August 25, 2020
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded its three-year Russia investigation on Aug. 18 with the release of the fifth and final volume of the report on its work, a 966-page tome resulting from interviews with more than 200 witnesses and the review of more than a million pages of documents.
While offering a broad and detailed view of the counterintelligence issues related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the hefty volume included just one sentence of vague evidence about the central and essential crime at the epicenter of the debacle—the alleged theft of more than 40,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee.
The two major Russia investigations that preceded the Senate intelligence report didn’t offer the public much more in terms of details or evidence. The final report by special counsel Robert Mueller featured a single paragraph on the matter. The unredacted portion of the report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence included two sentences, neither of which mentioned emails.
The three reports on these formal investigations aren’t the only government records with a glaring lack of evidence about how the emails were taken from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Over the course of four years, the intelligence community, media organizations, and the private sector released a trickle of hazy and contradictory claims that did nothing to augment the government’s claims.
An exhaustive review by The Epoch Times of more than four years of public records determined that all of the claims and evidence boil down to a single allegation and one piece of circumstantial evidence in Mueller’s final report.
“Between approximately May 25, 2016, and June 1, 2016, GRU officers accessed the DNC’s mail server from a GRU-controlled computer leased inside the United States,” the report, released on April 18, 2019, stated, referencing the acronym for one of Russia’s spy agencies. “During these connections, Unit 26165 officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails and attachments, which were later released by WikiLeaks in July 2016.”
Despite relying heavily on the Mueller report, the fifth volume of the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) doesn’t feature any of the details from the specific claim by the special counsel. The late-May time frame alleged by Mueller is entirely absent from the committee’s 20-page timeline of the DNC hack. Instead, the SSCI report includes a single vague sentence, as part of an undated timeline entry that mentions neither emails nor hacking.
“Henry testified that CrowdStrike was ‘able to see some exfiltration and the types of files that had been touched’ but not the content of those files,” the Aug. 18 report states, citing the committee’s interview with Shawn Henry, the head of the team from cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which the DNC brought in to handle the breach on April 30, 2016.
The office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the SSCI, didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
CrowdStrike’s official timeline of the DNC event likewise omits the hack that Mueller alleged to have taken place on or about May 25 to June 1, 2016. The cybersecurity firm claims that no hack occurred.
“There is no indication of any subsequent breaches taking place on the DNC’s corporate network or any machines protected by CrowdStrike Falcon,” the company told The Epoch Times.
The likelihood of a hack taking place without CrowdStrike noticing is low, but not impossible. The company had deployed 200 sensors on the committee’s network within the first week of its engagement with the DNC, which began on May 1, 2016, more than three weeks before the alleged hack.
The revelation about the sheer number of sensors deployed on the DNC network is significant for another reason. In his interview with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Dec. 5, 2017, Henry told lawmakers that CrowdStrike “didn’t have a network sensor in place that saw data leave” when answering questions posed by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) about evidence of email exfiltration.
It’s possible that CrowdStrike didn’t deploy a sensor to monitor the DNC mail server. CrowdStrike didn’t provide a response to a question about whether this was the case, referring The Epoch Times to its statement that no hack had occurred.
The contradictions and vague statements are abundant beyond the incongruent claims by Mueller and CrowdStrike.
In order to separate which of the myriad claims about the DNC emails actually deal with how the files were taken from the committee’s mail server, timing is essential. The most recent DNC email released by WikiLeaks was dated May 25, 2016, which matches with the time window in Mueller’s allegation. Roughly 99 percent of the emails were sent between April 19 and May 25, 2016, a window that roughly fits the DNC’s 30-day email retention policy. Considering the 30-day window, the emails were most likely taken in the handful of days around May 25.
Because the DNC systems were allegedly subjected to multiple breaches on different dates by at least two separate actors, any allegations that are undated or don’t include the May 25, 2016, timeframe are too vague to be useful to inform the public about how the emails were taken. The claims could be conflating another exfiltration with the enigma of what happened with the emails, or they could be referring to a different theft altogether.
In addition, a separate theft of data is alleged to have occurred on April 22, 2016, during which the alleged hackers took files other than the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks in July 2016. As a result, claims that provide a broad timeline including May 25 and April 22—while not specifically describing what was taken—are equally of little use because it is unclear which events they describe.
The two categories of vagueness described above plague every claim made by the government about the DNC emails since Oct. 7, 2016, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) attributed the hacking to the Russian government.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process,” the joint statement said.
The absence of dates from the allegation would become the norm over time. The choice of broad and imprecise language in the statement about the “alleged hacked emails” isn’t accidental. The FBI, which wasn’t a party to the statement, apparently hadn’t yet received the forensic images of the DNC systems from CrowdStrike when the statement was released.
