In this 2001 photo, the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 sit in a hangar in Calverton, N.Y. The seats of the plane are pictured in the foreground. The plane crashed off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., on July 17, 1996, killing 230 people. (Ed Betz/AP)
TWA Flight 800 disaster
A large piece of a wing from TWA Flight 800, floating in the Atlantic after the explosion.
A missile blew away TWA Flight 800, which exploded and crashed into the Atlantic off Long Island almost 20 years ago, the producers of a new documentary claim.
The film, “Flight 800,” is airing July 17 on Epix — 17 years to the day after the Paris-bound jumbo jet exploded, killing all 230 people aboard — and the filmmakers claim they have new evidence to prove their theory.
A new film claims the official government report on the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 is an elaborate fabrication, but the most shocking part of the story is that charges are being leveled by some of the very investigators who put the report together. Six experts who appear in the film were members of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation team that concluded the crash was an accident, but they now claim they were silenced by their superiors. The movies, "TWA Flight 800" will debut on EPIX TV next month, on the 17-year anniversary of the crash.
TWA Flight 800 was en route from JFK Airport in New York to Paris, France, when it exploded and crashed off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 people on board. From the very beginning, there were some who speculated that the plane was the victim of a terrorist attack, leading the FBI to conduct its own criminal investigation. Among the possibilities that were suggested as the cause were a bomb in the cargo hold, or an anti-aircraft missile. Several witnesses even claimed they saw an object or streak of light that looked liked a missile or rocket moving toward the plane before it exploded.
The final NTSB reported said that faulty wiring connected to a central fuel tank caused a blast that destroyed the fuesalage, however, there were still many skeptics and conspiracy theorists who have long doubted that official story. In one particularly famous example, Pierre Salinger, a former Press Secretary for President John Kennedy and reporter for ABC News, claimed he'd seen proof that the U.S. Navy shot down the plane and then covered it up.
Now, those theories are likely to get a new airing, thanks to accident investigators who worked on the TWA 800 case, but say they were not allowed to speak up at the time of the official report. The experts include NTSB and TWA accident investigators, who say they are only able to speak up now that they are retired. According their statements in the film, they believe the official explanation is wrong and the damage was caused by an explosion that came from outside the plane.
The filmmakers won't speculate on what could have caused such an explosion, and haven't yet offered up evidence to support their theory (you'll have to watch on July 17), but they are asking the NTSB to re-open the investigation. Whether or not that happens, or even if a follow-up reaches the same conclusions as the original, this new film will ensure that the alternate theories and claims up a cover will probably never be put to rest.
“What first got me interested in this story was when it was on the news years ago and the (networks) were using CIA animation of how the plane went down,” said co-producer Tom Stalcup, who holds a Ph.D. in physics from Florida State University and has devoted the last 14 years to investigating the crash.
“I wondered why the CIA was telling me what happened during a plane crash,” he said.
Stalcup said the film presents new “radar and forensic evidence proving what witnesses saw — that a missile brought it down.”
Several former investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board also appear in the film to say that the NTSB’s conclusion about the cause of the crash was wrong.
An image from a CIA animation showing the Boeing 747's disintegration on July 17, 1996. "Flight 800" is challenging the federal government's conclusion that a fuel-tank explosion caused the crash.
In 2000, the NTSB said the plane was destroyed by an explosion in the center fuel tank, likely caused by a spark from faulty wiring.
Agency officials are expected to meet with reporters Tuesday to reiterate that conclusion.
The NTSB says that session is in response to a petition, filed last month by nongovernment investigators, calling on the board to reconsider the cause of the crash.
“Since the accident occurred 17 years ago, many who are now covering the petition filing are less familiar with the details and findings of the NTSB’s four-year investigation,” an agency official said.
“ This is why the NTSB is offering the background briefing on the TWA Flight 800 report.”
An aerial view of the U.S. Coast Guard station at East Moriches, N.Y., July 27, 1996.
How the Fraudulent Investigation of an Airline Disaster
Foreshadowed the Lies and Crimes of 9/11
A Review Essay on Kristina Borjesson’s New Feature-Length Documentary, TWA Flight 800
The Lies and Crimes of TWA Flight 800
… by Anthony James Hall
Death in the Skies
Kristina Borjesson has directed an important feature-length documentary film that casts new light on an extremely flawed federal investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800.
