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Why was Korean Air Lines Flt. 007 carrying 269 occupants including 22 children under the age of 12 years and Congressman Larry McDonald not stopped that fateful day Sept. 1, 1983 when the Soviets shot it down? Why was it not warned it was about to enter into restricted Soviet territory, especially in the light of the U.S. government acknowledgment that there was a U.S. reconnaissance plane in the area, and in light of the fact that the crew of that plane knew the danger KAL 007 was increasingly confronting as it flew deeper to the shores of Soviet Kamchatka?

Now, we finally know. This article will bring it out for the first time.

The Background:

August 31/September 1, 1983 was the worst possible night for KAL 007 to “bump the buffer” for a complexity of reasons—all of them ominous. It was but a few short hours before the time that Marshal Ogarkov, Soviet Chief of General Staff, had set for the test firing of the SS-25, an illegal mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The SS-25 was to be launched from Plesetsk, the launch site in northwest Russia which was used for test firing of solid fuel propellant ICBMs—24 minutes later to land in the Klyuchi target range on the Kamchatka Peninsula * **. Kamchatka, was also home to a nuclear submarine base, and a number of military airfields and military installations. KAL 007 was flying straight into a highly sensitive area bristling with weaponry!

Prior to his appointment as Marshal of the Soviet Union and Chief of the General Staff, General Ogarkov had been Chief of the Main Operation Directorate of the General Staff and, as such, had begun and had directed the Strategic Deception Department, or “Maskirovka,” which was charged with hiding Salt 2 violations from United States intelligence. On August 31/September 1, Soviet aerial “jammers”,under Maskirovka, were sent aloft to prevent United States intelligence eyes and ears from obtaining the illegal SS 25’s telemetry data.

And indeed, United States intelligence eyes and ears were wide open and unblinking that night—an RC-135 Boeing 707 reconnaissance plane was “lazy eighting” off the Kamchatka peninsula coast electronically “sucking in” emissions. Exactly which emissions the 707 was collecting depended on which of two versions of the RC-135—code-named “Rivet Joint” and “Cobra Ball,” respectively— happened to be deployed that night. Rivet Joint, based at Eielson Air Force Base south of Fairbanks, Alaska, was furnished with cameras, SLAR (side-looking radar) and an array of advanced electronic equipment designed to eavesdrop on in-the-air and on-the ground conversations, locate and decipher radar signals, “spoofing”17 (i.e. simulating electronically and otherwise near intrusions of the border thus turning on Soviet radar stations), and tripping and recording the enemy’s “order of battle.” Cobra Ball, based on Shemya Island on the tip of the Aleutian Island chain, similarly equipped as the Rivet Joint 707 but with much more apparatus, stayed far from the borders of the Kamchatka peninsula waiting for the precise moment of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles reentry in order to capture the missile’s telemetry signals.

Rivet Joint and Cobra Ball were both under the command of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command (SAC), but the personnel operating the electronic equipment were signal intelligence specialists of the Electronic Security Command (ESC) under the authority of the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA was charged with the responsibility of gathering and deciphering “raw” intelligence data. This raw data was collected from super sensitive apparatus aboard aerial platforms such as the RC-135, as well as from land collection stations such as that on Wakkanai on the northernmost Japanese Island of Hokkaido The raw intelligence data then underwent preliminary analysis at various collection platforms and stations, and then, in the Far East, were beamed 23 thousand miles up to a geosynchronous satellite (one whose orbit around the world was correlated with the rotation of the earth around its axis in such a way that it remained continually “motionless” over a designated portion of the earth). From this satellite, the raw data was beamed to the NSA facility at Pine Gap, Australia, and from there relayed to to other stations, including the key satellite/transmission station at Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and then Fort Detrick and finally on to Fort Meade, Maryland. At Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency, the data was further analyzed and then distributed to various intelligence services of the United States government.

The collection stations and platforms around the world operated in an on-spot evaluation of the critical nature of the raw material they collected and analyzed. An evaluation of highest priority was called a “Critic Report.”

Informant 1:

"A Critic is the highest intelligence report that intelligence agencies can issue. It is sent at Flash precedence, which literally overrides anything else on the net. A ground station cannot override a Critic. One of its criteria is that it has to come to the attention of the highest command authorities within ten minutes, preferably less. The president would have known about it almost immediately after NSA got the report. The aircraft commander would also have been notified of this. The RC-135 would have been diverted, within fuel limits, to get closer to the action. He could have sent out a Mayday on the emergency frequencies, 121.5 MHz and 243.00 MHz. If the RC-135 had been aware of it, ground stations all around the world would also have been aware of it, as well at the National Sigint Operations Center at NSA. The airliner would have been notified."

