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space shuttle



the new yorker, December 13, 1993, pp. 90-101
Why did the Soviets shoot down Korean Air Lines Flight KE007, killing two hundred and sixty-nine people? Charges of coverups have proliferated in the ten years since the incident, but now Boris Yeltsin has released 007's black boxes, giving investigators the answer to one of the last mysteries of the Cold War.

illustration: Five and a half hours after refuelling at Anchorage, Flight KE007 was shot down as it passed through Soviet airspace near a military base on Sakhalin Island, three hundred and sixty miles off its scheduled course.

LAST January 12th, technicians at the Bureau Enquetes-Accidents, the investigation branch of the French directorate of civil aviation, in Paris, laced a salt-stained reel of recording tape into a sophisticated decoding device, pressed PLAY, and heard the first words of a tenyear-old cockpit conversation of historymaking, breathtaking banality:
"Have you had a long flight recently?"
"From time to time."
"Sounds good. As far as I know, Chief Pilot Park has a long flight occasionally, but Chief Pilot Lee has [inaudible]."
"Ah [yawn]."
"Ah [yawn]."
First Officer Son Dong-hwin, the copilot of Korean Air Lines Flight KE007, joins in: "Having a dull time. Please write down a comment now.
Captain Chun Byung-in, the pilot-incommand of the airliner, a Boeing 747, replies, `Yes. [Inaudible.] Give it to me."
The battered reel turns, the long-dead voices gossip in a sleepy mixture of Korean and aviation English. Stretches of the tape record only silence. The cockpit door opens, a pert-voiced flight attendant asks, "Captain, sir, would you like to have a meal?"
Captain Chun is roused from some kind of reverie, or dream: "What? Meal? Is it already time to eat . . . ? Let's eat later."
Outside, six miles up, the sky is grayblack, the night is clear. Dawn is still an hour away. In the darkened cabin, a booming recorded voice informs the sleeping passengers, in Korean, English, and Japanese, that KE007 will arrive in Seoul, Korea, "in about three hours," and that "before landing we will be serving beverages and breakfast."
A few miles away, other voices are being recorded, in another language. No one aboard the airliner will ever get breakfast. Flight KE007 is three hundred and sixty miles off track, on the point of entering prohibited airspace above the Soviet Union, for the second time that night. Six miles astern of the airliner, Major Gennadiy Osipovich, a fighter pilot, has KE007 in the radar sights of his Sukhoi-15 fighter, call sign 805. His ground controller, code-named Deputat, relays an order from the Soviet sector commander, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Ivanovich Kornukov: "Eight-oh-five, Deputat. The target is military. Upon violation of the state border, destroy the target. Arm the weapons.
Fixed on the recording tapes, the grim game of purposeful cat and drowsy mouse goes on. In the airliner's dimly lit cockpit, the crew talk personal finance:
"In the airport currency exchange? What kind of money?"
"Dollar to Korean money.
"That is in the domestic building, too, domestic building, too.... Outside, the fighter pilot has just been asked by his controller what kind of aircraft the "military" target might be: -- "Eight-oh-five, can you determine the type?" "Unclear." "Roger, twelve kilometres to the target.” “It is flying with flashing lights.”
The tape unreels, the eerie antiphon goes on. The unsuspecting "enemy," showing navigation lights and flashing its anticollision beacon, like any airliner flying at night, climbs briefly to a more economical cruising height. Major Osipovich tells his controller he sees an evasive maneuver, and moves to the attack position, behind and below, invisible to the target's crew. Just as KE007 is leaving Soviet airspace -- or is already over international waters; its exact position is unclear -- the pursuing fighter gets a terse order and responds:
"Executed launch."
Aboard the airliner, the tape records the bang of a missile hit, then confusion and panic as the aircraft shudders and rears upward:
“What's happened?"
The voice of the captain, suddenly alert, calls orders as the crew wrestles with controls gone crazy. One minute and forty-four seconds after KE007 is hit, the plane's electric power fails, and the recording stops.
The Soviet pilot reports to his controller, and the controller asks, "Eight-oh-five, did you launch one missile?"
"Launched both."
"Roger, well done."
Twelve minutes after the attack, KE007 crashed into the sea, killing all two hundred and sixty-nine people aboard. The tape has much more to tell us, but the French experts had heard the essentials. The airliner was innocently off course, the crew half asleep. The Soviets had persuaded themselves, against all the evidence, that the airliner could be a military target. The passengers and the crew never knew they were lost, or what hit them. The greatest mystery of the Cold War era is a sad, cautionary story, but it is no longer a mystery. Why has it taken ten years to get the truth of this tragedy? Can we be sure we are getting it now?

THERE can be no doubt about the authenticity of the airliner's tapes. They come from the flight-data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder -- the "black boxes," which are actually painted bright orange -- of the doomed airliner; the boxes were recovered, battered and salt-encrusted but intact, from the sea, and identified as those carried on KE007 and made respectively by Sundstrand Data Control and Collins Avionics. After many adventures, including a long spell in the secret archives of the G.R.U. (Soviet military intelligence) in Moscow, the tapes were handed over last January, on the order of President Boris Yeltsin, to the International Civil Aviation Organization, or I.C.A.O., the aviation arm of the United Nations, at its Paris office. With them was another set of tapes, even more informative: ground-to-ground and ground-to-air recordings of the Soviet military-communications network in action against KE007. Here, at last, we had solid, indisputable evidence.
Ten years ago, the council of the I.C.A.O. had designated France, as the member with the right combination of technical skills and (unlike the United States, Japan, and the Soviet Union) no known or suspected connection to the tragedy, to examine any evidence that might turn up. At that time, when the Cold War had intensified, the possibility of new evidence seemed remote. KE007's wreckage had disappeared, along with the remains and the effects of all aboard, leaving a few bitterly disputed flight releases, radar tracks, and onesided radio intercepts to hint at what must have happened.
Now, by a political miracle, the most eloquent and impartial witnesses of all, the black boxes themselves, have come to light, enabling the I.C.A.O. investigative team to complete its inquiry, which was suspended in 1983 for lack of hard evidence. In cautious and sometimes difficult technical language, the investigators' report was released at I.C.A.O. headquarters, in Montreal, in June. The I.C.A.O. investigators have no doubts about the new material. As their completed report says, everything matches: time signals and voices recorded aboard the aircraft fit the messages recorded on the ground -- in fighter bases along the Soviets' far-eastern border and in air traffic-control centers in Anchorage and Tokyo. The distance that the aircraft spiralled into the sea accounts for damage to the black boxes, but their serial numbers are legible and match those held by the makers. To the I.C.A.O.'s satisfaction, the mystery is now solved. The agency's KE007 file is at last closed.
When the I.C.A.O. secretary general, Philippe Rochat, was asked in Montreal who was to blame for the downing of the aircraft, he replied, "Our task was simply to collect and verify the facts. It is for you" -- journalists who have followed the KE007 story for years, this writer included -- "to study our report and come to your own conclusions." About the tapes, one conclusion is clear: quite apart from their known history, their dialogue is too psychologically true to be the work of actors or propagandists. And the voices can only be the real thing. The other tapes are too damaging to Russian military pride and too convincing in their incoherence to be anything but genuine. Together, they answer the two questions at the heart of the KE007 tragedy that for years have tormented the victims' kin, and puzzled the rest of us: How did KE007 get to its fatal rendezvous with Fighter 805? And why did the Soviets shoot down an airliner that was harmlessly off course?

