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Gary Powers: conspiracy theory or just plain negligence?

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  • Gary Powers: conspiracy theory or just plain negligence?

    At 8.52 this morning a normally garrulous American is to observe a moment’s silence outside the Lubyanka, headquarters of what used to be the KGB in central Moscow.
    He will be there to honour the good name of his father, Francis Gary Powers, whose reputation has suffered for half a century by association with one of the most enduring mysteries of the Cold War.

    Fifty years ago today, in a full-body pressure suit and helmet, Powers was slammed forward against the canopy of his U2 spyplane 70,000ft above central Russia by a Soviet surface-to-air missile exploding close behind him. The blast wave dismembered the plane, tearing off first its tail section and then its wings, but leaving its pilot miraculously unhurt.
    In an outer pocket of his suit Powers carried a suicide pin that he chose not to use. He hit the ground in shock but with hardly a scratch. By that evening he was in Moscow, in the Lubyanka. The shooting down and survival of Powers changed the course of history: it wrecked a superpower summit at which President Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, had hoped to launch a new era of détente.

    What was not known until the recent declassification of CIA documents seen by The Times, was that top US officials never believed Powers’ account of his fateful flight because it appeared to be directly contradicted by a report from the National Security Agency, the clandestine US network of codebreakers and listening posts.

    The NSA report remains classified, possibly to spare the blushes of its authors. For it is now possible to piece together what really happened high over Sverdlovsk on May Day 1960 and to understand why America’s most secretive intelligence agency got it so wrong.

    According to a summary presented this week by Matthew Aid, the world’s leading authority on the NSA, the agency’s report described Soviet military air traffic controllers as after an aircraft that — far from breaking up at close to 70,000ft as Powers later claimed — descended slowly from 65,000 to 34,000ft, changed course and disappeared from their radar screens.

    If true, this would have meant that Powers was at best a liar and conceivably a traitor. According to one rumour circulated without discouragement from the CIA after the shooting down, he descended to a safe height, baled out and spent his first night as a defector in a Sverdlovsk nightclub.
    Newly released documents from a secret inquiry into his conduct carried out in 1962, by which time the CIA had swapped him for a Soviet spy and exhaustively debriefed him, show that some in the agency still believed that the Russians might have hypnotised, drugged or brainwashed him to force him to change his story.

    The truth was less bizarre but no less remarkable. Powers took off from Peshawar in northern Pakistan after three tense days spent waiting for the weather along his route to clear.

    His mission was to fly for nine hours, on a breakfast of steak and eggs, directly over half a dozen of the Soviet Union’s most sensitive nuclear sites, photographing them and landing hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Norwegian coast.

    Within minutes the entire Soviet Air Defence system was being mobilised on an order from Mr Khrushchev to bring him down at any cost. Captain Mikhail Voronov, commander of a missile battalion south of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), was woken by an alarm at 7am.

    “At first I thought it was a drill,” he said in an interview at his home on the Black Sea. “It was not a drill. I was planning to walk over from the barracks to give my soldiers their traditional May Day congratulations. Instead I ran. We all ran. We rushed to our positions and when we got there I told my commander that my battalion was ready to fire.” At about 8.45am Powers appeared as a dot on Captain Voronov’s radar screen. A single rocket was launched and minutes later the screen appeared to indicate a direct hit.

    Yet Captain Voronov could not be sure. He did not report it until word reached his control cabin half an hour later that a pilot had fallen to earth nearby under a parachute.

    It is now clear that in that half hour, with the U2 already strewn across the Russian countryside, two Soviet MiG pilots circling over Sverdlovsk were ordered to intercept and ram, if necessary. One of them, Lieutenant Sergei Safronov, was hit by a stray rocket from another battalion. He baled out, dying of his injuries on the way down, but the radar trace created by his plane closely matched the one described by NSA. The agency almost certainly mistook Lieutenant Safronov for Powers. Mr Aid said this week that the NSA misread its own vaunted signals intelligence. The agency has never conceded anything.

    In the absence of hard evidence from independent witnesses about what happened to Powers’ U2, conspiracy theories have sprouted like weeds. According to one, crucial information on his flight was passed in advance to Soviet intelligence by Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin and a former junior radar operator at a U2 base in Japan. In another, advanced by James Nathan of the University of Alabama, Powers was either a pawn or an accomplice in a US plot to derail détente.

    Last month Professor Nathan said that he still believed the entire affair was cooked. Yesterday, in Moscow, Gary Powers Jr said that it had taken the US Government 40 years to set the record straight about his father. He was being generous. It has taken 50, and the record still has kinks in it.
    Giles Whittell is Washington Correspondent and the author of Bridge of Spies, an account of the U2 affair and the spy swap that followed it, published later this year.

    The man behind the story

    • Francis Gary Powers, born in Jenkins, Kentucky in 1929, was a combat pilot in the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron. He was a veteran of covert aerial reconnaissance missions
    • After the U2 incident he served 18 months of a ten-year sentence handed down by a Soviet military tribunal in 1960 in a prison about 160 kilometres east of Moscow
    • He was released in exchange for the Russian spy known as Colonel Rudolph Abel
    • When he returned to the US, Powers worked initially as a test pilot before becoming a helicopter pilot for a Los Angeles television station. He died in August 1977 when his helicopter ran out of fuel
    What is especially interesting is the first comment:

    kenneth Swartz wrote:
    Mt father, a retired USAF Col. was involved in the situation and associated debriefing after Power's return. Powers forgot to switch on a fuel tank and his engines flamed out. He was forced to descend to try and relight the engines. This allowed the SAMs to reach him. The radar record also supports this historical fact.

    JT? :confused:

  • #2
    Re: Gary Powers: conspiracy theory or just plain negligence?

    it wrecked a superpower summit at which President Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, had hoped to launch a new era of détente.
    Ironic that a jet engine flameout prevented this. The world may well have been very different today -- particularly in light of Eisenhower's thoughts on the Military Industrial Complex

    Part - 1

    Part - 2
    Last edited by Rajiv; 05-04-10, 12:16 AM.


    • #3
      Re: Gary Powers: conspiracy theory or just plain negligence?

      it wrecked a superpower summit at which President Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, had hoped to launch a new era of détente. Ironic that a jet engine flameout prevented this. The world may well have been very different today -- particularly in light of Eisenhower's thoughts on the Military Industrial Complex
      Seldom do I disagree, but in this case I have to. The Russians were not at all happy with U2 overflights and mostly the fact they couldn't shoot them down. They were in no position to make nice with a superior power so the incident, giving them physical evidence and a capture, did let them protest. It served to give the Americans insight into their government's secret activities and Russians a chance to bring it up too. Without his capture, relations might have festered worse in secrecy than they did in public and the subsequent Cuban missle crisis would have been a very big boom indeed.

      That said, presidents like Ike are scarce as hen's teeth. In fact, I don't think TPTB have let anybody like him (he was not for sale) into the office since then nor will they ever again.


      • #4
        Re: Gary Powers: conspiracy theory or just plain negligence?

        Originally posted by ggirod View Post
        That said, presidents like Ike are scarce as hen's teeth. In fact, I don't think TPTB have let anybody like him (he was not for sale) into the office since then nor will they ever again.
        Waiting until the very end of his two-term presidency hardly seems accidental. Prudent, yes, given Ike's knowledge, passion and implications on broaching the subject.


        • #5
          Re: Gary Powers: conspiracy theory or just plain negligence?

          Originally posted by don
          Waiting until the very end of his two-term presidency hardly seems accidental. Prudent, yes, given Ike's knowledge, passion and implications on broaching the subject.
          I do consider Eisenhower one of the better Presidents for his willingness to speak out.

          However, I would note that Eisenhower was also a 'consensus' type leader.

          Unlike the true great Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson - son of a bitch bastards with clear visions, the consensus type leaders may know what is wrong and may know how to fix it, but don't actually get it done.

          This unfortunately bodes poorly for our present Commander-in-Chief...


          • #6
            Re: Gary Powers: conspiracy theory or just plain negligence?

            The Downward Slope of Empire

            Talking With Chalmers Johnson

            By HARRY KREISLER

            Talk a little about what militarism is, and what imperialism is.

            What I want to introduce here is what I call the “base world.” According to the “Base Structure Report”, an annual report of the Department of Defense, in the year 2002 we had 725 bases in other people’s countries. Actually, that number understates in that it does not include any of the espionage bases of the National Security Agency, such as RAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire.

            So these are bases where we have listening devices?

            These are huge bases. Menwith Hill downloads every single e-mail, telephone call, and fax between Europe and the United States every day and puts them into massive computers where dictionaries then read them out. There are hundreds of these. The official Base Structure Report also doesn’t include any of the main bases in England disguised as Royal Air Force bases even though there are no Britons on them. It doesn’t include any of the bases in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan, any of the bases in Afghanistan, the four bases that are, as we talk, being built in Iraq. They put down one major marine base for Okinawa—there are ten—and things like that. So there is a lot of misleading information in it, but it’s enough to say 700 looks like a pretty good number, whereas it’s probably around 1,000.

            The base world is secret. Americans don’t know anything about it. The Congress doesn’t do oversight on it. You must remember, 40 percent of the defense budget is black. No congressman can see it. All of the intelligence budgets are black.

            No public discussion.

            In violation of the first article of the Constitution that says, “The American public shall be given, annually, a report on how their tax money was spent.” That has not been true in the United States since the Manhattan Project of World War II, even though it is the clause that gives Congress the power of the purse, the power to supervise.

            The base world is complex. It has its own airline. It has 234 golf courses around the world. It has something like seventy Lear Jet luxury airplanes to fly generals and admirals to the golf courses, to the armed forces ski resort at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps. Inside the bases, the military does every thing in its power to make them look like Little America.

            There are large numbers of women in the armed forces to-day, [yet] you can’t get an abortion at a military hospital abroad. Sexual assaults are not at all uncommon in the armed forces. If you were a young woman in the armed forces today and you were based in Iraq, and you woke up one morning and found yourself pregnant, you have no choice but to go on the open market in Baghdad looking for an abortion, which is not a very happy thought.

            Militarism is not defense of the country. By milita rism, I mean corporate interest in a military way of life. It derives above all from the fact that service in the armed forces is, today, not an obligation of citizenship. It is a career choice. It has been since 1973. I thought it was wonderful when PFC Jessica Lynch, who was wounded at Nasiriyah, was asked by the press, “Why did you join the Army?” She said, “I come from Palestine, West Virginia; I couldn’t get a job at Wal-Mart.” She said, “I joined the Army to get out of Palestine, West Virginia”—a perfectly logical answer on her part. And it’s true of a great many people in the ranks to-day. They do not expect to be shot at. That’s one of the points you should understand; it’s a career choice, like a kid deciding to work his way up to Berkeley by going through a community col-lege, and a state college, and then transferring in at the last minute or something like that.

            Standing behind it is the military-industrial complex. We must, once again, bear in mind the powerful warnings of probably the two most prominent generals in our history. George Washington, in his farewell address, warns about the threat of standing armies to liberty, and particularly republican liberty. He was not an isolationist; he was talking about what moves power toward the imperial presidency, toward the state. It requires more taxes. Everything else which he said has come true. The other, perhaps more famous one was Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address, where he invented the phrase “military-industrial complex.” We now know that he intended to say “military-industrial-congressional complex,” but he was advised not to go that far.

            What interests me here is that we’re talking about something that looks very much like the end of the Roman Republic—which was, in many ways, a model for our own republic—and its conversion into a military dictatorship called the Roman Empire as the troops began to take over. The kind of figure that the Roman Republic began to look for was a military populist; of course, the most obvious example was Julius Caesar. But after Caesar’s assassination in 44B.C., the young Octavian becomes the “god” Augustus Caesar.

            I’m not trying to be a sensationalist, but I actually do worry about the future of the United States; whether, in fact, we are tending in the same path as the former Soviet Union, with domestic, ideological rigidity in our economic institutions, im perial overstretch—that’s what we’re talking about here—the belief that we have to be every where at all times. We have always been a richer place than Russia was, so it will take longer. But we’re overextended. We can’t afford it.

            One of my four “sorrows of empire” at the end of the book is bankruptcy. The military is not productive. They do provide certain kinds of jobs, as you discover in the United States whenever you try and close a military base—no matter how con servative or liberal your congressional representatives are, they will go mad to try and keep it open, keep it functioning. And the military-industrial complex is very clever in making sure that the building of a B-2 bomber is spread around the country; it is not all located at Northrop in El Segundo, California.

            I have grave difficulty believing that that any president can bring under control the Pentagon, the secret intelligence agencies, the military-industrial complex. The Department of Defense is not, today, a department of defense. It’s an alternative seat of government on the south bank of the Potomac River. And, typical of militarism, it’s expanding into many, many other areas in our life that we have, in our traditional political philosophy, reserved for civilians. [For example,] domestic policing: they’re slowly expanding into that.

            Probably the most severe competition in our government today is between the Special Forces in the DOD and the CIA over who runs clandestine operations.

