassies that are located there that have their diplomatic attachés that sometimes work for their home country’s government or intelligence operations,” explained Francis Gary Powers Jr., the founder and operator of Spy Tour of Washington, DC. “There’s always some kind of intrigue going on in DC.”
For Powers, tales of Cold War espionage are a personal affair. His father, Francis Gary Powers Sr., was the pilot of a CIA U-2 spy plane that was famously shot down while flying a mission over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. Although the elder Powers successfully managed to bail out of the aircraft, he was quickly captured and remained in Soviet captivity until he was exchanged for a Soviet intelligence officer at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin in February 1962.
These days, the younger Powers takes private groups on trips across the many drop points, safe houses, and other clandestine sites that make up Washington’s spy history dating back all the way to Rose Greenhow, a Washington socialite who spied for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a spy during the Civil War, with her youngest daughter and namesake, “Little” Rose, at the Old Capitol Prison, Washington, DC, 1862. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
“We go by Aldrich Ames’ homes, [convicted spy] Alger Hiss’ home, and have briefings on FBI agent Robert Hanssen drop points,” he said. “Or we go by the Russian Embassy and talk about the underground tunnel that was dug out there. There’s a variety of places to see.”
Many of the publicly known spy locations in Washington revolve around “traditional” espionage tradecraft that was perfected over many decades. The innocent-looking Foxstone Park in Vienna, Virginia, for example, was where disgraced FBI agent Robert Hanssen left classified materials for his KGB handler — who, incidentally, was the same Victor Cherkashin who handled Aldrich Ames.
Long before mobile phones, the internet, communications technology, and the cloud changed the way government — and intelligence services — operated, many of these sites were in use. Spy agencies in both the US and around the world are now increasingly reliant on technology to communicate, intercept communications, conduct surveillance, and perform other day-to-day functions of intelligence.
Technology, however, is no replacement for tried-and-true methods.
“There is something to be said for ‘sticks and bricks.’ Going back to the old school is always there, even if it’s as a fail-safe,” explained Marc Polymeropoulos, who served 26 years in the CIA before retiring from the agency’s Senior Intelligence Service in June 2019.
The “Ellis” drop site — under a footbridge over Wolftrap Creek near Creek Crossing Road at Foxstone Park near Vienna, Virginia — where FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen clandestinely placed a package containing highly classified information for pickup by his Russian handlers. Photo courtesy of the FBI.
According to Polymeropoulos, who oversaw and took part in clandestine operations across Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia, there is simply no replacement for meeting an asset face-to-face.
“That lets you really sit down and assess them and talk to them,” he said. “You need to be able to look someone in the eye and assess them, regardless of this new environment in which we live. […] We’ll always find a way.”
Meeting people in person, Polymeropoulos said, allows intelligence officers to judge a person’s motivation and trustworthiness in a way that a Zoom call, for example, never will.
“People do lie to you, all the time. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s also the sense of getting a feel of someone and their motivations,” he said. “It’s even things that just sound silly, like going over the details of stories with someone over and over. If they’re telling the truth, they might not slip up as much.”
“It’s like taking a graduate class in psychology. Ultimately, what you’re doing is assessing someone and their mental ability and motivations to betray their country,” Polymeropoulos added. “Doing so remotely is difficult. It’s certainly possible, but I don’t think you’re ever going to get as much.”
Marc Polymeropoulos. Photo courtesy of Twitter/@mpolymer.
Whether new tech-savvy techniques or old espionage methods are in play, there’s no doubt that Washington remains a hub of foreign intelligence activity.
“There are different intelligence operations going on all the time in DC and Northern Virginia,” Powers said. “There’s definitely espionage taking place every day.”
Polymeropoulos, for his part, is even more blunt in his assessment. In his view, current political tensions mean that foreign adversaries are perhaps even more active in the nation’s capital now than they were during even the tensest years of the Cold War.
“Washington is still a spy capital; it always has been. One of the troubling things that’s happening in the United States is that any country — as we would — is going to try to take advantage of political turmoil and chaos,” he said. “If I was looking at the United States, I’d be looking at people within the government that have secrets, who are dissatisfied. You have a lot of that now.”
Foreign intelligence services, he added, are likely assessing targets in both political parties and across government agencies in Washington.
“This has to do with people in government, staffers on the Hill. If you think about it, it’s such a target-rich environment for hostile intelligence organizations to target the United States right now, and ground zero is Washington,” he said.
“There’s a lot for our adversaries to work with right now, and that’s a huge concern and a huge counterintelligence worry.”
After the US downed a Syrian jet making a bombing run on US-backed forces fighting ISIS, Russia threatened to target US and US-led coalition planes West of the Euphrates river in Syria.
But while Russia has some advanced surface-to-air missile systems and very agile fighter aircraft in Syria, it wouldn’t fare well in what would be a short, brutal air war against the US.