CLUSTERED around American Airlines terminal Gate 15 at Kennedy Airport, in New York, on the rainy night of August 30, 1983, KE007's passengers were no more and no less diverse than those taking any flight over the North Pacific to the Far East, the second-busiest air route in the world, outranked only by its North Atlantic counterpart. Representative Larry P. McDonald, Democrat of Georgia, was the lone V.I.P.: he was the national chairman of the John Birch Society, the owner of two hundred guns, an opponent of a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, and, according to the Times, "uncontestably the most conservative member of Congress." Near him, flying economy, were Margaret Zarif, who was the author of two books on Dr. King and a trustee of Detroit's Museum of African-American History, and her friend Jessie Slaton, a retired Common Pleas Court judge from Detroit. Rebecca Scruton, twenty-eight years old, recently widowed and seeking comfort by visiting her parents in Seoul, left her passport at home, missed an earlier flight, and hurried to J.F.K. by limousine, barely in time to catch KE007.
Mary Jane Hendrie, two weeks short of her twenty-sixth birthday, was flying to Tokyo via New York and Seoul to start her first job, with a stockbrokerage firm. Miss Hendrie's Canadian immigration card -- she was born in Scotland -washed up on a beach in northern Japan, and was the first positive evidence of the fate of KE007. Her parents believe she died clutching it in her hand, hoping to spare them the anguish of not knowing what had become of her. A forty-one-year-old Korean-American martial-arts instructor named Bill Hong won his plane ticket in a golf tournament. Neil Grenfell, who was thirty-six, was an Australian senior executive of Eastman Kodak in Seoul; he had boarded the flight with his wife, Carol Ann, and their two small daughters after a vacation in New York state. Susan Lee Campbell, a twenty-eight-year-old veterinarian, was flying via Seoul for further study in Taiwan, because that route was "quicker and cheaper" than flying direct.
John Oldham, twenty-seven, a new graduate of the Columbia Law School, was going to Beijing via Seoul to study Chinese law. He had cancelled an earlier reservation so that he could help visiting Chinese scholars find accommodations near his university. A Columbia researcher named Jong Jin Lim was flying with his brother to their mother's funeral in Korea. Francois de Massy, twenty nine, of Quebec, was flying to Manchuria via Seoul to study agriculture, seeking techniques to ease hunger in the Third World. Kevin McNiff, twenty eight, of Beverly, Massachusetts, was on his way to a teaching job at a university in Taichung, Taiwan.
Altogether, a hundred and five Koreans (twenty-nine in the crew, including two armed sky marshals, who were carried in case there might be a North Korean hijacking attempt), sixty-two Americans, twenty-eight Japanese, and seventy-four people of other nationalities boarded KE007 in New York. Twenty three were children under twelve.

