Plane Operations: Korean Airlines Flight 007

The Korean Airlines Boeing 747 that flew the doomed flight 007 in 1983.
The Korean Airlines Boeing 747 that flew the doomed flight 007 in 1983.

June 14th, 2015.

Outline of the Incident.

The Widely Agreed Facts.

On September 1st, 1983 a Korean Airlines flight traveling from New York to Seoul via Anchorage, Alaska with 269 people on board was shot down by the then U.S.S.R after the flight departed from it’s flight path by hundreds of miles and encroached on Soviet airspace in the vicinity of a number of sensitive military facilities.

Wikipedia describe it thus:

Korean Airlines Flight 007

“Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (also known as KAL007 and KE007 was a scheduled Korean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage. On September 1, 1983, the airliner serving the flight was shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor near Moneron Island, west of Sakhalin Island, in the Sea of Japan. The interceptor’s pilot was Major Gennadi Osipovich. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, Representative from Georgia in the United States House of Representatives. The aircraft was en route from Anchorage to Seoul when it flew through prohibited Soviet airspace around the time of a U.S. reconnaissance mission.”

“The Soviet Union initially denied knowledge of the incident,[2] but later admitted the shootdown, claiming that the aircraft was on a spy mission.[3] The Politburo said it was a deliberate provocation by the United States[4] to test the Soviet Union’s military preparedness, or even to provoke “
“The Soviet military suppressed evidence sought by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation, such as the flight data recorders,[6] which were released eight years later after the collapse of the Soviet Union “

It is interesting to note that Wikipedia characteristically omit the flight’s divergence from the civil flight path from the primary narrative.

This is a central fact but clearly one that the author of the Wikipedia piece is keen to place in the background.

The fact that the flight’s final departure point was Alaska meant that the US NTSB had a responsibility to investigate the incident. Wikispooks who have a very high quality piece on the MH17 disaster,  have little to add on KAL007 beyond the strange fact that the N.T.S.B were removed from the investigation in what was both an unprecedented event and also contrary to US Law .

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 – Wikispooks

“the NTSB chief in Alaska, James Michelangelo, received an (illegal) order from the NTSB in Washington at the behest of the US State Department requiring that they terminate their investigation and send all documents relating to it to Washington, where the State Department would now conduct their own investigation”

US President Ronald Reagan during his deceitful address to the world regarding KAL007 of September 5th, 1983, four days after the event.
US President Ronald Reagan during his deceitful address to the world regarding KAL007 of September 5th, 1983, four days after the event.

The US Response-Ruthless Exploitation.

The Reagan administration responded to the KAL007 event it  by ruthlessly and cynically milking and manipulating the grief of the people of the US and the world for propaganda purposes.

It was soon established conclusively through the translation of the intercepts of the transmissions from the Soviet SU15 that the USSR believed the flight was a military flight and that was the reason for the tragedy, the plane flew wildly from the civilian air route, intersected with a US RC135 spy mission, was mistaken for a US spy mission as a result and was downed on that basis.

This became known to the US administration soon after the event but they chose not to share this information with the broader public. As James Bamford writes in his LA Times review of Seymour Hersh and R.W Johnson’s works on the case:

“the U.S. Air Force knew almost immediately that the Soviets believed that they had attacked an American military intruder, not a civilian airliner; and that American leaders, most notably Secretary of State Shultz, misrepresented the situation because it served political purposes to portray the Soviets as deliberate murderers of civilians.”

When President Reagan spoke to the people of the US and the world about the event four days later, he knew full well that the shoot down was a tragic accident but chose to pursue the ridiculous claim that the USSR shot the plane down out of pure malevolence and with the knowledge that it was a civilian airliner in order to maintain the emotional impact of the propaganda.

U.S President Ronald Reagan addressed the US on September 5th, 1983.

“My fellow Americans I am coming before you tonight about the Korean airline massacre, the attack by the Soviet Union against 269 innocent men, women, and children aboard an unarmed Korean passenger plane. This crime against humanity must never be forgotten, here or throughout the world.”

