The Soviet Union charged tonight that the South Korean airliner shot down over Sakhalin Island was part of a "large-scale intelligence operation" involving several military planes and vessels as well as a spy satellite.
The latest Soviet allegations, which were reported by the official news agency Tass, are the most extensive yet raised by the Kremlin in its continuing war of words with Washington over the downing of the airliner. The Tass report said the operation was carried out with the approval of the U.S. administration and implied that President Reagan had been informed beforehand.
This represents the first time the Soviet Union has accused the White House of direct involvement in planning a spy mission involving the Boeing 747, and it could mean further strains in relations between Moscow and Washington. Until now, Soviet statements have put the blame on "American special services," leaving open the possibility that they could have acted without formal U.S. government approval.
In Washington, a White House official, Les Janka, said the latest charges were part of a continuing Soviet claim that the plane was on a spy mission, which he termed "total nonsense."
The Tass report is based on a lengthy article due to appear in Tuesday's edition of the Communist Party newspaper Pravda by a senior Air Force officer, Marshal Piotr Kirsanov. It is thus intended as an authoritative statement by the Soviet leadership.
The article maintains that the Korean Air Lines plane was part of an extensive U.S. intelligence network that had the aim of gathering as much information as possible on the Soviet air defense system in the Far East. It said the 747 was backed up by intelligence planes, naval vessels, ground tracking stations, and a Ferret-D intelligence satellite.
Among the new allegations reported by Tass:
* The departure from Anchorage of KAL Flight 007 was deliberately delayed by 40 minutes to coordinate its movements with overflights of the Ferret satellite.
* The entire flight of the 747 was monitored by U.S. radio navigation systems.
* A second U.S. RC135 reconnaissance aircraft was in the area in addition to the plane whose presence has already been acknowledged by Washington. So too were an AWACS plane, two Orion planes, and the U.S. frigate Badger.
* The South Korean plane carried 11 intelligence specialists in addition to its regular crew of 18.
As in the case of previous Soviet statements on the airliner incident, no documentary evidence was provided to support these charges.
The Pravda article depicted the violation of Soviet airspace by the South Korean plane as a "deliberate, carefully organized criminal action" with "a whole set of strategic and political objectives."
"It is impossible to imagine that such an operation was worked out by U.S. special services without the corresponding authorization. It was doubtless being prepared for a long time with the approval of, or on direct assignment from, the U.S. administration," Kirsanov wrote.
Suggesting that President Reagan himself had been involved in the alleged operation, Kirsanov said it was otherwise impossible to explain the "bitterness" with which the U.S. leader "immediately joined the anti-Soviet campaign" following the downing of the airliner.
He added that "the most stringent censorship" had been imposed in the United States on details of links between American intelligence and Korean Air Lines.
According to the Pravda article, the movements of the 747 on the night of Aug. 31 to Sept. 1 were synchronized with three revolutions of the earth by the Ferret satellite, which specializes in "radiotechnical reconnaissance."
On the first revolution, the satellite was alleged to have monitored normal activites of Soviet radar defenses before the intrusion of the South Korean plane.
Kirsanov said the Ferret appeared above Kamchatka Peninsula on its second revolution of the earth at 8:30 p.m. Moscow time (1:30 a.m. Tokyo time)--the precise moment when KAL Flight 007 appeared in Soviet airspace below. He said the satellite was then able to monitor a "doubling of the intensiveness of the work of our radio and radiotechnical equipment" because of the border violation.
On its third revolution, the article went on, the Ferret satellite was able to monitor air defense equipment on Sakhalin and the nearby Kuril Islands as they tracked the Boeing. The 747 had entered airspace above Sakhalin at 10:05 p.m. Moscow time (3:05 a.m. Tokyo time) and the satellite appeared overhead two minutes later.
Insisting that such coordination could not be ascribed to chance, the Pravda article said: "There is no doubt that the moment of the penetration by the intruder plane of the airspace of the U.S.S.R. . . . had been carefully planned in advance so as to assure the gathering of maximum information by the U.S. intelligence satellite."