Al Salzenberg of the 9-11 staff suggested I write you a letter to express my dissatisfaction with the progress of the 9-11 Commission.
On or about Feb. 20, I talked to Mr. Salzenberg at some length about one very specific concern I had with the commission. I was impressed with the time he gave me and the fact that he seemed, at least, to take my information seriously.
My concern was with the presence of former Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick on the commission. Immediately after the crash of TWA Flight 800 in July 1996, Justice Department attorney Valerie Caproni fully ignored existing statutes and gave the FBI power over the National Transportation Safety Board in the management of the investigation.
In a stroke, as I explained to Mr. Salzenberg, the Clinton Justice Department hermetically sealed the investigation and silenced the independent voices of the NTSB. Ms. Caproni could not have acted on her own authority. As the “political officer” equivalent in the Justice Department, Ms. Gorelick likely orchestrated this takeover – one that all parties now acknowledge to have been illegal.
On Aug. 22, 1996, just a few days before the start of the Democratic National Convention, Ms. Gorelick oversaw a critical Justice Department meeting with the FBI. Immediately after this meeting, as it happened, all serious inquiry into the fate of TWA 800 came to an end.
On the next day, for instance, the FAA began to inquire whether any dog-training exercises had ever taken place on the plane that would become TWA 800. On the same day, as CNN reported, the FBI now claimed publicly for the first time that the explosive residue found along the right wing “could have been brought on the plane by a passenger and was not part of a bomb.” Likewise, after the meeting, the FBI would do no more eyewitness interviews, at least not for the next two months. The Bureau only did a handful after that – and all of those for the wrong reasons.
The search was now on for a rationale to explain away both the explosive residue and the stunningly specific testimony of 270 eyewitnesses. This fully misdirected inquiry would result in the two most egregious corruptions of the investigation.
The first was the FBI’s claim that a dog-training exercise in St. Louis six weeks before the crash resulted in the spilling of the explosive residue found on the plane. The second was the CIA’s claim that a 3,200-foot climb by a nose-less TWA 800 fooled the eyewitnesses into thinking they had seen a missile.
The CIA based its theory on an eyewitness interview that never took place. This can be easily proved. The FBI based its theory on a dog-training exercise that never took place. This, too, can be easily proved. Both fabrications were conscious.
As I explained to Mr. Salzenberg, mine was not a crank call. I had written a book on TWA Flight 800. I had just the day before undergone a smart three-hour interview by the History Channel on the subject. I understand the political dynamics of the investigation better than anyone who was not actively complicit. As I explained, too, there is excellent reason to believe that Gorelick’s dubious role in the TWA 800 investigation contributed to New York’s vulnerability in the days leading up to Sept. 11.
I suggested that Gorelick may have been appointed to the panel to discourage any connections from being made between July 1996 and September 2001. I could see no other reason why she would leave her cushy gig as vice chairman of Fannie Mae to serve as one of only five Democrats on the commission.
Mr. Salzenberg promised that he would look into the Gorelick issue and get back to me. Three weeks later, on March 10, I called him. I explained again who I was and what my concern was.
“I have talked to 400 people since then,” he said gruffly. He did not remember the call. I explained in more detail.
“Oh, you’re that freelancer,” he added dismissively.
“If it matters,” I said, “I’m the executive editor of a respectable Midwest business magazine, and I’ve written a book on the subject at hand.”
Mr. Salzenberg asked me what I wanted. It struck me that he did not even take notes on the last call or any call. I told him I wanted to share my information with the panel, and if need be, I would be happy to testify.
“Lots of people like to testify,” he groused. “We can’t handle them all.”
“I know this subject better than anyone,” I responded.
“If you want to make charges,” he said, “you are free to use the public air waves or write books or letters to the editor.”
“I’m trying to do my good citizen thing,” I said. “I am trying to go through established channels.”
“Well, we are trying to wrap up and get out our report,” he said curtly, implying there would be no time, regardless of the quality of my information.
“Do I have any other official recourse?” I asked.
“Write a letter to the chairman,” he snapped.
And so Chairman Kean, I write this letter. As a Garden State native myself, and the son of a Newark cop, I appeal to your sense of justice. If you refuse to even look at the fate of TWA Flight 800, you will have done your country a disservice. You will have justified the cynicism that now plagues the nation – and especially the aviation community. And you will have lost your own shot at greatness.
It is not too late. If you’re game, I’ll buy my own plane ticket.