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KAL 007 Seen by US Reconnaissance



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KAL 007's Intrusion into Soviet Airspace Seen by U.S. Reconnaissance!

The continuation of this article is now available online here.

One of the great unknowns has always been the question of U.S. responsibility in KAL 007's deviation from course causing it to enter Soviet airspace over Kamchatka and the Sakhalin Island. This question was extremely pertinent in the light of the admitted fact that there was indeed a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft in the vicinity as KAL 007 made its intrusion into Soviet airspace over Kamchatka. What it was doing was positioning to intercept the telemetry from the Soviet test launching of the first of all mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), the illegal (according to the SALT agreements) SS-25 which was to hit the Kliyuchi target range on Kamchatka. Could not the RC-135 have seen the jumbo jet and warned it of its danger, as well as informing its own command and civilian air traffic controllers? Could not it have intercepted the ground chatter from the Soviet posts along Kamchatka as Soviet MiGs were scrambled to intercept KAL 007 as it passed from the Soviet Flight Information Region (FIR) into the Soviet Defense Zone - forbidden to non-Soviet aircraft? Could not it have seen the Soviet radars along the coast lighting up as they successively captured the passenger aircraft as it dangerously made its way across Petropavlovsk on the coast bristling with its weaponry - its Pacific nuclear ICB submarine fleet, and its airfields?

These questions have never had an answer for one reason only: The U.S. courts had decided that the obtaining of this information would have compromised U.S. national security interests. The capabilities of U.S. intelligence, and in particular the capabilities of the RC-135, could not be revealed in the height of the Cold War. And so, that track was abandoned by the committee of the lawyers, and the U.S. itself as plaintiff was dropped in the ensuing litigation in both the liability cases and the cases for damages. But what if there was a way to learn what had happened that did not involve revealing the capabilities of the RC-135? What if what had happened was related by people who knew rather than by a revealing of classified technical capabilities?

That is exactly what has come to the fore now.

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 and nothing was done about it. No reporting of the disaster about to take place. 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. I leave it to you to evaluate and to help us to act. His words are in the form of letters to this Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors. If they seem redundant, it is because he is clarifying statements at my request. We start with his unsolicited letter to the Committee (There are deletions made to ensure non-disclosure of identity. The possible need for this will be apparent. Perhaps, at a later stage, with the airman's permission, more information will be forthcoming.) -

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 onboard 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. Until I heard the statement on TV tonight, I never knew that there was any disavowment of knowledge about the incident. Since I had such a high security clearance at the time, I have never mentioned this to anyone and even today worry about sending you this, but I hope that this little bit of truth may help.

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?
  4. Is there any way that we can get in touch with any of these people? Do you recall their names? Have you kept in contact with any of them or know of their whereabouts?

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.
  4. I'm sorry, but as so often happens, there are too many miles under the bridge and I don't remember any of the linguists. As is typical in the military, you work so close and depend on each other so much only to lose touch during all of the assignments and years....

Can the U.S. government be somehow moved to reopen investigation into the shootdown of KAL 007 and reopen the issue of survivors of this great tragedy? Can the issues of the U.S. responsibility in not preventing this tragedy from occurring in the first place be the catalyst for the U.S. to be so moved?

Bert Schlossberg
Director, The International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors, Inc.


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Last modified: March 10, 2009

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