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..I still flinch at the sound of that telephone, although I should have gotten used to it long ago. They call that pale yellow thing with a gold state seal on the dial "the "VERTUSHKA"(1). Officially it is an ATS-2 - a government line. It seldom rings nowadays. However, the people at the other end still think they have the right to question, advise and even lecture a smart alecky press. Although it has been ringing less often these past few years, the distaste towards that insipid gadget still remains.
After publication of the article "Seven Years After the tragedy Over Sakhalin" in last December's issue of Izvestia, No 353, contradicting the official version of the destruction of the South Korean Boeing-747, the "VERTUSHKA" rings! My caller introduced himself and invited me, at my convenience, to drop in at the General Staff of the Armed Forces, so I could peruse some documents prepared especially for Izvestia.
I was genuinely surprised first of all by the quick reaction to the story, but mainly by such kindly concern (for my convenience).
I was struck by all the marble at the General Staff, the difficulty of obtaining a pass and the endless doors, which my escort opened with a special code and then by the detailed diagrams of the battles at Kulikov and Poltava, which hung on the walls. The room, to which I was at last escorted, was modest, but judging by the array of special telephones at his disposal, the occupant, a General Major in shirtsleeves, was an important person.
I don't want to give his name and position, because I am convinced that he apparently had no direct involvement with what was taking place. He was an extremely busy man. Our conversation was constantly interrupted by the phone, with the General barking curt answers into the phone such as, "What? He already took off?", "He is hovering?", "Roger. Take action!" It seemed to me that the General was bored with what was taking place in the office, and when it came time to say good-bye, he shook my hand warmly and escorted my out with no hard feelings. There was one other person in the office in addition to the General and two Colonels, a civilian, who did not introduce himself. He was apparently there just by chance. During our chat, he was absorbed by some, undoubtedly very important, newspaper article or maybe it was a picture. It's hard to imagine someone going through so many doors and passing so many check points just to sit and read.
So what kind of information did they want to give to a newspaper with a circulation in the millions about such a tragic and secret affair as the death of those 269 people over Sakhalin. My naive expectations were dispelled by the very first words. It was as if I was at a regular political session with them explaining the harm that newspaper publications about this subject could cause. Because these articles drive a wedge between the people and the army, they discredit they defame, and finally they play into the hands of western agencies, etc, etc. The paper may even interfere with the president in his conduct of important international affairs. The only information, which I brought away with me, was that I would get no information from the military.
Here for example is the request that the newspaper sent to the General Staff ahead of me.
Izvestia. To the Chief of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces, General of the Army M. A. Moiseev.
Dear Mikhail Alekseevich!.. As the New York Times reported, four influential American senators wrote a letter to the President of the USSR requesting help in unraveling the mysteries, which still surround the destruction of the South Korean aircraft. In view of this request, please allow our reporter to examine the documents covering the investigation into the circumstances of the downing of the aircraft. At present, they are in the possession of the Air Safety Service, Ministry of Defense.
In response to this request, the newspaper received the following:
Your request to allow your reporter access to the files of the investigation of the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the South Korean aircraft in September 1983 has been received by the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR and has been reviewed.
The Air Force and the Air Safety Service of the Ministry of Defense, USSR, do not have the indicated documents.
Chief of the General Staff, Air Forces, General Lieutenant of Aviation, A. Malyukov.
We were, admittedly, annoyed by such a 'form letter' and here's why. Back in 1989, our reporter was given access to material from the investigation and even made notes from several documents. This material on the Boeing was then kept at the Central Inspectorate of the Air Forces. Could the documents in fact have been destroyed? Absolutely not. As one Air Force officer told us, they are complete and still at the same place they were a year and a half ago, at the very same service office. It's true that this organization has been renamed as the Air Force Safety Service, MOD(2), USSR. Maybe the name change did complicate the search for the files. It is a little difficult to believe that the Chief of Staff of the Air Forces, Gen Lt Malyukov, does not know in what safe these papers are located.
