James Sanders, a former police officer turned investigative reporter, co-wrote this report. Sanders is the author of “The Downing of TWA Flight 800” and “Altered Evidence,” among other books.
“He said that everything occurred between these two flag poles.”
– Dr. David Mayer, NTSB, of witness 649.
“[H]e was asked to describe how high in the sky above the house he thought that light appeared, and he said it was as if – if you imagine a flag pole on top of the house it would be as if it were on the top or the tip of the flag pole.”
– CIA Analyst No. 1, of eyewitness Mike Wire.
The skilled propagandist has a ready stock of tricks. One of them is to create detail so specific it enhances the credibility of a lie and yet so commonplace that no one would think to contest it or even check it – a detail like, say, a flagpole.
On two different occasions, cited above, government agents used a flagpole reference to distort or discredit eyewitness testimony in the TWA 800 investigation. This, of course, might have been a coincidence. It might also have been a coincidence that these just happened to be the two most critical eyewitnesses in the whole investigation. It might even have been a coincidence that neither of these eyewitnesses ever referred to a flagpole and that in each case the agents conjured the poles out of thin air.
But then again, maybe this wasn’t a coincidence at all. Maybe the flagpole references suggest why the CIA was involved in the first place.
At the time of the final NTSB hearing, in August of 2000, Dr. David Mayer headed up the NTSB’s Orwellian-titled “Human Performance Division.” His one and essential task at the hearings was to discredit the eyewitnesses.
Ironically, his job was made simpler because he had never spoken to any of the more than 700 civilian eyewitnesses and none at all of the 96 eyewitnesses who reported seeing the streak rise off the horizon. As the experts will tell you, it is much easier to lie when you don’t know the person about whom you are lying and easier still if that person is not in the room. This is likely why no eyewitnesses were allowed to testify at either NTSB hearing.
In December of 1997, days before the first NTSB hearing, the FBI prevented the NTSB from introducing any witness testimony. Wrote FBI honcho Jim Kallstrom to NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, “Until the NTSB has definitively determined an accidental cause for the crash, I believe it is prudent to withhold from public disclosure or discussion the identities of witnesses and the raw investigative details of the criminal investigation.” Please note that this letter came after the FBI had called off its criminal investigation.
By August of 2000, witnesses would have only caused problems for the NTSB whose “mechanical” thesis was now drafted in blood. But at this second NTSB hearing, investigators did at least discuss witness testimony. None proved more troubling for the NTSB than the still anonymous, Witness 649.
Said Mayer, “Witness 649 described events that certainly do sound like a missile attacking the airplane.”
649 had presented to the FBI a drawing so specific and so suggestive of a missile strike Mayer could not easily dismiss it. In fact, 649 described precisely what the witnesses had seen in the NTSB’s missile test. He saw an object like “a firework,” ascend “fairly quick,” then “slow” and “wiggle” then “speed up” and get “lost.” Then he saw a second object that “glimmered” in the sky, higher than the first, then a red dot move up to that object, then a puff of smoke, then another puff, then a “firebox.”
The “firebox” represented the explosion of the center wing tank. It was not the initiating event, as the NTSB would claim, but the culminating event. What 649 did not see – what no eyewitness reported seeing – was the 3,400-foot climb of a noseless airplane portrayed in the infamous CIA animation. In short, 649 presented a real problem for Dr. Mayer.
Mayer solved it with the flagpoles. As Mayer described it, everything 649 saw occurred “between these two flagpoles.” Mayer then used an illustration to show where those flagpoles were located and vectored 649’s line of sight from between those flagpoles out to sea. “So again,” said Mayer, “it doesn’t appear that this witness was looking in the right location to see where flight 800 would have been when it would have been struck by a hypothetical missile.” If he were looking in the wrong direction, Mayer implied, none of his testimony could possibly matter.
One major objection here. In none of the FBI notes does witness 649 ever mention a flagpole, let alone two flagpoles. With good reason. There weren’t any at his location in Westhampton. Dr. Mayer – or perhaps some other agent who assessed the site – imagined flagpoles that did not exist and entered them into the official record. This is all easily verifiable, but who would bother checking a detail so commonplace and devoid of controversy? Indeed, no one would have had not the Internet emerged during the course of these hearings and turned ordinary citizens into private investigators.
From watching the NTSB hearing countless times, one senses that Mayer is a decent sort. If married, he is probably a dutiful husband and a doting father. One cannot help noting how eager he is to please.
Dishonesty does not come easily to Mayer. He prefaces his first introduction of the two flagpoles, for instance, with a discreet “I believe.” There are only two ways to explain the “I believe” comment. The first is that Mayer was uncertain about the details. Given that 649 was the most critical of all eyewitnesses and that Mayer had no more important function than to discredit this testimony, this explanation seems unlikely – especially since Mayer’s whole presentation was scripted and rehearsed.
The second explanation is that Mayer wanted to leave himself wiggle room – “plausible deniability” in Beltway speak – were he ever to be charged with obstruction of justice. “But your honor, I didn’t say there were two flagpoles. I said that ‘I believed’ there were two flagpoles.” Either explanation should be enough to shock the Justice Department into action.