As viewed by hundreds of eyewitnesses looking eastward from the shores of Long Island, a Boeing 747 bound for Paris plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in the evening of July 17, 1996.
Many of these eyewitnesses viewed missile-like objects rising from the ocean’s surface to meet the trajectory of TWA Flight 800 in the moments before the airliner exploded into two fireballs.
TWA Flight 800 relates the story of how politics intervened to prevent an honest federal assessment of the causes of an airplane crash. The FBI and the CIA jumped into the investigation preempting the role of a number of career professionals working under the auspices of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB was ostensibly the lead federal agency in the investigation but its activities were clearly subordinated to agencies charged to act in the name of “national security.” This deep intervention into the realm of aviation safety marks the inception of a new phase in the growth of the national security state. Especially after 9/11 the apparatus of so-called national security would assert dominance over more and more areas of American life.
The meeting of all these topics in the Flight 800 investigation foreshadowed a future event that on September 11, 2001 would change the skyline of New York as well as the shape of global geopolitics.
These cartoons were created especially for this article by Abel.
Borjesson herself was one of those investigative journalists who faced recriminations from her employer for attempting to do her job as she understood it. CBS News fired its Emmy Award winning employee. Borjesson has stayed with the story nevertheless.
TWA Flight 800 embodies her best effort to vindicate not only herself but several career professionals whose expertise in investigating airline crashes was preempted by forces whose true nature has yet to be explained by those public officials responsible for the fiasco.
Kristina Borjesson discussing her film, TWA Flight 800, on Democracy Now.
Borjesson was not the only investigative journalist whose work on the TWA file was dismissed as the ravings of “conspiracy theorists.” The “conspiracy theory” meme would be extended and amplified to apply malevolently to many of those who did not accept as valid the findings of the federal investigative body charged to look into the events of September 11, 2001.
The work of the 9/11 Commission suffers from many of the same afflictions that plagued the work of the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of the Flight 800 crash.
After 9/11 the national security state’s subordination of evidence-based inquiries become more pervasive, systematic and insidious.
Engineering Public Perceptions
Borjesson’s cinematic gem, entitled TWA Flight 800, finally provides some definitive answers to questions that should have been authoritatively answered long ago. Her documentary demonstrates that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Flight 800 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean due to a high velocity ordinance explosion outside the airplane.
The cause of the crash was not—to repeat, not– a mechanical malfunction inside the aircraft as determined by the National Transportation Safety Board in a report that continues to embody the US government’s official position on the matter to this day.
The well documented misrepresentation and cover up of the true causes of the Flight 800 crash offers an ominous primer to introduce the uninitiated to a whole category of media-government collaborations devoted to keeping the general population ignorant about certain topics and certain projects, often of extreme consequence in the shaping of future conditions.
Large amounts of public resources are thus commandeered to black out public awareness of what is being done with our own tax money and in our name by public officials theoretically accountable to us. The public trust is thereby violated in ways that, if known, would certainly have the effect of delegitimizing our governors.
Some of the psychological manipulations that constitute a central dynamic of the so-called Global War on Terror involve variations on a much larger scale of the same tactics of misrepresentation deployed in officialdom’s specious and self-serving explanation of Flight 800’s demise.
The lies and crimes entailed in holding back from the public the real story of what made Flight 800’s fall from the sky provides a telling case study. It illustrates graphically how the sacrifice of truth to political expediency is becoming more the norm, a trend that accelerated dramatically after 9/11.
In a society where exercises of power are, at least to some extent, subject to formal and informal exercises of public opinion, dominant groups have invested heavily in strategies for engineering mass perceptions that advance their interests while tending to inoculate themselves and their operatives from criminal accountability for even their most gruesome atrocities.
Massive amounts of financial, creative, and political energy are devoted to spinning into the popular imagination power-serving mythologies deployed to disguise inconvenient aspects of reality that that, if widely known, might lead to sharp disruptions in the status quo.
The engineers of mass deception, often shielded behind the carefully-constructed imagery of the so-called Public Relations industry, have become especially adept at keeping the general public as unaware as possible of the Frankenstein-like attributes of an increasingly deregulated and privatized military-industrial complex.