According to the SSCI report, CrowdStrike billed the FBI $4,000 on Oct. 13, 2016— one week after the DHS-ODNI statement—for the “forensic images that FBI requested.” While it’s possible the FBI received the files earlier, the FBI official who spoke to the committee used the word “requested” rather than “received.” According to Shawn Henry’s interview with the SSCI, CrowdStrike handed over the images to the FBI sometime in October 2016. The FBI didn’t respond to a request to confirm when it received the images.
Despite the certainty with which the DHS and ODNI attributed the broader hacking campaign to Russians, the statement described the hacking of the emails as alleged. The statement’s earlier mention of “recent compromises of e-mails,” is an apparent reference to the email phishing campaign that occurred prior to the theft of the emails.
The government’s haziness about the dates and other details about how the emails were taken tainted every subsequent statement and assessment on the matter. The Dec. 29, 2016, joint analysis report by the DHS, ODNI, and FBI; the Jan. 6, 2017, intelligence community assessment by the CIA, FBI, and NSA; and the March 22, 2018, report on Russian active measures by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) all featured a blatant lack of specificity about when and how the emails were taken.
In addition to reviewing all of the government records on the matter, The Epoch Times reviewed all of the media articles featuring interviews with firsthand witnesses, CrowdStrike’s evolving blog post about the remediation, third-party assessments of CrowdStrike’s work, transcripts of witness interviews, congressional testimony, and third-party analyses of the metadata of the DNC emails.
The sum total of the most detailed claims about how the emails were taken still boils down to roughly the allegation made by Mueller, which is itself directly contradicted by CrowdStrike.
A more detailed version of Mueller’s allegation appeared in the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers Mueller filed nine months prior to his final report on July 13, 2018.
“Between on or about May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server and stole thousands of emails from the work accounts of DNC employees,” the indictment alleged. “During that time, Yermakov researched PowerShell commands related to accessing and managing the Microsoft Exchange Server.”
It is unclear why the special counsel’s version of events grew more vague over the months between the filing of the indictment and the publication of the final report. Notably, the report softened the language about the certainty of what transpired from the definitive “stole thousands of emails” to the circumstantial “appear to have stolen thousands of emails.”
What Didn’t Happen
While details about what happened with the DNC emails have been scant, details about what didn’t happen have recently emerged. On May 7, the HPSCI released the transcripts of the interviews it conducted as part of the investigation for the Russian active measures report. The transcript of the interview of Shawn Henry showed that CrowdStrike “did not have concrete evidence that data was exfiltrated from the DNC.”
“We have indicators that data was exfiltrated. We did not have concrete evidence that data was exfiltrated from the DNC, but we have indicators that it was exfiltrated,” Henry told lawmakers on Dec. 5, 2017.
When asked about the date on which the indicators occurred, Henry referred to the separate exfiltration event on April 22, 2016, which occurred a month before the emails were allegedly stolen.
Later in the interview, when asked specifically about the emails, Henry said it was possible for the alleged hackers to view and copy the content of the emails in addition to taking screenshots. The monitoring activity he described is unlikely to have yielded the raw email files published by WikiLeaks and was different from the allegation by the special counsel, who claimed that the emails were taken during a separate breach.
A source with the HPSCI told The Epoch Times that the committee relied on sources other than CrowdStrike to conclude that Russians stole the DNC emails, but couldn’t provide further details because they were classified. The evidence for the theft of the emails was as strong as the evidence of the attribution of the overall hacking campaign to Russia, the source said.
The release of Henry’s transcript prompted CrowdStrike to issue on June 5 the fourth significant update in as many years to its DNC incident response blog post. The update, running at more than 2,400 words, consisted of a Q&A and a timeline of events surrounding CrowdStrike’s remediation work.
The CrowdStrike timeline extensively references the Mueller report, but doesn’t include the crucial May 25 to June 1, 2016, time frame the special counsel provided for the alleged hacking of the DNC mail server.
The Q&A features an apparent misinterpretation of Henry’s testimony, claiming, contrary to what Henry told lawmakers, that CrowdStrike has evidence that data was exfiltrated from the DNC but omitting Henry’s qualification that the evidence was circumstantial. Regardless, the statement, as expected, included no dates and didn’t use the word “emails.”
Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov
August 11th, 2020
Joe Biden chose California Senator Kamala Harris as his Vice President nominee. Politico reported:
Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate, elevating a charismatic blue-state senator, former prosecutor and onetime 2020 primary rival who has built a reputation as an unyielding antagonist of the Trump administration.
Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, was the wire-to-wire frontrunner for Biden’s No. 2 job. Her experience as a battle-tested presidential contender, her efforts leading major law enforcement offices and her political track record of three election wins in California helped her overcome a crowded list of contenders.
