Thursday, July 17, 2008

TWA Flight 800 and the Media

On this day in 1996, two years after Republicans gained control of Congress, and already spending huge sums of campaign funds via “soft money” for an unprececented early TV blitz of swing states promoting his agenda and record, against which yet-to-be-nominated Republican candidate Bob Dole could not respond, Bill Clinton was in the family quarters of the White House, along with Sandy Berger and Hillary, when TWA Flight 800 exploded and fell into the Atlantic Ocean, taking the lives of all 230 persons on board in full view of literally hundreds of eyewitnesses on Long Island’s affluent south shore.

270 of those eyewitnesses—pilots, fishermen, surfers, military people—gave the FBI detailed accounts, many with illustrations, of a likely missile attack on the aircraft. These were very credible witnesses. The New York Times interviewed not a one of them.

Jack Cashill has been investigating this story for seven years. He has come to see the TWA 800 cover-up less as a scandal of government than as a scandal of media. He writes:

If the New York Times chose to pursue this story, it could break it open in a week. A TV network could break it in a month. And yet none of them do. None of them likely will.

All of this willful blindness, I am convinced, derives from the fact that TWA Flight 800 went down on Clinton’s watch. Collectively, the media spent more energy on George W’s DUI.

When the National Archives released 11,000 pages of Hillary's schedule as first lady, the schedule revealed that she was indeed holed up with President Clinton and Sandy Berger in the family quarters of the White House that fateful night of July 17, 1996.

At 3 a.m.—her fabled time to shine—the president had apparently gathered enough information to call National Security Advisor, Tony Lake, with the following message: "Dust off the contingency plans."

Yes, the Eisenhower Option, an all out attack on Iran precipitated by the terror bombing of an Air Force compound in Saudi Arabia three weeks earlier. But with the 1996 election comfortably in the bag, war was the last thing the Clintons wanted or needed. As usual, nothing happened.

Yet for all the peril and intrigue of that first night of near war, in "Living History," Hillary’s 500-plus page memoir, she summarized the entire TWA Flight 800 episode in exactly one-third of one sentence. Bill gave the entire incident two sentences in his 900-page memoir.

The media, alas, paid this extraordinary oversight no more attention than it did the content of Sandy Berger’s famous socks.

When Berger made his now storied sorties into the National Archives, he risked his career and his reputation in so doing, and he knew it.

Rest assured, he would not have done so were the secrets to be preserved not worth the risk of pilfering them. True to form, the major media refused to even ask the most fundamental question: just what secrets would justify so much personal exposure.

Having read the report on Berger by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, I am confident that I know the answer.

According to Archives staff, “Berger was especially interested in White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke’s personal office files.”

Clarke, a Clinton sycophant, devised the “exit strategy” that transformed a seeming aeronautical assault on TWA Flight 800 into a “mechanical failure.” In his blowhard book Against All Enemies, he takes full credit for this bit of aviation alchemy.

Clarke was likely also responsible for getting the CIA and FBI to breach the famed “wall” and work together on the creation of an animation that the media could pass on to their flock. The CIA's notorious “zoom-climb” animation shows a nose-less 747 pitching up abruptly, climbing more than 3,000 feet, and allegedly confusing the eyewitnesses into thinking they were seeing a missile attack.

The animation is indefensible nonsense. Even the NTSB has backed away from it.

What was in the documents that Berger pilfered from the National Archives? Cashill relates these events:

At that time Col. Buzz Patterson carried the "nuclear football" for President Clinton. Given his security clearance, Patterson was entrusted with any number of high security assignments. One morning in "late-summer,” Patterson was returning a daily intelligence update from the Oval Office to the National Security Council when he noticed the heading "Operation Bojinka."

As Patterson relates, "I keyed on a reference to a plot to use commercial airliners as weapons." As a pilot, he had a keen interest in the same. "I can state for a fact that this information was circulated within the U.S. intelligence community," Patterson writes, "and that in late 1996 the president was aware of it." The President’s hand written comments on the documents verified the same.

The Philippine police had uncovered plans for aerial assaults as early as January 1995 and shared those plans with the FBI almost immediately. The man responsible for those plans was Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing and very possibly an Iraqi contract agent. His accomplice was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9-11 and allegedly Yousef’s uncle.

Understandably, the 9-11 Commission was very concerned about who knew what when in regards to the use of planes as bombs. Bush National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was asked on her first real question: “Did you ever see or hear from the FBI, from the CIA, from any other intelligence agency, any memos or discussions or anything else between the time you got into office and 9-11 that talked about using planes as bombs?”

Rice said no. She was likely telling the truth. Clarke had acknowledged as much during his earlier testimony. He admitted that the "knowledge about al-Qaeda having thought of using aircraft as weapons" was relatively old, "five-years, six-years old." He asked that intelligence analysts "be forgiven for not thinking about it given the fact that they hadn't seen a lot in the five or six years intervening about it."

Before the summer Olympics of 1996, in fact, Clarke had warned security planners about the possibility of Islamic terrorists hijacking a 747 and flying it into Olympic Stadium. Two days before the start of those Olympics, on July 17, Saddam’s National Liberation day, with the U.S Navy on the highest state of alert since the Cuban missile crisis, TWA Flight 800 blew up inexplicably off the coast of Long Island.

The fact that the President was reviewing Bojinka plans soon after the destruction of TWA Flight 800 makes the versions of those plans with his hand written notes on them all the more critical. If found and revealed, they would, at the very least, acknowledge that the Clinton administration had a keen interest in the possible use of planes as bombs five years before September 11.

The media is no longer America's watchdog.

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