Notes on Seymour Hersh's book on 1983 Soviet shootdown of flight KAL 007

Notes by Stephen Hewitt on ‘The target is destroyed what really happened to flight 007’, Seymour Hersh, Faber and Faber, 1986

On page 120 Hersh writes:

For example, I was telephoned on the night of the shootdown by a military employee and told that the Korean airliner involved had been parked at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland the week before.

On page 190 Hersh describes meeting Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov and Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Kornienko in May 1984.

After five days of interviews and briefings, I had been provided with no evidence to support the thesis - which Ogarkov and Konrienko seemed to believe-that Flight 007 was a deliberate provocation. I raised what seemed to be obvious questions. Why not simply tell the world, “We made a mistake and shot down the airliner in the belief that it was an American reconnaissance plane”? Why say that it had to be a spy plane when there obviously was no proof?

Page 215:

Precisely what happened inside the Soviet Air Defense Force will probably never be known, even if the Soviet military takes the unprecedented step of making available its internal reports on the incident. Many American intelligence officials believe that the Soviet general Staff, headed by Marshal Niolai Ogarkov, had problems in the days following the shootdown in getting at the story - and still may not know all the facts. The marshal, in his news conference in Moscow nine days after the shootdown, reported that Soviet radar first noticed what was assumed to be an American reconnaissance plane at 12:51 A.M. Tokyo time. In his account, the aircraft was tracked as it rendezvoused nine minutes later with a second American reconnaissance plane, one that had been operating for hours off the coast of Kamchatka on what had been assumed to be another American intelligence mission. Ogarkov claimed that the two aircraft, in what Soviet analysts took to be a prearranged meeting, flew alongside each other for ten minutes, at roughly the same height and speed. The reconnaissance plane that had been on patrol for hours suddenly broke away to return to Shemya, while the other reconnaissance craft apparently headed southwest straight toward Petropavlovsk, the most important installation on Kamchatka, where as many as thirty missile-firing submarines, half the Soviet fleet, were stationed. A this point, Ogarkov told the press, “[T]he conclusion was made at Soviet antiaircraft command posts: an intelligence aircraft is approaching the Soviet Union's airspace. The suggestion arises: how can this be a question of mistake in this case? It is perfectly evident that this aircraft's flight was being controlled, I would say precisely controlled. And therefore this flight was premeditated.”

A very different explanation for the Soviet error in identification, however, was provided by Marshal Piotr S. Kirsanov, former Air Force commander in the Far East, during an interview with the author at a military air base near Moscow in May 1984. The marshal, who had left the Far East the previous August, said that his Air Defense experts had witnessed many rendezvous of American RC-135s in the international waters off Karaginskiy Island. “We know that the 135s fly together for refueling purposes. In this particular case, our specialists thought it was just refueling.” Once one of the planes began to fly toward the Soviet mainland, Kirsanov said, it was “firmly fixed” as an RC-135.

Page 218:

The Soviet Air Defense Force was known to have repeatedly made identification errors in the past and had in fact mistakenly authorized the destruction of Soviet passenger airliners with heavy loss of life.

Page 244:

The destruction of the airliner and its immediate aftermath reaffirmed the Soviet Union's and the United States' essential distrust of each other and ended any hope of an immediate solution to the expanding nuclear arms race. Late November 1983 saw the failure of the European peace campaign as the West German parliament voted to accept 108 medium-range Pershing II missiles for deployment and the Reagan administration immediately began shipping missile components. The Soviets, as expected, broke off the strategic arms reduction negotiations in Geneva, accusing Washington of “wrecking” the talks and describing the Germans as “nuclear maniacs.”

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