Biden also made the announcement on his official Twitter account.
Hours after today’s announcement Wikileaks released 137 documents on Kamala Harris.
Wikileaks published their list on Kamala Harris on Tuesday
JUL 24, 2020
As secretive unit operating within the U.S. Department of Defense that is charged with investigating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) will make some of its findings public after it was revealed that the Pentagon has been recently briefed about “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.”
The once-covert UFO unit, which operates within the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, will soon begin giving regular biannual updates on its research to the U.S. Senate’s Intelligence Committee, reports The New York Times.
The Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force was formed in 2019 for the purpose of studying strange and inexplicable encounters between U.S. military pilots and unidentified aerial vehicles or UFOs in a bid “to standardize collection and reporting” of the various sightings.
The program is the successor to the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which also investigated UFOs but was dissolved in 2017 due to a lapse of funding. However, the team working on that program continued its work alongside the intelligence community even after it was officially disbanded.
Luis Elizondo, a former military intelligence official who headed the Pentagon program, resigned in October 2017 after a decade with the program. Elizondo, along with a group of former government scientists and officials, remain convinced that objects of unkown origin have crashed on Earth and that these apparently extraterrestrial materials have been the focus of research.
“It no longer has to hide in the shadows,” Elizondo told the Times. “It will have a new transparency.”
Former Senate majority leader and retired Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who led the push to fund the earlier UFO program, also believes that the studies should see the light of day.
“After looking into this, I came to the conclusion that there were reports — some were substantive, some not so substantive — that there were actual materials that the government and the private sector had in their possession,” Reid said.
So far, none of the alleged crash artifacts have been subject to public scrutiny or verification by independent researchers. However, some of the retrieved objects such as strange metallic debris were identified as being manmade – raising the possibility that they could be related to the military of U.S. rivals such as China or Russia.
However, astrophysicist Eric Davis – who served as an advisor for the Pentagon program since 2007 – said that he had briefed the Pentagon in March about material retrieved from “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.”
The Department of Defense subcontractor also said that he had concluded that the objects found were of the type “we couldn’t make … ourselves.”
In an interview last month, President Donald Trump told his son Donald Trump Jr. that he had heard some “interesting” things about supposed aliens as well as the secretive Area 51 base near Roswell, New Mexico, that some theorists claim is a UFO crash site.
The U.S. government has been increasingly open in its discussions of UFOs since last September, when U.S. Navy admitted that widely-circulated video footage captured by Navy pilots that purportedly showed UFOs flying through the skies did depict actual “unknown” objects that flew into U.S. airspace.
While officials admitted that they have been baffled by the unknown flying objects, they also admit that past encounters with them have been frequent. They also said that rather than calling them “UFOs,” they prefer the term unidentified aerial phenomena or UAPs.
While it remains yet to be seen what information the once-secret UFO unit plans to lay out for lawmakers, acting intelligence committee chairman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is intent on finding out who or what precisely is behind the apparent UFO activity over U.S. military bases.
“We have things flying over our military bases and places where we are conducting military exercises and we don’t know what it is — and it isn’t ours,” Rubio told CBS Miami in an interview last Friday.
“Frankly, that if it’s something from outside this planet — that might actually be better than the fact that we’ve seen some technological leap on behalf of the Chinese or the Russians or some other adversary that allows them to conduct this sort of activity,” the hawkish senator added.
For Reid, further transparency is needed.
“It is extremely important that information about the discovery of physical materials or retrieved craft come out,” he said.
Jun 23, 2020
A vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee will require the Defense Department and U.S. intelligence agencies to put together in-depth analysis for public consumption based on the data they have on “unidentfied aerial phenomenon,” according to POLITICO. Put in a way that’s easier to understand, those reports should include all the weird shit that Navy pilots have been seeing lately.
The next hurdle (for those of us who wish to view such a thing) is whether or not this provision to a yearly intelligence authorization bill will be adopted by the rest of the senate. Nevertheless, even if that doesn’t happen, a debate will be held that could give the public an idea of just how closely the government has been monitoring UFOs.
In the report, the Committee makes it clear that they’re concerned about how seriously the government is (or, more accurately, is not) taking the “potential threat” of aerial phenomena of unknown origins. Whether it’s aliens, or another country, you can see why that would be of some interest to the government, oh, and also us citizens.
“The Committee understands that the relevant intelligence may be sensitive; nevertheless, the Committee finds that the information sharing and coordination across the Intelligence Community has been inconsistent, and this issue has lacked attention from senior leaders,” they write in their report on the bill.
POLITICO adds that “[t]he unclassified analysis, which can include a classified annex, is to be completed by the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense within 180 days of passage.”
