KE007 A Conspiracy of Circumstance

Black Box: KAL 007 and the Superpowers

by Alexander Dallin
University of California Press, 130 pp., $7.95 (paper)

KAL Flight 007: The Hidden Story

by Oliver Clubb
Permanent Press, 174 pp., $16.95

Final Report of Investigation as Required in the Council Resolution of September 16, 1983 [C-WP/7764]

International Civil Aviation Organization (Montreal), 113, restricted, but available on serious request pp.

1818th Report to Council by the President of the Air Navigation Commission [C-WP/7809]

International Civil Aviation Organization (Montreal), 23, restricted, but available on serious request pp.

North Atlantic Airspace Operations Manual—Fourth Edition

Civil Aviation Authority (London), 32, available on request pp.

NOPAC Route Systems Operations Handbook Administration

Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation, 16, available on request pp.

Shortly before dawn on September 1, 1983, a Boeing 747 Flight KE007 of Korean Air Lines was shot down over Sakhalin Island in the Soviet Far East by an SU-15 fighter of the Soviet Air Force, with the loss of all 269 passengers and crew on board. The incident set off a contest in vituperation between the super-powers, which, a year and a half later, still reverberates. President Reagan called the shoot-down “a terrorist act to sacrifice the lives of innocent human beings,” while the Soviets have never ceased charging that the aircraft was engaged on a “special mission” of electronic espionage on behalf of the United States, thus by implication justifying what they call their “termination” of the flight.

No satisfactory account of how KE007 came to be over Soviet territory prohibited to all foreign aircraft has yet been published in either country, although, after a tardy start, the Soviets now freely admit that their fighter shot it down on orders radioed to the pilot from his sector commander on the ground. The incident is still routinely used by American officials as proof of the evil they attribute to the Soviet system. The Federal Aviation Administration is prevented by court order from answering questions on the subject, and Washington officials refuse to disclose details of the intelligence operation that they agree was being conducted against the Soviet installations on Sakhalin on the night of the shoot-down.

The inevitable result of American reticence has been copious conspiracy theories, some seeming to take the Soviet propaganda campaign as their point of departure, most based on newspaper clippings and magazine articles, pored over by academics interested in politics and amateurs fascinated by the spying industry and its many tentacles. Further confusion has been contributed by the statements of lawyers active in the suits brought by relatives of the victims against the Korean airline, equipment manufacturers, and the US government. These claims now amount to $2.3 billion and threaten to overwhelm the $400 million in passenger liability insurance carried with Lloyds of London by the airline, which is resisting claims above $75,000 for the death of each passenger. (Lloyds paid out $35 million on the hull of KE007 within weeks of the shoot-down, and continues to insure the airline, which has been renamed Korean Air.)

Now the first two of what are certain to be a great many books on the subject have appeared. One, by Alexander Dallin, is a scholarly attempt to chart the wilderness of theories, conspiracy and otherwise, and identify such landmarks of fact as are known with reasonable certainty. The other, by Oliver Clubb, presents yet another such theory, naming two conspirators, the head of the Reagan administration and Captain Chun Byung In, the dead pilot in command, and indicating the presence of a cast of thousands in between (as, on this account, there must have been, there being no record of pilot and president ever having met).

It is easy to understand why conspiracy theories should …

This article is available to Online Edition and Print Premium subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.
Letters

The Flight of KE007 October 9, 1986

The Flight of Kal-007 January 30, 1986

KE007: An Exchange July 18, 1985