A retired CIA officer who is familiar with the Russian mentality said there may be more to the April plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and other members of his government.
S. Eugene Poteat, 80, who graduated from The Citadel in 1957 and worked for years as a CIA intelligence officer, said the accident that killed 96 people was convenient for Russian President Vladimir Putin because many of the crash victims were anti-communist.
"It's clear that the Polish people have to wonder" if Putin didn't have a role, Poteat said Wednesday during a phone interview from his home in Virginia. But he added, "I didn't say that he did; I don't have any evidence he did."
Poteat, who had nearly 50 years of experience with the Russians during the Cold War, continued that it might be in U.S. interests "not to raise a stink over" the crash, potentially provoking the Russian government.
Poteat's comments came as the official investigation so far has focused on bad weather, particularly heavy fog, and that the pilots opted to land in despite warnings from air traffic controllers about poor visibility near the western Russian city of Smolensk.
The three-engine TU-154 crashed after clipping a line of trees, killing a delegation heading to a memorial ceremony for Poles massacred by the Soviet Union 70 years ago in the vicinity of the Katyn forest.
Though communism has been pushed aside in Russia, Putin has a KGB background and is a product of that time. Fallout from the crash could help the Russian position in that part of Europe, Poteat said.
"The crash of the plane wiped out the cream of the top officials who were behind the push to expose the secret police files of past and current collaborators of both the Polish and Soviet/Russian secret police," he wrote this week in the Charleston Mercury newspaper.
"With these people now dead, there is no political top cover in Poland to continue this effort," Poteat wrote. "That is exactly what Putin wanted."
Poteat, president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, said the purpose of his article is to show the Russian pattern for deception, including in finding excuses to bring down planes before.
"People ought to be aware of that," he said, adding, "look at their history; I wouldn't put anything past them."
Though bad weather is the working theory for the crash being addressed by investigators, "that doesn't mean we don't learn something later," Poteat said.