A year ago, senators on the panel were told about a run of incidents in which navy pilots were followed by unidentified aircrafts off the nation’s coasts. Included in these briefings were a set of videos that were made public earlier in 2020.
These briefings came after it was learned that the Pentagon had looked into these sightings a few years earlier, in late 2017. It was also learned that a new set of guidelines had been given to military members on the subject of how to report such incidents in the future.
The Senate panel is now directing relevant information on that subject to be collected from the various agencies/organizations that have data on the subject for the purpose of centralizing that information.
Obviously this is a win for our nation’s Fox Mulders, Dale Gribbles, and whatever third fictional character you can name that I’m unaware of.
“It further legitimizes the issue,” said ex-Pentagon intelligence official and Senate staffer Christopher Mellon, himself a longtime proponent of getting the info out. “That in itself is extremely important. People can talk about it without fear of embarrassment.”
He also elaborated on the significance of a report done correctly.
“Assuming the report is properly prepared and delivered, there is no telling what the impacts could be,” Mellon added. “That could range from revealing an unknown threat or military vulnerability to there have been probes visiting our planet, or anything in between.”
Last year, reports emerged about Navy fighter pilots having numerous encounters with unidentified flying objects while flying in restricted airspace off the East Coast of the United States. Details remain limited, though The War Zone has been steadily collecting more and more information that could help explain many of those incidents. At the same time, curiously, there haven’t been virtually any revelations about similar encounters with other U.S. military services’ flying branches, especially the Air Force, which is the entity primarily responsible for safeguarding America’s airspace.
In May, The War Zone was first to publish details from a number of hazard reports from the Naval Safety Center, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). regarding interactions between that service’s aircraft and unknown aerial craft that offered an additional look into what might be happening, why, and how these encounters were or weren’t getting reported. We can now share information from 25 similar reports obtained through the FOIA from the Air Force Safety Center.
This whole issue, especially regarding U.S. military aircraft encountering unidentified objects when flying over or near the United States proper, was thrust back into the public consciousness just this week. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said that it was looking to get a full accounting of the issue from the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Pentagon. As part of a report accompanying the latest draft of the Senate version Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, the Committee members included language asking for a detailed review of exactly what information about these kinds of incidents exists now, how new data is getting collected, how this is all shared within the federal government, and what threats these aerial objects might pose, including whether they might reflect technological breakthroughs by potential adversaries. These Air Force reports, as well as the previously disclosed ones that the Navy has on file, could easily be among the information that the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense might end up compiling for Senators to review.
The 25 reports that The War Zone obtained, which cover various types of incidents around the world and come from the Air Force Safety Automated System (AFSAS) database, came in response to a request that asked for copies of “any flight incident, hazard, or similar reports that the Air Force Safety Center received during the calendar years 2013 to 2019 that deal with encounters that any Air Force aircraft had anywhere in the world with any unidentified aerial objects.”
This date range was meant to capture a snapshot of similar experiences that the Air Force might have been having around when Navy pilots said they saw a spike in the number of encounters with unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP, more commonly known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, off the East Coast of the United States through the end of the most recent complete calendar year.
Personal identifying information is redacted throughout the Air Force reports. “Safety investigation boards’ Findings, Evaluations, Analyses, Conclusions, and Recommendations are exempt from disclosure,” the Air Force Safety Center also said in a letter accompanying the release, citing various Air Force and Department of Defense regulations, as well as relevant FOIA case law, which you can read in full, with certain personal information redacted by us, here.
“All other privileged portions of the report have been withheld according to established laws,” the letter added. “Unfortunately, some pages are virtually illegible due to the quality of the microfilm record and our capability to reproduce it.”
It’s not clear which of the records released, if any, were reproduced from reports contained on microfilm. The Air Force was still offering the option of sending FOIA request responses on actual microfilm in the late 2000s, but generally only for older records created years before the widespread introduction of computerized databases, such as AFSAS.
#1, June 17, 2014: 27th Special Operations Wing
The 27th Special Operations Wing, the main unit at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, reported an unidentified fixed-wing aircraft flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) intruding into the nearby R5104 range area. Neither the Range Control Officer (RCO) at the adjacent Melrose Air Force Range nor the base’s Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) could establish communications with the aircraft. Members of the 27th Special Operations Wing also advised the Federal Aviation Administration’s Albuquerque Center Air Route Traffic Control Center of the situation.
The unidentified aircraft first appeared around 11:04 AM local time and it had exited R5104 by 11:22, after which radar contact was lost.
#2, July 2, 2014: HC-130P Combat King and HH-60G Pave Hawk, 58th Special Operations Wing
The 58th Special Operations Wing, a major unit at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, reported a near-collision during a nighttime aerial refueling training sortie on July 2, 2014. An HC-130P Combat King combat search and rescue and tanker aircraft, using the callsign Akela 39, was refueling an HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter, with the callsign Skull 65, when an “unidentified helicopter” flew under the two aircraft at a distance of between 100 and 300 feet. Both aircraft were flying in Aerial Refueling Track 117 near Sorocco, New Mexico.
