- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

The downed U.S. surveillance aircraft stranded in China left Hainan island in pieces yesterday aboard a foreign-chartered transport.
Pentagon officials said the plane will be put back together over the next year and returned to service.
U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Times that the Chinese recovered classified intelligence documents from the aircraft and gained valuable information about secret intelligence-gathering capabilities.
China's military dispatched about 100 technicians to Hainan island to go over the aircraft. On board were large amounts of classified information revealing the targets of U.S. electronic surveillance, said U.S. officials. One official said the compromise of documents was a major intelligence loss.
China's intelligence services also learned that U.S. electronic eavesdroppers could identify individual Chinese military officers in their communications by the sounds of their voices. The discovery could make it more difficult in the future to monitor Chinese communications.
Yesterday, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said a damage assessment is under way and will include new information obtained from the dismantled aircraft.
The EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft collided with a Chinese F-8 fighter over the South China Sea on April 1.
The plane then made an emergency landing on Hainan island, and its 24 American crew members were held captive for 11 days.
The last of the aircraft pieces, primarily its fuselage, were loaded aboard a Soviet-design An-124 transport, defense officials said. It left Lingshui military air base on Hainan island at 4:45 a.m. yesterday.
The parts will be flown to a Lockheed Martin facility next to Dobbins Air Force Base at Marietta, Ga. Reassembly is expected to begin in the next several weeks.
Adm. Quigley told reporters that barring the discovery of major structural failure, "the intention is to repair the air frame and return it to service."
Asked if taking custody of the plane has increased U.S. intelligence officials' knowledge about the compromise of secrets, Adm. Quigley said a "damage assessment" team is investigating.
"We have put together an interagency team to assess potential damage to U.S. national security, what might have been compromised, what pieces of equipment might need to be modified, what procedures might need to be modified because of that," Adm. Quigley said.
The damage assessment is expected to be conducted this summer, and any new information obtained from technicians who have surveyed the aircraft in China will be included, he said.
Adm. Quigley said the Pentagon plans to "strive very hard" to make information about the damage public, although much of the data are expected to remain secret.
U.S. surveillance and reconnaissance flights off China's coast are continuing.
A Chinese jet shadowed an RC-135 flight in May but kept some 60 miles away.
The Pentagon contract for dismantling the EP-3E and shipping it to the United States is costing $5.8 million, Adm. Quigley said.
He said he has not heard any reports from officials involved in the dismantling that China is keeping any of the equipment from the aircraft.
The EP-3E is a four-engine propeller aircraft that is packed with sophisticated electronic eavesdropping gear.
Adm. Quigley said the next defense budget includes $45 million to convert a P-3 aircraft into an EP-3 as "an insurance policy" in case the dismantled aircraft cannot be restored.
The Pentagon currently operates 11 EP-3s, many of which are based at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
China's government also may attempt to charge the United States for the incident, he said.
"We have said from the beginning that we would be willing to pay the fair value of service provided, entering into local contracts for food, ground transportation, drinking water, ancillary tools and things of that sort," Adm. Quigley said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide