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Like the Kennedy assassination, the KAL incident has created a cottage industry of conspiracy theorists. R.W. Johnson, a politics don at Oxford University, has written Shootdown, which offers the hypothesis that the flight was a surveillance mission designed by the CIA to test Soviet radar capabilities. But Johnson provides no direct evidence for this theory other than that it "fits -- or can be made to fit -- just about all the known facts about the 007 tragedy." David Pearson, a doctoral candidate at Yale, has argued in the Nation magazine that top U.S. officials must have known at the time that KAL 007 was off course and did nothing to avert the disaster, perhaps because they hoped to gain intelligence data.
Hersh's explanations in the Atlantic seem far more convincing. They involve no conspiracies or even any evil intent on either side. Yet that is hardly reassuring. It is in some ways more frightening to be reminded just how fragile sophisticated military systems are and how frail their human operators can be.