U.S. MUST GET SPY PLANE CREWS OUT OF HARM'S WAY

April 17, 2001 11:00 pm

U.S. must get spy plane

crews out of harms way

The 24 crew members of the Navy EP-3E spy plane that returned to Whidbey Island, Wash., this past weekend can be grateful they are alive.

The April 1 incident that saw a Chinese fighter plane clip the U.S. surveillance plane over the South China Sea could just as easily have ended in the deaths of the Americans.

The crew recalls some moments of terror until the EP-3Es pilot was able to bring the damaged plane to a safe landing on Chinas Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese fighter plane was not so lucky. He was lost when his plane plummeted into the sea.

The Bush administrations position on further surveillance operations is clear. The flights will continue. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says, Were going to continue to do what is most effective for our national security strategy.

But the United States cannot continue to put its crews in harms way as Chinese pilots fly closer to the surveillance planes than they should. Discussion are under way between the United States and China to see if rules can be adopted. The system as it now stands is out of control.

The issue of U.S. surveillance planes coming in close contact with foreign planes is not new. A few years ago the United States found it necessary to work out an agreement with the Soviet Union. The rules of engagement, developed between Washington and Moscow, say the monitoring plane must stay where the surveillance plane can see it at all times and remain at a safe distance.

The United States should suspend its air surveillance operations near China until a workable solution is reached. Our nation cannot halt these flights indefinitely, however, or China will feel it has chased the U.S. spy planes away. That appears to have been the outright goal of the hot-dogging Chinese pilots who have been harassing our surveillance planes with regularity.

WHY THE BIG DIFFERENCE?

The City of La Grande might be fighting an uphill battle in challenging the 2000 Census numbers. City officials are concerned that the U.S. Census came up with a population for

La Grande of 12,327.

That figure is significantly lower than the 13,015 that the Portland State University Center for Population Research estimated for the community on July 1 last year.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses sophisticated approaches in its 10-year count. And yet the city, which stands to lose state revenue with the lower figure, is questioning whether all La Grande residents were counted. It is asking people who feel they were not counted to call 962-1307.

Its in everyones interests to find out why there is such a major disparity between the Census and PSU numbers. Just whose count is wrong?