This past week, Team “First Strike” descended on the media mavens of Washington and New York to ask their help in breaking open the greatest untold story of our time – the corruption of the TWA Flight 800 investigation, revealed beyond any shadow of a doubt in our book, “First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America.”
In virtually all quarters, our reception was at least respectful. This included conversations with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, Andy Revkin of the New York Times, Lisa Bins of “60 Minutes,” Tony Blankley of the Washington Times, Phil Dine of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and others. There was one exception, but more on that later.
Among the things we learned during our sojourn was that Newsweek has copies of the current issue of Time on its conference table, that “Fox News” has nicer digs than “60 Minutes” (though no one was more gracious than “60 Minutes”), and that New York City handles snow much better than Washington.
Although the first 13 of the 14 chapters of “First Strike” document in undeniable detail the corruption of the investigation, the one question our interrogators kept coming back to was “where are the military eyewitnesses” to the combined U.S. Navy – terrorist scenario we pose in Chapter 14. A reasonable question, especially given that our book features any number of named interviews with eyewitnesses to the crash, family members and even investigators at the Calverton hangar in Long Island.
The military witnesses do exist. After the events of Sept. 11, through separate channels, two such witnesses approached my partner on this project, James Sanders. In both cases, they did so through intermediaries. From what Sanders could tell, they observed the events of that fateful night from different ships. As Sanders notes, “I did my darnedest to get a face to face,” but he was not successful in either case.
Through both sources, however, Sanders received the same message: The naval fire of that night “was not an exercise.” It involved instead an active defense of the United States from a terrorist attack. Sanders took these sources seriously enough to rethink his own deeply held position on the subject, that of a naval exercise gone awry. Not fully trusting intermediaries, however, he and I proceeded to investigate the minutiae of the public record to confirm or refute the allegation. What we found was astonishing.
Not only was there no contrary evidence, but this scenario also made sense of some things that had theretofore been inexplicable: the heightened state of alert, the terrorist warnings before and claims of responsibility afterward, the small mystery plane irrefutably in the mix, and the massive explosion that blew TWA Flight 800 out of the sky and shook steel bridges 10 miles away. It is altogether likely that had we heeded the message of that night – namely that terrorists were willing to use planes as flying bombs – there would have been no Sept. 11.
A few of our major media questioners asked much too casually why the military eyewitnesses were not willing to come forward. They need first consider what happened to those civilians who dared to break the case open: three were arrested, two were convicted of conspiracy, several more were suspended from the investigation, others lost their jobs as reporters or congressional aides, others still were defamed, most visibly a former U.S. senator and Pulitzer Prize winner, Pierre Salinger, and scores more were simply ignored. In every case, alas, the major media left these witnesses to twist in the wind.
For military personnel, the stakes would have been much higher still. The events of July 17, 1996, involved a huge and legitimate issue of national security. They were under orders not to tell even the FBI “any more than they needed to know.” To disobey such orders could well have meant imprisonment.
When I asked one of our questioners whether his major national publication would listen to someone who might be able to tell them no more than that “our ship launched a missile on July 17, 1996,” I was assured that he would. I will take him at his word.
If a military person wishes to step forward and expand our knowledge on this issue, either publicly or privately, we will respect his or her confidence.
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