Reagan chose to lie to the American people and abuse the understandable grief they were feeling for political gain. This is a pattern that recurs to this day.

The fact that the incident had been an accident and the US Government knew that it was an accident emerged within weeks of the event, but this was long after the propaganda message had been absorbed by a credulous public.

According to Seymour Hersh the goodwill the disaster created was helpful to US efforts to station long range Pershing missiles in Western Europe.

Previously these plans had met with stiff resistance from a European public keen to avoid being any more of a nuclear target but after the KAL007 propaganda triumph the protests were small and muted.*

President Reagan’s Address to the Nation on the Soviet Attack on a Korean Airliner (KAL 007)

the USSR Response- Counterproductive at best.

The response of the USSR was anger, indignation and a cover up that played entirely into the hands of the low and dishonest Washington D.C propagandists. The principle cause of the Soviet cover up was probably the fact that KAL007 was attacked near the edge of Soviet airspace and actually crashed in international waters, having continued to progress in descent for at least 12 minutes after the attack when it disappeared from radar.

RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft the USAF converted Boeing 707 that closely resembles the KA 007 Boeing 747
RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft the USAF converted Boeing 707 that closely resembles the KA 007 Boeing 747

The Context of the Event- Psy-Ops and RC 135 Reconnaissance Flights.

During the Cold war, the US routinely conducted reconnaissance missions using a converted Boeing 707 ( the precursor to the 747) aircraft called the RC 135. These missions would probe at the edges of Soviet airspace and regularly conduct minor incursions into Soviet airspace causing fighter jets to be scrambled before returning to international airspace.

These operations were but one part of a large scale psychological warfare campaign that the US was conducting against the USSR at the time which generally translated into conducting minor provocations in order to irritate the Soviets and/or elicit a response that would be then used to “catapult the propaganda” effort the US was conducting against the Soviet Union.

Context of ‘Mid-September, 1983: Secretary of State Shultz Lambasts Soviet Foreign Minister over Korean Airlines Shootdown’
“The US begins launching what the Pentagon calls “psychological operations,” or PSYOPS, against the USSR. The operations consist in part of military exercises designed to agitate and frighten the USSR into believing the US might be preparing for a military assault. Few outside of the White House and the Pentagon’s top officials—and Soviet officials, of course—know about the series of provocative exercises. Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle will later recall: “It was very sensitive. Nothing was written down about it, so there would be no paper trail.” The idea behind the operations is to keep the Soviets off-balance about what, if anything, the US might do. It also is designed to probe for gaps and vulnerabilities in the Soviets’ early warning intelligence system. General Jack Chain, a Strategic Air Command (SAC) commander, will later recall: “Sometimes we would send bombers over the North Pole and their radars would click on. Other times fighter-bombers would probe their Asian or European periphery.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007]

The flightpath of KA007 intersected with the flight path of US reconnaissance missions being flown by RC135 aircraft which was an almost identical aircraft when viewed from beneath as the Soviet pilot viewed KAL007.

This map depicts the planned flight path of 007 and it's diversion.
This map depicts the planned flight path of 007 and it’s diversion.

The Mystery: Massive Deviation from the planned flight path.

KA007 deviated from the regular planned flightpath by a maximum distance of 365 miles / 584 kilometres for reasons that have never been explained.

The U.S.S.R claimed the flight was undertaking a reconnaissance mission on behalf of the U.S. There is no hard proof to support this claim but the almost identical unexplained deviation of a Korean Airlines passenger jet over Soviet Airspace in 1978 indicates that this claim is likely correct despite the fact that all Soviet claims relating to this flight are severely tainted by the fact that the Soviet government suppressed the existence of the Flight Data Recorders for almost a decade after the event.

The flight’s departure from it’s planned path is the central mystery and primary cause of the disaster and the  Soviet paranoia about US surveillance operations against them in the area combined to cause the  tragic mistake.

Captain of Krean Air Flight 007, Chun Byung In
Captain of Korean Air Flight 007, Chun Byung In

Competing Hypotheses.