Especially since 9/11, the directors and main beneficiaries of America’s permanent war economy have become more and more adept at developing elaborate media strategies aimed at extracting enlarged profit streams from war, from preparations for war, and from reconstruction following war.
At every stage in this militarized cycle the all-important site of manipulative enterprise is the mind of the masses.
This larger panorama of more expansive meanings and implications is only implied in a film where Borjesson displays rigorous journalistic discipline in maintaining a tight analytic trajectory aimed at hitting a very specific target.
This strategy of analytic restraint and discipline is well justified in an era when whistle blowers often face severe recriminations for their attempts to bring inconvenient truths to light. In response to the predominant ethos in the repressive, self-censoring and paranoiac culture of mainstream media, Borjesson makes a point of not stepping beyond the boundaries of conclusions flowing from evidence of impeccable veracity.
I for one would have preferred the interjection from time to time of a narrator’s voice in TWA Flight 800 to help explain the main outlines of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigative process. I would have liked a narrator to help me understand the nature of the various professional relationships between experts and between institutions involved in this matter.
The director eschews this more traditional approach. Kristina Borjesson leaves the audience on its own to figure out from the words of those being interviewed who is who and what is what. The individuals highlighted in the film are left free to speak for themselves without the intervention of some sort of third-party voice to clarify and contextualize the meaning of what is being said.
While the lack of a narrator makes it necessary for the audience to work harder in making sense of the Flight 800 story, it also allows the film’s viewers more latitude to identify patterns and to come to conclusions independently.
A Very Controlled Trajectory of Analysis That Hits Its Target
This is an era when dominant systems of command and control depend on tight adherence in the mainstream media to increasingly outlandish and far-fetched mythologies of power. At their core these mythologies supporting the authority and privilege of ruling elites draw clear distinctions between our supposed allies and our supposed enemies, good religion and bad religion, civilization and savagery.
Messengers of interpretations not supportive of these mythologies of power are frequently held up to ridicule when their analysis extends to even a hint of unsubstantiated speculation. Accordingly, Borjesson’s application of interpretive conservatism and restraint must be understood as a logical response to the machinations of a troubled communications industry with much to protect and much to conceal.
How many examples are there of media projects that contain ample revelations of proven wrongdoing but have been dismissed for including even a hint of conjecture that goes beyond the bounds of that which can be conclusively demonstrated to be true?
In such a media culture the credibility of a documentary such as that put together by Kristina Borjesson and her colleagues is only as strong as its weakest link. Borjesson makes sure that every conclusion she draws satisfies the requirements of unequivocal proof.
Borjesson stays on message by focusing most unrelentingly on the lies and crimes of the National Transportation Safety Board. By so doing Borjesson leaves the responsibilityat the doorstep of the implicated federal officialsto revisit the still-unanswered questions concerning criminal liability for this lethal and still-unresolved episode.
The current NTSB Chair, Deborah A.P. Hersman, is prominent among those federal officials with a heavy fiduciary responsibility to respond proactively to the findings brought forward by the makers of TWA Flight 800. Moreover, Hersman and those to whom she reports must investigate the nature of the forces operating withingovernment that have obviously subordinated the protection of aviation safety to other priorities.
It falls on the current Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah A.P. Hersman, to address the new information brought forward by the whistle blowers who combined forces in TWA Flight 800.
TWA Flight 800 is dominated by the filmmakers’ sustained focus on the most authoritative forensic evaluations of what did or did not happen to bring the Boeing 747 down.
Moreover, Borjesson opens up media space to afford substantial public exposure to the previously suppressed eyewitness accounts of the crash’s firsthand observers.
As the film brings to light, some of these eyewitnesses were threatened, intimidated, and demeaned by officers of the FBI.
The authors of the NTSB’s final report followed the lead of the FBI and the CIA in treating the large body of eyewitness accounts as irrelevant to their final conclusions.
A common feature of the eyewitness accounts was the consistent insistence that just before Flight 800 burst apart in the sky, the Boeing 747 was met by bright flying objects that had previously shot upwards from the ocean’s surface.