The HC-130P’s crew had first spotted to object when they saw a bright light near the aircraft. The HH-60G crew also saw it and initially thought it might be headlights on a vehicle on the road below. However, the light grew brighter to the point of blinding the Pave Hawk’s pilots, who were operating using night-vision goggles at the time. This resulted in an extremely dangerous situation in which the helicopter’s crew was no longer aware of their distance from the HC-130P, or that they were moving backward away from it, until the HH-60G’s aerial refueling probe inadvertently disconnected from the drogue basket trailing behind the Combat King.
No communication was ever established with the unidentified helicopter and there was no indication it ever maneuvered to avoid either the HC-130P or the HH-60G.
#3, July 24, 2014: C-130J Hercules, 317th Airlift Group
A C-130J Hercules airlift assigned to the 317th Airlift Group had a near-collision with an unidentified light fixed-wing aircraft while heading toward the Rogers Drop Zone (DZ), approximately eight miles to the south of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, during a training mission. The C-130J’s Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) alerted them to the other oncoming aircraft.
“The EC [Event Crew] called a No Drop and executed a 180 degree turn during which the crew visually sighted a light fixed wing aircraft (EA2) [Event Aircraft 2] behind them still flying toward their position,” the report says. “The crew contacted Seattle Approach Control, but the aircraft did not seem to be in radio contact during the incident.”
#4, Nov. 21, 2014: KC-135R Stratotanker, 121st Aerial Refueling Wing
A KC-135R tanker assigned to the 121st Aerial Refueling Wing, an element of the Ohio Air National Guard, got notice of a potential hazard from its Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) on Nov. 21, 2014, while climbing away from Wilmington Airpark near Wilmington, Ohio, following a planned missed approach as part of a training sortie. The crew slowed their climb out until the TCAS indicated that there was no longer any air traffic conflict
#5, Feb. 7, 2015: HC-130 Combat King, Unidentified Unit, and 45th Space Wing
On Feb. 7, 2015, an HC-130 Combat King combat search and rescue and tanker aircraft belonging to an unidentified unit had an encounter with what was described as “a possible remote control (RC) aircraft” with a “flashing red light” near the junction of Florida State Road A1A and the Pineda Causeway. The 45th Space Wing at nearby Patrick Air Force Base subsequently reported the incident, which it felt had “high accident potential.”
Personnel at the tower at Patrick spotted the possible remote control aircraft and contacted the Brevard Country Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), which subsequently sent deputies to investigate. The Air Force Security Forces Squadron at Patrick were also involved, but neither it nor the BCSO found any further evidence of the object, which had been flying an estimated 900 to 1,000 feet in the air.
This particular entry notes the growing hazard posed by “hobbyists and other civilians” operating remote-control aircraft and drones. It states the FAA rules at the time prohibiting the operation of unmanned aircraft above 400 feet within three miles of airports and air bases.
#6, Apr. 21, 2015: KC-135R Stratotanker, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
A KC-135R tanker assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, part of Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar had an encounter with an “unidentified aircraft” while conducting an operational aerial refueling mission over Afghanistan near Kandahar. The tanker’s crew visually acquired the unknown aircraft while refueling an unspecified combat jet, which had an “air-to-air radar.”
The crew of that jet could not acquire the unidentified aircraft with their radar. Tactical air traffic control radar in the area never picked it up, either. The KC-135R ultimately completed its mission and safely returned to base.
#7, May 15, 2015: KC-135R Stratotanker, 100th Aerial Refueling Wing
On May 15, 2015, a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 100th Aerial Refueling Wing had a near collision with an unidentified aircraft while on approach to its home base of RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom. The aircraft was also in contact with the Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) at RAF Lakenheath during the incident.
The RAF Lakenheath RAPCON had informed the crew of the KC-135R of multiple contacts along its route, but they were unable to visually identify any of them. The subsequently descended to 2,600 feet Mean Sea Level as part of their approach before air traffic controllers warned them about another aircraft directly below them. Around five seconds after getting that alert, the aircraft’s own Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) also warned of a potential collision and advised an immediate 4,000 feet-per-minute climb. The crew performed that maneuver, leveling off at 3,600 feet Mean Sea Level when the TCAS indicated that the danger has passed.
The crew of the aircraft never visually saw the other aircraft or received any radio calls from another plane warning of a potential collision. The KC-135R landed at Mildenhall without incident.
