The Complex

Pakistan's Air Force Learned About the Bin Laden Raid on TV

The Pakistani air force learned about the U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden from a television news report about a helicopter crash in Abbottabad. Belatedly, they scrambled fighter jets. But by then, the Americans were long gone.

In other words: Pakistan had virtually no chance of detecting U.S. choppers as they flew into the Pakistani equivalent of West Point. And if they raid was done all over again, they still wouldn't catch the aircraft. That's according to a leaked report from Pakistan's independent Abbottabad Commission that was charged by the Pakistani government to investigate the raid.

The commission says the Pakistani military never saw the raid coming because of the American choppers' stealthy, noise-reducing equipment, the skill of their crews at flying below radar, and the fact that Pakistan's air defenses are focused on its border with India, not Afghanistan.

The U.S. "was never expected to commit such a dastardly act," the commission's report quotes the unnamed deputy chief of Pakistan's air staff for operations (DCAS) as saying. The raid was so unexpected that the Pakistanis had no radars looking at the valleys along their northwest border with Afghanistan that the U.S. troops used to fly from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to the report, first published by Al Jazeera.

Even if it had positioned radars to monitor the border, they wouldn't have made much difference. A separate Pakistani air force (PAF) board of inquiry into the raid concluded that "given the current inventory of radars, a repetition of a similar U.S. raid in the future would be difficult for the PAF to handle," the commission notes. "The U.S. was the only country in the world to have mastered stealth technology at an operational level, and the PAF did not have radars that could detect the intrusion of stealth objects."

Here are the key sentences in the report describing how the Pakistani air force learned of the raid, after it was over.

"The PAF first learnt of the Abbottabad raid at about 0207 on May 2" an hour and a half after the raid began and about 40 minutes after it ended, when, the DCAF told the commission, "'Pakistan TV channels started showing an Army helicopter crash at Abbottabad.'  After ‘completion of the operation [by the SEALs] in about 40 minutes' the U.S. forces destroyed the crashed helicopter and ‘the other helicopters began their return at about 01110 hours and exited Pakistan airspace at approximately 0200 hours.'"

That means that SEALs along with Osama's body were already back inside Afghanistan by the time the Pakistani air force even knew of the raid. Remember, U.S. officials apparently drew up plans for American troops to fight their way out of Pakistan in case they were intercepted by the Pakistani military.

Nevertheless, Pakistani fighter jets were immediately scrambled and over Abbottabad about 15 minutes after taking off. (Remember: early American news coverage of the raid that said the choppers were almost caught by Pakistani fighter jets.) The report goes on to note that the jets entered the space around Abbottabad with no intelligence on what they were supposed to be looking for.

So, Pakistan couldn't stop the U.S. raid on its territory, period. Just another reason why the raid was "one of the most embarrassing incidents in the history of Pakistan," the report quotes the DCAS as saying.

National Security

Map: The USSR's Electronic Spy Posts Are Still Active, Eavesdropping on You

View Old USSR Listening Posts in a larger map

The world has been somewhat surprised by recent reports of the National Security Agency's massive electronic spying operations around the globe. But they're not the only ones with their ears to the proverbial ground. Just about every nation is engaged in some sort of electronic espionage. Russia, for example, still has an array of massive listening stations, ready to snoop on whoever's talking.

It's a legacy of the Soviet Union, which  ran one of the largest of those electronic eavesdropping networks as it tried to gain any intel it could on the U.S. and its allies. Those old Soviet eavesdropping stations still exist. Some are rusting away in former Soviet countries. Others are still operational.

Intelligence historian Matthew Aid just got ahold of a recently declassified CIA document listing the locations of 11 KGB strategic radio interception stations throughout Russia and the rest of the old Soviet Union. 

These stations "were a small but very important part of the massive [signals intelligence] intercept and processing complexes operated not only by the KGB but also by the Soviet military intelligence service, the GRU," writes Aid.

But these posts are hardly Cold War relics. Most of them are still "monitoring the communications of the U.S., Europe and virtually every other country of any significance or size around the world," he adds.

Killer Apps thought it would be fun to make it easy for you to explore these sites scattered across the old Soviet Empire by mapping them out. Click on each satellite dish for Aid's description of each site and its current status. Zoom in on each site on the map to explore its current physical state.