When historians look back to document the seemingly endless history of the Clintons on the national stage, I have begun to wonder what their source material will be.
If they rely on the reporting of major publications or even the documents produced by public hearings and congressional committees, they will completely miss some of the biggest stories of our time, the true story of TWA Flight 800 among them.
One major factor that keeps the truth from being told is fear. In the month or so since the publication of my book “TWA 800: The Crash, The Cover-Up, The Conspiracy,” I have come to see what a paralyzing role fear can play.
As a quick reminder, this ill-fated 747 blew up off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996, in the heat of Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign. On the 20th anniversary of the crash and the election, apprehension about the Clintons has understandably resurfaced.
Since the book’s publication I have received close to 100 affirming calls or emails from individuals involved in aviation or national security, many with direct knowledge of the TWA 800 investigation, a few with enough knowledge to get the media’s attention if they chose to go public.
Almost no one willingly makes that choice. “Sorry to be vague,” said one recent correspondent, “I want to stay anonymous.” To assure anonymity he communicated via GuerillaMail.com.
One air traffic controller with firsthand knowledge requested that I use a pseudonym because he has children who depend on him. The federal government, he believes, “will seek revenge, retribution and/or any other remedy they feel like. I would be fearful my pension would be at risk.”
Many still work either in government or for industries dependent on government contracts. The latter fear that their going public could cost not only their own jobs but those of their colleagues.
These fears, although understandable, have left the writing of history to some seriously unreliable narrators. Consider, for instance, Pulitzer Prize-winner Tim Weiner’s much praised 2007 book, “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.”
As the Washington Post notes, “Weiner’s study is based on a prodigious amount of research into thousands of documents that have been declassified or otherwise uncovered, as well as oral histories and interviews.”
In sum, concludes the Post, “‘Legacy of Ashes’ succeeds as both journalism and history, and it is must reading for anyone interested in the CIA or American intelligence since World War II.”
Arguably, the CIA’s greatest success during those years was the subversion of the TWA 800 investigation. As the CIA’s own documents make clear, the CIA ignored the “wall” preventing the agency from working with the FBI and “became involved in the ‘missile theory’ the day after the crash occurred.”
Weiner does not mention TWA 800 at all, which is all the more revealing given that he covered the story as a reporter for the New York Times. I called Weiner to help me understand the oversight. He has not returned my call.
As one of his sources, Weiner cited George Tenet’s memoir “At the Center of the Storm.” In the aftermath of TWA 800’s destruction, George Tenet served as acting director of Central Intelligence. The new CIA documents show him to have been involved in the investigation from very nearly the beginning.
Indeed, Tenet signed off on the CIA’s ultimate explanation for what the witnesses saw – the bizarre “zoom climb” – months before the FBI shared that explanation with the public. Yet he too failed to even mention the disaster in his memoir.
In July 1996, Clinton’s chief of staff, Leon Panetta, called the president with the news of the plane’s downing.
“The concern at that moment was that this might very well be a terrorist act,” Panetta would tell CNN. The concern was apparently not memorable enough to earn even the slightest mention in Panetta’s 2014 memoir, “Worthy Fights.”
Although he was inadvertently open about the “TWA 800 bombing” with ABC’s Peter Jennings on 9/11, Clinton adviser George Stephanopolous did not spare the incident a single word in his 1999 memoir “All Too Human.”
In June 2013, Stephanopolous sat mutely during a three-minute discussion of TWA 800 by two of his ABC colleagues on his own show, “Good Morning America.” Again, he said not a word despite the fact that he was admittedly in the White House situation room after the crash.
In his memoir, “Off With Their Heads,” adviser Dick Morris cited TWA 800 as one of “three attacks” in the “terror summer of 1996.” Morris did not shy from speaking in detail of the other two “attacks” – Khobar Towers and the Olympic Park bombing – but about TWA 800 he had nothing to say beyond its listing.
In July 2003, I got the Morris treatment firsthand when he and I were phone-in guests on Paul Schiffer’s Cleveland radio show. Three times I asked Morris to elaborate on his TWA 800 remarks. Three times he responded as though he had not even heard my question.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “Special Report” for that period of time explored the terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in June 1996 and a variety of other intelligence-related stories in the news. The report, however, was fully silent on the subject of TWA 800.
Of course, TWA 800 was one out of many stories potentially damning to the Clintons suppressed during the last quarter century. If Hillary is elected in November, they will likely be suppressed for the next quarter century as well.
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