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TWA 800: Who knew what, when

Posted By Jack Cashill On 02/14/2003 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Right now, Team First Strike – James Sanders and I and our excellent publishers and publicists – are engaged in a battle that will shape the recording of contemporary history. That battle is to convince the major media that the case of TWA Flight 800 desperately needs to be reopened.

As of this date, we have made high-level contacts with the New York Times, the Washington Post and Newsweek, among others. We have also made contacts with the various TV networks, but it will take a push from the print media to get television interested in a serious way. The outcome of these contacts, however, remains in doubt, despite the fact that the evidence we present in “First Strike” is explicit, thoroughly documented and finally overwhelming.

To convince our media friends that we are not overly imaginative conspiracy theorists, we present here a line-up of credible people who share our views. There is debate among them as to whether the sponsoring state was Iraq or Iran, as well as on the means of execution – revealed for the first time in First Strike – but there is no debate about the fact of Islamic terror.

We began our book with the following scarily prophetic 1999 quote from Yossef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.

The case of TWA 800 served as a turning point because of Washington’s determination and, to a great extent, ability to suppress terrorist explanations and “float” mechanical-failure theories. To avoid such suppression after future strikes, terrorism-sponsoring states would raise the ante so that the West cannot ignore them.

Bodansky also provides us with a specific account of the various warnings and claims of responsibility since suppressed by the Clinton administration.

Bodansky was not alone. Kenneth Timmerman, who has been reporting on the Mideast since the mid-’70s – indeed, he was held hostage in Lebanon in 1982 – also sounded the alarm. In the way of background, his 1991 book, “The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq,” gained him much favorable media attention. His work caught the eye of Democratic congressman Tom Lantos who persuaded Timmerman to join his staff. Timmerman left Lantos to work for Time Magazine. What he learned from the latter two experiences was that the kudos flowed much more freely when he attacked Republican administrations. The following excerpt comes from his 2000 book, “Selling Out America.”

Intelligence sources that I had developed in Iran had been warning for several weeks prior to the bombing that the intelligence service of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was planning an attack on a U.S. civilian airliner – warnings I took seriously enough to transmit to U.S. officials at the FAA, the State Department, the FBI and the CIA. (Later, I could only shake my head when the Clinton administration claimed they had received “no warning” prior to TWA 800, which has now been officially labeled an accident due to a center-fuel-tank explosion, not a terrorist attack.)

After Sept. 11, numerous other people in the know made some startling revelations that suggested prior knowledge of terrorist attacks against American airliners. On Sept. 11 itself, George Stephanopoulos, former assistant to President Clinton, talked with Peter Jennings on ABC TV about how the president would use the White House “situation room” to communicate with key staff in the wake of an attack. Said Stephanopoulos:

In my time at the White House [the situation room] was used in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, in the aftermath of the TWA Flight 800 bombing, and that would be the way they would stay in contact through the afternoon.

As we reveal in “First Strike,” “bombing” is more accurate than it might at first seem. Curiously, although he was deeply involved in the damage control following TWA Flight 800, Stephanopoulos does not mention a word about it in his memoir, “All Too Human.” The disaster was voted the biggest new story of 1996.

On that same fateful day, the FBI honcho who managed the TWA Flight 800 investigation, James Kallstrom had this to say to Dan Rather:

We need to stop the hypocrisy, not that hypocrisy got us to this day. I’m not saying it did. But this is serious business, and – and those of us in law enforcement over the years, and intelligence work over the years, didn’t know what day this would happen, hoped it would never happen, but thought surely some day, it might happen.

Throughout the investigation, Kallstrom had an impulse to truth telling that often got him into trouble, as it almost does here.

On Sept. 28, 2001 Brian Williams of MSNBC asked Isaac Yeffet, the former director of security for El Al Airline. “Do you think the U.S. is still under the threat of terrorist hijackings, of aircraft being used as flying bombs?” Yeffet responded:

We thought in the past, in the ’70s, that what happened with the U.S. air carriers, this would be the end of the terrorist attack. Look what happened since Lockerbie, PanAm103? What happened to TWA 800? Look now what happened?

This was no mistake on Yeffet’s part. He has continued to insist that TWA Flight 800 was destroyed as the result of a terrorist attack, and Yeffet is in a position to know something about terrorism.

Clinton adviser Dick Morris, who regularly took the nation’s pulse before and after the downing of TWA Flight 800, told Greta Van Susteren on Feb. 2, 2002, that the president refused to take action even “when we had the Air 800, when we had the Olympics and when we had Saudi Arabia.” In each case, added Morris, “There was decisive evidence that these were caused by terrorists.” It is hard to believe that the president did not consult Morris in the wake of the TWA 800 disaster.

Of all these claims, the ones that holds the most interest – and the highest degree of political liability – are those made by Sen. John Kerry. The promo for the “Larry King Show” on the night of Sept. 11 reads as follows. “Sen. Kerry, who was on the Intelligence Committee until last year, includes Flight 800 along with the embassy bombings in discussing our reaction to terrorism!” At least one interested party who saw Kerry on the “Larry King Show” called his office for clarification. She was told that she must have misunderstood.

She did not. On Sept. 24, I heard Kerry say the following on Chris Matthew’s Hardball, “You know, we’ve had terrorism for a long time now. We’ve had the Achille Lauro, the Munich Olympics, the pipe bomb at the Olympics in Atlanta, the TWA 800, the bombing of embassies, and it’s not going to disappear overnight.” More on Kerry in the future.

What astonishes the observer about all of these TV appearances with the leading lights of TV news – Jennings, Williams, King, Matthews, Van Susteren – is that not a single one among them challenged, or even questioned, the description of TWA Flight 800′s destruction as a terrorist act.

Jim Kallstrom got it right: “We need to stop the hypocrisy.”

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