The KAL007 disaster was the subject of extremely intense debates that mirror those about events such as 911, MH17 and MH370 today with many claims that the aptly named Flight 007 was part of a US surveillance operation against the Soviet Union.. There are many references from the 1980s to the case being the “second biggest conspiracy story” behind the JFK case.

In the intervening years the event has greatly diminished in prominence due to the (provisional) end of the cold war and  also the onslaught of far bigger and more obvious “deep events” and false flag attacks such as Oklahoma City, WTC 93 and September 11th, 2001.

No less than Seymour Hersh wrote about a book about KA007, apparently to debunk the “conspiracy claims” of David Pearson who wrote a book named  “KAL007:the Cover Up” and British academic R.W Johnson who wrote another titled “Shootdown 007 and the American Role” about the incident.

The Seymour Hersh Position.

“The Target Is Destroyed” Analysis –
The Seymour Hersh account of this event actually resembles to a stunning degree the basic pattern of his work on the bin Laden raid, it is a critical account that largely supports the US version of events, but without the outrageous propaganda elements.
The Seymour Hersh thesis is a very obvious limited hang out designed to obscure the truth. At first glance the description of events seems credible, but further analysis makes it clear that his work on this case, although full of merit, is a deliberate attempt to obscure the truth by creating a more widely palatable and altogether more adult account than the trashy and low US government response of September 1983.

Hersh states flatly that the US government knew the event was an accident soon after it took place but chose not to share this knowledge with the public and in the interests of the Western propaganda effort, continued to pretend that the event was a deliberate massacre rather than an accident.

Beyond that Hersh affirms the major elements of the US Government story with the finding that there is no evidence to support the alternative hypothesis of an intelligence mission gone wrong. Hersh frankly admits that he has no explanation for the flight’s radical deviation.from the designated R20 flightpath and can only speculate that crew error was the cause with the absolutely farcical “fuel saving short cut” as his second best explanation..

Dangerous Cold War Events: Seymour Hersh on Korean Air Lines Flight 007 – Interview (1986)

The Western Opposition Position.
The other Western position posits that the aircraft must have been conducting some type of spy mission or deliberate provocation because the Captain of the flight could not possibly be so incompetent as to incorrectly program his in flight computer to such a degree accidentally. The crux of it is that the pilot must have known that he was flying off course, must have done so deliberately and the best explanation for him doing that deliberately was a US spy mission.
This was the position taken by British academic R.W Johnson in his book on KA007 “Shootdown KAL007 and the US Role”.

This is Johnson’s attempted rebuttal of the Hersh position in a review of Hersh’s book in the London Review of Books.

R.W. Johnson reviews ‘‘The target is destroyed’’ by Seymour Hersh · LRB 23 October 1986

“First, we have to assume that 007’s pilot decided, for reasons of his own, to scrap his computerised flight plan (the fact that his scribbles on that plan suggest that he then planned the route he actually took is ignored). Then, because that meant he was rushed, we assume he made ‘a monumental error’ about his fuel, taking on five extra tons of the stuff – enough to crash the plane had it been fully loaded. (But there was no rush – take-off was actually delayed for 40 minutes – and the pilot filled in one set of papers correctly, one incorrectly.) We then assume that the crew decided not to use the pre-programmed flight-plan cassette with which they had been issued, instead opting to program their three flight computers manually. We further assume that one of these computers was then wrongly programmed with a 10-degree error (we’re not just assuming a mistake but one very specific mistake – a 9-degree or 11-degree error won’t do), and when the other computers threw up their inevitable warning of this error, that the error was resolved by switching off the warning light and leaving the error intact. We then assume that the pilot, despite his reputation as KAL’s No 1 and a ‘human computer’, disregarded the obligatory checking procedure designed to ensure that the computers had been correctly programmed. Then we assume that the pilot, once aloft, made a further decision to switch over to control by his Inertial Navigational System (INS) without checking, as he should have, that he was actually on the right course.”