IN Anchorage, the scheduled refuelling stop, KE007 changed crews while the passengers streamed into the cavernous, brightly lit airport to stretch their legs, shop, and make calls home. Much has been surmised about Chun Byung-in, the incoming pilot-in-command. At forty-five, Captain Chun had already put in ten years flying fighters with the South Korean Air Force and ten more on 747s with K.A.L. His last flight would have been his eighty-fourth North Pacific crossing. Chun has been variously described (on no more evidence than his military record) as a right-wing fanatic ready to die for the cause and (on the slightly more solid ground that he was once chosen as backup to fly President Chun Do-hwan of South Korea) as a superb pilot, incapable of making a mistake. What is beyond dispute is that Captain Chun, on his last night alive, was a weary man.
In the previous five days, Chun and his crew had worked flights from Seoul to Anchorage, Anchorage to New York, New York to Toronto, and Toronto to Anchorage. In the month of August, 1983, Chun had flown eighty hours; the maximum allowed by the K.A.L. operations manual for the month was ninety. KE007's crew had been on the ground in Anchorage for eleven hours and forty three minutes before returning to work, at 2:30 A.M., local time. Sailors have long feared homeward-bound carelessness on the last leg of a long voyage. Pilots are no more immune to disruption of their circadian rhythms -- jet lag -- than anyone else. Long overwater flights are, as the I.C.A.O. report points out, the ones most conducive to inattention. A calm night and a warm cabin (to help passengers sleep) go far to explain the recorded non sequiturs and inane banter of three tired men desperately trying to stay awake. By ill luck, that same night Captain Chun was handed a tricky navigational problem -- one that called for an alert mind to solve.
The recovered flight-data recorder tells exactly how KE007 was flown to disaster, but not why. The airliner took off from Anchorage as scheduled, at 4 A.M., local time, headed north, and then turned left, on radioed instructions from the airport control tower, to pick up the air route between Anchorage and the fishing hamlet of Bethel, three hundred and eighty miles due west -- the "ocean gate," where planes begin the crossing of the North Pacific. Once on the designated airway, Captain Chun should have engaged his inertial-navigation system, or INS: it would have steered KE007 safely to Seoul with only routine attention from the crew.
The inertial-navigation system, a useful spinoff of the space age, has revolutionized air navigation. Like all modern airliners, KE007 carried no fewer than three separate I.N.S. units, all in working order. No triple INS failure has ever been recorded. The most accurate self-contained navigating method yet devised, the I.N.S. has come close to eliminating navigational errors from aviation -- and, air-traffic controllers say, has added to the boredom of long flights by mandating constant, mind-deadening checks of a machine that never makes a mistake.
But KE007 was not steered by its I.N.S. at any point on its last flight. Three minutes after takeoff, the blackbox recording tells us, Chun coupled his autopilot to his aircraft's magnetic compass, which flew the aircraft for the next five hours and twenty-three minutes, to the spot where it was shot down -- deviating farther and farther from its assigned track, and twice crossing prohibited Soviet airspace, on the way. Yet the I.N.S. units aboard KE007 must have been up and running: the crew regularly reported wind and other flight data, and that information could have come only from a working I.N.S. -- working, that is, in data-display mode, but not steering the aircraft. Why did Captain Chun select a magnetic heading in the first place? Why did he let his autopilot go on flying KE007 by magnetic compass, suicidally unreliable for night flying close to an unfriendly coast? By pure accident, the I.C.A.O. says.
Now superseded by the I.N.S. for long flights, aircraft magnetic compasses still do have important uses. By a tradition as old as aviation itself, every one of the world's airports is aligned on a magnetic heading, so that all flights still begin and end on a compass course. The I.N.S., accurate to within a mile of error for every hour of flight, cannot be relied on to find airport runways at night, in fog, or in thick weather. Between compass-oriented takeoff and I.N.S. flight there is a vital link, a radio beam broadcast from the ground. Approaching or leaving airports, pilots turn to Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range, or V.O.R., a ground-based development of the system that was used to help bombers find their targets during the Second World War. The V.O.R. broadcasts pencil-thin radio beams, which radiate from the transmitter like the spokes of a wheel, and so are called radials. There is one radial beam for each degree of the compass. The V.O.R. dials, too, are laid out on magnetic headings, and conform to runway alignments.
V.O.R. thus bridges the gap between a takeoff or a landing, done on a compass heading, and the main part of the flight, when the I.N.S. steers the aircraft along the route programmed into its internal computers. So important is the precision of the ground-based V.O.R. in insuring that the first heading of the flight is correct that the company rules of Korean Air Lines direct pilots not to engage the I.N.S. until they have confirmed, by a reference from the ground (at night, it could be only by the V.O.R. beam), that they are on the right track. That night, though, there was no V.O.R. at Anchorage; it was shut down for maintenance. Captain Chun, like other pilots, was duly informed, and indicated his acknowledgment.
The missing V.O.R. beam presented a problem that is unusual, but not unheard-of, in aviation: How were the pilots to check that they were on the correct heading leaving Anchorage (246 degrees magnetic, almost due west) before they engaged the I.N.S., as their rule books told them to do? The other pilots solved the problem by silently ignoring the rule book. They still had to find the correct departure heading, of course. Among the data that can be displayed by the I.N.S. even when it is not steering the plane is the distance from the plane to the programmed route -- "cross-track error," in pilot's jargon. By watching the cross-track error steadily decrease as their aircraft approached the correct route, the other pilots that night were able to engage their I.N.S. at an appropriate moment. With a careful position check at Bethel, where the V.O.R. was working, their solution was safe and caused no problems.

CAPTAIN CHUN decided to go strictly his rule book. He must have used his I.N.S. display to guide him to the correct track, because radar data later released by the Federal Aviation Administration show KE007 approaching within a mile of it. At that point, however, the flight-data recorder testifies that he switched his autopilot not to the I.N.S. but to a compass heading of 246 degrees, marked on his chart as the first heading out of Anchorage. The number was well known to Chun: 246 was the V.O.R. beam he had tuned in at Anchorage eighty-three times before. (The flight-data recorder actually monitored not the heading selected but the one flown, which is affected by small changes in aircraft trim. The I.C.A.O. experts report the average track flown as 245.4 degrees, consistent with a selection of either 246 or 245 degrees, the latter being the heading shown for the second part of the Anchorage-Bethel leg on Captain Chun's chart. The two headings would have produced similar results.)
Why did Captain Chun leave his autopilot coupled to a compass heading -- which, by pure coincidence, pointed more or less toward Seoul, but via the Soviet Union's prohibited airspace -- for the next five and a half hours? He may have simply forgotten about it. Reports made to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of more than a hundred airline navigation errors involving the INS., between September of 1978 and May of 1983 and between January of 1986 and November of 1992, showed that almost twelve per cent of the errors were due to this cause; one plane drifted two hundred and fifty nautical miles off track before the mistake was caught. The autopilot-selector switch is not particularly prominent on the control panel between the pilots, and the I.N.S. setting is only one notch away from the one that couples the compass; moreover, once the setting is selected, the crew members have no need to look at it again. In 1985, Captain Morihiko Nishioka, of Japan Air Lines, failed to notice that he had left his autopilot on a compass heading while his Boeing 747 wandered sixty miles off, in broad daylight, toward prohibited Soviet airspace. He lived to confess on TV, "I just didn't see it. I can give no other explanation." Perhaps Captain Chun could have said the same.
The new I.C.A.O. report proposes another possibility -- a third link in that night's chain of disasters. While it cannot now be proved (the autopilot switch itself either disintegrated when KE007 crashed into the sea or was later destroyed by agents of Soviet military intelligence), it makes psychological sense, and adds a further bitter irony to the tragedy. Careful Captain Chun no doubt intended to follow his company's rule book to the letter, and check his course by the first available ground-based radio aid -- the V.O.R. at Bethel, whose beam he would have first picked up some two hundred miles away.
Like all radio signals, however, the V.O.R. beam spreads as it travels, and at extreme range it is unreliable. Captain Chun would have been likely to wait until he was a hundred and seventy-five miles or so from Bethel, at which point KE007, unknown to its crew, was between seven and eight miles north of its programmed track. At that range, the V.O.R. has a possible error of five degrees on either side of the index mark. The directional needle may have pointed directly at Bethel. It may have been a little to one side or the other -- a discrepancy Chun would have often seen before. Either way, believing that he had radio confirmation from the ground that he was on track to Bethel, Chun could have leaned forward and turned his autopilot switch to I.N.S.
With, however, an unintended result. In the dry words of the I.C.A.O. report, if the flight crew "made such a selection when the aircraft was outside the 7.5-nautical-mile envelope for the capture of a desired I.N.S. track, and was flying away from that track, then the aircraft would have continued on the magnetic heading selected previously." Less technically, the computer program of that particular I.N.S. required KE007 to be within a fifteen-mile-wide corridor straddling the desired course before it could "capture" the track and steer the aircraft toward its destination. The local curve of the earth's magnetic field close to the North Pole had carried KE007 just beyond the limit. Although the I.N.S. may have appeared to be guiding the plane, the compass was in fact still steering it, farther and farther away from safety, closer and closer to Soviet airspace. In the cockpit, the only indication that the I.N.S. was not engaged would have been that two small indicator panels were amber when they should have been green. The error is rare. Captain Chun may never have seen amber panels, except perhaps in training, years before.