Longtime NTSB staff member, Dr. David L. Mayer, was one of the most instrumental Mr. Fix-Its in the misrepresentation of the crash as the outcome of an internal mechanical failure. In 2009 Mayer was named as the NTSB’s Managing Director, which is the organization’s senior career position.
Mayer’s promotion could well be interpreted as his reward for doing the bidding of those with the most to lose from a truthful exposure of the actual causes instigating the Flight 800 disaster.
In the investigation leading to the NTSB’s final report in 2000, Mayer’s titles included that of Chairman of the Witnesses Group. Mayer appears in the film acting in this dubious capacity providing cover for the NTSB’s decision to disregard the convincing body of eyewitness testimony pointing dramatically away from its unproven mechanical-malfunction theory.
In presenting his specious rationale for disregarding a huge body of extremely pertinent evidence, Mayer is pictured articulating a particularly noxious mouthful of psychobabble. He is filmed citing a list of secondary sources describing why observer accounts of cataclysmic events are not to be believed and how human memory becomes an agency of negligible usefulness in a situation like the identification of the causes of the Flight 800 disaster.
The operative drew on the same body of academic literature integral to the integration of so-called psy ops—psychological operations— into the core methodology of never ending warfare. The normalization of unethical conduct in many professions is part of a terrible trend where the increasingly expansive claims of so-called national security are made to trump the need for transparency, accuracy, accountability, and the rule of law in public affairs.
The larger context of this plunge into increased deception in combination with unwarranted termination of many forms of professional and political accountability is the privatization by the corporate sector of many facets of public government.
This shift of influence from public to private spheres of authority moves government away from the basic conditions of a free and democratic society.
The viability of democratic self-determination depends on the existence of an informed citizenry with unobstructed access to the information it requires to make knowledgeable decisions through the ballot box and other venues of public participation.
A veteran NTSB investigator and one of the core group of career professionals featured in Borjesson’s film, Henry Hughes reserved some of his sharpest criticisms for David Mayer.
Among Mayer’s crimes of professional misconduct was his repeated tampering with the physical evidence of the crash. As Hughes describes it, this interference went beyond the betrayal of the professional ethos of public service.
It was “illegal.” Nevertheless Mayer’s work was pushed to the forefront of the NTSB’s consideration.
On the other hand the analytic efforts of Henry Hughes, then one of the most senior and respected airline-disaster investigators in the United States, was downgraded and ultimately censored.
Hughes reading of the evidence was suppressed and disregarded in formulating theNTSB’s final report put forward by its Chair, Jim Hall.
Transforming Eyewitnesses into “Conspiracists”
Jim Hall has been referred to by one of his detractors as “arguably the least qualified and most political chair in NTSB history.” Along with James Kallstrom, who was the head of the FBI’s investigation of Flight 800’s demise, Hall emerges in TWA Flight 800 along with Mayer as a carefully-sketched villain.
Indeed, Hall bears much of the primary responsibility for signing off on the federal government’s misrepresentation of the crash as if it was the result of an electrically-induced explosion in the center-wing fuel tank.
James E. Hall was the Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800.
The film, TWA Flight 800, is not the only piece of investigative journalism where Borjesson lingers to observe larger meanings in the dealings of the Honorable James E. Hall, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board between 1993 and 2001.
As Borjesson depicts him, Hall is a telling archetype of a certain kind of highly-politicized public servant who achieves and maintains high office through skillful trafficking in the contraband of deceit.
Hall’s expertise in the art and science of sowing disinformation is highlighted in Borjesson’s important essay, “Into the Buzzsaw.” This contribution forms part of a 2004 book of the same name containing essays edited by Borjesson.
In this work the author/editor illuminates various aspects of the alleged “myth of a free press.” She collects together the whistle-blowing accounts of some of her journalist colleagues.
Written as a first-person narrative, Borjesson’s essay,“Into the Buzzsaw,” can be read as a telling literary supplement to provide context and background for the subject matter of her new documentary film. 
Borjesson’s focus on the NTSB Chairman, Jim Hall, begins with an account of how CNN put the lid on the commentary of Jack Cashill, a guest invited by CNN’s Greta Van Susteren to appear on her television show.In 2001 Cashill had just completed his own documentary, Silenced, on the same subject as Borjesson’s more recent cinematic effort.
