One of the great mysteries of the 20th century is the disappearance into thin air of all but a handful of the 269 passengers and crew on KAL Flight 007, the Korean airliner that was forced down by a Soviet fighter plane off the coast of Sakhalin Island on Sept. 1, 1983. Congressman Larry P. McDonald, a Georgia Democrat, and 60 other Americans were among those who vanished without a trace. The final report of the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, issued in 1993, concluded that everyone aboard the plane died in the crash, but only partial remains of perhaps as many as 10 people were found. Two mangled bodies were found floating in the water and none was found in the Boeing 747 that Soviet divers located in about 300 feet of water off the coast of Sakhalin Island. According to accounts published in Izvestia, the government newspaper, in 1990-91, the first divers to inspect the plane soon after it went down found the fuselage largely intact. They were astonished to find no bodies and no baggage.
Sen. Jesse Helms sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, on Dec. 10, 1991, in which he asked Yeltsin to provide information from KGB and Ministry of Defense files that would answer important questions that had been raised about KAL 007. Sen. Helms expressed the hope that the improvement in relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would make it possible “to resolve the mysteries surrounding this event.”
His first request would be considered off the wall by many. It was: “Please provide depositions or accounts from eyewitnesses who saw KAL 007’s landing” and “the coordinates of the location where KAL 007 landed.” Most of those who remember this highly publicized tragedy probably are still under the impression conveyed by what our major media reported at the time-that the plane was “cartwheeling toward the sea” (Time magazine) and “blasted from the skies” (AP). They think of the plane being demolished and all aboard being killed after a 35,000-foot free fall. Could that be a “landing?”
Soviet Disinformation and Deception
The first Soviet disinformation in the KAL 007 case originated with Lt. Col. Gennadiy Osipovich, the pilot of an SU-15 interceptor who fired two missiles at the Boeing 747 that had strayed far off course on a flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Seoul, Korea. It had overflown Kamchatka without having been found by the Soviet interceptors sent up to bring it down. Still, not realizing they were far north of their intended course, the pilots flew over Sakhalin Island and were exiting Soviet airspace when Osipovich finally locked on and fired his two missiles. He reported, “The target is destroyed,” but it was not true.
One of the missiles, a heat-seeker, missed its intended target, one of the jet’s four engines. The other detonated near the plane, and the shrapnel tore a hole about 16 x 16 inches in the rear of the passenger cabin, causing its rapid decompression. [The size of the hole is calculated from the 11 seconds it took for oxygen masks to deploy automatically.] The few body parts that were found suggest that a few of those seated near that hole were swept through it by the escaping pressurized air, but the pilots were able to keep the plane under control.
We know from the tapes from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and the flight data recorder (FDR), which were not turned over to ICAO until January 1993, that all four engines continued to function normally, proving that the heat-seeking missile missed its target. The tapes also show that the nose pitched up and the 747 momentarily gained altitude, but the pilots were able to return to 35,000 feet in a little more than a minute. They then began a rapid descent to the 5,000 meter level (16,440 feet), the altitude at which oxygen masks would no longer be essential to sustain life. KAL 007’s descent from 35,000 feet can be divided into four stages. Japanese radar showed that it went from 35,000 feet to 1,000 feet in 12 minutes, slowing down as it went.
KAL 007’s Four-stage Descent
|Descent in Feet||Time in Min.||Ft. per Min.||Time Completed|
|Stage 1 – 18,600||5||3,720||3:31: a.m.*|
|Stage 2 – 11,400||4||2,850||3:35: a.m.|
|Stage 3 – 4,000||3||1,333||3:38: a.m.|
|Final – 1,000||1 (est.)||1,000 (est.)||3:39: a.m.|
The speed of the decline fell 24 percent in the second stage and 53 percent in the third. It probably fell further in the final stage because the pilot would be slowing down to try to make a soft landing. Reports in Izvestia from Soviet sources and reports from Japanese fishermen indicated that the pilot had brought the plane down in a broad spiral and had twice circled Moneron, a small island 26 miles west of Sakhalin, apparently looking for a good place to ditch the plane.
What They Were Hiding
More than thirteen minutes elapsed from the time the missiles were fired until the plane hit the water, but the CVR and FDR tapes the Russians concealed for more than 9 years covered only the first minute and 44 seconds of those 13 minutes. The Soviets didn’t even admit that they had recovered the black boxes until 1991. There was no known catastrophic event at 34,000 feet that would have caused both recorders to cease functioning simultaneously. There was something on those tapes that the Soviets did not want the world to know, and to this day they have succeeded in concealing what the last 11 minutes and 16 seconds of those tapes showed. It is probably evidence that the plane “landed” safely with many survivors. If it had crashed, killing all aboard, there would be no reason to conceal the portion of the tapes that would prove it.