The US keeps an aircraft carrier with dozens of F/A-18E fighters aboard in the Mediterranean about all the time and hundreds of F-15s and F-16s scattered around Turkey, Qatar, and Jordan.
According to Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis firm, Russia has “about 25 planes, only about ten of which are dedicated to air superiority (Su-35s and Su-30s), and against that they’ll have to face fifth-gen stealth fighters, dozens of strike fighters, F-15s, F-16s, as well as B-1 and B-52 bombers. And of course the vast US Navy and pretty much hundreds of Tomahawks.”
“Russians have a lot of air defenses, they’re not exactly defenseless by any means,” Lamrani told Business Insider, “But the US has very heavy air superiority.” Even though individual Russian platforms come close to matching, and in some ways exceed the capability of US jets, it comes down to numbers.
So if Russia did follow through with its threat, and target a US aircraft that did not back down West of the Euphrates in Syria, and somehow managed to shoot it down, then what?
“The US coalition is very cautious,” said Lamrani. “The whole US coalition is on edge for any moves from Russia at this point.”
Lamrani also said that while F/A-18Es are more visible and doing most of the work, the US keeps a buffer of F-22 stealth jets between its forces and Russia’s. If Russia did somehow manage to shoot down a US or US-led coalition plane, a US stealth jet would probably return fire before it ever reached the base.
At that point the Russians would have a moment to think very critically if they wanted to engage with the full might of the US Air Force after the eye-for-an-eye shoot downs.
If US surveillance detected a mass mobilization of Russian jets in response to the back-and-forth, the US wouldn’t just wait politely for Russians to get their planes in the sky so they can fight back.
Instead, a giant salvo of cruise missiles would pour in from the USS George H. W. Bush carrier strike group, much like the April 7 strike on Syria’s Sharyat air base. But this time, the missiles would have to saturate and defeat Russia’s missile defenses first, which they could do by sheer numbers if not using electronic attack craft.
Then, after neutering Russia’s defenses, the ships could target the air base, not only destroying planes on the ground but also tearing up the runways, so no planes could take off. At this point US and Coalition aircraft would have free reign to pass overhead and completely devastate Russian forces.
Russia would likely manage to score a couple intercepts and even shoot down some US assets, but overall the Russian contingent in Syria cannot stand up to the US, let alone the entire coalition of nations fighting ISIS.
Russia also has a strong Navy that could target US air bases in the region, but that would require Russia to fire on Turkey, Jordan, and Qatar, which would be politically and technically difficult for them.
This scenario of a hypothetical air war is exceedingly unlikely. Russia knows the numbers are against them and it would “not [be] so easy for the Russians to decide to shoot down a US aircraft,” according to Lamrani.
And Russia wouldn’t risk so much over Syria, which is not an existential defense interest for them, but a foreign adventure to distract from Russia’s stalled economy and social problems, according to Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Russia is not a great power by most measures, like GDP, population, living standard,” Borshchevskaya told Business Insider. “Russia has steadily declined. It’s still a nuclear power, but not world power.”
In Syria, “a lot of what Putin is doing is about domestic policies,” said Borshchevskaya, and to have many Russian servicemen killed in a battle with a US-led coalition fighting ISIS wouldn’t serve his purposes domestically or abroad.
The United States military has relied on drone aircraft for years, but to date, few other automated platforms have made their way into America’s warfighting apparatus — that is, until recently anyway. After achieving a number of successes with their new 132-foot submarine-hunting robot warship the Sea Hunter, the Navy is ready to pony up some serious cash for a full-sized drone warship, and the concept could turn the idea of Naval warfare on its head.
Earlier this month, the Navy called on the shipbuilding industry to offer up its best takes on their Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV) ship concept, and they mean business. According to Navy officials, they want to have ten of these drone warships sailing within the next five years. The premise behind the concept is a simple one: by developing drone ships that can do what the Navy refers to as “3-D” work (the stuff that’s Dull, Dirty, or Dangerous) they’ll be freeing up manned vessels for more complex tasks.
The Navy expects these ships to be between 200 and 300 feet long with about 2,000 tons of water displacement, making them around half to two-thirds the size of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, potentially landing in the light frigate classification. To that end, the Navy has already requested $400 million in the 2020 budget for construction of the first two vessels for the purposes of research and development.
The Sea Hunter, a Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV)
US Navy Photo
In order to manage a variety of tasks, the Navy wants its robot warship to be modular, making it easier to add or remove mission-specific equipment for different sets of circumstances.
“The LUSV will be a high-endurance, reconfigurable ship able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions to augment the Navy’s manned surface force,” The Navy wrote in their solicitation.
“With a large payload capacity, the LUSV will be designed to conduct a variety of warfare operations independently or in conjunction with manned surface combatants.”
The Navy also requires that the vessel be capable of operating with a crew on board for certain missions. That capability, in conjunction with a modular design, would allow the Navy to use LUSV’s in more complex missions that require direct human supervision simply by installing the necessary components and providing the vessel with a crew.
