(PHILADELPHIA) In her role as Commander-in-Chief of the Alaska National Guard, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has received briefings on Russian military plane incursions near Alaskan airspace, an Alaska National Guard spokesman confirms to CBS News.
Since she joined the Republican ticket nearly a month ago, the McCain campaign has struggled to defend Palin's foreign policy experience, especially in regard to a special awareness of Russia, which she and her campaign have repeatedly suggested she possesses. The revelation that Palin was briefed on Russian military incursions near U.S. airspace is the first concrete evidence that backs up the McCain campaign's repeated assertion that Alaska's proximity to Siberia has given Palin experience on U.S. policy related to Russia.
"Russian incursions near Alaskan airspace and inside the air defense identification zone have occurred," a McCain campaign spokesperson told CBS News. "When they do, Governor Palin is briefed on them by the Adjutant General of the Alaska National Guard. U.S Air Force fighters have been scrambled repeatedly in response to Russian actions. After September 11, 2001, U.S. tolerance for such activities is understandably low."
Captain Guy Hayes, an Alaska National Guard Public Affairs Officer, confirmed that Palin has received such briefings from Adjutant General Craig E. Campbell on Russian plane incursions.
"Guardsmen do work in the section that patrols the air over Alaska," Hayes added.
It may sound like a cat and mouse game more reminiscent of the Cold War than the post-9/11 world, but Russian bombers have recently engaged in exercises in which they have flown provocatively close to Alaskan airspace.
The revelation that Palin has received briefings on these activities comes after she again seemed to struggle to explain how her state's proximity to Russia enhances her foreign policy credentials in an interview with CBS News' Katie Couric.
Pressed on the details of her involvement in Russian affairs, Palin did not mention the briefings she has received on the plane incursions. She did, however, point out that Alaska has a tiny maritime border with Russia (the vast majority of Alaska's coast borders international waters). But as governor and in her Alaska National Guard role, Palin is not involved in discussions on maritime security.
"That's a Coast Guard duty when you're talking about maritime," Captain Hayes said.
Palin also offered as evidence of her experience on Russia, "We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia."
But Palin has never been to Russia, and the McCain campaign has provided no evidence of any personal involvement she has had in negotiations with Russian trade officials.
According to Martha Olcott, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, Palin may have had more direct involvement in Russian trade had she been governor during the early 1990s, when it was common for officials to fly between Anchorage and the Russian far-east port city of Vladivostok.
"She would've gone on a trade delegation if trade with Russia was still important with Alaska," Olcott said. "I'm sure she would've gone. The energy development in Russia and the energy development in Alaska have been moving very separately. The way Alaska is developing energy is not in concert with the way Russia is developing energy, with the exception of Arctic assets, but that's being handled at a federal level. That's not been a state issue."
In a final effort to provide details of her experience on Russia, Palin suggested to Couric that Russian leaders fly over Alaskan territory when they travel to the U.S.
"As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska," Palin said. "It's just right over the border."
But when Russian leaders travel to the United States from Moscow, such as when then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the White House in 2005, their flights travel on a westerly path over the Atlantic, thousands of miles from Alaskan airspace.