After deciding to disinvite Cashill, Van Susteran added insult to injury by making Jim Hall the sole guest of her program on the TWA Flight 800 disaster. In the interview CNN’s Van Susteran invoked the key memes that would become in the era of the so-called War on Terror the classic means for corrupt journalists to evade reckoning with the genuine stuff of evidence pointing to inconvenient truths.
CNN’s host repeated this slur later in the interview, asking, “Does that mean, Jim, that you are one-hundred per cent certain that these—that the conspiracists who some say that they saw a white light travelling skyward, uh, zigzagging, disappearing, and then an orange ball of fire—can you say with one-hundred percent certainty that they’re wrong?”
With this seemingly blasé invocation of the purposely-damning term, “conspiracists,” Van Susteran effectively characterizes hundreds of eyewitnesses as, in the words of Borjesson, “goofballs, nutcakes, bottomfeeders, crazy, and so on.” Van Susteran thus personalizes her attack on individuals who, she implies, committed some sort of crime for happening to witness a sequence of events that killed 230 innocent people.
The effect of her ad hominem attack on those hundreds of eyewitnesses whose accounts of the Flight 800 disaster did not conform with the federally-sanctioned version of events was to demean and downgrade the importance of their testimony.
CNN’s celebrity journalist, Greta Van Susteran, slandered several hundred eyewitnesses who brought forward evidence of what they saw off the Long Island coast on the evening of July 17, 1996. She referred to them in her interview of Jim Hall as “conspiracists” for simply stating to the FBI what they had seen with their own eyes. Just before the interview with Hall, Van Susteran had disinvited investigative reporter Jack Cashill who had just completed his new documentary on the Flight 800 debacle, “Silenced.” The title proved to be lamentably prophetic.
As described by Borjesson, Hall responds to Van Susteren’s questioning with “the classic-don’t-answer-the-question-just-talk-a lot-and-say-nothing ploy.” Borjesson describes Hall’s prefacing of his answer with the words, “in my view,” as a tactic that the author of “Into the Buzzsaw” describes as “a Bill Clintonesque semantic maneuver that would get him off the hook in a court of law (Hall trained as a lawyer but did not get his degree).”
“Why was the Navy Involved in the
Recovery and Investigation while a Possible Suspect?”
In her film Borjesson restricts her scrutiny to the roles of the FBI, the CIA and the NTSB, the three federal agencies that took the lead in constructing an elaborate fraud designed to deny the now-proven-fact that TWA Flight 800 burst into flames off Long Island’s shore as a result of explosions external to the airplane.
In her essay, however, Borjesson goes beyond the strict boundaries of her cinematic assessment of the Flight 800. In her written account the investigative journalist highlights the strong possibility that it was the “friendly fire” entailed in some kind of maneouvres or tests conducted by the US Navy that brought the Boeing 747 down.
In order to escape any charge that her film is anything short of being 100% fact-based— any charge that she engages in speculation or conjecture– Borjesson steers clear of the references she makes in her essay to information concerning a vessel that sped away from the accident zone when other vessels were racing towards the crash scene as they are required to do by the federal enactment know as The Duty to Provide Assistance at Sea.
Nor does the film deal with the role of Rear Admiral Edward K. Kristensen who in a press conference in November of 1996 gave an incomplete account of the navy vehicles in the area of the crash. Of this lapse Borjesson writes, “The admiral was either misinformed or lying.”
Brigadiere-General Benton K. Partin, Flight 800 whistleblower. General Partin identified the type of missile the most likely cut the 747 in two.
As to be discussed below, it turns out that there were many naval vessels, including three submarines, in the area during the time of the crash of TWA Flight 800.
This information can be juxtaposed with an observation brought forward by a former head of the US Air Force’s armaments research laboratory, retired Brigadiere-General Benton K. Partin.
General Partin indicated that the evidence gathered from the crash of the downed airplane was most consistent with the patterns of damage that would have been caused by an explosion near the Boeing 747 of radio-guided continuous-rod warhead, in other words a missile.
In the film Borjesson does not recount the details of a press conference where an accredited journalist was expelled by an FBI agent for asking “why is the Navy involved in the recovery and investigation while a possible suspect.”