Let's consider this. Which plays more into the hands of those evil western spy agencies, about which the General Staff warned me. Their refusal (to open their files) or my newspaper's efforts to uncover the truth?
Unfortunately, during the course of our investigation, we have come to the conclusion, that the MOD does not want to uncover the truth. More accurately, some highly placed bureaucrats don't wish it.
As you would expect, there are many brave people in the military. They have been calling and writing the editors with ever newer details about that tragedy.
According to one officer, who was a participant in the search for the Boeing-747, but who wishes anonymity:
You could compare the search for the Boeing to a large scale operation. We got data from the Air Defense, entered it into a computer. Highly qualified specialists computed the hypothetical coordinates of the crash site. We brought in the radar stations. They gave us a fix of this hypothetical area. In just a few hours, we had a mathematically calculated ellipse. A naval navigator went to work on it. Soon we were in the necessary area. Mine sweepers went to work. The area was crowded. This interfered with the search. A group of mine sweepers led the way, as Izvestia correctly reported. There were six of them, if I remember correctly. Next came the hydrographic ships trawling sonar devices. Last were mine sweepers with "CAN" mine detectors. This way each area was searched by three different methods. When all 3 methods confirmed contact, then the divers were sent in.
There were foreign ships all around including American, Japanese and others. (In my investigation, I gave a rather detailed description of the "sea war" that occurred in 1983 near the island of Moneron. However, every detail, especially those contributed by the military or other members of the search, are invaluable. Therefore, let's hear the officer out. - Author).
"We knew that the enemy had first class equipment", continues the officer. Several of our people overflew the area in which they were concentrated. On their return, they were amazed at the super high tech foreign ships. We had never even dreamed of such ships. However, in spite of all this, they didn't find the Boeing, we did. That's what you should write about. Our people carried out a coup! Yet, Izvestia writes about anything, but that.
Nevertheless, the military leaders won't open up any files. They won't even speak about this so called "coup."
Nor I. Because I don't know whether it would do more harm or good. Pardon me, if this sounds a little pretentious, but if only I could be sure this would serve the Fatherland. Then perhaps... I am afraid your newspaper is going to cause a quarrel, not only with the Americans, but also with the Japanese and the Koreans. Our country wouldn't be given credits and aid.
I had to remind him that the Soviet leadership had a completely different evaluation of Izvestia investigation. Only then did he continue his story.
...This is the way things developed. After their arrival, the Americans were trying as hard as we to find the aircraft. There was a regular race in the the Sea of Japan. Finally, the Soviet sailors managed to find the aircraft. This was in no small way aided by the craftiness of V. Sidorov, CinC, Pacific Ocean Fleet.
Another sailor, who spent that Autumn on naval ships helping in the search, told us, "Yes, Fleet Commander, V. Sidorov, thought of fooling the Americans.
He was the one who ordered a near perfect, fake "black box" thrown overboard in area away the from calculated crash site. It also used similar equipment to broadcast special impulses. This fake was dumped in a very deep area. (I personally doubt this. Author).
What else happened? Only a few people knew about Sidorov's idea. One night a bunch of leaders from the General Staff burst in on him, all very alarmed. "Have you heard? The Americans have already found the aircraft!! They have all left for a different area. You know nothing about it. They are searching in the wrong area. They have announced a press conference for tomorrow. (Not for Soviet reporters of course. None were in the area. - Author). They are playing it close to their vest, which must mean they have found it.
Sidorov pretended to be upset. The next day he sent two search parties to the new area for appearances' sake. "But the depth is 620 meters there", the sailors objected. "Move side by side. You can even hinder Americans", instructed the Commander.
The parties left. We continued to search the former location. Sidorov ordered us to form a circle for the security of the search and so no one would interfere. Five Soviet naval vessels made a tight circle around us. A little later 12 more were added. They fixed it so that even a seal couldn't slip through. Then suddenly, we had a real find. At first, we brought up certain objects. We spread them out and studied them. Izvestia correctly reported that everything of special interest ended up in the hands of the General Staff.
