On a Spring day in 1987, a German teenager (and amateur pilot) named Mathias Rust managed to land a rented single-engine Cessna in Moscow’s Red Square … near the Kremlin!
The shocking event occurred almost exactly one year before the Soviets would begin a humiliating withdraw from Afghanistan — where they had been bogged down — and about a year and a half before the Berlin Wall would fall. Was this security lapse a mere fluke, or a canary in the coal mine? It’s unclear. Either way, as the History Channel recalls, “The repercussions in the Soviet Union were immediate. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sacked his minister of defense, and the entire Russian military was humiliated by Rust’s flight into Moscow. U.S. officials had a field day with the event–one American diplomat in the Soviet Union joked, ‘Maybe we should build a bunch of Cessnas.’”
It would be facile and wrong to compare the Soviets, circa 1987, to modern America. But it is hard to avoid noticing when a Florida mailman is able to fly through restricted airspace and land on the law of the U.S. Capitol. In both cases, amateurs were able to pull stunts that revealed serious and embarrassing security flaws.
Again, I’m not suggesting America is about to collapse. But we are left scratching our heads and asking some obvious questions: Shouldn’t a superpower be able to control the air space in its capital city? … And are there larger implications we are to draw from the demonstrable fact that we can’t?