It is almost certain, then, that United States intelligence agencies, poised that night to receive all that the Soviets emitted, were in position to follow KAL 007’s incursion into the Soviet buffer zone 200 Kilometers off Kamchatka. In fact, they were charged to do so. The RC-135 would have seen Kamchatka’s radar positions “light up” one after another and would have heard the chatter at dozens of command posts. James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace and an expert on the operations of the United States National Security Agency explains: “The RC-135 is designed for one purpose—it’s designed for eavesdropping... There’s almost no way that the aircraft could not have picked up the indications of Soviet activity: Soviet fighters taking off, Soviet defense stations going into higher states of readiness, higher states of alert.”

Informant 2:

An RC-135 airman who flew back to Anchorage, Alaska, from Shemya Island with the RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft crew after they had returned to Shemya base from their surveillance at Kamchatka's borders tells what was told to him by the crew. The answer to the question is in the affirmative. They were aware of KAL 007, and they did know that it was entering harm's way. When they had returned to their base on Shemya, KAL 007 had already departed Kamchatka's airspace but had not yet entered Sakhalin's airspace where the attack would occur. There was still time enough! Here are the words of this airman- his statement, my questions, and his responses. 
"Tonight I watched the History Channel special about KAL 007. One part that could not help but stick in my gut was the statement that the RC 135 may not have been aware of 007 because as the former Cobra Ball pilot said they were using downward looking radar. That may have been true, but that night I was waiting on the ground for that RC to land so I and the crew that was on board the aircraft mentioned on the special could fly back to Eielson AFB. I was friends at the time with a number of the aircrew members in the back of the aircraft who when questioned as to why they were so late and pale as sheets answered, "Watch CNN when you get back". These guys were specifically Russian linguists and analysts, so it was apparent they had knowledge of what had happened."

My request for clarifications -

1. Would it have been possible, or likely, that these people had tracked (radar, other means?) KAL 007 while the flight crew itself of the RC-135 not have been aware of 007's intrusion? This seems hardly likely to me but I wanted to get your take on this.

2. Did the linguists and analysts say anything about where 007 was when it was observed? Was it heading for Russian airspace? Was it ALREADY in Russian air space?

3. Was it on Shemya that you boarded the plane with the RC-135 crew for your flight back to Eielson AFB?...

The airman's response to my request -

1. The RC-135 platform listens to every comm coming out of an area. But it's all of the guys sitting in the back. The actual flight crew may not have known anything.

2. These guys only said, "Watch CNN when you get home". They have to be very tight-lipped about what goes on, but understood that we knew what their capability was in the air, so simply saying that shouted to me that they knew what happened.

3. Yes, I rode a training RC down to Shemya with the weekly replacement crew to complete some business. I had to wait quite a time for the crew on the mission to return, but when they did, they were as white as ghosts from what they had heard. I re-boarded the training RC with them to return to our home base of Eielson....

The Outage:

But the warning Critic Report about the danger KAL 007 would encounter may well have been sent. If so if would have to go through the AN/FSC/78 (V) satellite communications station at Strategic Air Command head quarters at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. But at almost the exact time ** that KAL 007 was entering the heavily survaillanced prohibited-to-civilian aircraft U.S. North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) flying zone and on its way straight to Russian Kamchatka there was outage affecting the transmission unit which would have carried that Critic Report with its warning on to the desired destinations. We get the following information from an airman on the communications floor of the satellite communications station:

Informant 3:

"I immediately knew the problem had to be transmitter, receiver or antenna so the next place I went was to the transmitter room. Here you have to understand we had what they called hot switch over redundant transmitters. In other words if one went down it should have automatically swapped to the other...

"it had not happened and both transmitters were offline. I knew something had happened to the one that had been online so I brought up the other transmitter to get the link up. I needed to both see..the links were coming back up and notify the Defense Communications Agency controller at the Pentagon and my all distant end terminals what had happened before I started looking at the transmitter that had dropped...

"the phone rang on the main console...Up to this point everything was just like every other outage I had seen before or after. Compared to some it was a very short outage as well. When I answered the phone it was already the DCA controller on the line. I will not say getting a call from them rather than over the order wire was unheard of but I only other had it happen to me in my whole career was in ... So you can see this was a little unusual....

"We got everything back up and we went back to look at the transmitter ... To this day I do not know why it dropped or why it did not switch although had it happen there and at other places once in a blue moon also. Before we got through looking the transmitter over I got called to the floor again. It was from the Pentagon again and it was a colonel ...He basically ask me for all the information I had given the DCA controller which I responded to almost word for word. ...