The second case, more egregious still, involves a Philadelphia millwright by the name of Mike Wire. Although we have told his story before, it bears repeating in this context. Wire had been working all that day on a Westhampton Bridge. At day’s end, he looked out towards the sea, and a white light caught his eye. Twelve days later, during a 90-minute interview at his Pennsylvania home, he told an FBI agent exactly what he had seen. Here is how the agent recorded the conversation on his “302:”
“Wire saw a white light that was traveling skyward from the ground at approximately a 40 degree angle. Wire described the white light as a light that sparkled and thought it was some type of fireworks. Wire stated that the white light ‘zig zagged’ (sic) as it traveled upwards, and at the apex of its travel the white light “arched over” and disappeared from Wire’s view. … Wire stated the white light traveled outwards from the beach in a south-southeasterly direction.”
After the light disappeared, the 302 continues, Wire “saw an orange light that appeared to be a fireball.”
After his July 1996 interview, Wire had nothing more to do with the investigation. He did, however, see the CIA recreation of the flight presented by the FBI in November of 1997, at least the abbreviated version shown on the news.
This CIA video proved to be the central, most visible element of a propaganda campaign designed to discredit the eyewitnesses. In an animated sequence, The CIA argued that when the nose of the plane broke off – due to a spontaneous explosion in the center wing tank – the plane pitched up and climbed like a rocket for more than 3,000 feet. According to the CIA, this climb, not a missile, is what the 736 official eyewitnesses actually saw.
For reasons that will soon become clear, the CIA chose to build its case squarely on Mike Wire’s testimony. “FBI investigators determined precisely where the eyewitness was standing,” says the CIA narrator of Wire while the video shows the explosion from his perspective on Beach Lane Bridge. “The white light the eyewitness saw was very likely the aircraft very briefly ascending and arching over after it exploded rather than a missile attacking the aircraft.”
To be sure, this version of events does not at all square with Wire’s detailed witness statement – his “302” in FBI speak – from July of 1996, recorded when his memory was at its freshest. The CIA animation converts Wire’s “40 degree” climb to one of roughly 70 or 80 degrees. It reduces the movement of an obvious smoke trail from three dimensions, south and east “outward from the beach,” to a small, two-dimensional blip far off shore. It places the explosion noticeably to the West of where Wire clearly remembers it. Most problematically, it fully ignores Wire’s claim that the streak of light ascended “skyward from the ground” and places his first sighting 20 degrees above the horizon, exactly where Flight 800 would have been.
Two questions beg to be asked: How could the CIA recreate events at such obvious odds with the original and detailed 302 and why was the CIA involved in the first place? The second question might very well answer the first. The CIA was undoubtedly recruited for its skill in the arts of secrecy and deception. Who did the recruiting? You can bet it wasn’t the FBI. That order had to come from above.
Thus, the agency must have been horrified when the NTSB transcribed and carelessly released its conversations with the CIA. (NTSB Witness document, Appendix FF, Docket No. SA-516, April 30, 1999). In this document, CIA agents, believed to be Dave Donovan (identified in the transcript only as “CIA analyst #1”) and Steve Case (identified only as “CIA analyst #2”) acknowledges the problems that Mike Wire’s original 302 would have presented. The agency “realized that if he [Wire] was only seeing the airplane, that he would not see a light appear from behind the rooftop of that house.” As the CIA understood, the airplane did not come off the beach. Flight 800 was at least 20 degrees above the horizon. Wire must have seen something else. So, claimed the CIA, “We asked the FBI to talk to him again, and they did.”
It was during this follow-up interview with the FBI, some time in 1997, that Wire was reported to have changed his mind, now admitting that he had first seen the light high above the roof top. How high? “[Wire] said it was as if – if you imagine a flag pole on top of the house it would be as if it were on the top or the tip of the flag pole.”
Yes, another imaginary flagpole. In fact, Wire never told the FBI anything about a flagpole. He could not have. He never talked to the FBI, the NTSB or the CIA after July of 1996. The CIA and/or the FBI fabricated the entire interview and added the flagpole detail to make the interview seem real – even if here, on reflection, the flagpole reference seems somewhat forced.
This needs to be stressed: By their own words, captured in a transcript, CIA analysts either lied or were victimized by the FBI. Someone created a fictional interview with Mike Wire. This interview resulted in a costly animation and an even more costly misdirection of the investigation. This effort not only wasted taxpayer dollars but also discredited honest American citizens who had come forward with the truth. This someone – and whoever it was will not be hard to find – broke the law.
Why of all the eyewitness accounts did the CIA choose Mike Wire’s? As we’ve suggested before, the 302 contains fairly detailed information about occupation and residence. There is much the CIA can infer from them about income and media access. Most of the eyewitnesses on this, the affluent south shore of Long Island, viewed the events from their boats, from their summer homes, from their yacht clubs. One eyewitness, a humble mechanic from Philadelphia, saw it on his work break before heading home the next morning. Give the CIA credit where it’s due. Had the FBI not failed to redact Wire’s name on the released 302, this story would have been lost to history.
“Most lies succeed,” observes noted psychologist Paul Ekman of the University of California, “because no one goes through the work to figure out how to catch them.”
Most Americans, including the major networks, could not be bothered to care about the lies they have been casually told. Alas, they have become so complacent that they can collectively shrug their shoulders and walk away from this transparent subversion of the rule of law.
Were it not for the tireless work of a number of private citizens, and the timely emergence of the Internet, these lies would never have been recognized. If they are ever to be investigated, if the culprits are ever to be apprehended, it will take more from all of us than the occasional vote.
Attorney General John Ashcroft
U. S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Congressman Dan Burton
House Government Reform Committee
2157 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515
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