A study done for Sen. Helms reported that eyewitnesses had given statements saying they had seen the plane land safely on the water. That is why he asked Yeltsin for eyewitness accounts of the landing. Soviet military communications showed that commanding officers knew from their own radar where the plane was coming down. They ordered both navy and civilian vessels to converge on Moneron.
Avraham Shifrin, director of a research center in Israel that studied Soviet prisons and forced labor camps, issued a paper on July 11, 1991, in which he claimed that Soviet coast guard vessels under the command of KGB General Romanenko were alongside the plane soon after it ditched. He said all the passengers and crew, together with their luggage, were taken to the coast guard base on Sakhalin. He said all were subsequently sent to mainland prison camps, except for the pilot, the copilot and Cong. Larry McDonald, a high-profile Georgia Democrat who was president of the anticommunist John Birch Society. Shifrin said they were taken to the Lubyanka, the KGB prison in Moscow. Shifrin, a former Soviet official who had served 17 years in prisons and in exile before emigrating to Israel, had good contacts among former prisoners and emigr?s.
He also claimed that after all those aboard the plane disembarked, it was towed to shallower water and sunk in about 300 feet of water between Sakhalin and Moneron. Schifrin said the towing was photographed from the air by a plane. A top secret CIA report concurred with this, but said that the photos were taken from a helicopter. Three teams of Soviet divers soon inspected the plane on the ocean floor, according to interviews with the divers published in Izvestia.
The Persuasive Evidence
The strongest support for Shifrin’s claim that nearly everyone aboard KAL 007 survived is the abundance of shoes found floating in the water or washed up on Hokkaido beaches and the failure to find bodies, life jackets, suitcases, and personal effects such as handbags and wallets either on the sea, on the beaches or in the plane. Izvestia reported that the divers who inspected it were surprised by what they saw. There were a few body parts, but no bodies, no baggage, few personal effects and no life jackets. In addition none of the seat belts were fastened.
This indicates that as the captain was preparing to ditch the plane, he instructed everyone to put on the life jackets, take off their shoes and fasten their seatbelts. When the plane came to rest, floating on the water, they unfastened their seat belts, kept the life jackets on, grabbed their belongings and boarded the Soviet coast guard or other vessels that came to remove them, leaving their shoes behind. If the ditching had failed, there would have been a lot of shoeless life-jacketed bodies either floating on the surface or strapped in their seats. There would also have been an abundance of suitcases and purses containing valuables and money floating around.
The top-secret CIA study that endorsed much of Shifrin’s evidence, reported that the amount of aircraft structural debris was “likened to that of a crash of a Piper Cub.” By Sept. 20, 1983, 449 pieces of aircraft debris had been found by Japan and only 54 were turned over by the Soviets. That includes items like seat cushions and paper cups. The largest structural part of the aircraft recovered was a piece of aluminum measuring 28 by 32 inches that was believed to have come from the vertical stabilizer on the tail. That may have been torn off by shrapnel from the same missile that tore a hole in the passenger cabin.
The Japanese had found only two bodies, both badly mutilated, and 11 small body parts. The Soviets did not turn over any, but their divers who inspected the plane soon after it was towed to shallow water and sunk reported seeing a few body parts, but they had not been told to retrieve them. Japan found 323 items belonging to passengers or crew, the Soviets only 22. Over the next three months the Soviets turned over an additional 153 small items, bringing their total to 235 compared to 785 for Japan. Those 1,020 items are all that was reported recovered from this jumbo jet carrying 269 people.
Survivors Saved, Search Stymied
Rescue 007, a paperback book published this year by Bert Schlossberg, an American-born Israeli scholar, whose father-in-law and sister-in-law were passengers on the plane, also endorses Shifrin’s claims. Schlossberg met Shifrin and one of his sources in 1991. He credits those meetings with changing his focus from trying to find missing bodies to trying to find the live survivors. He quotes Soviet military communications given to the U.N. in 1992 that show that they knew only minutes after the plane landed that it was near Moneron. At 3:55 a.m., only 16 minutes after the time KAL 007 hit the water, Gen. Strogov, the deputy commander of the Far East Military District, ordered that all civilian ships near Moneron be sent there immediately. Adm. Vladimir Sidorov, the commander of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, said that Soviet vessels were at the site 27 minutes after the plane came down. [All times are Japan time; Schlossberg’s book apparently uses Kamchatka time, which is 3 hours later.]
Schlossberg describes the Soviet search in international waters north of Moneron a month and a half later as an “intentionally misleading and audacious ruse.” The Soviets refused to allow search and rescue units from the U.S., Japan and Korea to search for KAL 007 in their territorial waters. They harassed non-Soviet search vessels and planted a false pinger in deep water to keep them away from the real site, the spot to which they had towed it.
Divers Discredit Demolition Reports
Schlossberg says that the first team of divers that inspected the 747 on the ocean floor was military and that they found the plane largely intact and clambered all over it. The military divers, he says, were assigned to get the black boxes, which they did. Schlossberg claims they were also ordered to plant and detonate explosives to make it look like the plane had crashed into the ocean and had been badly damaged. Divers that inspected it later reported that they observed heavy damage, but they also said that it looked like parts of the plane had been dragged to the places where they were found.
For example, Izvestia published this quote from the diary of Capt. Mikhail Igorevich Girs, the commander of a submersible that was used in the diving operation. “Submergence 10 October. Aircraft pieces, wing spars, pieces of aircraft skin, wiring and clothing. But no people. The impression is that all of this has been dragged here by trawl rather than falling down from the sky.”
V. Zakarchenko, one of the leading divers, refuted the impression that the plane was demolished and a widely accepted assumption that it was the fireball that fishermen on the Chidori Maru 58, a Japanese fishing vessel, had reported seeing at about 3:30 a.m. At that time the ship was 22-1/2 miles north of Moneron and KAL 007, according to radar, was at about 20,000 feet in the air. The fishermen said they had first heard an explosion and then saw an orange-colored, expanding fireball and then heard more explosions. It was widely assumed that they had heard KAL 007 explode and had seen it burning, but Zakarchenko made it clear that whatever they heard and saw it was not KAL 007.
Schlossberg quotes him as saying in an article published in World Wide Issues, February 6, 1991, “But there was no fire in the Boeing-that is for sure. Things were intact, although all thoroughly saturated with kerosene.” He also said, “The aircraft was filled with garbage, but there were really no people there. Why?” The kerosene is a reference to jet fuel, which must have been spewed out when explosive charges planted in the plane after it sank ruptured the fuel tanks. The statements “things were intact” and “the aircraft was filled with garbage” suggest that the passenger cabin was not blown to smithereens. “Filled with garbage” implies a “container,” not scattered pieces of what was once a “container.”
In the November 1991 Reader’s Digest, John Barron, who has long had excellent connections with the intelligence community, reported that the Soviets had launched rescue operations immediately when KAL 007 went down and that the military soon radioed Moscow that they had downed a civilian plane and that some of the passengers were Americans. How could they have known the nationality of the passengers if they had all vanished into thin air, along with their passports, other identification and their luggage? This supplements all the other evidence that indicates that the plane made a soft landing and that nearly all those aboard survived and were made prisoners by the Soviet Union.
It’s Time For The Truth
No response was ever received to the letter Sen. Helms sent Boris Yeltsin. Ten years have now passed, and the evidence that most of the passengers and crew on KAL 007 survived and were imprisoned in Soviet forced labor camps and in prisons is stronger than ever. In December 1991, it was suspected that the CVR and FDR tapes were being withheld by the Soviets because they would show that the plane made a survivable landing and that there were survivors. That suspicion was strengthened by the discovery that the tapes that Yeltsin gave ICAO in January 1993 did not include conversations and data recorded for the last 11 of the 13 minutes of KAL 007’s controlled descent.
Most of the questions Sen. Helms asked are still pertinent and could be asked of President Vladimir Putin. Putin was a young KGB officer at the time, and he may refuse to do anything that would expose the KGB’s dirty linen, but he should be shown the evidence that points to the indefensible imprisonment for over 18 years of a U.S. congressman, Larry McDonald, 60 other American citizens and as many as 200 citizens of other nations. He should be asked to release the complete VCR and FDR tapes and the 108 photographs of the radar screen taken by Lt. Valery Vladimirovich Ryzhkov of Radio Technical Brigade 1845 as he was tracking KAL 007’s descent all of which were confiscated by the KGB. Schlossberg says he was personally told about this by a former Soviet soldier named Reuben who he had met through Schifrin. Reuben had served under Lt. Ryzhkov and said Ryzhkov had told him of his photographing the radar screen, using three 36-exposure rolls of film. He had been ordered not to discuss what he had seen with anyone, but he told Reuben that he was sure the plane made a safe landing.
Questions To Put To Putin
If Putin insists there were no survivors, we should insist that he explain what happened to 260 bodies that were not found in the water or in the submerged plane. The only two explanations we have seen so far have been that they were devoured by crabs, bones and all, and that the plane hit the water with such force that all the bodies totally disintegrated even though the plane, according to the divers, was largely intact. President Bush has developed a rapport with Putin, which he may not wish to jeopardize by asking these embarrassing questions even for the sake of freeing 260 hostages, 61of them Americans. If he is unwilling to do so, it might be possible to find some courageous congressmen and senators who would sign a letter that would get President Putin’s attention if our media can be persuaded to get behind it.
BIN LADEN’S MILITARY MOLE
Last year, a former U.S. Army sergeant, Egyptian-born Ali Mohamed, admitted that he had been involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. He agreed to plead guilty in the federal court for the Southern District of New York. His plea agreement was sealed and he did not testify at the trial of the other defendants, but he told the court that he had helped train members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization, Al Qaeda. A book, Dollars for Terror, by Swiss television journalist Richard Labeviere, suggests that Ali Mohamed was an active agent of U.S. policy who trained bin Laden’s agents in the New York area.
Labeviere, who conducted a four-year investigation, concluded that the international Islamic networks linked to bin Laden were nurtured and encouraged by elements of the U.S. intelligence community, especially during the Clinton years. This strikes some as too outlandish to accept, but Larry C. Johnson, a former deputy director under the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department who had previously worked for the CIA, confirms it at least in part. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that the CIA had a brief relationship with Ali Mohamed after he offered in 1984 to provide information about terrorist groups in the Middle East. In 1981, the year in which Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Army officers who belonged to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Mohamed joined that terrorist group.
FBI Embraces CIA Reject
Larry Johnson told the Chronicle that the CIA had ended its relationship with Mohamed because they found him unreliable, but he said the FBI later used him as an informant. Johnson said the FBI should have recognized that he was a terrorist who was plotting violence against the U.S. “The FBI assumed he was their source,” Johnson said, “but his loyalties lay elsewhere.”
The Egyptian Army sent Ali Mohamed to Ft. Bragg in 1981 to train with the Green Berets for four months. Returning to Egypt, Major Mohamed spent three more years in the Army, but he quit in 1984 and took a security job with Egypt Air. That was when he approached the CIA. In 1985, Mohamed obtained a U.S. visa. He came here in 1986, enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 34 and was assigned to Special Forces at Ft. Bragg as a supply sergeant. Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, one of the officers at Ft. Bragg who got to know him, thought it strange that a major in the Egyptian Army unit that killed President Anwar Sadat would be given a visa to come to the U.S. and that he would be accepted by our Army and assigned to Special Forces. Lt. Col. Anderson says that in 1988 Mohamed told him, “Anwar Sadat was a traitor, and he had to die.”
The colonel assumed that Mohamed was sponsored by the CIA, but Larry Johnson told the Raleigh News & Observer, “He was an active source for the FBI, a double agent.” Johnson charged that the FBI “did a lousy job of managing him. He was holding out on them. He had critical information years ago and didn’t give it up.” That probably explains why Mohamed’s plea agreement was sealed by the court and remains so until this day. The other four defendants, all of whom were foreign nationals, testified at the trial, and all were convicted. Mohamed did not testify for reasons which have yet to be explained. He and his attorney have not been available for interviews. It appears that the secrecy was invoked to spare the FBI and the Army painful embarrassment.
Working For Osama Bin Laden
In 1988, while still on active duty, Mohamed used his leave to go to Afghanistan and fight the Soviet army of occupation. Lt. Col. Anderson told the Chronicle this was “contrary to all Army regulations.” He said he wrote reports to get Mohamed investigated, court-martialed and deported, but no action was ever taken. The News & Observer says that near the end of his tour at Ft. Bragg, Mohamed used to go to New Jersey on weekends to train Islamic fundamentalists in surveillance, weapons and explosives. He was honorably discharged in 1989 with commendations for “patriotism, valor, fidelity and professional excellence.” He relocated in Santa Clara, California, married an American, and became an American citizen, but he was secretly working for Osama bin Laden.
Mohamed traveled abroad to meet with bin Laden and his operatives. He helped move him from Afghanistan to Sudan, and in 1996 he helped him and his aides move back to Afghanistan. He handled sensitive security matters for bin Laden, trained his bodyguards and his fighters in Afghanistan and translated training manuals from English to Arabic. He cased the American Embassy in Nairobi for bin Laden, helping plan the bombing that killed 224 people.
Ali Mohamed, a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, was trusted by both bin Laden and the FBI, but it was the FBI that failed to realize to whom he was really loyal. Bin Laden learned more from Ali Mohamed about the weaknesses in our defense against terrorist attacks than the FBI learned about bin Laden’s plans to attack us. What bin Laden learned must have given him confidence that his carefully planned “Bojinka” attack on September 11 could be executed successfully. What the FBI should have learned was what Larry Johnson and Lt. Col. Robert Anderson knew about Ali Mohamed long ago.
What You Can Do