by WorldTribune Staff, March 25, 2018
The city council in Elizabeth City, North Carolina has voted to reject placing a 25-ton monument in a local park to honor Soviet World War II aviators who had trained in the area as part of a secret project.
The Russian Defense Ministry had pledged to pay for the 13-foot monument while the city would spend about $228,000 for improvements to the park where it would have been installed, according to a March 25 report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
The monument, which was recommended by the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, was to be placed near the headquarters of a secret WWII mission called “Project Zebra,” in which hundreds of Soviet aviators were trained at a time when U.S. and Soviet forces were allied in the fight against Nazi Germany, the report said.
One council member, Johnnie Walton, was particularly concerned that Russia could plant some kind of device in the monument that “could be used to remotely interfere with the Internet or the area’s electrical grid,” the report said.
Walton said that “Russia is known for hacking now. They’re experts at hacking, and then [you could have] the largest Coast Guard base [that] can’t help anybody because our computers have gone down, because Russia controls our mouse.”
A newly-elected city council voted 5-3 on March 23 to reject a memorandum of understanding for the monument which had been unanimously approved by the previous council in May 2017.
“I realize it’s about honoring fallen heroes from World War II, and we have Americans who fought in World War II who are buried in Russia. But times were different then,” council member Anita Hummer said.
“We’re at war with Russia still. We’re in a cyberwar here. They interfered in our election,” said Hezekiah Brown, a resident who spoke against the plan in public hearings.
Mayor Bettie Parker said “I keep hearing now is not the time to deal with anything that’s coming from Russia.”
Council member Billy Caudle said he supports the monument, adding that people who oppose anything to do with Russia are “confusing current events with history.”
Project Zebra, which remained classified until 2013, helped train about 300 Soviet aviators as part of missions to find and bomb German submarines.
At a March 12 council meeting, “most of the citizen comment … was in favor of the monument,” the Elizabeth City Daily Advance reported. “One citizen, Rick Boyd, also presented a petition in support of the project that he said had been signed by more than 500 local residents.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Foglesong, chairman of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, has asked the city council to reconsider its vote, The Associated Press reported.