And finally - success. We found what we were looking for - the "black box." It consisted of three parts. We were very proud of our success. Also, we had tweaked the nose of the Americans. The Americans, who had better search equipment than we; but, the three "black boxes", and your paper was correct here, wound up on board a Soviet ship.
I, a journalist, am not about to criticize this serviceman's priorities and human values, but instead of international cooperation - maneuvers, deception of the enemy, deep secrets... But not a word about the death of 269 passengers on that Boeing. That was the way things were during that period. They were told to act this way by orders, which brooked no discussion.
...Yes, it pains me to say it, but I haven't been able to get a peek at even one of the "black boxes" from the bottom of the Sea of Japan. A more secret and mysterious "black box" or rather a "black hole" has been placed in the way of the investigation by the newspaper, whose capabilities are limited for many understandable reasons. It's that vast closed area of our lives which is controlled by the Navy, the Air Forces, the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate), the KGB and the MFA (3), and the Ministry of Aviation Industry, whose test flight institute (according to my information) deciphered the recording in this instrument from the Sea of Japan. To open this governmental "black box", which is still very robust, to understand why the secrets and let's say 'past mistakes' are so stubbornly and persistently preserved is to save us from the risk of repeating them in the future.
In the meantime, this bastion not only stands guard over ancient secrets, it also binds our future to that past. The Korean "Boeing" is not the only thing in this past. It also contains the war in Afghanistan, persecution of dissidents, political prisoners (and who knows what else at the beginning of the eighties).
Our future, God forbid, is tied to our past. The attempt to solve the mystery of the Korean "Boeing" is at the same time an attempt to break this evil connection.
The first stage of our investigation is coming to a close, although it is of course still too early to say all the "i"'s have been dotted. We still have the articles from our New York reporter, Aleksandr Shalnew. Izvestia has very serious questions for the Americans also. Without answers to these questions, we can't consider our investigation closed. For example:
Why were the recordings from two American radar stations erased? Who specifically gave the order to erase the recordings? Who specifically did not take the necessary step to preserve these recordings?
A South Korean passenger aircraft, tail number NL-7442, was located at Andrews Air Base in Washington D.C. for three days, from the 11th to the 14th of August 1983 in an area not designated for passenger aircraft. This was the very same "Boeing-747", which three weeks later was shot down over Sakhalin. What was it doing at Andrews, at the hanger of a company, which specializes in installation of special electronic equipment?
Why did George Schultz, the Sec. of State at that time, order the investigative group from the administration for transportation safety, which had been sent to Alaska to conduct an investigation, to return immediately without even beginning the investigation?
Approximately two hours before the KAL-007 entered Soviet air space, dispatchers from American civilian ground control exchanged the following sentences: "Hey, guys, someone is approaching the Russian air defense zone.", "That's impossible. Are you kidding?", "Someone must warn them."
Was there any warning? If not, why not? Who ordered it not be given?
Could an aircraft stray off course to such a great distance without being noticed by the Americans?
Is it true, in spite of official denials, that military radars were monitoring flights in this zone?
In addition, we believe that the Soviet part of the investigation will undoubtedly continue. The newspaper is counting very much on its readers, witnesses and informants. We await their letters and reports.
(1). I am a little confused by the term VERTUSHKA. According to the dictionary, it can be a revolving door, a revolving stand or a rotator. So in this sense, I guess it could have something to do with the telephone dial. The dictionary also says that it can be a trolling reel for fishing. This struck a chord with me. I could visualize a state official as the fisherman, the telephone line as the fishing line, the telephone as the reel and the hapless newsman as the fish. But trolling reel does not quite make it as an English term. So to get the same sense, I thought about the word leash. At least that has a controller on one end of a line and the controllee on the other. In the end, I just left it "VERTUSHKA." Some slang term for an official telephone.
(2) MOD - Ministry of Defense.
(3) MFA - Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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