#8, May 21, 2015: C-17A Globemaster III, 452nd Air Mobility Wing
One of the C-17A Globemaster III airlifters assigned to the 452nd Air Mobility Wing, an element of the Air Force Reserve, had a near-collision with an “unidentified remotely piloted aircraft” while on approach to March Air Reserve Base in California on May 21, 2015. The pilot said that the flying object came within 15 feet of the aircraft, passing it above and to the left.
#9, July 25, 2015: MC-130P Combat Shadow, 129th Rescue Wing
An MC-130P Combat Shadow combat search and rescue and tanker aircraft from the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing had to take evasive action to avoid hitting an unidentified object during a nighttime training mission on July 25, 2015 near Niagara Falls International Airport in New York State. While on approach to the airport, the pilot saw through their night-vision goggles an “object [that] appeared to be illuminated by a single external light]” and that looked to “be accelerating from left to right” in front of them.
“Immediately after seeing the object, the pilot took evasive action by executing an abrupt climb and roll to the left,” according to the report. “Within one second of initiating evasive action the right wing of EA1 [Event Aircraft 1; the MC-130P] passed directly over the object.”
The plane’s navigator also reported having seen a “hot spot” on the aircraft’s Infrared Detection System (IDS), which is meant to spot incoming missiles. No other members of the crew beyond the pilot said that had actually seen anything, but the incident was reported as a near-collision.
#10, Aug. 13, 2015: KC-135R Stratotanker, 452nd Air Mobility Wing
A KC-135R tanker assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 452nd Air Mobility Wing suffered a near collision with what the crew described as a quad-copter-type drone while flying a pattern around March Air Reserve Base in California on Aug. 13, 2015. The “remotely piloted aircraft” (RPA) passed by the tanker at a distance of approximately 100 feet below and 300 feet to the right of where it was flying.
It continued on in the opposite direction from the KC-135R and “disappeared from sight.”
#11, Jan. 15, 2016: 45th Space Wing Wing
Members of the 45th Space Wing’s detachment at RAF Ascension Island on the island of the same name, a territory of the United Kingdom in the South Atlantic Ocean, reported seeing an “unauthorized personal drone” flying within restricted Class D airspace at two separate locations on Jan. 15, 2016. One of these sightings was near the island’s Long Beach within 3 miles of the “Ascension Auxiliary Airfield around the time a UK Royal Air Force (RAF) flight was scheduled to arrive.” The RAF pilots did not report seeing the drone nor did it interfere with their landing, but the 45th Space Wing described the incident as having a “high accident potential.”
#12, Apr. 21, 2016: EC-130J(SJ), 193rd Special Operations Wing
One of the EC-130J(SJ) aircraft assigned to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 193rd Special Operations Wing had a near collision with “a small drone/Small Unmanned Aerial System” on April 21, 2016. The aircraft was flying at around 4,000 feet Mean Sea Level and was in contact with aircraft controllers at Philadelphia International Airport.
The aircraft was returning from a training airdrop mission over the Coyle Drop Zone near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. “The crew initially thought they saw a bird, until they saw a flashing red light pass 3 ft above the left wing,” the report notes.
#13, Jan. 25, 2017: 27th Special Operations Wing
On Jan. 25, 2017, an unidentified apparently private fixed-wing aircraft flying at around 10,000 feet Mean Sea Level under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) intruded into the R5105 range area near Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. The 27th Special Operations Wing is the main unit at that base and reported the incident to the Air Force Safety Center.
The aircraft entered R5105 at approximately 4:10 PM local time, had flown to an area west of the adjacent R5104A range area by 4:20, and Cannon’s Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) had lost the signal from the aircraft’s transponder by 4:37. Authorities at the base reported “no training interruption or other aircraft were effected [sic].”
The narrative also includes a typo suggesting this occurred in 2016, rather than 2017, but the 2017 date appears in multiple sections of the report, which itself was published on Feb. 1, 2017.
#14, June 9, 2017: T-6A Texan II, 12th Flying Training Wing
On June 9, 2017, a T-6A Texan II trainer from the 12th Flying Training Wing had a near collision with a “red unmanned aerial system” while flying at approximately 3,500 feet Mean Sea Level and around one nautical south of the Mobile Bay Bridge in Alabama. The aircraft was conducting a training sortie along an established route designated VR1024. “The UAS was spotted approximately one half to one wingtip away from the EA [Event Aircraft] and was co-altitude,” the report added.
Naval Air Station Pensacola is identified as the “accounting base,” indicating that the training flight originated or end there, or both.
#15, Nov. 1, 2017: F-15E Strike Eagle, 48th Fighter Wing
An F-15E Strike assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing, an element of U.S. Air Force’s in Europe (USAFE), performed evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding with an “unidentified flying object” while flying near its home base at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom on Nov. 1, 2017. “The object passed over the right side of the aircraft with an estimated minimal separation of 100 feet,” according to the report.