HEADED out over the trackless North Pacific, KE007 crossed the international date line without ceremony and flew into a new day -- September 1,1983, the official date of the tragedy. After the plane's disappearance was reported, further positive, unambiguous information ceased and name-calling took over -- internationally, between the United States and the Soviet Union, and at home, in the domestic politics of both superpowers. The first disclosure to the press that KE007 might have been shot down was made in Washington by Secretary of State George Shultz. He announced that Soviet radar had tracked an unknown target for more than two hours, and that a Soviet fighter pilot had destroyed the target with a missile.
Soviet officials at first denied all knowledge of anything that might have happened at that time and place, then claimed that their air defenses had "tried to give assistance [to an intruder plane] in directing it to the nearest airfield," but the intruder had "continued its flight in the direction of the Sea of Japan" -- as indeed it did, in its downward death spiral. Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, the Soviet chief of staff, claimed to have proof that KE007 was on a "deliberate, thoroughly planned intelligence operation . . . directed from certain centers . . . in the territory of the United States and Japan."
The exchange of vilification soon reached summit levels, each side citing the KE007 incident as proof of the evil nature of the other's politics. Charging that the Soviets had knowingly destroyed a civilian airliner, President Ronald Reagan called the shootdown a "terrorist act," a "heinous act," and an "atrocity," adding, "As civilized societies, we ask searching questions about the nature of regimes where such standards do not apply." Yuri Andropov, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, who was in failing health, surfaced to denounce "the sophisticated provocation masterminded by the United States special services with the use of a South Korean plane” as “an example of extreme adventurism in politics" -- a way of saying that the Central Intelligence Agency, or Reagan himself, had callously sent two hundred and sixty-nine people to their death.
Reagan's first harsh denunciations of the Soviets turned out to be counterproductive, and they were later toned down by the State Department. A poll taken in mid-September of 1983 showed that three Americans out of five believed that the United States government was withholding vital information about the KE007 disaster. Even so, the disaster had no noticeable effect on Reagan's reelection the following year. Quite by chance, it slowly emerged that a sizable proportion of Soviet citizens similarly doubted their own government's version of the KE007 affair.
Having received help from the British Civil Aviation Authority (and drawing upon a background in ocean-yacht: racing navigation), I published (in the London Sunday Times of May 20 and 27, 1984, and in The New York Review of Books of April 25, 1985) a magnetic-heading explanation of how KE007 came to accidentally overfly the Soviet Union -- an account now confirmed by the recovered black boxes. People knowledgeable about air navigation (notably the American Air Line Pilots Association) were convinced, but spy-flight theories continued to proliferate: they included at least five major television documentaries and dramatizations, seven books, and more than a hundred magazine and newspaper articles. Little attention was paid to the Soviet side of the shootdown, largely because, despite the death of Yuri Andropov, in 1984, and the rise of the would-be reformer Mikhail Gorbachev a year later, the Soviet military kept all KE007 information in a seemingly unyielding grip.
One or two breaks kept alive my hope that one day the truth might emerge. In 1985, I stumbled across a strange little paperback, "President's Crime: Who Ordered the Espionage Flight of KAL 007?," by Akio Takahashi, which had been published by Ningensha, a one-room firm in Tokyo. Takahashi is, I believe, a pen name. "President's Crime" is a slovenly ragbag of technical illiteracies, abuse of Ronald Reagan, and telltale slips ("CR-71" for the American SR-71 reconnaissance plane). These clues to a Cyrillic origin, plus the book's publishing history -- a thousand copies each in English and Japanese, printed in Tokyo; a hundred thousand in Russian, put out by the Soviet news agency Novosti -- identified "President's Crime" as a hasty disinformation job aimed at readers not in the West (where it sank without review or trace) but in the Soviet Union. Evidently, many people there must have still needed convincing that Reagan was wrong, and that the destruction of KE007 had not been, as it plainly seemed to have been, a "heinous act" by their side.
How riveting, then, to find amid this unconvincing sludge a clearly written chapter on aviation law, offering the legal case for the shootdown. The author or authors of the chapter cite the relevant laws -- Article 53 of the Soviet Air Code, and Article 36 of the Law on the State Border on the U.S.S.R. Read together, as the chapter recommends, these two laws closed the whole of Soviet airspace to "intruder" aircraft, and "in instances in which the violation cannot be stopped or the violator detained by any other means Article 36 instructed the "frontier guard troops and air-defense forces . . . to use weapons and combat equipment" -- in plainer Russian, to shoot the intruder down. KE007, undoubtedly an intruder, was shot down just before, or even just after, it left Soviet airspace, by which time "other means" had indeed been halfheartedly tried. Article 36, "President's Crime" revealed, had been enacted on November 24, 1982, and Article 53 on May 11, 1983, even nearer the date of the shootdown. They gave commanders no discretion and allowed no exceptions, even for lost or straying airliners. Why had these laws been passed? Had they, in fact, caused, and not simply justified, the murderous outcome?

