Soviet “Ferret” Flights: New Information Slowly Emerges

 General, History

Gotta love the media, especially British media. UK news outlets are mobbing the UK National Archives to spelunk, like us real historians, into the depths of the 30 year rule material released at the end of 2012 (that is, 1981-82 era files are now available to researchers). While the bulk of the Brit media have gravitated to the more sensationalist aspects of the Falklands War, especially the schizophrenic American response to it, The Telegraph’s Neil Tweedie has taken the path less travelled and uncovered reports on Soviet “ferret” activity that prove to be rather intriguing. The use of military aircraft to aggressively probe air defence systems to collect data in so-called “peacetime” has been discussed in some detail in these blog pages. Indeed, “ferreting” was the primary Cold War military activity.

Soviet Union used civilian airliners to spy on Britain

However, the use of civilian airliners for such covert military purposes is relatively undocumented. Why? Because it was usually the Soviet Union and its allies who engaged in this kind of deception which incidentally put the lives of the civilian passengers at risk.

Among the activities described in the released material includes the unusual behavior in 1981 of an Aeroflot IL-62 which shut off its transponder and dropped 20 000 feet while passing over a newly-modernized air defence radar station at RAF Boulmer. (this station was extremely busy over the years intercepting Soviet military ferrets on a regular basis and was home to an air defence training establishment. The Soviets also directed jamming activities against the base’s long range radar systems regularly). It then rocketed back up to 37 000 feet and continued on its way. Tweedie also notes that the material connects this particular IL-62 with a similar incident over the Electric Boat submarine yards at Groton when the first Trident missile carrying submarine was commissioned. The US government banned Aeroflot for some time after that stunt. Hopefully Tweedie can find some more nuggets for us on Soviet ferreting that can highlight the volume and frequency of the activities.

As an interesting aside, these revelations shed new light (in a collateral way) on the Soviet Union’s shoot down of Flight KAL 007 in 1983 which resulted in committing 269 terrified civilians to a watery grave. They accused the United States of using the Korean airliner to collect intelligence and several fellow travelers in the American media leapt all over this dezinformatzia campaign, repeated it uncritically (this even included a ridiculous made for TV movie starring Angela Landsbury) and tried to chop the data to fit the curve. No evidence was ever unearthed proving that KAL 007 had been used for espionage purposes, even by the Soviets/Russians. However, the extensive use of commercial airliners for collection was an extensive Soviet activity. The concept of “mirror imaging”, whereby one ascribes ones own attributes in the attitude and behaviour of the enemy, seems to have been in play back in 1983…..


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