On September 1, 1983, a Soviet jet shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007, killing 269 men, women, and children, including 61 Americans.
The two superpowers reacted as expected. The Soviet Union first denied and then grudgingly admitted it had shot the airliner down. President Ronald Reagan responded with righteous indignation saying the brutal event was “an act of barbarism, born of a society that wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life.” He apparently forgot that Israel committed a similar act ten years earlier.
While the U.S. press provided massive coverage to Russia’s foolish denials, the U.S. outrage, and the unsuccessful search for survivors, it suddenly dropped the story when the search for the “black box” was abandoned. This also was when serious questions concerning U.S. responsibility in the disaster were being raised.
It is now known that U.S. intelligence had an overriding interest in Soviet military activities in the area overflown by the Korean airliner. Ernest Volkman, national security editor for Defense Science Magazine, reported that Korean Air Lines planes regularly overfly Soviet airspace to gather military intelligence. A U.S. official, with close ties to military intelligence, said that some foreign government-owned airliners are fitted in this country with cameras and other devices for intelligence collection. Two former Air Force communications intelligence specialists, charged that the U.S. government could have interceded in the attack on the Korean jet.
Despite administrative denials of any culpability in the tragedy, it seems that the American people did not “buy” the official version. A New York Times/CBS News poll at the time revealed that nearly two thirds of the respondents believed the government was “holding back information that people ought to know.”
It is tragic enough that 269 innocent people became pawns in a superpower spy game; it is inexcusable that our own government professes righteous indignation while covering up facts which seem to indicate we were not so innocent ourselves.
San Francisco EXAMINER, 9/4/83, “Aviation experts don’t rule out possibility KAL jet was spying,” by Knut Royce; Denver POST, 9/13/83, “U.S. spy plane capable of interceding in attack on Korean jet,” by Tom Bernard and T. Edward Eskelson; Chicago TRIBUNE, 9/20/83, “Public isn’t buying government’s line, by Bob Greene; THE PROGRESSIVE, October 1983, “Collision Course;” THE GUARDIAN of London, 12/17/83, “KAL 007: Unanswered Questions. ,”–by R. W. Johnson, reprinted in WORLD PRESS REVIEW, March 1984.