Look at past airliner shootings so we can learn about government lies

Summary:  Airliners are occasionally shot down (collateral damage) by modern air defense systems. Like children run over cross the street, it’s an ugly fact of modern life. These extreme (but fortunately rare) events reveal much about the behavior of governments — and about us. Governments lie; they do so because we believe them (no matter how much we pretend no to). We can learn from our past; we can do better.

“Never believe anything about the government until it has been officially denied.”
— Attributed to Bismarck.

“Since becoming a journalist I had often heard the advice to “believe nothing until it has been officially denied”.
— Claud Cockburn (Irish journalist), A Discord of Trumpets (1956)

Air Defense Artillary


The young men running modern air defense systems can shoot down an airliner with the push of a button. No matter how well trained, and they’re often not, under pressure the complex (often confusing) flood of information on their screens lead to bad decisions.

(1)  Russia’s military shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on 1 September 1983, followed by the usual false stories. Only in 1992 did they release vital information about the event. They never apologized.

(2)  Ukraine’s military shot down Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 on 4 October 2001. For 9 days they denied responsibility.

The FM website is about America. We too have shot down a civilian airliner. The incident deserves attention because it can – and should — enlighten us about the nature of our government, and ourselves. It’s a standard drama of our time, repeated frequently, from which we seem unable to learn. But first let’s step back in history.

The Soviet Union shoots down a U-2

In 1960 the Soviet Union shot down Gary Powers’ U2 flight. The US denied that he was flying over their territory. They lied to fool us, since the Soviet Union’s officials knew the facts. The truth quickly emerged. US officials then made a discovery of the sort that changes the fate of nation: there were no consequences to lies, even when caught. No penalties. No laughter when they lie again; not even skepticism.

The shooting of Iran Air Flight 655

The USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988. The US initially denied it (see this AP story, and the transcript of the DoD Press Briefing. The next day we took responsibility, but made a wide range of claims in defense about the location of the ship and the behavior of the aircraft — all of which justified the shooting.

On 28 July 1988 DoD published its Formal Investigation, which won the Doublespeak award for 1988 for “omission, distortion, contradiction, and misdirection”, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English (“Doublespeak and Iran Air Flight 655″).

On 8 September 1988 DoD presented these lies to the House Armed Services Committee, as ritualistic a performance as Noh but without the art and music (see the transcript).


Is one of these hostile?
Is one of these hostile? Press the button to kill.

Most Americans, while professing skepticism about our government, believed the official story. The US story unraveled during the next five years. Contrary to US claims, the Vincennes was in Iranian waters. The plane was flying the correct course and behaving properly (it was ascending, not descending). Of course, people reading foreign news media learned the truth at the time.

On 21 July 1992 the House Armed Services Committee again held a hearing on this incident, at which they learned they had been lied to (see the transcript). As with the Church Committee hearings in 1975 about CIA misdeeds, and the current fuss about CIA torture and illegal NSA surveillance, they concluded that boys will be boys. Applause for the festivities and life continues undisturbed in the Versailles on the Potomac.

Now that it was safe to tell the truth, Newsweek and ABC News did a joint “investigation”. Here’s the transcript of “The USS Vincennes: Public War, Secret War” on Ted Koppel’s Nightline, 1 July 1992. Newsweek ran a more detailed story: “Sea of Lies“, 13 July 1992 — “The inside story of how an America naval vessel blundered into an attack on Iran Air 655 at the height of tensions during the Iran-Iraq War, and how the Pentagon tried to cover its tracks after 290 innocent civilians died.”

1988 Iran postage stamp
1988 Iran postage stamp

Faux outrage!  Drama!  Much excitement among the outer party; the proles were uninterested.

For painfully detailed analysis of our lies in this matter see “Vincennes: A Case Study“,  David Evans (Lt Colonel, USMC, retired), Proceedings (US Naval Institute), August 1993.

But there was a small bit of justice, eventually. Iran sued in the International Court of Justice. The US paid compensation in 1996 to avoid a trial. The US has never apologized.