Live footage of this telling episode is included in Shadows of Liberty, a film by Jean Philippe Tremblay. This documentary includes in its survey of the downfall of media integrity in the United States a vignette on Borjesson’s removal from CBS.
Borjesson does not detail in her film the ridiculous and impossible claim– the demonstration of “how outrageous the lying gets”– of the assurance issued by the Pentagon shortly after Flight 800’s demise “that all missiles in the US arsenal were accounted for, implying that friendly fire was out of the question.”
After detailing the huge logistical problems precluding even the possibility that such an inventory actually took place, Borjesson asks, “What about all those missiles we gave to the Afghan rebels and then tried to buy back from them—with little or no success?”
The Dark and Bright Sides of the Flight 800 Investigation
TWA Flight 800 exhibits a combination of moral certainty together with a nostalgic reverence for what America once was. These attributes give the documentary an aura of certitude reminiscent of the best of the Frank Capra movies. On the dark side of the moral ledger are Jim Hall, James Kallstrom, David Mayer, and Merritt Birky, the head of the NTSB’s Fire and Explosion Team assigned to the Flight 800 investigation.
The filmmakers demonstrate that Birky directed the fudging of tests on explosive residue found throughout the wreckage of Flight 800. If properly and comprehensively done, tests to identify the spatial distribution of nitrates throughout the airplane would have pointed to its demolition through explosive episodes initiated outside the airplane. Birky’s failure to do test on a splatter pattern located outside the aircraft comes up for especially harsh criticism.
The host of figures inhabiting the dark side of the moral drama is expanded in the closing scene of TWA Flight 800 where Borjesson presents the names, professional titles, and photographic representations of all those many individuals who refused to be interviewed for the film.
Borjesson concludes her rogues gallery of public officials unwilling to face the cinematic lens of public accountability with a photograph of Bill Clinton. The main chapters to date of the Flight 800 saga took place during the watch of this former US president.
According to Jack Cashill, who along with Jim Sanders pursued a journalistic strategy much more far-reaching, speculative and unabashedly political than TWA Flight 800, the narrative of what happened to the doomed airplane was fabricated in the final months of 1996 so as not to disrupt the “peace and prosperity” themes of Bill Clinton’s campaign for re-election as US president.
Jim Hall’s corrupt oversight of the Flight 800 investigation can be viewed as something of a case study illustrating in microcosm the rise of an America increasingly dominated by a political economy of scams, subterfuge, and skullduggery.
The new breed of federal operator epitomized by Hall is seemingly empowered to overturn old ideals of public service; to abnegate public trusts whose foundational and sacrosanct character was once honored by government.
Who is really who?
The roles assigned to Hall, Mayer and Birky embody the replacement of a bygone America based on the honest production of real goods and services.
In the place of this lost America of productive achievement and ingenuity is emerging an America where the expanded commodification of coercive violence increasingly dependent on corporate media’s often-grotesque concoctions of myth and illusion.
The toxification of the mental environment flows unrelentingly from this war-sustaining substitution of truth with the polluting ingredients of artful demonization, carefully conceived disinformation, and titillating circuses of mind-numbing distraction.
In an increasingly deindustrialized North America, the animating force once played by the honest making of real goods and services is being replaced by a vulture culture valorizing hucksterism through deceit.
The basis of this emerging political economy of necessary illusions feeds on the proliferation of weird and incomprehensible financial derivatives, bankster bailouts to political cronies, as well as the expansions of fictitious assets through the hyperinflation of debt.
This transformation is arriving replete with quick expansions of fiat money to fund America’s expanding mercenary armies and its rapid decent into junk science.
In the final years of the twentieth century the Flight 800 deception was just a straw in the wind, the test of new prototypes for subsequent application in more ambitious projects of official obfuscation. Now in 2013 Borjesson’s documentary offers us the possibility of gaining perspective on the pervasive disingenuousness that has engulfed our our society so overwhelmingly that the incessant lies of officialdom in government, in the academy, and in the media have been made to seem normal.
In calling attention to this more general condition through an instructive case study illuminating an earlier stage in its genesis, Borjesson presents in her film an A-Team of genuine aviation professionals who make clear technical sense of the main facts and delusions of the Flight 800 disaster.
