Loretta Fuddy, the Hawaiian official responsible for the release of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, died last week in a small-plane crash off the island of Molokai.
The plane crashed was enough to raise suspicions among those who follow these things. That she was the only one of the nine onboard to die heightened those suspicions, especially given the conflicting accounts of how she alone failed to survive.
More than a few people have asked my opinion on this given that I wrote a book on a case with some parallels – the death of then-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in an April 1996 plane crash in Croatia.
When I was offered a book contract on the Brown case, I accepted with one major stipulation: If the evidence suggested that Brown died accidentally, I would report just that.
At the time I believed the most likely explanation would prove to be either an accident or possibly a terrorist incident covered up for the sake of political expediency.
For that reason, I chose to focus on why the plane went up. What I learned was that in its illicit pursuit of campaign cash, the White House frequently and needlessly put its principal bagman, the secretary of commerce, in harm’s way.
In exploring Ron Brown’s life, however, I came to see just how desperate were its circumstances, especially at the end. I also came to see how deeply – and willfully – flawed was the investigation into his death.
Incredibly, although I was doing my research seven years after the crash, I was the first person in the media to request the U.S. Air Force’s 22-volume accident investigation report.
What I learned from the report was that Brown had gone to Croatia to broker a sweetheart deal between the neo-fascist strongman who ran Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, and the Enron Corporation.
Brown’s flight left from Tuzla in Bosnia, a Muslim country swarming with mujahedeen. This flight came just nine days after Hillary Clinton deviated from her European tour to visit Tuzla (where, by the way, she was buzzed by that apocryphal “sniper fire”).
The media narrative, however, could not even hint at terror. “Brown’s entourage boarded an Air Force T-43 for the coastal town of Dubrovnik,” asserted a Time magazine reporter following the White House’s lead on the cause of the crash, “where one of the worst storms in a decade was raging.”
In reality, when Brown’s plane approached Dubrovnik, it was not raining, and the sun was peaking through the clouds. The Enron executives had taken their own plane and landed safely minutes earlier.
Intriguingly, the liaison between Enron and the Tudjmans, a naturalized American named Zdenka Gast, had been scheduled to fly with Brown but thought better of it.
Ambassador Peter Galbraith told Air Force Capt. John Cairney, “There were problems in – in – in this – in concluding this deal where they wanted to sign a letter of intent, and so, rather than – than go on the Brown trip, she stayed with the Inron [sic] people to do the final negotiations.”
“We’ve been looking for her,” volunteered Cairney. The Air Force obviously did not look too hard. Investigators conducted 148 witness interviews, but Gast was not among them. I found her in five minutes of searching. She did not return my phone calls.
Inquiring into Gast’s background, I came across a Croatian language magazine article with a photo of Gast standing in the center of three smiling women. On her left was the then-secretary of labor, Alexis Herman. On her right was none other than Hillary Clinton.
The occasion was Herman’s wedding reception at the Clinton White House four years after the crash. There were only about 40 people in attendance, including the Clintons, the Gores, “several governors and senators” and, yes, Gast.
There were more wrinkles. For the first time ever on friendly soil, the White House ordered the Air Force to skip the “safety” phase of the investigation and move directly to the “accident” phase.
There was to be no consideration other than the accident, even though this airport was near the Bosnian border and in a potential hot fire zone.
The Air Force called the pilot’s nearly two-mile deviation into a Croatian hillside “inexplicable.” No aircraft had ever drifted inland before at that airport. The AWACS data suggested sabotage of the ground-based navigation system, a line of inquiry the Air Force was not allowed to pursue.
Three days after the crash and two days before his scheduled interview by the Air Force, the Croatian responsible for the airport’s navigation system was found with a bullet hole in his chest. The Tudjmans called it a suicide.
A day later, every pathologist who viewed Brown’s body concluded that his head wound, at the very least, looked like a bullet hole. In a decision that reached the White House, there was to be no autopsy. The Brown family was not informed. Nor was there any forensic testing or a search for an exit wound.
The Clintons used a reluctant Air Force and a nearly mutinous Armed Forces Institute of Pathology to bury Ron Brown as quickly as possible, literally and figuratively.
The three Armed Forces pathologists and the forensic photographer who blew the whistle on this case were dispatched to career-killing dead-end jobs.
Brown confidante and whistleblower Nolanda Butler Hill was threatened by then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. She spent a year in hiding before being arrested and imprisoned on a bogus tax charge.
Although there was not enough evidence to accuse the Clintons of plotting Brown’s death, there was more than enough to accuse them – and the media – of not wanting to know how he died.
At this stage of the Fuddy case, there is not nearly enough evidence to accuse anyone of anything, but there are enough unanswered questions to want to know more.
But as with Brown, don’t expect any help from the media. The New York Times lost a reporter in the Brown crash, and even the Times did not bother to request the USAF report.