The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military and American intelligence agencies have quietly pushed the White House in recent weeks to deny a new Russian surveillance plane the right to fly over U.S. territory. This week, the White House finally began consideration of the decision whether to certify the new Russian aircraft under the so-called “Open Skies Treaty.” And now the question becomes: Will the spies and generals get their way? As the United States and Russia face off publicly over Ukraine, behind the scenes, Obama’s national security cabinet is having its own quiet feud over a long-standing agreement to allow Russian surveillance flights over U.S. air space. The spies and the generals want to deny the Russians the overflight rights for its latest surveillance planes. The State Department, which ultimately makes that decision, has favored such certification. On Wednesday an interagency meeting of senior officials failed to reach consensus, delaying the decision until Obama takes it up with the National Security Council, according to U.S. officials involved in the dispute.
At issue is the Open Skies Treaty. First signed in 1992 and finally ratified in 2002, the treaty adopted by 34 nations allows the safe passage of planes equipped with advanced cameras and sensors that give governments the imagery and data they use to assess everything from compliance with arms control treaties to troop movements. On April 15, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, and the Republican chairman of that panel’s subcommittee that oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Rep. Mike Rogers, urged President Obama to deny Russia the right to fly its new planes over U.S. airspace. In their letter, the two lawmakers write, “We agree with the concerns expressed by the Intelligence Community and the military leadership of the Department of Defense” in their opposition to certifying the new Russian planes under the treaty. More