KCBS showed the footage to former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Ellsworth, who speculated that the launch could have been the test firing of an ICBM from a submarine “to demonstrate, mainly to Asia, that we can do that.”
Then again, it could have been an accident or a provocation, one that the authorities are as reluctant to discuss as they were the destruction of TWA Flight 800, the Boeing 747 that exploded off the southern shore of Long Island in July 1996.
The correspondent who alerted me to this California story regretted that there was no such footage of the missile or missiles said to have destroyed TWA Flight 800. In fact, however, there was an amateur video shot, and the folks at MSNBC uniquely know what happened to it.
In the 10 years I have been tracking this case, I have heard from at least 100 serious people who claimed to have seen this video.
My best testimony comes from a former 747 pilot named Thomas Young. In early August 1996, Young was laid up in a Hong Kong hospital with a back injury. His employer, Polar Air Cargo, flew his wife Barbara out to join him. They had little else to do but watch TV. Here is what they saw.
The videotape began with people milling about on a deck facing a body of water. In the background, a streak of light can be seen leaving a point below the edge of the deck, accelerating as it climbed; it passed behind what appeared to me to be a thin cloud layer and continued upward out of the frame, from right to left. As the streak of light disappeared beyond the edge of the frame, after a slight pause, there is a generalized, dim flash on the upper left side of the screen, followed by a brighter and more pronounced flash.
This description tracks precisely with what others have said about the video, which aired only a few times on American TV, and what the hundreds of eyewitnesses told the FBI.
Reportedly, in the hours after the crash, there was a bidding war for the video in question. When the bid reached $50,000, Fox was eliminated from the process.
The high bidder seems to have been NBC and/or its new sister network, MSNBC. This makes market sense in that MSNBC had been launched just two days prior, and the publicity would have been well worth the cost.
Still, I say “seems” because my sources will not speak on record, nor will MSNBC follow up on queries. Here is exactly what I know, no more, no less.
In the summer of 2001, my partner James Sanders, and I were negotiating with Broadcast Network News (BNN) – then the world’s largest independent news producer – to distribute our documentary on the subject of TWA Flight 800, “Silenced.”
These were serious negotiations. The person with whom we were communicating was BNN’s chief executive officer, Steve Rosenbaum.
One day that summer, Rosenbaum called me in a state of high excitement. “Jack,” he said, “you will not believe the conversation I just had.”
Although Rosenbaum thought our video had market potential, he was not at all convinced of our thesis, namely that missiles had been fired at TWA Flight 800. The conversation in question eliminated just about all doubt.
As Rosenbaum explained, he had been interviewing a candidate for a position as BNN’s technical director at a rooftop cafe when an airplane passed overhead.
The conversation moved naturally to airplanes and then, with Rosenbaum taking the lead, to TWA Flight 800. “I’ve seen the video,” said the candidate, who had until recently been working at MSNBC.
“You mean ‘Silenced’?” said Rosenbaum, a little surprised.
“No,” the candidate answered, “the video, the actual video of the plane being shot down.”
As the candidate told Rosenbaum, late on the night of the crash, editors at MSNBC had the tape on their monitors when “three men in suits” came to their editing suites, removed the tape and threatened the editors with serious consequences if they ever revealed its contents.
Although the TV stations in Hong Kong did not get the memo, the threats here worked all too well. Despite my repeated requests, Rosenbaum could not get the technical director, whom he hired, to go on record. Over the years, I have asked various producers at MSNBC to follow up, but if they did, they kept what they learned to themselves.
Best-selling novelist Nelson DeMille obviously heard these stories as well. In his novel, “Night Falls,” a confiscated amateur video drives the plot. Although he sexes the video up a bit in the retelling, DeMille’s insider details have the ring of authenticity about them.
When I learned that MSNBC’s self-declared truth-teller Keith Olbermann had been booted, I thought that all hope of getting MSNBC to fess up was gone.
Now that Olbermann has returned triumphant from the world’s shortest indefinite suspension, I am confident he will start searching for the truth once again – just as he always has.