#16, Jan. 20, 2018: T-1 Jayhawk, 47th Flying Training Wing
One of the 47th Flying Training Wing’s T-1 Jayhawk training jets, with the callsign Rake 06, reported a near-collision with an “unidentifiable unmanned drone” while on approach to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Arizona on Jan. 20, 2018. The incident occurred approximately 4.2 nautical miles from the airport’s runway 25L. The aircraft was flying at approximately 2,400 feet Mean Sea Level, or around 1,300 feet Above Ground Level, at the time and flew right under the drone.
“The ECP [Event Copilot] was just able to maneuver below its flightpath as both EC [Event Crew] members called out the conflict when it became visible,” according to the report. “The ECP initially thought it was a bird but both pilots identified it as a UAV due to the fact it was not moving (hovering) and they saw a small white steady light emanating as they passed underneath it.”
#17, Feb. 7, 2018: T-38C Talon, 71st Flying Training Wing
On Feb. 7, 2018, a T-38C Talon jet trainer assigned to the 71st Flying Training Wing had a near collision with an unspecified drone while on approach to Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The unmanned aircraft came with 300 feet of the jet trainer, but did not prevent it from landing safely.
#18, Feb. 5, 2018: 325th Fighter Wing and U.S. Navy T-6A Texan II
On Feb. 5, 2018, the 325th Fighter Wing, one of the major units at Tyndall Air Force Base, reported a sighting of “a sizable, black in color, drone” near the base. The pilot of a transient U.S. Navy T-6A Texan II from an unspecified unit that was on approach had spotted the unmanned aircraft “approximately 1,200 feet off his left wing” and alerted personnel at the base.
The T-6A was flying at approximately 1,000 feet Above Ground Level at the time and the pilot “noticed sun glint off of metal, this is when he realized the black object was not a bird and that it was moving to the southeast,” according to the report. “The pilot reported the sighting to tower personnel and 325 FW flight safety followed up later with a telephone interview. Local search efforts for object or operator was negative and no military or Air Force Civil Engineering Center (AFCEC) drone operations were being conducted.”
#19, Mar. 26, 2018: 45th Space Wing and Civilian Helicopter
On Mar. 26, 2018, the pilot of an unidentified civilian helicopter flying near Patrick Air Force Base in Florida “had a model airplane come within about 100 feet.” The pilot of the civilian helicopter informed air traffic controllers at Orlando Melbourne International Airport of the incident, who appear to have relayed to the report to personnel at Patrick, after which the 45th Space Wing submitted a report to the Air Force Safety Center. The civilian helicopter had been in contact with personnel at Patrick during its flight, which took it through Class D airspace near the base.
All the other major details about this incident are redacted, but it appears to have led to the issuance of a formal Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) regarding the potentially hazardous situation.
#20, Sept. 10, 2018: C-130J Hercules, 86th Airlift Wing
One of the C-130Js assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing, part of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, had a near collision with an unidentified unmanned aerial vehicle while flying near Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The report describes the drone as “spherical with an approximated 6 feet diameter top mounted rotor.”
#21, Mar. 6, 2019: T-1 Jayhawk, 12th Flying Training Wing
A T-1 Jayhawk training jet from the 12th Flying Training Wing reported seeing “a quad copter or non-traditional aircraft” that was “silver in color” while flying in Mississippi on a low-level training flight along an established route designated VR1022. “The UAS was stationary or near stationary” and was seen within one nautical mile of the T-1 hovering at around 1,500 feet Above Ground Level. The presence of the drone did not impact the training sortie or the aircraft’s ability to return to base safely.
Naval Air Station Pensacola is identified as the “accounting base,” indicating that the training flight originated or ended there, or both. The crew of the T-1 also contacted air traffic controllers at Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Mississippi about the drone sighting.
#22, Mar. 13, 2019: C-17A Globemaster III, 445th Airlift Wing
A C-17A Globemaster III airlifter assigned to the 445th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, had to take evasive action to avoid a small drone during a training sortie on Mar. 13, 2019. The aircraft was flying at approximately 3,500 feet Mean Sea Level over Ohio at the time.
“The pilot flying (PF) observed a white sUAS [small unmanned aerial system] with either brown or black accents or propellers just below the EA [Event Aircraft],” the report notes. “The PF executed an evasive maneuver up and to the left to miss the sUAS, which was within 50 feet of the EA.”
An unspecified “local police department” was informed about the incident afterward.
#23, Mar. 21, 2019: E-3B Sentry, 552nd Air Control Wing
On Mar. 21, 2019, an E-3B Sentry assigned to the 552nd Air Control Wing and using the callsign Sentry 60 reported that a “DJI style quad-copter/unmanned aerial system” passed by the aircraft approximately 20 feet below its number four engine. The plane was flying at approximately 3,000 feet Mean Sea Level near Tinker Air Force Base at the time.