THE Soviet coverup began to unravel in January of 1991, in the last year of the Gorbachev regime, when the Soviet government newspaper Izvestiya began the publication of a thirteen-part series, "Secret of the Korean Boeing 747," by Andrei Illesh, one of its senior editors. Illesh merits the admiration of journalists everywhere -- an honorary Pulitzer, if there were such an award, would be appropriate. Years of investigation financed by well-meaning, gullible people in the United States had turned up nothing more helpful than a surreal message supposedly sent from KE007 in its last minutes: “Hold your bogies north. Had a bloodbath, real bad." Needless to say, nothing remotely resembling this gibberish can be heard in the black-box cockpit recording. By contrast, Illesh, in only his second article, made a genuine, and sensational, breakthrough.
When Illesh asked Marshal of Aviation Pyotr Semyonovich Kirsanov to comment on yet another widely publicized, fanciful theory -- that KE007 had been shot down in a dogfight between Soviet and American jets over the Pacific -- Kirsanov had said, "Nonsense!" and added, "After all, the aircraft was found." (Kirsanov had been sent from Moscow the day after the shootdown to find out what had happened.) This was the first time a senior Soviet officer had admitted not only having found the remains of KE007 but also having withheld such vital evidence from the I.C.A.O. inquiry, which the Soviets had claimed to be helping. Heartless enough, but as the Illesh series continued an even more callous coverup started to come apart.
Illesh began his long search for the truth, he told his readers, almost as soon as he heard, and doubted, the official Soviet version. He started his unofficial investigation in the summer of 1984, by spending his regular vacation visiting Sakhalin, the Soviet island flown over by KE007. His Aeroflot plane landed at Sokol, the airfield from which Major Osipovich had taken off on the night of the shootdown. Illesh soon started to pick up rumors that objects recovered from KE007 had been passed around the town. Then he was shown photographs of scraps of clothing, of American bills, of purses -- "the junk passengers take on international flights." He asked what had happened to this material. "They destroyed everything that was turned in," his informant told him. Who were "they"? "There were quite a few of these people with military haircuts but no uniforms." Whispers said that not everything had been destroyed -- that Western-music tapes from the downed airliner were played over the Sakhalin military radio, and had been clearly picked up in nearby Japan.
Next, Illesh learned that in early September, immediately after the shootdown, an oil-drilling ship, the Mikhail Mirchink -- built in Finland, it was one of only three vessels in the Soviet Union capable of holding a precise position at sea without anchoring -- had joined the search for KE007's wreckage. According to one of Illesh's informants, Soviet trawlers pretended to trawl around the Mikhail Mirchink to keep American and Japanese search ships at a distance while a decoy black box with a false "pinger," or sound marker, was thrown into the sea to deceive American searchers. (This stratagem would explain a premature report that the United States Navy had found, and then lost, the black boxes.) In mid-October, after a Soviet Navy ship dredged up what looked like wreckage from the downed plane, civilian divers from Murmansk -- the best in the Soviet Union -- were flown in to take up the search.
These men worked almost a month in a primitive diving bell at a depth of five hundred and sixty-five feet; they slept on the drilling ship in a dank compression chamber, leaving it only to return to the seabed. On October 17 or 18, 1983, six weeks after the shootdown, the Soviet divers found the wreckage of KE007 and began hauling it to the surface. No announcement of the discovery was made, then or later.
The airliner, the divers told Izvestiya's man, was by then a heap of scrap metal, in places five feet deep in the sandy seabed. One of the larger pieces of aluminum they found -- three feet by five -- bore the divided-circle, yin-and-yang logo of Korean Air Lines. Knives and forks had been twisted by the impact, mirrors in women's handbags smashed, bodies shredded, clothing torn to rags. The divers estimated that KE007 had been travelling at six hundred miles an hour when it hit the sea. Human remains were sparse. "No one asked us to recover people's remains," one of the divers said. "Only components, tapes, documents, the black boxes." And, one diver told Illesh, "two bright-orange balls, the size of volleyballs," were indeed found in the wreckage, were examined by experts from the Academy of Sciences, and were taken, immersed in sea water, to Moscow. No spying equipment was found, the divers told Illesh.
For their heroic work, the divers got secret commendations from Fleet Admiral S. G. Gorshkov, the commander-in-chief of the Soviet Navy, and awards of two hundred to two hundred and fifty rubles, then worth two hundred and sixty to three hundred and thirty dollars. Illesh speculates that they were given such a small amount so they would forget the whole thing. The journalist ended his first series of articles not knowing whether KE007's black boxes still existed, much less where they might be. However, his investigation produced a result well known to Western reporters: informants began telephoning him -- many of them anonymously -- with leads.
Izvestiya resumed publication of its investigation in May of 1991, this time with a fascinating disclosure of the central role that Yuri Andropov played in the KE007 tragedy. A former K.G.B. chief, Andropov became General Secretary of the Communist Party in November of 1982, Illesh reminded his readers, and "clearly understood that the country was sliding toward disaster." Andropov's remedy, Illesh explained, was "the use of immense ideological machinery to renew the Communist ideal, greatly damaged by the then universal pilfering, bribe-taking, and nepotism." One aspect of Andropov's zeal, Illesh noted, was to step up ideological confrontations, notably with the United States.
"The temperature of the Cold War -- conducted, naturally, by both sides -- rose to boiling point," Illesh recalled. This rise, he went on, led to a series of provocative naval and air maneuvers off the coast of the Soviet Far East, which, in turn, precipitated a new Law on the State Border, "adopted with Andropov's direct participation." In essence, Illesh wrote, this was a directive straight from the top: "Check the solidity of the locks along our entire border." Andropov was directly involved in the KE007 coverup, Illesh explained, at least to the extent that he was satisfied that an intruder plane was destroyed over Sakhalin in frill conformance with the newly adopted Law on the State Border." He adds, "The 269 passengers were not, and could not be, taken into account.
Much is made, both by Western writers and in the newly released Soviet transcripts, of a seven-minute flight on April 4,1983, by fighters from the United States Navy carriers Midway and Enterprise, over a small island, Zeleny Ostrov (in Japanese, it is Shibotsu Jima) -- one of the southern Kurile Islands, whose sovereignty Russia and Japan dispute. This speck of lava, ten miles long and two wide, within sight of the Japanese coast, could scarcely be reckoned vital to the defense of the Soviet Union. The flight, officially called a "dry bombing run" by the Soviets and a "navigational error" by the United States Navy, was characterized to Illesh by a Soviet officer with a rare grasp of American military psychology as a "sporting-provocative gesture." Furious -- or pretending to be, in line with the new Andropov policy -- the Soviet military, on April 6th, protested to the American Embassy in Moscow. Fearing that an apology, by obliquely recognizing Soviet sovereignty over the Kuriles, would irritate the Japanese, the State Department responded evasively. Innocently lost, KE007 was flying toward a lethal, Soviet-legal ambush.

