Black reconnaissance or BRCON is a term describing military deep penetration reconnaissance of a completely covert nature.[1] It is distinct from normal forms of covert recon in that discovery of the action would be so disruptive to relations between two countries that the instigators would be disavowed if caught.[2]

Black reconnaissance and other forms of covert and espionage action[edit | edit source]

Black reconnaissance is different from more common terms such as covert ops and other military forms of recon in that covert operations are kept secret to protect the lives of the team conducting the mission. Black recon is kept secret because discovery would lead to political ramifications, and the lives of those conducting the reconnaissance are secondary. In the case that a black recon effort is discovered, the government denies any involvement.[3] For air-related black recon the usual explanation given is equipment failure and drifting off course, while ground based black recon is usually explained away as someone violating orders.[4]

Black reconnaissance is also not a form of espionage, per se. The primary objective of black reconnaissance is to perform a military task, not to engage in any form of non-military intelligence gathering. The fact that such elements are incorporated into the reconnaissance mission is because most times, this will be the only reconnaissance allowed before a military action is taken.[5]

During WW 2, black reconnaissance took on a slightly different meaning, where it indicated a form of recon for a surprise attack that if discovered, meant the attack would have to be redesigned or even abandoned. Many elements incorporated into modern black reconnaissance efforts were pioneered by WW II fighters and ground recon crews.[6]

Types of black reconnaissance[edit | edit source]

The earliest black reconnaissance missions were flown during WW II, by all sides of the war. The fastest fighters were stripped of everything except fuel, painted matte black, and flew at night, trying to identify bombing targets, locate fleets, and the like. The USS Ranger was fitted out with special planes just for this purpose, and used them in preparing for Operation TORCH in the Mediterranean.[7]

Most BRCON was traditionally conducted by specially constructed spy planes of the United States against the Soviet Union, using high powered cameras to overfly Soviet airspace to locate the positions of missile silos, and by Soviet planes using MAD or FLIR gear to locate US ballistic missile submarines. This was a back and forth effort on the part of the two superpowers and lead to the development of single-use planes such as the SR-71, the SR-75, and the Soviet Tsybin RSR.[8]

After the end of the Cold War, most black reconnaissance is now of a ground nature, mixing standard reconnaissance objectives such as mapping terrain and identifying targets with HUMINT objectives, political assessments, and designing mission specifications to avoid ambushes.[9] Missions of this nature were run constantly during the Vietnam War, along with other elements of Project Phoenix, operating out of Cambodia and Laos, where they not only acted to scout military objectives but to identify psy-war targets.[10]

Black reconnaissance in media[edit | edit source]

Quite a few fiction novels have been written on the topic of black recon and its effects on the world sphere. Authors such as Richard Moran and John Ringo often incorporate both ground-based and air-based black reconnaissance concepts in their books, and movies such as the Bourne series blur the lines between "civilian" intelligence methods and "military" intelligence methods. It appears quite commonly in various conspiracy theories,[11] and is often confused with black intelligence operations from government groups like the CIA.[12]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Black Reconnaissance: Trust in the era of Distrust. Jacob L. Phillips. Diamond Press, 2001.
  2. Hersch, Seymour (2005-01-24). "The Coming Wars : what the Pentagon can now do in secret". The New Yorker (CondeNet). Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  3. They Could Not Trust the King: Nixon, Watergate, and the American People. Stanley Tretick, William Vincent Shannon. Collier Books, 1974
  4. Honing the Keys to the City: Refining the United States Marine Corps Reconnaissance Force for Urban Ground Combat Operations By Russell W. Glenn, Jamison Jo Medby, National Defense Research Institute (U.S.), Scott Gerwehr, Fred Gellert, Andrew O'Donnell.RAND Corporation, 2003. ISBN 0-8330-3311-5, ISBN 978-0-8330-3311-6
  5. Seapower and Space: From the Dawn of the Missile Age to Net-centric Warfare.Norman Friedman, United States Naval Institute Press. Naval Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 1-55750-897-6, ISBN 978-1-55750-897-3
  6. The Best of Luck: In the Royal Air Force 1935-1946. Dennis Conroy. Trafford Publishing, 2003.ISBN 1412009103, ISBN 978-1-4120-0910-2
  7. USS Ranger: The Navy's First Carrier from Keel to Mast, 1934-1946. Robert J. Cressman Published by Brassey's, 2003. ISBN 1-57488-720-3, ISBN 978157488720
  8. Johnson, Robert (2002-04-05). "A Proposed Aviation Training Strategy to Ensure Relevancy in the Objective Force". Army War College 24 (4). Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  9. Intelligence, Espionage and Related Topics: An Annotated Bibliography of Serial Journal and Magazine Scholarship, 1844-1998. James D. Calder. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. ISBN 0-313-29290-6, ISBN 978-0-313-29290-3
  10. The End of Nowhere: American Policy Toward Laos Since 1954. Charles A. Stevenson. Beacon Press, 1972. ISBN 0-8070-0252-6, ISBN 978-0-8070-0252-0
  11. Conspiracy Encyclopedia: The Encyclopedia of Conspiracy Theories. Thom Burnett, Richard Belfield. Collins & Brown, 2005.ISBN 1843402874, ISBN 978-1-84340-287-9
  12. They Cast No Shadows: A Collection of Essays on the Illuminati, Revisionist History, and Suppressed Technologies. Brian R. Desborough. iUniverse, 2002 ISBN 0-595-21957-8, ISBN 978-0-595-21957-5

External links[edit | edit source]

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