The aircraft’s pilot visually identified the drone, but their co-pilot never saw it. In addition to the informing personnel at Tinker about the encounter, the crew also told air traffic controllers at Oklahoma City Approach that “they came close to one.” The E-3B eventually moved to a holding pattern at Tinker for approximately 20 minutes so as not to return to the area where they had seen the drone, before ultimately landing without incident.
#24, July 25, 2019: C-17A Globemaster III, 445th Airlift Wing
A C-17A Globemaster III airlifter from the 445th Airlift Wing, part of the Air Force Reserve, when departing RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom on July 25, 2019. The crew of the aircraft “visually acquired an orange colored small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) as it passed approximately 50′ below the left wing” after climbing out to an altitude of 7,500 feet Mean Sea Level.
“After spotting the sUAS [small unmanned aerial system] the EC [Event Crew] marked their position and proactively reported the encounter to the controlling air traffic agency, which seemed unaware that the UAS was operating in the area,” the report added.
#25, Sept. 9, 2019: LC-130H Hercules, 109th Airlift Wing
An LC-130H Hercules airlifter assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing, an element of the New York Air National Guard, reported a near-miss with a quad-copter-type drone while conducting a proficiency flight around Albany International Airport on Sept. 9, 2019. During a climb out at 1,100 feet Above Ground Level, the crew spotted the drone, which they said was yellow in color, approximately 300 feet away laterally and between 100 and 200 feet below the altitude at which they were flying.
They reported it to air traffic controllers and did not see it for the remainder of their flight, which concluded with the plane landing safely at nearby Schenectady County Airport.
You can find the full copies of the 25 reports as they were released to us here.
Is this all?
When The War Zone published the eight Naval Safety Center reports in May, we immediately noted that it was curious that there were so few such records apparently available in the Navy’s Web-Enabled Safety System (WESS) Aviation Mishap and Hazard Reporting System (WAMHRS). The number of incidents recorded in the Air Force Safety Automated System (AFSAS) also seems very small for a six-year time span.
The fact that only one of these reports deals specifically with the direct experience of the crew of combat jet of any kind – the Nov. 1, 2017 near-collision involving the F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing –and that only one other report – the Apr. 21, 2015 event that the crew of a KC-135R Stratotanker assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing reported – mentions the tangential involvement of a tactical aircraft also seems extremely odd. As The War Zone has noted in the past, tactical aircraft, especially fighter jets with more and more capable radars and other sensors, which will soon include the widespread deployment of Infrared Search and Track Systems, have already proven to be particularly well-positioned to spot and track small, unidentified objects.
There is the possibility that, or a high probability rather, that for whatever reason, additional reports are getting passed through separate or even classified systems, including those outside the normal reporting channels for military aviation safety incidents. This week, The Black Vault received a number of internal Air Force Emails via FOIA related to this topic, including one that said “Currently the Air Force is not working any specific guidelines for reporting UAPs.”
“**Side note and off the record – we do have reporting instructions for Unauthorized Air Vehicles/Military Installation Airspace Violation, but that is more in the C-UAS realm,” it continued. “That information is provided via OPREPs on SIPR.”
“OPREP” refers to the Operational Reporting system, which, as this Email also notes, is contained on the Department of Defense’s classified Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRnet.
Now, regardless of how complete the reporting of incidents involving unidentified aerial objects in AFSAS is, the 25 reports that we do have still show some interesting trends. The most immediate of these is the steady rise of lower-end drone activity in general, something that has been an increasing issue for commercial air operations, as well. Regulators around the world, including the Federal Aviation Administration, have struggled to develop rules and guidelines that are practical and enforceable.
The scope of the reports that are available also shows that these are issues that are global in nature, even impacting areas as remote as Ascension Island. This only underscores the fact that small drones not only present real safety concerns, but also that they could be very real threats to U.S. military activities at home, as well as abroad. The proliferation of relatively cheap, but capable drone technology has already enabled non-state actors, in addition to the military forces of nation-states, to increasingly employ unmanned aircraft for surveillance and actual kinetic attacks on and off the battlefield. This is an issue we have been hammering on for years and it will rise to become among the most pressing strategic issues of our age, especially as more complex attacks become a reality and as the Department of Defense scrambles to play catchup to a threat they were astonishingly too incurious to recognize before it fully materialized.
The War Zone is continuing to dive deeper into this issue, and especially in terms of how it relates to the recent rash of UAP/UFO encounters that the military and the intelligence community is supposedly grappling with, via a number of ongoing investigations, some of which you will hear more about very soon.
Contact the authors: Tyler@thedrive.com / email@example.com