THE failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev two years ago, the rise of Boris Yeltsin, and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Communist Party unexpectedly helped complete Illesh's investigation. Last fall, an anonymous tipster -- possibly an out-of-work K.G.B. man or an undernourished freelance writer busy combing the Party archives for scoops to sell to the Western media-called Izvestiya with a tipoff: he had stumbled on an interesting set of documents about the Korean airliner. The classified documents were published by Izvestiiya on October 16th, 1992, with a letter from Yeltsin commending the public-spirited journalists who had dug them up.
The purpose of the documents, addressed to "Comrade Yu. V. Andropov" and dated November 18, 1983, was to inform Andropov of the contents of the airliner's black boxes, secretly recovered from the wreckage and analyzed in Moscow by experts from the Soviet Defense Ministry, the K.G.B., and, to his shame, an official named Svishchev from the Soviet Ministry of Civil Aviation, an organization that was duty bound to protect the lives of air passengers. The experts reported KE007's holding of a constant magnetic heading (they made it 249 degrees), its innocently steady altitude, the lack of any evasive maneuvers, and the unincriminating cockpit chatter. As delicately as only underlings in dictatorships know how, the experts gave the boss the bad news: "We did not succeed in obtaining outright proof that the flight was performing an intelligence mission. Ritually endorsing the "major dual-purpose political provocation carefully organized by the U.S. special services," on which Andropov had already gone public (never make a liar out of your General Secretary, even in a classified report), the experts recommended a coverup: "It seems advisable to refrain from handing over the recorders to the International Civil Aviation Organization. . and to keep these recorders' presence in the U.S.S.R. a secret."
In August of 1992, just six weeks before the documents were published, Yeltsin, steadily inserting his own people into the highest military commands, appointed Lieutenant General Fyodor Ladygin the head of the G.R.U. KE007's black boxes were soon found in the G.R.U.'s archives. Last January, after an offer to South Korea of the boxes but only copies of the tapes they once contained, boxes and tapes were handed to the I.C.A.O. in Paris, to he examined by a second set of experts, this time French. Shortly afterward, unasked for, came nine hours of detailed radar traces and recordings of the orders and counter-orders given by Soviet officers on Sakhalin that night. At long last, the truth about the KE007 shootdown was about to break.
As the I.C.A.O. now reconstructs the tragedy, some three hours after takeoff KE007, still steered by its compass, crossed the track of an American RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft that was on its way home from its duty station, flying over international waters, two hundred miles east of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The RC-135, a modified Boeing 707, was crammed with electronic gear designed to monitor a Soviet ballistic -- missile test that had been scheduled for that same night but had subsequently been cancelled. Although the RC-135 flight was unpublicized, it was not illegal or especially sinister: such flights were part of the "national technical means of verification" mentioned, though coyly not described, in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty then in force between the superpowers. The RC-135 completed its leisurely sentry run off the Kamchatka coast, well north of KE007's track, and was back on the ground on Shemya Island, one of the Aleutians, a full hour before the shootdown.
The Soviets were, in routine fashion, following the lazy orbiting of the RC-135 with ground-based radar operating at extreme range, assigning to its track the code number 6065. At one point, Track 6065 faded as the RC-135 turned for home. A short time later, a blip reappeared on the Soviet radar screens, in roughly the same general area, and was reassigned the same number, 6065, with the added notation "one unidentified aircraft." The new blip was not the RC-135, however, but KE007, still moving steadily southwest, its track meandering gently under the influence of fickle winds and the changing magnetic variation. At 5:33 A.M., local time, Track 6065 entered Soviet airspace and thus became an intruder, targeted for destruction by Andropov’s inflexible new border-defense law.
As KE007 crossed the Kamchatka coastline, at least four Soviet fighters scrambled to intercept it. Then, low on fuel, they were forced back to base while KE007 was still being tracked by Kamchatka radar. Illesh explains this embarrassing lapse: after 1976, when Lieutenant Viktor Belenko defected to Japan with a MIG-25, "they began to fuel the aircraft in such a fashion that a Soviet pilot would not have enough fuel . . . to reach the nearest foreign airfield."
Her crew still unaware that anything was amiss, KE007 flew over Kamchatka and on out to sea, and faded from the radar screens. Mortified, the people on duty at the Kamchatka command center informed their opposite numbers on Sakhalin Island, on the other side of the Sea of Okhotsk, that an intruder "provisionally identified as an RC-135" was headed their way.

THE southern part of Sakhalin Island is nine minutes' flying time wide -- twelve including a small outlying island. Soviet fighters have already taken off as the intruder approaches, still on its treacherous compass heading, the passengers sound asleep, the crew half dozing at the controls. KE007 is flying over international waters as two Soviet officers at the Sokol fighter base are recorded having one of the ugliest exchanges of the Cold War era:
``Orders have been given to destroy.''
"Simply destroy, even if it is over neutral waters? Are the orders to destroy it over neutral waters? Oh, well."
Twenty minutes earlier, a Major Valiuntovich has reassured the officers that the intruder was not one of their own. "They say none of ours are out there, none... on that route. ...
"I'm saying that is the only time they have taken that route."
But Captain Solodkov, the combat-control officer at the Sokol base, is still not quite convinced. Elementary military prudence, recognizable the world over, is restraining him: "Somehow, this all looks very suspicious to me. I don't think the enemy is stupid, so -- could this be one of ours?"
As KE007 flies serenely on, the confusion thickens on the ground.
"Has the meteorologist arrived?"
"Comrade Lieutenant Colonel, the meteorologist left for the control tower."
"Who is speaking?"
"The controller. He went there by bicycle."
KE007 is still over the open sea when Major Osipovich, approaching from behind in his SU-15 fighter, tells ground control that he sees the airliner's flashing anticollision beacon: "Eight-oh-five, observing the target at altitude ten thousand [metres]."
"Roger, Eight-oh-five."
Up the military hierarchy, ever more senior officers are being brought in. At 6:14 A.M., General Kamenski, the commander of the Far Eastern Air Force, is reached.
"Kamenski here."
"Comrade General, [this is General] Kornukov. Good morning. Track Six-oh-six-five... is thirty kilometres from the state border, the fighter from Sokol is six kilometres away. Locked on, orders were given to arm weapons. The target is not responding [to a Soviet electronic friend/foe recognition signal]. He cannot identify it visually because it is still dark, but he is locked on [with missiles]."
"We must find out, maybe it is some civilian craft or God knows who."
"What civilian? [It] has flown over Kamchatka. It [came] from the ocean without identification. I am giving the order to attack if it crosses the state border."
"Go ahead now?"
"Yes, sir. Yes, sir."
Lieutenant Colonel Maistrenko, at the combat-control center, still has a nagging doubt: "[It] may [be] a passenger [aircraft]. All necessary steps must be taken to identify it."
"Identification measures are being taken," the controller tells him, "but the pilot cannot see. It's dark. Even now, it's still dark."
"Well, O.K. The task is correct. If there are no lights -- it cannot be a passenger [aircraft]."
"You confirm the task?"
The airliner's flashing lights -- which would be suicidal behavior in a deliberate overflight of a heavily defended strategic area -- are still troubling Kornukov.
"Does the target have nav lights or not?" Kornukov asks.
"There are nav lights, Comrade General," the fighter regiment commander tells him.
"Tell Osipovich to approach the target, to rock his wings at it and force it to land at Sokol."
While the Soviet officers are querying the all-too-obvious navigation lights, the somnolent crew members of KE007 get a possible hint, veiled in professional courtesy, that there is something wrong with their navigation. Another Korean Air Lines Boeing, Flight KEO15, is supposed to be only three minutes -- or some thirty-two miles -- behind KE007. (Actually, it is three hundred and fifty miles away.) KEO15's captain, Park Yongman, radios to the crew of KE007 that he is experiencing a strong tailwind and seems to be rapidly overtaking KE007, and the KE007 crew asks for the wind details.
"Thirty, um, forty degrees direction [northeast], thirty-five knots."
"Ah! You got so much? We still got headwind. Headwind two hundred fifteen degrees [southeast], fifteen knots."
"Is it so? But, according to flight plan, wind direction three six zero [due north] fifteen knots, approximately."
For aircraft supposedly thirty-two miles apart, this discrepancy is all but impossible. An eight-second puzzled pause is recorded aboard KE007.
It is hard to believe that at least one of the pilots is not scanning the instrument panel. Apparently, everything looks normal. KE007 replies drowsily, "Well, it's possible."
KE007's last chance is gone. The Soviet tapes confirm that a hurried, halfhearted attempt was indeed made to intercept the straying airliner, and, at the same time, the tapes show that the Soviet air defense never made up its collective mind what the "target" was. The fighter pilot broke his electronic lock on KE007, approached the airliner from the right side (how closely the I.C.A.O. could not determine), and fired a warning burst of cannon shells, which were invisible to the airliner. By now, KE007 is a few seconds from safety, and General Kornukov has made a decision:
"Has he fired the warning burst?"
"Affirmative, he has."
``Destroy the target.
"Task received. Destroy Target Six-oh-six-five with missile fire."
As the fighter positions itself to fire, Kornukov worries that KE007 may escape. "Oh, fuck. He is already getting out into neutral waters. Engage afterburner immediately. Bring in the MIG-23 as well. While you are wasting time, it will fly right out."
"He has launched. He fired both missiles.... The target turned north."
Kornukov fears that the missiles may have missed and orders, "Bring in the [MIG-] 23 to destroy it."
But the second attack was not needed. KE007 was already spiralling downward, toward the neutral sea.

