Why you shouldn't freak out about the Russian spy ship loitering outside a US Navy base

USNS LoyalMilitary Sealift CommandThe USNS Loyal, a US spy ship.

A Russian spy ship has been floating near the edge of the US’s territorial waters since Tuesday while the US media and political establishments have been rocked by story after story about Russia’s aggressive military, meddling in the US election, and possible contacts with the Trump administration before and during his presidency.

But that’s no reason to freak out.

“There’s been incidents like this over many years. This is not a serious incident,” James Jeffrey, former deputy national security adviser to George W. Bush and a member of the Washington Institute told Business Insider.

The US Navy echoed Jeffrey’s lack of enthusiasm.

“We are aware of the vessel’s presence,” Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Defence Department spokeswoman, told Business Insider on Tuesday. “It has not entered US territorial waters.”

The US often has similar spy ships in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, but it should be noted that the US has allies in those regions, whereas Russia is a long way off from any friendly nations.

A former US Navy officer with knowledge of signals told Business Insider that while it is possible Russia is eavesdropping on US voice transmissions, Moscow has many ways to do that. Instead, he said, the vessel is likely focusing on intercepting and analysing US radar and sonar waveforms — something the US routinely does to Russia.

Most likely, Russia is collecting data on US Navy emissions to catalogue them and plan how to use electronic countermeasures against the US emissions in the case of war, the former Navy source said. It is unlikely Russia can get much data from 30 miles out at sea however, he added.

The Navy has the ability to disrupt Russia’s listening equipment, according to Jeffrey, Bush’s former deputy national security adviser, but will likely do nothing but “shadow the ship.”

“In a time of peace you might say ‘we’re not at war with Russia, so why should show them how we’d jam their equipment?” said Jeffrey.

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