"Anyway I told him we were in the act of troubleshooting to find out what had happened and if we found a problem we would do whatever was required to get it operational at that time. ...

"After checking all readings on the transmitter nothing was out of specs. ... We were less than ten minutes down at the time but I can't remember how much. We have had two calls from the Pentagon already....

"..there is no telling how many links after the transmit and receive terminals so the time to link back up from one distance end to the other could have easily doubled or even tripled the outage time...

"We got the transmitter up and as I said never found out what happened. There was another call from the colonel who I had to tell we had no RFO (reason for outage) but would continue to monitor the transmitter closely and no reason for the lack of a hot swap. He did not sound happy but there was nothing else I could give him... The DCA controller also called back rather than asking on the order-wire [the usual way of communication. Editor]. I gave him my final report on the whole situation and finally asked if he wanted me to swap back to the original transmitter since we were supposed to be on that one. He said absolutely not. That more than anything else makes me think something was going on and whatever it was was important."

This informant (above) originally thought that this outage might have been caused by sabotage at his transmitter facility. Now he is certain that it could only have been caused by sabotage. Our informant 3. again:

"If the RC 135 had transmitted a Critic Report, even with the outage at the satellite communication terminal there should have been a query to the RC 135 to re-transmit the report and even a backup system to the satellite terminal going down. Unfortunately more things likely went wrong that day. It has been almost thirty-four years. It is time for the United States government to say what it knows. Barring that, there are individuals out there who do know what happened. You may have been military service or civilian personnel fighting the cold war with the U.S.S.R. in the area this occurred or in Alaska at the time. You may have been at S.A.C. headquarters at Offutt, AFB in Nebraska. You may have been at the Pentagon in at the Defense Communications Agency (now the Defense Information Systems Agency) or some other agency. You may have been at NSA at Ft. Mead, Maryland. You may know where information that was kept by these agencies that may pertain to this event may have been stored. You had a reason to keep quiet when you did. Fortunately the war you were fighting is long over. No one on either side of that war woke up that morning and said to themselves “I am going to kill a plane load of civilians today.” Instead it appears to have been a perfect storm of aggression, errors, mistakes equipment failures, and maybe more. If you know something or even suspect you might know something to add to this narrative please do as other sources have done and contact someone who is capable of informing those involved in the ongoing investigation of this matter. Your identify can be protected. No information is too small or unimportant."

If the RC 135 had transmitted a Critic Report, and if there had been no outage at the satellite communication terminal, KAL 007 would have had plenty of time to have been warned and escaped the following about 2 -2 1/2 hours later:

17:53 - First documented order for shootdown

General Anatoli Kornukov, commander of Sokol Air base on Sakhalin to the command post of General Valeri Kamenski, Commander of Air Defense Forces for the Soviet Far East Military District : "...simply destroy [it] even if it is over neutral waters? Are the orders to destroy it over neutral waters? Oh, well."

(For the complete real time transcripts of the shoot down of KAL 007, read here.)


* The SS-25 was in violation of the SALT II agreements on three counts: 1. It was a new kind of ICBM (the first mobile one ever launched). 2. Its telemetry was encoded and encrypted. When a test ICBM reentry vehicle approaches the target, it emits vital data relating to its velocity, trajectory, throw-weight, and accuracy by means of coded (symbolized) and encrypted (scrambled) electronic bursts, which are then decoded and decrypted by Soviet on-ground intelligence gathering stations. 3. The missile as a whole was too large for its reentry vehicle (dummy warhead), raising suspicion that the missile was being developed for new and more advanced warheads than allowable.

** Informant: "I am 100% sure the outage was no earlier than 9 am and more likely after 10am. I am 100% sure we were completely through with all paperwork by 11:15 AM"

My response: "The time fits in perfectly. You say that the outage began no earlier that 9 am and more likely after 10 am. That was the time at your satellite terminal in Nebraska. Well, KAL 007 entered the Soviet buffer zone (which is 200 kilometers from the coast of Kamchatka) at 15:51 GMT = 3:51 PM. 3:51 PM would be 10:51 AM in Nebraska (5 hour difference). This fits in with Your understanding that the outage began "more likely after 10 am" [It also means, since "all paper work ..through by 11:15 AM" that if the RC-135 had sent the Critic Report warning message, it must have been shortly after KAL 007 was seen to have crossed over into the prohibited Soviet buffer zone. Ed.]"

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