WHO was to blame? The heaviest responsibility must, of course, be Captain Chun's. A weary man going by the book, he failed to solve a simple but not obvious problem in navigation. He was far from diligent in his position checks, even though the ground-based radio aids he had available that night were inadequate. (They have since been greatly improved.) He showed naïve overconfidence in his instruments. (More prominent warning lights have since been added to all I.N.S. units, and an exact repetition of KE007's mistake is generally thought to be unlikely.) Even so, a navigational error need not and should not have led to a reckless massacre of civilians.
Major Osipovich, who fired the fatal missiles, was, in the well-known phrase, only obeying orders -- "a kind of sheepdog," he later explained. To his hurt and dismay, the promotion and the medals he was told to expect never materialized. "Everyone started regarding me as a son of a bitch," he complained years later to Illesh, of Izvestiya, "except, of course, the boys in the regiment." Osipovich had volunteered for night duty on September 1st, he explained, only so he could give a talk on peace at his children's school that same day. Later, injured in a flying accident, he was quietly invalided out of the Air Force, and he now scratches out a living growing strawberries. Osipovich still refuses to accept the fact that he destroyed an airliner. "I never thought for a moment that I could shoot down a passenger aircraft. Anything at all, but not that," he told Illesh. "I could see ahead of me a large aircraft with its lights and flashers switched on. . . . We do not study civilian aircraft belonging to foreign companies. I knew all the military aircraft, all the reconnaissance aircraft. But this was not like any of them.
"The first missile hit near the tail. The second took off half the left wing. The lights and flashers went out immediately. . . . A foreign aircraft was in our airspace for two and a half hours. What order can you give in such a situation? Sit on your hands?... You know, even now I cannot really believe that there were passengers on board."
But there were -- two hundred and forty of them. Their deaths were mandated by Andropov's pitiless laws sealing the Soviet air borders, which must share much of the blame. The laws' terms -- "violator," "intruder" -- pepper the orders given by the Soviet generals; the laws were, in fact, directly addressed to them, "the frontier guard troops and air-defense forces." The situation of KE007 in its last moments, seconds from safety, was indeed that of an intruder whose "violation cannot be stopped or the violator detained by any other means" -- exactly the case in which the laws gave commanders no discretion in the use of "combat equipment." The laws had no requirement for intruders to be identified, or for them to be guilty of anything at all, beyond mere intrusion.
Andropov's aviation laws explain why KE007 was shot down with no real attempt made to find out what it was. They also explain why Osipovich fired his missiles at an aircraft that he knew was not an RC-135 or any other American reconnaissance aircraft. In ten years' service in the Far East, he told Izvestiya, he had flown more than a thousand interceptions of American military aircraft, and he knew their silhouettes and markings well. KE007, he recognized, was not one of them. But Osipovich did not volunteer this information to his ground controller, beyond noting the intruder's flashing navigational lights. As a final indication that the Law on the State Border made KE007's fate inevitable, the law was unobtrusively replaced, earlier this year, by a Russian Federation aviation code more in line with the codes of other countries.