The bright illuminations of these experts in their field stand in stark contrast to the dark and convoluted double talk of Hall, Birky, and Mayer. The dignified forthrightness of this team of intrepid investigators invokes memories of a time when the United States was the world’s undisputed powerhouse of achievement in science and especially in the innovative application of science to high-tech enterprises across whole spectrums of industrial activity.
In this America of scientific and technological prowess, the expertise of career professionals like Borjesson’s A-Team was respected and applied rather than treated as inconvenient obstacles to be overcome on the way to nefarious political agendas.
In the bygone America of engineering triumph there could be no room for top-down meddling in the core operations of essential institutions like the NTSB or the NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Borjesson’s A-Team includes James Speer and Rocky Miller. The former joined the NTSB investigation on behalf of the Airline Pilots Association. In the film Speer describes in detail how the FBI impeded his efforts to do his own independent evaluation of the residues of explosive events he discovered splattered throughout the salvaged remains of the airplane.
Speer also explains how the NTSB’s conclusion that the initial explosion was caused by an electrical spark in the center wing fuel tank did not conform with his detailed knowledge of the electrical design of the airplane. After going through a lengthy analysis in the film of the circuitry of a Boeing 747 Speer asserts, “The cause of the ignition of the center fuel tank had to be something other than airplane electronics.”
Rocky Miller joined the work of the NTSB as the Flight Attendant Union’s accident investigator on the Flight 800 matter. Miller adds his own voice to those of the many experts that do not find the NTSB’s main conclusions to be credible. In an exchange with Borjesson Miller explains,
Robert Young was the senior investigator representing Trans World Airlines in the work of the NTSB. Young oversaw a large group of TWA experts who were distributed among the several investigative groups connected with the crash. Young was himself a member of the Eyewitness Group.
Speer, Miller, and Young, all representing agencies of major importance to the workings of the aerospace industry, articulated in the film genuine disgust with the the way the investigation had been conducted.
TWA official Dr. Robert Young, NTSB official Henry Hughes, and TWA Flight 800 co-producer Dr. Tom Stalcup.
Young gave voice to the views of many when he charged that those leading the assessment of the evidence put the conclusion they wanted to reach first and then worked backwards by manipulating the investigation to arrive at the predetermined outcome.
The goal of those executives that commandeered control of the Flight 800 investigation was not to find the truth of what had happened but to divert attention away from the truth. “The agenda was, this was an accident, make it so.”
To my way of thinking Henry Hughes does much of the heavy lifting in terms of explaining in the film the big picture as well as the telling details of how the Flight 800 investigation was sabotaged. Hughes came to the case as one of the NTSB’s senior investigators. The TWA disaster was his 110th such investigation since he began his work with the NTSB in 1985.
Hank Hughes pulls no punches in detailing the travesty of the Flight 800 investigation, an assessment he spelled out in detail in a presentation he made to a Congressional committee of Senators tasked with judicial powers to investigate the disaster in 1999.
Hughes depicts the Flight 800 investigation as a kind of miner’s canary signifying the entry of a new form of toxic gas into the body politic. So severe was the malfeasance and deception he witnessed from some of his peers that he developed a deep distrust of his own government, something he claims he had never felt before.
The cover up of such a monumental fraud in the vital field of aviation safety, Hughes asserts on camera, made him “ashamed” of his country. Hughes sees the betrayal as a watershed moment portending many more evils to come.
Part of the Go Team assigned by the NTSB to establish the initial infrastructure for the Flight 800 investigation, Hughes arrived on the scene to discover an elaborate operation already underway. On the Moriches wharf near the crash site he saw swarms of busy FBI officers and Special Forces operatives of uncertain pedigree.
The dominant role of the FBI throughout the first two years of the investigation was something of an anomaly that confounded Hughes and many other professionals close to the process. The involvement of the FBI depended on the suspicion that the crash was caused by criminal acts, a premise that was never actually acted upon in the form of any federal charge being laid.
As chairman of the NTSB’s Airplane Interior Documentation Group, it fell to Hughes to set up the procedure for collecting, analyzing and reassembling the cabin of Flight 800. Indeed, it fell on Hughes to create the infrastructure and the procedural system for the reconstruction of the entire aircraft. In trying to advance this assignment Hughes who took the lead on behalf of the NTSB in directing the main site of the investigation into an airplane hanger at Calverton on Long Island.
