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Karachi suicide plot strengthens Flight 800 case

Last Wednesday, May 1, the Department of Homeland Security issued a deadly serious warning to airports and pilots. It urged them toward vigilance and noted the following: “Recent reliable reporting indicates that al-Qaida was in the late stages of planning an aerial suicide attack against the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.”

This report was repeated in all earnestness by many of the same major media outlets – Newsday, Newsweek and the Associated Press come to mind – which have scoffed at the contention by James Sanders and myself that it was just such an aerial suicide assault that led to the destruction of TWA Flight 800.

According to Newsday, Pakistani authorities rounded up six al-Qaida operatives and seized about “700 pounds of high explosives,” intended – in all likelihood – to be packed on the airplane for the reported suicide mission. I cite Newsday because, just two weeks ago, when I told a Newsday reporter that a terrorist plane packed with high explosives likely caused the destruction of TWA Flight 800, she dismissed me out of hand.

Sanders and I believe that U.S. Navy missiles intercepted this terrorist plane just below TWA Flight 800, and the resulting explosion devastated the doomed 747. We do not presume to know where the terrorist plane was heading, but given its payload, New York City may well have been its destination.

If our scenario is correct, the Navy did what it had to do and may well have prevented a much larger tragedy. The cover-up that followed could not have been the Navy’s idea. Given a legitimate national security emergency, its officers had no real choice but to heed the orders they were given.

We learned of the flying bomb scenario after Sept. 11 from at least two sources within the military, in each case discreetly and indirectly. We found enough substantiation of this scenario in the public record – especially in the FBI eyewitness statements and our own interviews – to present it in our book, “First Strike – TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America,” as the most likely cause of Flight 800’s destruction.

We were well into our research before we realized that the Philippine police had uncovered plans for comparable aerial assaults as early as December 1994 and shared them with the FBI in January 1995. The man responsible for those plans, Ramzi Yousef, was on trial in New York City on that fateful July 17, 1996, which just happened to be Iraq’s National Liberation day.

Just last month, in reading Col. Buzz Patterson’s book, “Dereliction of Duty,” we learned that President Clinton had carefully reviewed these same plans in the “late summer” of 1996, right after the demise of Flight 800. Again, if our theory is correct, this represents the strongest proof of “prior knowledge” yet revealed.

This scenario makes sense of at least two other variables. One is the insistence by FBI honcho James Kallstrom that a “bomb” destroyed TWA Flight 800. The second is Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos’ on-air comment to Peter Jennings discussing that fateful Sept. 11 in which he talked about the second, less public “situation room” in the White House.

“In my time at the White House,” Stephanopoulos told Jennings, “it 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.”

Although the situation room was a busy place on the night of July 17, 1996, the president himself was elsewhere. Col. Patterson, in my conversation with him, confirmed that Clinton holed up in “the residence,” the White House family quarters. Patterson is in a position to know. He carried the nuclear football for the president and that night was in the White House, though clearly out of the loop.

Patterson was not sure who was in the residence with Clinton that night. The one person he tentatively cited was Sandy Berger. If correct, this confirms our belief that the decisions being made that night were largely political. Sandy Berger was a political person. He first met Clinton in 1972 working on Sen. George McGovern’s presidential campaign. Fifteen years later, Berger urged his friend to run for president. Clinton rewarded Berger with a position as deputy assistant to the president for national security, a position for which Berger had little useful background other than his experience as an attorney focused on international trade.

Tony Lake, by contrast, had 30 years of high-level foreign service experience when Clinton appointed him National Security Adviser. What is curious is that on the night of July 17, 1996, Lake, who obviously outranked Berger, was not in the residence. He was downstairs in his own office. Not being an insider, Lake had been known to remove himself from meetings when they turned political. A few months after the destruction of TWA Flight 800, Lake was to be kicked sideways to the CIA, but he withdrew his nomination under Senate criticism. Berger was given Lake’s job, a position that did not require congressional confirmation.

Speaking of politics, it is probably no coincidence that one of the five Democrats on the high level 9-11 Commission is Jamie Gorelick. As Clinton’s deputy attorney general in 1996, she seems to have been the one charged with derailing the FBI and scuttling any serious investigation into Flight 800’s demise.

This week we descend once again on Washington. Our goal is to get the major media to pay attention. To this point, the haughty indifference to the truth by some among them is enough to disillusion even a cynic. We are confident, however, that at least one reporter will see the light. (One would hope that ABC and George Stephanopoulos would rise to the occasion.) A Pulitzer awaits the first reporter who pursues this story to its natural conclusion, and we will do all that we can to help.

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