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Time to ask Kerry tough questions about TWA 800

Posted By Jack Cashill On 01/24/2004 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

“I will not let [President Bush] off the hook throughout this campaign with respect to America’s credibility,” said John Kerry last June in New Hampshire, a theme he has repeated over and over since.

Now that the “big mo” in the Democratic primary has clearly shifted to the Massachusetts Senator, it is time for his opponents and the media to start asking about Kerry’s own credibility on the question of intelligence. A good place to start is with the fate of TWA Flight 800, the plane that was alleged to have self-destructed off the coast of Long Island in 1996 with 230 good souls on board.

On Sept. 11, 2001, as reported earlier, Sen. Kerry appeared on the Larry King Show. Kerry’s honest admission to King bears scrutiny:


We have always known this could happen. We’ve warned about it. We’ve talked about it. I regret to say, as I served on the Intelligence Committee up until last year. I can remember after the bombings of the embassies, after TWA 800, we went through this flurry of activity, talking about it, but not really doing [sic] hard work of responding.

If Kerry talked about the fate of TWA Flight 800 before September 11, he does not seem to have done so at the time of its destruction. However, his colleague on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, did go public with his concerns.

Hatch spoke with CNN on July 19, 1996, two days after the crash. He admitted to having “various conversations” with government officials.

“I won’t go so far as to say it was terrorism, but there was sabotage here,” said Hatch. “We’re looking at a criminal act. We’re looking at somebody who either put a bomb on it or shot a missile, a surface-to-air missile.”

Hatch was likely telling the truth here about the limits of his own knowledge. Indeed, we have yet to identify a single civilian, including those at work deep within the investigation, who knew beyond doubt what transpired on the night of July 17, 1996.

Hatch’s recommended follow-up is fully consistent with his beliefs. “The National Transportation Safety Board should now turn the investigation over to the FBI because the crash was not related to an aviation problem,” added Hatch. “It’s very – almost 100 percent unlikely that this was a mechanical failure.” [emphasis mine]

If there were ever a subject for review by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, this would seem to be it. But curiously, the committee’s “Special Report” that covers the period of the crash and its aftermath dedicates not a word to TWA Flight 800.

The report does detail the terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia three weeks earlier and even explores the much more questionable and controversial subject of the CIA-Contra-cocaine story that was then creating a firestorm in the left-wing media and, to a lesser degree, in the mainstream media. But the committee’s report, issued on Feb. 28, 1997, does not raise the subject of TWA Flight 800, even to dismiss it.

“After TWA 800, we went through this flurry of activity, talking about it,” said Kerry on September 11. Given the presence of a Democrat in the White House, veteran intelligence committee member Kerry would have had better access to serious talk than Hatch. Regardless, not a word of it surfaces in the public record.

Throughout the year of 1997, the CIA worked on the creation of the now notorious video animation designed to discredit the eyewitnesses. On Nov. 18, 1997, the FBI previewed this video for a national audience. Again, one would think this a likely topic for the Intelligence Committee’s next report, the one covering the period Jan. 7, 1997 – Oct. 21, 1998. But again, not a word.

These reports are well-detailed. They discuss subjects of serious and obvious national import, including terrorist acts like the destruction of Pan Am 103, but they also delve into the speculative like the CIA-Contra story, Y2K and “the release of the JFK files.” But not one public word about TWA Flight 800.

After Kerry’ remarks to Larry King on September 11, at least one person called his office for a clarification. After some back-and-forth, she was told that she must have misunderstood.

On Sept. 24,2001, there was no mistaking the meaning of Sen. Kerry’s remarks. I personally watched him say the following to Chris Matthews on “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.

On Sept. 20, 2001, one mainstream newspaper broke the story of how the so-called Gore Commission failed conspicuously to address airline safety. The paper claimed that this failure “represents the clearest recent public example of the success that airlines have long had in defeating calls for more oversight.”

The paper traced that failure to a series of campaign donations from the airlines to the Democratic National Committee in 1996 in the wake of the crash of TWA Flight 800, donations likely solicited by Al Gore himself. That newspaper just happened to be John Kerry’s hometown Boston Globe, which has now, not surprisingly, endorsed Kerry for president.

Of course, it is possible that Sen. Kerry merely misspoke about a terrorist attack against TWA 800 on two occasions, and it is possible, too, that the Globe’s entrance into the fray was merely coincidental. But given the brutal realities of Democratic presidential politics it is altogether possible that these revelations were calculated and perhaps even coordinated. And if he did misspeak about so grave an issue on two occasions, one must question his fitness for the presidency.

In our book, “First Strike,” James Sanders and I make this arguably prophetic comment:


John Kerry seemed to have his sights on Al Gore’s Achilles’ heel. After the events of September 11, the story of how Al Gore helped subvert the investigation into TWA 800 and undermine airport security may yet prove to be a career-killer. Kerry’s “slips” may put Gore out of the race even before he gets in.

Two weeks after advanced copies of “First Strike” started circulating around Washington, Gore withdrew from the presidential race. It would be presumptuous of us to believe that these accumulating revelations caused Gore to withdraw. But if not, what did? Gore’s withdrawal shocked Washington. From this perspective, Gore’s surprise endorsement of Howard Dean may have been meant not as a rebuke of Sen. Joe Lieberman, but as payback to Sen. John Kerry.

“We went through this flurry of activity, talking about it, but not really doing [sic] hard work of responding,” said Kerry on September 11. The shameful thing is that, even today, while he pounds Bush for his presumed lack of credibility, Kerry continues to play political games with the one event that may well have anticipated that horrific day.

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