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How Newsweek can rewrite the history of TWA Flight 800

As I last reported, virtually everyone in the major media has treated Team “First Strike” respectfully in our attempt to arouse interest about the fate of TWA Flight 800. The one exception was Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball. Indeed, Hosenball treated us with all the tact and diplomacy his fellow countryman, “Simon,” reserves for off-key warblers on “American Idol.”

Hosenball’s defensiveness, however, may have less to do with some idiosyncrasy of British behavior than with the fact that he has much to be defensive about. It was Hosenball, after all, who penned the media’s most stirring defense of the CIA’s now notorious animation, the one that depicts the transformation of a noseless jumbo jet into a soaring rocket, an animation that instantly discredited all eyewitness testimony and ended any real investigation into the plane’s destruction. Indeed, had Hosenball been on the CIA payroll he could not have done more to legitimize the agency’s crude rewrite of history.

In the Newsweek piece, dated Dec. 1, 1997, Hosenball uses a series of nine full color “CIA PHOTOS” to make the CIA case. The photos show TWA Flight 800’s flaming passenger cabin climbing more than 3,000 feet to 17,000 feet, “creating the streak many witnesses mistake for a missile.” Hosenball acknowledges that the unlikely CIA involvement “has already intensified talk of a government cover-up,” but such talk, he suggests, belongs to the shadowy realm of “the Internet” and “talk radio.” The respectable media would not be so easily distracted.

At the time, one can understand how Hosenball would have been misled. The video does seem authoritative, and not much information about the flight had been released publicly. Today, however, there is no excuse. Contrary information is easily accessed and utterly damning. Given Hosenball’s unwitting role as a CIA propagandist, who better than he to undo the damage and in the process write the story of his career. If he chooses to do so, here are some questions Mark Hosenball might ask his sources at the CIA.

In talking with us, Hosenball dismissed the problems with the CIA animation and relied instead on his conversation with Boeing executives. As he tells it, they assured him that the Boeing 747 fuel tank was a veritable accident waiting to happen.

Presuming the accuracy of Hosenball’s memory, one has to wonder why any executive anywhere would make such incriminating statements to a Newsweek reporter. Might it possibly be because Boeing had to? Five months after the downing of TWA Flight 800, Boeing announced plans to merge with McDonnell Douglas, its only real competitor in the American commercial airliner market. An administration that would soon reject as monopolistic a merger between Office Depot and Staples – a combination that would have captured only 6 percent of the less-than-crucial office-supply market – would approve the Boeing merger. Ralph Nader rightly called this approval “a new and dangerous benchmark for permitted mergers.”

Yet for all its dependence on the largesse of the Clinton administration, even Boeing could not stomach the CIA animation. “Boeing was not involved in the production of the video shown today, nor have we had the opportunity to obtain a copy or fully understand the data used to create it,” said the company in its immediate response to the animation. “The video’s explanation of the eyewitness observations can be best assessed by the eyewitnesses themselves.”

How did the eyewitnesses feel about the CIA animation? “That’s what I call the cartoon,” said helicopter pilot Maj. Fritz Meyer, “It was totally ludicrous. When that airplane blew up, it immediately began falling. It came right out of the sky. From the first moment, it was going down.”

If Mark Hosenball has a serious interest in the truth, he could turn his attention to the Rosetta Stone of the investigation, the April 1999 interview of the CIA analysts by five industry members of the NTSB witness group. (National Transportation Safety Board Docket Materials for Investigation DCA96MA070, TWA Flight 800, July 17, 1996, Appendix FF.) The NTSB brass may have been indifferent to the facts, but the rank-and-file asked all the right questions and could have broken the case open then and there if their bosses had let them.

It’s time to call those bosses on the carpet. And Mark, your publication has the clout to do it.


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