In March 2004, the American people first learned about “the wall.” The occasion was the eighth public hearing of the 9/11 Commission.
Asked to account for the intelligence failures that led up 9/11, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet blamed the “wall that was in place between the criminal side and the intelligence side.”
“What’s in a criminal case doesn’t cross over that line. Ironclad regulations,” Tenet insisted. “So that even people in the Criminal Division and the Intelligence Divisions of the FBI couldn’t talk to each other, let alone talk to us or us talk to them.”
For all the media talk of “the wall,” no one spoke of a spectacular breach in the wall, one that first sprung open in 1996 and stayed open for several years thereafter.
During these years, the Clinton Department of Justice ignored its own 1995 memorandum authorizing the wall and encouraged the collaboration of the FBI and CIA on a potentially criminal case involving national security, that of TWA Flight 800.
At 8:19 p.m. on July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 left JFK Airport in New York with 230 people on board bound for Paris. At 8:31 p.m., literally thousands of people along Long Island’s South Shore witnessed the plane explode, killing all on board.
In the month following the disaster, more than 700 of those witnesses would speak on record with the FBI. The truth of what they saw has only become clear in the last year or so with the release of a treasure trove of CIA documents.
As the documents reveal, the CIA quietly cooperated with the FBI on its criminal investigation and wrestled the witness analysis away from the FBI, the NTSB and even the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The names on the CIA documents are redacted, but the intentions of the CIA analysts bleed right through. Their job was to make missile talk go away.
In a July 30, 1996, internal memo, headlined “Hold the Press,” a CIA analyst warned of an impending FBI report on a likely missile strike.
After interviewing 144 witnesses, the FBI was convinced there was a “high probability” that the incident was caused by surface-to-air missiles.
According to the reporting FBI agents, the evidence was “overwhelming.” The witnesses were “excellent” and their testimony “too consistent” for the cause to be anything other than a missile.
The unnamed CIA analyst boasted of how he discouraged the FBI from pursuing this angle. Said the analyst of his FBI counterpart, “He had little to refute our concerns.” The FBI report was never released.
That same CIA memo held another surprise. The FBI received reports from four witnesses claiming to have seen “a similar surface-to-air something” launched on July 7, 1996.
“If true,” said the CIA analyst, “the FBI would now have witnesses reporting seeing something race towards the sky on the 7th, 12th and 17th.”
The sighting on July 12 had been captured on video. Thanks to the relentless efforts of James Sanders, we now have that video. Yes, a missile went up, and something came down in flames.
Soon after the July 17 crash, the FBI began to feed the CIA its witness summaries, called 302s. Working with only a third of the 302s, the CIA analysts came to a bizarre conclusion.
According to the CIA, a spontaneous fuel tank explosion blew the nose off TWA 800. The aircraft then “pitched up abruptly and climbed several thousand feet from its last recorded altitude of about 13,800 feet to a maximum altitude of about 17,000 feet.”
This zoom-climb, the CIA insisted, confused the witnesses into thinking they saw a missile rocketing upwards. In March 1997, CIA Director Tenet sent FBI director Louis Freeh a letter assuring him that “what these eyewitnesses saw was the crippled aircraft after the first explosion had already taken place.”
The collaboration between the FBI and the CIA climaxed with a dramatic showing of a CIA-produced zoom-climb animation at the FBI’s case-closing November 1997 press conference.
“What the witnesses saw,” the narrator reassured the media, “was a Boeing 747 in various stages of crippled flight.” An animation recreated the flight with the nose-less 747 rocketing upwards more than 3,000 feet.
As can now be proved beyond argument, however, the CIA willfully corrupted every witness summary they reviewed and manufactured at least three “second” interviews for critical eyewitnesses.
In a CIA document from March 1999, an unnamed analyst even owned up to the zoom-climb con. The “maximum CIA calculated altitude in the final study was about 14,500 feet,” he conceded, not the 17,000-plus feet the animation claimed.
With the truth about TWA 800 successfully suppressed, Bill Clinton sailed to re-election in 1996, and his wife Hillary Clinton remained politically viable.
In May 1997, the Clintons rewarded Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who oversaw the investigation, by securing for her the vice-chairmanship of Fannie Mae.
After making more than $25 million over the next six years, Gorelick resigned from Fannie Mae to assume one of only five Democratic seats on the 9/11 Commission.
Gorelick seemed to enjoying her moment in the sun until Attorney General John Ashcroft testified before the commission on April 13, 2004.
“The single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents,” said Ashcroft.
“Government erected this wall, government buttressed this wall, and before September 11th government was blinded by this wall.”
Ashcroft spoke of the memorandum that established the wall and concluded, “Full disclosure compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission.” He was referring, of course, to Gorelick.
Had there been a vigilant media, the truth about how the FBI and the CIA breached the wall to subvert the TWA 800 investigation would have surfaced years ago.
To make sure the truth did not come out, the CIA, the FBI and the White House largely avoided the subject of aviation terror for the next five years.
As the nation learned in the aftermath of 9/11, the “wall” that was breached all too easily to protect the secrets of TWA 800 held much too firmly when it came to the secrets of our enemies.
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