Whoever was manning the Russian Embassy’s Twitter account Monday night must have been feeling snarky — and perhaps a little paranoid.
A Republican congressional panel had just announced that it had found no evidence of collusion between President Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 election. When the news came in, the embassy tweeted its satisfaction.
“All ‘Russia investigations’ (not only in the U.S.) are destined to end,” the embassy wrote from its official account. It went on to quote Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who oversees the House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ probe into Russian election interference, comparing the probe to a Tom Clancy spy novel.
Then the embassy put on its tin foil hat.
Shortly before 9 p.m., the embassy’s account tweeted two pictures juxtaposed to look like a helicopter circling over its compound in Northwest Washington and shining a searchlight on the buildings.
“What was American helicopter searching for at the Russian Embassy’s premises yesterday night?” the embassy wrote, apparently meaning Sunday or early Monday. “ ‘Strange’ malfunction of navigation equipment in the center of the US capital? Or another desperate attempt to find traces of #RussianMeddling?”
The tweet included a flying saucer emoji and tagged several other accounts, including the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and a State Department spokeswoman.
It read like sarcasm, but the undated, uncredited and otherwise context-free photos raised some questions. It’s not every day that a foreign power goes public with suspicions about a chopper peering into its U.S. outpost. A representative from the Russian Embassy’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a message asking for more details.
If a chopper’s searchlight did indeed swing over the embassy Sunday night, there could have been any number of reasons, given the heavy law enforcement and military presence in the nation’s capital — a police patrol, a Secret Service detail, a military flight of some sort.
Reached by phone, a perplexed Secret Service spokesman said he had no knowledge of any such episode. A U.S. Park Police representative wasn’t available for comment.
But the D.C. police offered a potential explanation. At 10:19 p.m. on Sunday the department dispatched one of its helicopters, known as Falcon 1, to an area just north of the Russian Embassy in response to a possible gun robbery, according to spokesman Officer Sean Hickman.
The chopper canvassed the streets near the 3700 block of Newark Street Northwest for roughly 20 minutes before being called off, Hickman told The Washington Post. As the falcon flies, that’s about a half-mile from the embassy’s entrance.
Of course, that’s not proof of anything. The photos tweeted by the embassy could have come from anywhere. And the police department’s two air support units routinely patrol the city, their searchlights scanning the ground below. “Anybody who lives in D.C. knows that,” Hickman said.
Russia’s officials have gotten cheeky on Twitter in the past.
In late 2016, after President Barack Obama expelled what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” from the United States, the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom tweeted a picture of a duck with the word “LAME” plastered over it. “Will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm.,” the embassy wrote. Last year, the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted out an April Fools’ Day joke proposing a voice-mail message for its embassy answering machines telling callers to press 3 “to request election interference.”
But if the Russian Embassy in Washington really was concerned that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was buzzing around overhead and peering through its windows, maybe it can rest easy knowing police were probing an armed robbery right up the road.