Plugging the holes in radar coverage
|By Billy Cox|
De Void will cop to slow-response reflexes but this one probably takes The Clogged Artery Prize, because a nerve ending or a synapse or whatever should’ve fired back in 2011. That’s when, in the aftermath of MUFON’s published analysis of the UFO that apparently buzzed President Bush’s Texas ranch in 2008, the Federal Aviation Administration decided to exempt ERIT from public scrutiny.
ERIT, or En Route Intelligence Tool, gathers raw data from individual radar sites collecting ping returns on everything that flies in U.S. air space, and sometimes things that don’t fly at all. It’s a bit of a jumble because it can pick up everything — hills, contrails, storm turbulence, false echoes, birds, etc. In fact, ERIT picks up so much extraneous material that air traffic controllers usually don’t see it. What shows up on ATC screens instead are combined subsets of ERIT returns, filtered by the FAA, which focuses largely on planes with transponders. Low-flying helicopters and light aircraft operating away from commercial airports and below the major sky-traffic corridors aren’t required to have transponders and therefore don’t light up the screens. UFOs aren’t known for packing transponder beacons, either.
Anyhow, in 2008, Glen Schulze and Robert Powell filed FOIAs with a number of government acronyms, civilian and military, to establish the UFO’s path. The FAA supplied them with unfiltered ERIT returns. The data not only substantiated eyewitness UFO accounts of its southeasterly trajectory, it also confirmed eyewitness reports of jet fighters in the area, which the Air Force initially denied.
Later that same year, with more UFO activity reported in the Stephenville, Tex., vicinity, Powell fired off another FOIA for more of the same. And this is where it got interesting. This time, the FAA bureaucracy ruled that relinquishing ERIT material could endanger national security. In formally announcing its ERIT ban in 2011, the feds said public dissemination could illuminate vulnerabilities in American radar coverage. The FAA also left behind a paper trail of the email chatter that informed its decision, with the argument that the piecemeal ERIT returns “could be stitched together to make a complete/continuous air picture.”
Powell thinks the Stephenville report likely caught the FAA off guard. “No one had really asked for radar data for a major UFO event before,” he says. “The FAA is a giant bureaucracy that doesn’t want to mess with UFO data. They’re really only interested in known pings, like what you’d get from an airliner with a transponder. What they’re releasing now is what you’d see on an air traffic controller’s screen.”
Powell says evil-doers who want to exploit gaps in radar surveillance can always fly at low altitudes. But the FAA’s clampdown on ERIT, he charges, underscores some illogical priorities.
“Someone who wants to fool our radar controller operators would not want to study ERIT data but would want to study the data that the ATC operators actually see. And ironically enough, that is the data that the FAA is willing to give out.
Last year, Schulze sent an email to the FAA/Department of Transportation’s inspector general’s office alerting them to the discrepancy: “The net result of the FAA releasing only NTAP (National Track Analysis Program) data astoundingly permits moderately intelligent recipients to easily identify and precisely locate … unmonitored radar coverage gaps across the United States.” Schulze provided attachment examples but has not received a response.
So there you have it. When it comes to the public evaluation of ERIT returns for true unknowns, evidently what we don’t know won’t hurt us.
Continue Reading . . .
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