            What you’re really saying is that, lo and behold, we’ve created an empire of bases, a different kind of empire, and that it’s basically changing who we are and the way our government operates.

            The right phrase is exactly what you said: “lo and behold.” It reminds you of the Roman Republic, which existed in its final form with very considerable rights for Roman citizens, much like ours, for about two centuries. James Madison and others, in writing the defense of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, signed their name “Publius.” Well, who is Publius? He was the first Roman consul. That is where the whole world of term limits, of separation of powers, things like that, [began].

            Yet by the end of the first century B.C., Rome had seemingly “inadvertently” acquired an empire that surrounded the entire Mediterranean Sea. They then discovered that the inescapable accompaniment, the Siamese twin of imperialism, is militarism. You start needing standing armies. You start having men who are demobilized after having spent their entire lives in the military. It’s expensive to pay them. You have to provide them, in the Roman Empire, with farms or things of this sort. They become irritated with the state. And then along comes a military populist, a figure who says, “I understand your problems. I will represent your interests against the Roman Senate. The only requirement is that I become dictator for life.” Certainly, Julius Caesar is the model for this . . . Napoleon Bonaparte, Juan Perón, this is the type of figure.

            Indeed, one wonders whether we have already crossed our Rubicon, whether we can go back. I don’t know.

            In your indictment of what we are becoming, or maybe have become, you go through a list. We can’t do all of it; we don’t have enough time. But, essentially, civilians who think in military ways now making decisions, the Pentagon expropriating the functions of the State Department, a policy being perceived as military policy as opposed to all of the dimensions of—

            People around the world who meet Americans meet soldiers. That’s how we represent ourselves abroad, just as the Roman Empire represented itself abroad as the Legionaires. People have to conclude, even if they don’t come into military or armed conflict with us, that this is the way the Americans think. This is the way they represent themselves today. It’s not foreign aid any longer. It’s not our diplomats. It’s not the Fulbright program. It’s the military. It’s uniformed eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old young men and some young women.

            As a student of Asian political economy, you wrote the classic on MITI. In the final analysis, your judgment is that we will not only suffer political but also economic bankruptcy.

            So, what do I suggest probably will happen? I think we will stagger along under a façade of constitutional government, as we are now, until we’re overcome by bankruptcy. We are not paying our way. We’re financing it off of huge loans coming daily from our two leading creditors, Japan and China.

            It’s a rigged system that reminds you of Herb Stein, [who], when he was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in a Republican administration, rather famously said, “Things that can’t go on forever don’t.” That’s what we’re talking about today. We’re massively indebted, we’re not manufacturing as much as we used to, we maintain our lifestyle off huge capital imports from countries that don’t mind taking a short, small beating on the exchange rates so long as they can continue to develop their own economies and supply Americans: above all, China within twenty to twenty-five years will be both the world’s largest social system and the world’s most productive social system, barring truly unforeseen developments.

            Bankruptcy would not mean the literal end of the United States, any more than it did for Germany in 1923, or China in 1948, or Argentina just a few years ago, in 2001 and 2002. But it would certainly mean a catastrophic recession, the collapse of our stock exchange, the end of our level of living, and a vast series of new attitudes that would now be appropriate to a much poorer country. Marshall Auerbach is a financial analyst whom I admire who refers to the United States as a “Blanche Dubois economy.” Blanche Dubois, of course, was the leading character in Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, and she said, “I’ve always depended upon the kindness of strangers.” We’re also increasingly dependent on the kindness of strangers, and there are not many of them left who care, any more than there were for Blanche. I suspect if the United States did start to go down, it would not elicit any more tears than the collapse of the Soviet Union did.

            Do you see a configuration of external power, Japan, China, the EU, that will be a balancer that might not just confront us but might help guide us to changes that would be good for us and them?

            Once you go down the path of empire, you inevitably start a process of overstretch, of tendencies toward bankruptcy, and, in the rest of the world, a tendency toward the uniting of people who are opposed to your im perialism simply on grounds that it’s yours, but maybe also on the grounds that you’re incompetent at it. There was a time when the rest of the world did trust the United States a good deal as a result of the Marshall Plan, foreign aid, things of this sort. They probably trusted it more than they should have. Today that is almost entirely dissipated At some point, we must either reduce our empire of bases from 737 to maybe 37—although I’d just as soon get rid of all of them. If we don’t start doing that, then we will go the way of the former Soviet Union.