- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

CHINA BLINDED U.S. CREW

A Chinese warship fired a high-powered beam of light that disrupted the vision of crew members aboard a U.S. Navy surveillance ship operating in international waters in 2008.

According to a newly released State Department cable, the apparent blinding attack on the USNS Victorious, an ocean survey ship, occurred in the East China Sea.

“On March 8, 2008, [Chinese] Luhu-class DD112 shined a high-intensity, narrow-beam white light at USNS Victorious for approximately 30 minutes,” the cable, labeled “secret,” said.

“The light was of such intensity that it temporarily impaired the visual acumen of USNS Victorious personnel and thereby constituted a hazard to navigation.”

The incident was outlined in a State Department cable made public Aug. 30. It was never disclosed by the Pentagon.

It could not be learned whether the light beam was a laser or high-powered searchlight. Navy and Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

The East China Sea incident appears similar to a laser attack carried out in 1997 by someone aboard a Russian merchant ship. The attack damaged the eyes of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly, who was conducting an aerial reconnaissance mission aboard a Canadian military helicopter over the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state’s Puget Sound.

That incident also was kept secret until disclosed by The Washington Times.

The cable stated that during the 2008 blinding, eight B-6 bombers flew near or over the Victorious during a four-hour period that “partially overlapped the intense illumination of the Victorious by the Luhu-class DD112.”

The bomber flights were assessed to be training missions and not a reaction to the ship’s ocean survey. The U.S. Pacific Command’s intelligence center “could not completely rule out that the Chinese military used USNS Victorious as a training opportunity as the B-6 aircraft transited the area,” the cable said.

The cable, disclosed by the anti-secrecy portal WikiLeaks, was sent by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in outlining a protest note on the incident.

The U.S. government complained that “China’s conduct as described above, … is provocative and inconsistent with China’s legal obligations under the law of the sea,” the cable said.

China’s activities regarding USNS Victorious constitute serious harassment and elevate the risk of miscalculation.”

The cable said prior to the beam illumination of the ship, it was shadowed by Luhu- or Luda-class warships, Wagor oceanographic and patrol vessels. The Victorious was also buzzed by Chinese Y-12 and B-6 aircraft 75 times in low-altitude passes over the U.S. ship.

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