Russian surveillance plane spotted flying across Boston area

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A low-flying plane captured on camera flying around the Boston area Friday was identified as an unarmed Russian surveillance plane.

Mark Garfinkel, the owner of PictureBoston.com and photographer for the Boston Herald, captured the sanctioned flight passing over South Boston. Garfinkel estimated the plane was traveling at an altitude of 3,600 feet.

The Russian flight was one of several that have taken place over some of the United States’ biggest cities and landmarks over the past 48 hours.

CNN reported an unarmed Russian Air Force aircraft overflew the US Capitol, the Pentagon, Central Intelligence Agency and Joint Base Andrews at low altitude on Wednesday as part of a longstanding treaty that allows the militaries of the United States and Russia to observe the other from the air, according to two people familiar with the flight.

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Russian surveillance plane over  today. My @BostonHerald photo of the sanctioned flight, taken from Southie. as Jet is 3600′ high

The flight was part of the Treaty on Open Skies, which allows military aircraft from the United States and Russia and other nations to fly aerial observation flights to observe military sites of the 34 signatory nations.The Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-154 on Wednesday afternoon passed at around 3,700 feet over downtown Washington and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where Air Force One is based, CNN reported.

CNN said the Russian aircraft has the ability to perform a variety of intelligence gathering functions, including aerial photography, thermal imaging, and picking up signals intelligence.

The Open Skies Treaty has been in effect since 2002 and over 1,200 flights have been conducted since, which contributes to verification of compliance with arms control agreements, according to the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency.