Hours after the tragic shoot-down on Aug. 30, 1983, the Reagan administration used its very accomplished propaganda machine to twist the available intelligence on Soviet culpability for the killing of all 269 people aboard KAL007. The airliner was shot down after it strayed hundreds of miles off course and penetrated Russia's airspace over sensitive military facilities in Kamchatka and Sakhalin Island. The Soviet pilot tried to signal the plane to land, but the KAL pilots did not respond to the repeated warnings. Amid confusion about the plane's identity -- a U.S. spy plane had been in the vicinity hours earlier -- Soviet ground control ordered the pilot to fire.
The Soviets soon realized they had made a horrendous mistake. U.S. intelligence also knew from sensitive intercepts that the tragedy had resulted from a blunder, not from a willful act of murder (much as on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people, an act which President Ronald Reagan dismissively explained as an "understandable accident").
To make the very blackest case against Moscow for shooting down the KAL airliner, the Reagan administration suppressed exculpatory evidence from U.S. electronic intercepts. Washington's mantra became "Moscow's deliberate downing of a civilian passenger plane." Newsweek ran a cover emblazoned with the headline "Murder in the Sky." (Apparently, not much has changed; Time's cover this week features "Cold War II" and "Putin's dangerous game." The cover story by Simon Shuster, "In Russia, Crime Without Punishment," would merit an A-plus in William Randolph Hearst's course "Yellow Journalism 101.")
When KAL007 was shot down, Alvin A. Snyder, director of the U.S. Information Agency's television and film division, was enlisted in a concerted effort to "heap as much abuse on the Soviet Union as possible," as Snyder writes in his 1995 book, "Warriors of Disinformation."
He and his colleagues also earned an A-plus for bringing the "mainstream media" along. For example, ABC's Ted Koppel noted with patriotic pride, "This has been one of those occasions when there is very little difference between what is churned out by the U.S. government propaganda organs and by the commercial broadcasting networks."
"Fixing" the Intelligence Around the Policy
"The perception we wanted to convey was that the Soviet Union had cold-bloodedly carried out a barbaric act," wrote Snyder, adding that the Reagan administration went so far as to present a doctored transcript of the intercepts to the United Nations Security Council on September 6, 1983.
Only a decade later, when Snyder saw the complete transcripts -- including the portions that the Reagan administration had hidden -- would he fully realize how many of the central elements of the U.S. presentation were false.
The intercepts showed that the Soviet fighter pilot believed he was pursuing a U.S. spy aircraft and that he was having trouble in the dark identifying the plane. Per instructions from ground control, the pilot had circled the KAL airliner and tilted his wings to order the aircraft to land. The pilot said he fired warning shots, as well. This information "was not on the tape we were provided," Snyder wrote.
It became abundantly clear to Snyder that, in smearing the Soviets, the Reagan administration had presented false accusations to the United Nations, as well as to the people of the United States and the world. In his book, Snyder acknowledged his own role in the deception, but drew a cynical conclusion. He wrote, "The moral of the story is that all governments, including our own, lie when it suits their purposes. The key is to lie first."
The tortured attempts by your administration and stenographers in the media to blame Russia for the downing of Flight 17, together with John Kerry's unenviable record for credibility, lead us to the reluctant conclusion that the syndrome Snyder describes may also be at work in your own administration; that is, that an ethos of "getting your own lie out first" has replaced "ye shall know the truth." At a minimum, we believe Secretary Kerry displayed unseemly haste in his determination to be first out of the starting gate.
Both Sides Cannot Be Telling the Truth
We have always taken pride in not shooting from the hip, but rather in doing intelligence analysis that is evidence-based. The evidence released to date does not bear close scrutiny; it does not permit a judgment as to which side is lying about the shoot-down of Flight 17. Our entire professional experience would incline us to suspect the Russians -- almost instinctively. Our more recent experience, particularly observing Secretary Kerry injudiciousness in latching onto one spurious report after another as "evidence," has gone a long way toward balancing our earlier predispositions.
It seems that whenever Kerry does cite supposed "evidence" that can be checked -- like the forged anti-Semitic fliers distributed in eastern Ukraine or the photos of alleged Russian special forces soldiers who allegedly slipped into Ukraine -- the "proof" goes "poof" as Kerry once said in a different context. Still, these misrepresentations seem small peccadillos compared with bigger whoppers like the claim Kerry made on Aug. 30, 2013, no fewer than 35 times, that "we know" the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical incidents near Damascus nine days before.
On September 3, 2013 -- following your decision to call off the attack on Syria in order to await Congressional authorization -- Kerry was still pushing for an attack in testimony before a thoroughly sympathetic Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. On the following day Kerry drew highly unusual personal criticism from President Putin, who said: "He is lying, and he knows he is lying. It is sad."
Equally serious, during the first week of September 2013, as you and President Vladimir Putin were putting the final touches to the deal whereby Syrian chemical weapons would be given up for destruction, John Kerry said something that puzzles us to this day. On September 9, 2013, Kerry was in London, still promoting a U.S. attack on Syria for having crossed the "Red Line" you had set against Syria's using chemical weapons.