This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Felling the Angel

May Day, 1960. High over the Ural mountains, twenty kilometres over mean sea level, flew an American U2 spyplane. Known as the “Angel”, it was then thought invulnerable to interception and was being used for secret CIA flights over the Soviet Union – in this case fromPakistan to Norway.
The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was a civilian employed by the CIA. He had been provided – just in case of emergency – a hunting knife, a silenced 5.56 mm pistol, a parachute that opened automatically at 5000 metres, as well as a banner in fourteen languages saying that he came in peace and anyone helping him would be rewarded. The “rewards” included 7500 rubles in Russian currency, two dozen gold Napoleonic francs, gold rings, and watches for men and women.
There were a few extras. Behind Power’s seat was a bomb. The idea was that in case the aeroplane crashed, the pilot had to set off the bomb in order to destroy it and leave nothing to the Russians to find. There were two switches, ARM and DESTRUCT. Once the two switches had been pulled, in that order of course, the pilot had seventy seconds to leave the plane before the bomb went off.
Now, Powers was also provided with a silver dollar that unscrewed to reveal a poison pin. This poison, developed from a mollusc by the CIA was meant to be used to commit suicide if captured. Pilots were in fact exhorted that their duty was to die rather than be captured, and they also suspected with good reason that all their survival equipment was just window dressing to make them feel good. The U2 was such a fragile aeroplane that the CIA’s U2 project director, Richard Bissell, himself admitted there was not a chance in a million a pilot could survive a crash. The pilots suspected too that the alleged seventy second delay in the bomb was actually no delay at all – the bomb was set to go off immediately to obliterate the pilot and his inconvenient evidence.
Of course, all this time, the U2 was thought to be incapable of being shot down. It was flying on the fringes of the stratosphere, after all, half way to space.
Unfortunately for the US, the Soviets did shoot it down, that very same May Day, with the very first of a volley of SAM 2 missiles, overSverdlovsk. Powers chose to bale out manually rather than trust to his CIA installed ejection seat. He also made no attempt to set off his bomb, claiming later that centrifugal force threw him out of the cockpit before he could arm the switches. Nor did he use his poison pin. And once he was down, the ungrateful rat surrendered to farm workers. He survived.
His survival was kept a secret by the USSR, long enough to allow the US to issue a statement saying a civilian weather flight from Turkey had gone missing and may have “accidentally strayed” over the USSR. The, when the US had gone official with this claim, the Soviets unveiled Powers and nailed the lie. A neat propaganda coup.
OK, so what is the relevance?
U2s – still flying today – have been shot down many times since then, over North KoreaCuba, and elsewhere. One is supposed to have made an illegal flight over Pokaran, India’s nuclear test site, in 1999, and would have been shot down but for the then ultra-right wing Bharatiya Janata Party government’s decision to let it go so as to “improve relations” with the US – which now of course openly conducts CIA operations on Indian territory.
Fast forward to 2003.
George W Bush wants a war against Iraq. He is frantic that so far no evidence whatsoever has emerged that Saddam Hussein retained hidden Weapons of Mass Destruction. In fact, with every passing day, the possibility of finding a credible excuse for invasion is receding.  
So, two months before the planned invasion date, in a meeting with his main poodle Tony Blair, in a repeat of previous US policies, Bush
told Mr Blair that the US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against Saddam that it thought of "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours". Mr Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]".
Okaaayyy. This is the guy who claims that he is “supporting (his) troops”. This is the guy who would send his own pilots into harms way and (if their plane was hit) near certain death, so he could begin a planned and unscrupulous invasion.
From trying to kill your pilot before he can talk, to trying to get your pilot killed so you can start a war, I don’t see all that much has changed.
The more things change, and so on…

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