The solicitation included no requests for weapons systems, but that doesn’t mean the LUSV would be worthless in a fight. The modular design would allow the Navy to equip the vessel with different weapons systems for different operations, or leave them off entirely during missions that don’t require any offensive or defensive capabilities.
Swapping drone ships in for monotonous work could free up the Navy’s fleet of manned vessels for more important tasks.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate)
By equipping these ships with modular vertical launch systems, for instance, a fleet of LUSVs could enhance the Navy’s existing fleet of destroyers and cruisers in a number of combat operations, and eventually, they could even be equipped with the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, allowing them to bolster or even replace destroyers currently tasked with steaming around in defensive patterns amid concerns about North Korean or Chinese ballistic missile attack.
Like the Sea Hunter, the LUSV represents little more than the Navy dipping its toe in the proverbial drone waters, but if successful, it could revolutionize how the Navy approaches warfare. Manning a ship remains one of the largest expenses associated with maintaining a combatant fleet. Capable drone ships could allow the Navy to bolster its numbers with minimal cost, tasking automated vessels with the monotonous or dangerous work and leaving the manned ships to the more complex tasks.
During the darkest years of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union played a nuclear game of cat and mouse. The finest agents this side of the Berlin Wall were pitted against KGB spies determined to steal our secrets. Distrust and resentment continued to fester between the two superpowers in the wake of World War II. Federal agencies had their hands full curbing the relentless influx of spies onto U.S. soil, particularly on the east coast.
In an effort to promote stability after the War, the United Nations was created and headquartered in New York City. Regardless of American intent, some foreign states played by the rules by day and gathered information by night. A growing concern about Russian spycraft, not yet identified by the U.S., made it imperative for the FBI to out-sleuth the communists.
Lieutenant Commander Arthur Lindberg, US Navy
Operation Lemon Aid
April 9, 1977, Navy Lt. Commander Arthur Lindberg was approached by the FBI as a potential candidate for a counterintelligence operation. The FBI suspected that the Soviets were using cruise ships to recruit spies, and their office in the U.N. was used to orchestrate espionage operations.
The FBI wanted to use a double agent to gather enough evidence that would confirm their suspicions. Due to tensions, the Soviet’s KGB were operating in a heightened state of alert and would not be easily ensnared.
They devised a plan to use Lt. Commander Lindberg because his background would make him a realistic candidate to betray his country: A high ranking naval officer with a looming retirement and in need of funds. This meant that he had access to Top Secret information he could sell to ease his retirement. They hoped this would be irresistible to the enemy spies and they would show themselves.
Lindberg agreed to help the FBI, and Operation Lemonade was born.
(Eye Spy Magazine)
Lindberg purchased a civilian ticket and boarded the Soviet cruise ship the MS Kazakhstan. Before disembarking at the end of his trip, he passed off a note to a crew member with a letter addressed to the Russian ambassador. The letter stated that he was willing to sell military information if he was provided money for his retirement.
The letter made its way to the unsanctioned KGB headquarters within the United Nations.
On August 30, 1977, the Soviets made contact with Lindberg via a public payphone in New Jersey. Lindberg’s cover name was Ed, and the KGB agent on the other end of the line called himself Jim.
On September 24, 1977, the spies avoided meeting in person and probed Linberg to see what kind of information he could gain access to and the price. They contacted him again in the same manner as before and gave him a list of items they wanted more information on.
Terry Tate, a Naval Investigative Agent on the case submitted documents to be declassified so they could be fed to the Soviets. The enemy was particularly interested in our nuclear submarines. If they wanted to catch the spies, they had to leak genuine information.
October 22, 1977, Lindberg exchanged military secrets using dead drops.
Dead Drop: A prearranged hiding place for the deposit and pickup of information obtained through espionage – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
He received ,000 via dead drop for the information.
Left to right: Valdik Enger, Rudolf Chernyayev, and Vladimir Zinyakin
Over the course of several months, the FBI was able to trace the spy who picked up the dead drops, it was Rudolf Chernyayev, a Russian personnel officer at the U.N. The FBI was now able to tail the first Russian spy until they discovered the identity of all three. With those identities, they were able to anticipate when and where they were making their phone calls. Photos of them caught in the act would nail a conviction.
By March 12, 1978, the FBI had enough evidence in writing, on video, and in photos to secure an arrest warrant.
May 20, 1978 – The arrest of the Soviet spies would have a ripple effect throughout the highest levels of our government and had to be authorized by President Jimmy Carter. The FBI arrested the three KGB agents red-handed at their last dead drop.
Valdik Enger, Rudolf Chernyayev, and Vladimir Zinyakin were arrested. Only Zinyakin had diplomatic immunity and was deported to the USSR. The others, however, were convicted of espionage and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
In the end, it was one of our most important counter-espionage cases of the decade. Enger and Chernyayev were the first Soviet officials to ever stand trial for espionage in the U.S. Both were convicted and ultimately exchanged for five Soviet dissidents. – fbi.gov