For More Information

Posts about the crisis in Ukraine:

  1. A warning from Germany about our new cold war: “The West on the wrong path”, 9 August 2014
  2. Let’s stop the 2-minute hate on Putin & think before we reignite the Cold War, 11 August 2014
  3. We can learn much from the tragedy of Flight MH17 – about ourselves, 12 August 2014



10 thoughts on “Look at past airliner shootings so we can learn about government lies”

  1. It is not that the media has forgotten IranAir 655. Todays journalists probably were still in diapers back in 88 and have no knowledge of that incident. History? If it did not happen during their adult lifetime then maybe they assume it did not happen. Or, perhaps the news cycle is too short and every second of on-air time is too constrained. Besides where would be the sensationalism of reporting on an incident that happened more than a quarter of a century ago?

    1. Mike,

      All valid points, I guess. But other people’s don’t have our amnesia about their history. Many peoples, such as in Balkins, go too far the other way — remembering incidents centuries ago as if they were yesterday.

      Also, tech-futurists-Utopianians tell us how the internet, mass storage, cheap computing power, and super software make us like gods: we have fast easy access to all the world’s knowledge, and are networked into a mega-hive-brain. So why does our political discourse make that of earlier American generations look like PhD papers?

    2. “other people’s don’t have our amnesia about their history.”

      A few days ago, I looked the record of a conference by Régis Debray, discussing strategical strengths and weaknesses of the West, and he raised exactly that point — not just valid for the Balkans, but for other countries or regions as well. Actually, short-termism was one of the 5 weaknesses he identified.

      He also illustrated the issue with a very simple image, as I remember: “You forget rather quickly the slaps given to other people, especially if you tend to give lots of them. But you remember the slaps you receive quite well and for a long time.”

      Something that people ignore as well is that the USA shooting down Iran Air 655 led Iran to exact revenge by bombing Pan Am 103 (the Lockerbie attack) — although the West preferred to shift the blame and ascribe the culpability to Muammar Gaddafi for political and diplomatic reasons and despite evidence that a Palestinian fraction had carried out the bombing on behalf of the Iranians.

    3. He seems to have held several conferences about the same topic. In this one he makes the same point:


      and this transcript of another one repeats his analysis:


      Everything is exclusively in French, though. Debray is shunned in the English-speaking world (he joined Che Guevara in his last guerrilla in Bolivia and remained rather a leftist) so it will be hard to find translations of his production.

  2. I’m curious what your thoughts on MH370 are. Was it simply to scattered to find a complete wreckage or is there more information being hidden by regional governments?

  3. Some are saying Ukraine flight was shot down from the air.

    Revelations of German Pilot: Shocking Analysis of the “Shooting Down” of Malaysian MH17. “Aircraft Was Not Hit by a Missile”


    MH17 Verdict: Real Evidence Points to US-Kiev Cover-up of Failed “False Flag”

    I checked out the website, found this also:

    After Failed MH17 False Flag, Washington Attempts Bold New Moves to Frame Russia


    Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts
    August 3, 2014

    Exclusive: From magazine covers to pronouncements by top politicians, Official Washington jumped to the conclusion that Ukrainian rebels and Russia were guilty in the shoot-down of a Malaysian passenger plane. But some U.S. intelligence analysts may see the evidence differently, writes Robert Parry.


    Was Putin Targeted for Mid-Air Assassination?
    August 8, 2014

    Exclusive: Official Washington’s conventional wisdom on the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down blames Russian President Putin, but some U.S. intelligence analysts think Putin, whose plane was flying nearby, may have been the target of Ukrainian hardliners who hit the wrong plane, writes Robert Parry.

    1. Winston,

      The first post reviewed the evidence on this in considerable detail, including the theories of Robert Perry.

      What we have are rumors and wild guesses from people like Perry and definitive statements from government officials (who lie frequently). We have nothing.

  4. Pingback: History of Government Lies – The Sad Reality

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