It seems that Johnson is primarily trying to state that it is impossible that the pilot could mistakenly travel so far from the designated flight path, this must have been intentional and therefore the flight must have been involved in an intelligence operation. It seems a solid argument, but hardly devastating and I was prepared to accept the Hersh version as the best available explanation for the KAL007 tragedy until I came across the story of ANOTHER Korean Air Lines jet flying into Soviet Airspace and being targeted by the Soviet Air force, from FIVE YEARS earlier and it is the strange and closely related case of KAL902 from 1978 that provides the strongest clue as to the truth behind the downing of KAL007.

KAL902 makes a rough landing on a frozen lake in April 1978.
KAL902 makes a rough landing on a frozen lake in April 1978.

The Missing Link- KAL902, April 20th 1978.
KAL902 was a Korean Airlines 707 flying from Paris to Seoul via Anchorage that was shot down by the Soviet Air force leading to two deaths.
The plane was successfully crash landed on a frozen Russian lake and the passengers were released by the Soviet Union two days later.
The crew were detained for a week and when the pilot, Captain Kim Chang Ky was released he could offer no explanation for the incursion into Soviet Airspace.

Western fixers eventually came up with a wild tale about the pilot miscalculating his flight path and accidentally straying into Soviet airspace due to the problems caused by the instruments of navigation malfunctioning  in the vicinity of the North pole!
The story appears to be classic face saving concoction designed to mask what seems to have been an intelligence gathering operation gone wrong.

This is a summary of the Official story of KAl902.

Magnetic intruder: The strange story of Korean Air Lines Flight 902. |

“Captain Kim abruptly changed course, making a sudden hairpin turn to the southeast. The plane continued flying in a straight line, but was now headed back toward Europe, and specifically its icy northern rim where the USSR touched Finland on the Karelian Peninsula.”

“The captain was unaware of where he was going. The course change happened almost right on top of the magnetic North Pole, and magnetic interference seems to have affected the plane’s instruments. From the air the terrain all around the Arctic looks much the same no matter where you are, so there were no visual cues that the plane was off-course.”

We are expected to believe that Korean pilots alone have unique navigational problems not experienced by the pilots of any other nation and that these massive miscalculations twice led to the accidental encroachment into Soviet airspace provoking an armed response!

It is the typical nonsense we are so used to hearing, always cloaked by the emotion of the tragedy that is ruthlessly exploited for naked political gain.

Pilot of Korean Jet Downed In Russia Fails to Explain Incident

A Washington Post article dated April 30th, 1978 details the absolutely bizarre performance of the pilot of KAL902 at his release. Kim Chang Ky spoke only through an interpreter despite being fluent in English and offered no explanation whatsoever for the plane’s divergence from it’s path nor the failure to respond to any of the communications from the Soviet fighter jets.

Another Washington Post article provides an interesting glimpse into the Soviet US relationship at the time of each of the KAL events and some possible motives for a provocation.

Plane Incidents Contain Eerie Similarities – The Washington Post

“The 1978 and 1983 incidents occurred when the two superpowers, after months of coolness, were seeking to resume arms control negotiations. On April, 20, 1978, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance was in Moscow discussing arms control with Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko. His visit continued despite a world outcry against Moscow.
On Friday, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said he intends to meet Gromyko in Madrid Thursday, and the Reagan administration has said it will continue bilateral arms-control efforts.”

In this case we also hear the same disingenuous line that has been repeated so many times, that “the Government wouldn’t do that to people.”

This completely misses the point that the people instructing the pilot and running the mission did not expect the flight to be completely destroyed, but reassured themselves that if it happened, it would be a big propaganda victory.
It was a classic win-win situation, they either gather intelligence or score a major propaganda coup.

Context of ‘Mid-September, 1983: Secretary of State Shultz Lambasts Soviet Foreign Minister over Korean Airlines Shootdown’

“According to a memo issued to the Politburo by the Defense Ministry and the KGB
“We are dealing with a major, dual-purpose political provocation carefully organized by the US special services. The first purpose was to use the incursion of the intruder aircraft into Soviet airspace to create a favorable situation for the gathering of defense data on our air defense system in the Far East, involving the most diverse systems including the Ferret satellite. Second, they envisaged, if this flight were terminated by us, [the US would use] that fact to mount a global anti-Soviet campaign to discredit the Soviet Union.”

Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald died on flight 007-or did he?
Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald died on flight 007-or did he?

Wilder Stories.

There are a number of wilder stories regarding this flight. That the Congressman Larry McDonald who died on the flight was targeted for assassination, that the flight landed safely and those on board were taken prisoner by the USSR. There is no way to completely discount these stories but their appears to be little evidence and logic in these claims. Without being mean the notion that Larry McDonald, head of the John Birch Society would be a worthy target of a Cold war assassination masked as an air disaster appears to be completely preposterous. Whatever Congressman McDonald’s qualities, he was a marginal figure in US political life and the John Birch connection was a lifetime guarantee of that.

Resonances with Recent Events.


On July 18th, 2014, short of 24 hours after the incident, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stood in the Australian Parliament and baldly announced to a credulous Australian media and public that Malaysian Airline Flight 17 had been DELIBERATELY shot down over Eastern Ukraine in an intentional act of MURDER.
These words were a direct historical echo of the dishonesty and manipulation that emanated from the White House in 1983 in the wake of the KAl007 tragedy.

MH17 ‘looks less like an accident than a crime’

The Australian people were astonishingly expected to believe that the Novorussian fighters were a group of jihadist maniacs like the IS or al Qaeda who would deliberately shoot down a civilian aircraft out of sheer malevolence.
The Novorussian fighters, for all their faults are not now and have never been engaged in any terrorist attacks or the deliberate targeting of opposition civilians.
The Novorussian Republics are not at war with the West and to characterise them that way is simply pitiful.
More importantly, the highly controversial Kharkov event aside I am not aware even of any allegations of terrorism from the fighters of the Eastern Republics.

There has not been bombing and shelling of pro government areas, although there was a controversial incident in Mariupol that may have been the result of rebel fire, it would be the exception to the rule.

Not a single attack has taken place against the people of Kiev or anywhere else outside the zone of conflict.
The recurring message from dishonest Western leaders of the War party is simply,

“We say they are the enemy so they are the enemy.”

The fact that there is no longer any ideological basis for the position no longer matters. Any enemy will do.


The ever present parallel of the deeply upsetting big lie aside and the very odd story of Korean Air Lines Flight 85 on September 11th the real parallel is the way that the like 911, for unknown reasons the NTSB were entirely relieved of their investigative authority for unknown reasons.


KAL007 was not a Spy plane it was one element of a larger surveillance operation.

The mission of KAL007 seems fairly clear in retrospect. KAL077 was not a spy flight per se, it was one device tasked with playing a role in a larger reconnaissance mission.

KAL007 was tasked like it’s forerunner, the far luckier KAL902 with specifically violating the Soviet Air Defenses in order to trigger the mobilisation of the Soviet Air Defense systems which US spy satellites would photograph and monitor for military purposes.

The operatives who instructed the flight to violate Soviet airspace presumably did not expect the flight to be destroyed The USSR decision to target the flight was a monumental blunder. An act of criminal stupidity and the responsibility must be shared between the  two self interested and dishonest super powers. But once the flight was downed it was seen as manna from heaven and the most cynical and manipulative response imaginable followed from the US government.

If KAL007 is examined in isolation, the case for an intelligence operation seems spurious but the combination of the two inexplicably “lost over Russia” Korean Airlines jets in such a small space of time rather gives the game away regarding both flights in my opinion.

It is worth remembering that South Korea was, and remains a front line Cold war state in a state of cold conflict with North Korea. Since the end of the Korean war tens of thousands of US troops have remained a constant presence.

The commitment to the narrative of the Cold war is understandably strong in South Korea and the high level of dependence on the United States is also clear.

The other conclusion that can be drawn from this event is that when great powers clash, propaganda trumps the facts on every occasion as it has done with the MH17 disaster and many others more recently.

