Fact Checking AC360

On July 15th 2014 CNN Producer Chuck Hadad whose CNN Special Report “Witnessed: The Crash of TWA Flight 800” has been promoted by Anderson Cooper’s show AC360 and is also scheduled to air on July 15, 2014 (at 9PM) published an online article entitled: “5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Crash of TWA Flight 800”. The TWA 800 Project Team responds to Mr. Hadad’s article below.

The original article this afternoon (7/15/14) had a large photo of TWA 800’s right wing tip floating in the ocean, with a caption stating in part: “Accident investigators said Wednesday, July 2, they would not re-open the probe of the mid-air explosion that brought down TWA 800 nearly 18 years ago on July 26, 1996, killing all aboard. The decision by the National Transportation Safety Board dashed the hopes of a documentary film team claiming to have uncovered “solid proof” that investigators erred in concluding it was an accident.” The current article replaced this photo and caption with a trailer to the AC360 show.

TWA 800 Project: Our hopes have not been “dashed.” While we did have some degree of hope that the NTSB would rule in our favor, we expected that the NTSB would likely reject the petition after a year-long bad faith effort on their part of completely blocking our access to the NTSB investigators assigned to review our petition. However there are still several options available to us, and on July 2, 2014 when the NTSB announced their decision the LA Times correctly quoted us as saying: “This is not the end of the road by any means”.

Hadad: Many eyewitnesses described seeing something heading toward the plane before it exploded, and the suspicion of terrorism was almost instant.

TWA 800 Project: While it is true that a terrorist missile was immediately suspected from the accounts of “something heading toward the plane before it exploded,” this theory was almost as immediately dismissed due to the offshore altitude at which TWA 800 was traveling. Hadad’s usage of the word “terrorism” rather than a terrorist missile is interesting as that word also encompasses terrorist bombings. A bombing, while equally interestingly was promoted by high ranking officials in the Clinton Administration, cannot account for anything “heading toward the plane” beforehand.

Hadad: Of the 755 witness reports that the FBI have made public, accounts vary widely but hundreds describe what they thought was either a flare or fireworks heading up toward the plane before it exploded. A few witnesses even used the words “missile” or “rocket.”

TWA 800 Project: More than ten witnesses (not just a few) used the word “missile” or “rocket”. And this is an important fact, given that former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who is a source Mr. Hadad features in his film, perjured himself before Congress saying that no eyewitness said they saw a missile. Our film ‘TWA Flight 800,’ available on NetFlix, displays C-Span footage of Mr. Kallstrom before Congress perjuring himself in this way.

Hadad: A series of terrorism-related events in the years, months and weeks before the flight went down, and even one incident just days afterward, led many to suspect terrorism was to blame. [Hadad then lists 5 terrorist bombing incidents, including] — June 25, 1996: The Khobar Towers are attacked. A powerful truck bomb explodes on the perimeter of a U.S. military complex in eastern Saudi Arabia.

TWA 800 Project: While Hadad is correct that earlier terrorist incidents affected early speculation, it is important to note that every terrorist incident cited by Hadad is a bombing incident. A missile or flare-like object rising upward and culminating in an explosion before TWA 800 fell out of the sky made this particular tragedy unique.

Hadad: Beyond terrorist groups being suspected, state-sponsored terrorism was also cause for concern inside the White House. Leon Panetta, former secretary of Defense and former CIA director, was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton at the time of the crash.

“The investigation was looking at almost every possibility, including state actors, because we’d known that Libya had been involved with regards to bringing down the airliner over Scotland (Pam Am Flight 103)”, said Panetta. “We were looking at Iraq and Saddam Hussein. We were looking at, you know, the possibility of even Iran might have played a role in this,” added Panetta.

TWA 800 Project: Leon Panetta was Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton’s White House, and he was assigned by President Clinton to be the point man between the various publicly-facing federal agencies investigating the crash. He apparently had early access to FBI findings on explosive traces detected on wreckage and crash victims alike, and he certainly should have heard about the many eyewitnesses who saw the missile-like object before the airborne explosion. However, only one week after the crash, Mr. Panetta was floating the idea that an on-board bomb caused the crash. July 24, 1996 New York Times: “The White House chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, said that a possible terrorist bombing or attack was the possibility that crash investigators were ‘looking at most closely.’…Asked whether investigators viewed the residues as evidence of a terrorist bombing, Mr. Panetta said, ‘Until you get the actual analysis, it’s tough to come to that conclusion, but clearly that’s the area that they’re looking at most closely.'”

TWA 800 Project: One week after this statement by Panetta, in an internal CIA email we obtained during the production of our documentary, a CIA analyst who was part of a team that was apparently briefing President Clinton, FBI Director Louis Freeh, FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom and CIA Director George Tenet directly, appeared concerned that the FBI was “finalizing” a report concluding that there was a “high probability” that a missile was involved in the crash. This report was never provided to the National Transportation Safety Board (the lead agency in the multi-agency crash probe), as the Board stated they had no knowledge of it in their response to our petition to re-open the TWA 800 probe.

TWA 800 Project: In mid-August and within one day of lead FBI investigator James Kallstrom from the FBI’s New York Field Office traveling to Washington to meet with high-level Administration officials, the New York Times ran a front page story based on information leaked to the Times from Mr. Kallstrom. August 23, 1996 New York Times: “PRIME EVIDENCE FOUND THAT DEVICE EXPLODED IN CABIN OF FLIGHT 800”. Regardless of what this period and front page New York Times article announced, there was no conclusive evidence of a bomb or any other device exploding in the passenger cabin at the time, and there has been no such evidence identified to date.

TWA 800 Project: The eyewitness, radar, and metallurgic evidence indicates that a device exploded a significant distance away from the jetliner, as proximity-fused missiles are designed to do. This is as true now as it was early in the investigation. Any redirection by Panetta or anyone else during the original investigation or now that terrorism was to blame for this crash is not consistent with the evidence from this unique tragedy that occurred only 9 miles off our shores. Two mishaps that closely resemble the TWA Flight 800 tragedy are the 2001 downing of a Sibir Airlines jet by a Ukranian missile over the Black Sea and the 1988 shoot-down of an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf by a US warship.