IRONICALLY, despite Andropov's apparent success in turning the shootdown to his own advantage and shifting at least some of the blame to the United States, the ultimate result of KE007 was the collapse of the Communist system, according to Illesh. He wrote, in language familiar in the West, "Osipovich's missile shot ... brought benefits to both individual people and the entire [Soviet] military -- industrial complex: the latter received a new stimulus to expand and devour larger and larger portions of the budget. (Of course: there are aggressor -- spies all around us! And the familiar one: What if this Boeing was carrying a hydrogen bomb? Imagine!) It was for this purpose that a large-scale sea operation to cover up the tracks was mounted.
"We have to admit, though, that in this situation Reagan outmaneuvered Andropov. Having called us `the evil empire' and scared us with unknown space weaponry, he forced the Soviet Union onto such a high-pressure track in the arms race that it would (this was obvious) break the Soviet Union's economic back... . Then our country was let down precisely by that two-dimensional system of political coordinates which recognized only one color -- red -- and branded everything else black."
So the KE007 coverup in the end backfired. The recovery of the black boxes and the truth they revealed must have been known soon, and fairly widely, in the Soviet Union. The compilers of "President's Crime" suggest as much: the book's puzzling claim that "short signals regularly used for passing information on the radio waves were emitting from the plane" turns out to refer to a faulty reading of stray bursts of Morse code picked up by KE007 and recorded in the black box by the cockpit microphones. But the Soviets' find was, for nine years, unsuspected in the West, and that comfortable credulity partly explains the longevity and popularity of Western spy-flight scenarios -- all, however fantastic, faithfully cited as credible by the Soviet media, right through the Gorbachev years.
This undeserved success of the Soviet propaganda machine itself calls for some explanations. One is that we all have a natural suspicion of governments -- no bad thing in itself, although in this case the wrong government drew most of the suspicion. Another is that the enormous improvement in air safety brought about by the I.N.S., combined with the reluctance of the airline industry to discuss safety issues, has led to a widespread public perception that navigational mistakes belong to the past. There never was, in fact, an intellectually respectable case for any spy-flight theory: those exponents mostly jumped to their conclusions first and looked for evidence afterward. The complexities of air navigation, as muddled by academic students of politics, added to the general confusion, as did the media's hunger for murky mystery. "Conspiracies are sexy," a London TV producer told me. "Accidents are not.
Is the United States, then, cleared of all charges? Of waging its own ideological offensive, the United States is, of course, guilty. Of sponsoring a spy flight, not guilty. Of tampering with possibly significant evidence, not proved. Residual suspicion now focusses on the records of the military radars at Cape Newenham, south of Bethel, and Cape Romanzof, to its north. KE007 passed between them as it headed out over the North Pacific on its last flight. Cape Newenham radar was certainly tracking KE007 that night; we know from the radar trace recorded there that the airliner was already twelve miles off track as it passed Bethel, due north of Newenham. The trace ends just before Bethel, where it would have shown that KE007 did not make a six-degree track change, and so was not being steered by its I.N.S. and was flying into danger.
Newenham and Romanzof, whose purpose is to monitor aircraft entering American airspace, were almost certainly following KE007 beyond Bethel, although neither was part of the civil-aviation-radar system. Why does the Cape Newenham trace end at Bethel, just when important information was about to be recorded? In March of 1985, the Justice Department informed the United States District Court in Washington, D.C. -- where families of the crash victims had brought a suit against, among others, the United States government -- that the Air Force had routinely re-used the radar tape shortly after the shootdown, having "no idea that it was going to be involved, or that the data would be useful in the litigation [over 101 KE007] at any point." In 1993, the I.C.A.O. investigators (none of them American) simply report, in a rather brusque paragraph, that "representatives of the United States" have informed them that they were "unable to uncover any observations“... of a westbound aircraft north of the airways" -- although KE007, we know, must have crossed this sensitive region.
Behind the I.C.A.O.'s question and the American response hovers an unspoken suggestion: If someone had noticed that KE007 was off course, he or she might have warned the crew, and perhaps averted the tragedy. The military radar system was not supposed to supervise civil air traffic, but, it might be argued, had a moral and perhaps a common-law legal duty to do so, under the Good Samaritan principle, which has never been tested in court in the field of aviation. The I.C.A.O. investigators deal equally suspiciously with a suggestion that the words "persons should warn them" can be faintly heard on a tape recorded in the Anchorage air-traffic-control center, perhaps as crosstalk from a nearby telephone landline. "It was concluded that it was not possible to determine what was said,” the I.C.A.O. report says -- a hint that the United States may not have been totally forthcoming here.

THE subsequent fortunes of the Soviet military men involved in the KE007 shootdown point to a conflict on the subject between the high command and the post-Andropov civilian leadership -- a conflict that is apparently still unresolved. After being officially hailed, according to himself, as "a hero," Major Osipovich was sidelined and is now a disgruntled and lonely gardener. Colonel General Semyon Romanov, chief of staff at the Soviet air-defense headquarters, in Moscow, was relieved of his responsibilities immediately after the shootdown and sent to inspect Soviet forces in East Germany -- a colonial posting and therefore a demotion. Romanov was the first Soviet spokesman to mention the RC-135. In a Tass news conference, Romanov implied that the Soviets had mistaken KE007 for the American reconnaissance aircraft -- a tacit admission of faulty recognition. Romanov committed suicide in May of 1984. The Izvestiya team has speculated that he may have brooded over the injustice of his demotion -- whether it was for speaking out of turn or for allowing KE007 to fly right across Kamchatka without being intercepted, which was seen as a blot on the professional competence of the Soviet defense forces.
Both the Soviet-command recordings and the Izvesttjya articles mention the four-star general Ivan Moiseyevich Tretyak, the commander of the Far East military district at the time, as the officer who gave the final order to destroy KE007. Tretyak was later named head of the Soviet civil-defense system, a move sidewise; but after the nineteen-year-old daredevil West German pilot Mathias Rust flew a Cessna 172 through the Soviet air defenses to land in Moscow's Red Square (according to Izvestiya, two radar officers were given four and five years in a labor camp for negligence) Tretyak was promoted to command the entire Soviet Air Defense Forces, a post he held until 1991.
So it seems clear that the Soviet military establishment, defying all the evidence, closed ranks around the hard-line theory that KE007 was engaged in a "dual-purpose political provocation organized by the U.S. special services." The thesis, which is occasionally featured in the writings of Western conspiracy theorists, is that Captain Chun was bribed, persuaded, or ordered to fly over the Soviet Union on a kind of even-money gamble: if he was shot down, the incident could be used to "whip up anti-Soviet hysteria"; if he succeeded, then the American "special services" could taunt the Soviet air defenses with their inefficiency. This is a highly unlikely propaganda ploy in the real world but is the kind of thing likely to haunt the sleepless nights of touchy military men.

ALTHOUGH the Cold War itself was the essential background of the KE007 tragedy, history will want to know who made the fatal decision. Even the cruellest laws do not enforce themselves. Early in 1991, Andrei Illesh bearded Ivan Tretyak in his Moscow headquarters. The interview was brief. The General anticipated the journalist's question "`Who made the decision to destroy the plane?" with a surly triple counter-question: "Who needs this investigation? Who is behind it? Who ordered it?"
"Conscience, in the final analysis," Illesh replied.


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