The callous exploitation of the grief of the American people in the wake of the 007 disaster was disgraceful, it became known that Reagan officials had not been truthful in their description of the KAL007 disaster within weeks and yet the Officials responsible remained unrepentant and the controlled press offered little criticism of their dangerous and irresponsible actions following the KAL007 disaster.

It was amusing to note that in the wake of the MH17 disaster Fox News actually tried to criticise Obama for not sufficiently echoing the dishonesty of President Reagan after 007 and suddenly it seems the quarter century long end of the Cold war never happened.

Ronald Reagan’s reaction in 1983

* (Hersh states during the course of the C-Span interview embedded above that the event took place at a helpful time for the US government as they were hoping to move a number of long range missiles into Europe, there was expected to be a lot of opposition from anti-war types but in the wake of all the anger created by this tragedy and the accompanying propaganda, the scheme met with very little opposition!)

When the Cold War got hot: the tragedy of KAL Flight 007. |

Kamchatka Peninsula – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Korean Airlines 007 revisited, page 1

Plane Incidents Contain Eerie Similarities – The Washington Post

International Air Law and ICAO – Michael Milde – Google Books


Click to access 3008-1978-04-30-LN-a-AMS.pdf forum: Photos Of 1978 Korean Air 707 Forced Landing

Korean Air Lines Flight 902 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BBC ON THIS DAY | 1 | 1983: Korean airliner ‘shot down’

From the Monitor’s archives: Shootdown of Korean Air Flight KAL007 –

Context of ‘Mid-September, 1983: Secretary of State Shultz Lambasts Soviet Foreign Minister over Korean Airlines Shootdown’

George P. Shultz – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

MGM-31 Pershing – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cold War Museum

KAL Flight 007 Remembered

CanSpeccy: Did New World Order Critic, U.S. Congressman Larry MacDonald, Survive The ‘Shootdown’ Of KAL 007?

Larry McDonald – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on KAL 007—September 5, 1983

Hersh Bibliography – Hersh-Bibliography1.pdf

Click to access Hersh-Bibliography1.pdf

The” “Target Is Destroyed Summary –

R.W. Johnson reviews ‘‘The target is destroyed’’ by Seymour Hersh · LRB 23 October 1986

The Target Is Destroyed: What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew About It | Foreign Affairs

Shootdown: Flight 007 and the American Connection by R.W. Johnson (Viking: $18.95; 352 pp.) : “The Target Is Destroyed”: What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew About It by Seymour M. Hersh (Random House: $17.95; 282 pp.) – latimes

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 – Wikispooks

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 transcripts – Wikisource, the free online library

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 alternative theories – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Yukon filmmaker revisits 9/11 Korean Air ‘hijack’ incident | Alaska Dispatch

Korean Air Flight 85 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Capt. Chun Byung-In

30 Years After the Cold War Tragedy of Flight 007 | Opinion | The Moscow Times

Ex-Soviet Pilot Still Insists KAL 007 Was Spying –

KAL 007 The Questions Remain Unanswered, by Robert W. Lee

Theories persist on KAL 007 shootdown –

Paul Foot reviews ‘Shootdown’ by R.W. Johnson · LRB 24 July 1986

“The Target Is Destroyed” Analysis –


Click to access 0350_16_03_1984.pdf


Click to access a194976.pdf

R. W. Johnson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Who was Shelling the City of Mariupol? | Global Research

8 thoughts on “Plane Operations: Korean Airlines Flight 007

  1. James,

    ref “Larry McDonald.. would be a worthy target of a Cold war assassination masked as an air disaster appears to be completely preposterous”..

    given the sober and clear statements made by Larry in following interview, large sections of NY and TLV must have been extremely pleased, when Larry “disappeard” on KE007.. (skip first 3:30)

    After all, up to this very day, there are practically no politicians far and wide, who are willing to risk their neck and are putting the cards on the table / explaining to the public what is really going on behind the scenes…

    Larry’s explanations of NWO are also reflected by statements of Tomas Schuman / Yuri Bezmenov here

    Best regards

    Richard Maurer

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