Hughes kept detailed records of the myriad professional and legal infractions, records that are published in part in Borjesson’s essay, “Into the Buzzsaw.” Hughes attributed many of the problems to the failures of leadership of Robert Francis, the NTSB’s supposed hands-on director of the investigative process.
Hughes explains that Francis repeatedly failed to attend the daily meetings as the process proceeded, an abnegation of responsibility unlike any that the experienced investigator had seen prior to his involvement in the Flight 800 fiasco. It was as if the NTSB had informally ceded control of the investigation to the FBI as lead by the director of the federal police force’s New York office, James Kallstrom.
The FBI interference could be viewed as obstructing justice
As one of the most senior and experienced investigators working on the Flight 800 matter, Hughes was able to diagnosis other jurisdictional conflicts plaguing the process involving not only the FBI and the NTSB but also the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as well as the FAA, The Federal Aviation Administration.
Once the FBI withdrew from the process the NTSB in Hughes’ view continued the momentum of the federal police force’s misdirection of the case. The NTSB kept pushing the investigation away from where the evidence pointed.
This process culminated in a report where the work of the older and more experienced Hughes was subordinated to that of the younger and more opportunistic David Mayer. It is tempting to see in this changing of the guard a breakdown in the inter-generational continuity of the NTSB’s vital work, as a portent of bigger deceptions to come.
Henry Hughes was not the only one to discover various forms of tampering with the evidence in the course of the federal investigation of Flight 800’s demise. This meddling with evidence is reported to have included the withholding and removal of some vital radar data from the archives of the Federal Aviation Administration,the erasure of the of the last four seconds of information from the flight data recorder,and the alteration of documents to make it appear that the residue of explosives in Flight 800 was the result of an earlier training exercise of bomb-sniffing dogs on the doomed airplane.
The Criticisms of the Investigation Become More Intense in
Response to a Deceptive CIA Propaganda Video
Much of the slight-of-hand essential to the Flight 800 deception took place in the final days of 1997. During this period the FBI formally withdrew from the investigative process, announcing that it had not turned up any evidence of criminal involvement in the case.
At the press conference where the FBI’s James Kallstrom announced the federal police force’s decision, a video produced by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was introduced. This video was broadcast in real time by CNN and subsequently by many TV news networks.
In introducing the video Kallstrom explained that the FBI had called in the CIA to explore the possibility that “international terrorists” had been involved in the crash. A few days after the FBI’s press conference the NTSB held formal hearings in Baltimore that did not include any formal testimony from the eyewitnesses themselves.
From this obvious lapse in the NTSB’s public hearings to the subsequent defamation of the eyewitnesses by Greta Van Susteran on CNN, there are huge implications in the maltreatment of the conscientious men and women who had come forward to tell what they had seen with the goal of helping officials get to the bottom of the Flight 800 disaster.
This episode of abusive treatment stands as a warning for all those that witness crimes in which the investigators of the crimes at issue might themselves be implicated.
As 1997 merged into 1998 the eyewitness accounts had obviously become impediments to the full-court press of specious interpretation now pushed forward aggressively by three major agencies of the federal executive branch.
The eyewitness accounts had to be relegated to the sidelines. At the Baltimore hearings in December of 1997 it fell to Dr. David Mayer, Chairman of the NTSB’s Witnesses Group, to make this cover up of eyewitness evidence appear justified and normal. Dr. Mayer’s presentation was designed to make the firsthand observers of the disaster appear confused, deluded, and disoriented and therefore incapable of producing evidence that was anything other than extraneous and irrelevant.
The CIA video was a very big part of the federal effort to discredit those many eyewitnesses that remained adamant that they had seen missile-like objects ascend from sea level and explode as the initiating event of the airplane crash.
As if with the intention of pacifying those many US citizens that had come forward to assist their own government with a major investigation, the FBI’s James Kallstrom is pictured in the video solicitously announcing that “the witnesses are good people.”
The CIA video is featured in Borjesson’s film along with many commentaries describing responses to this very heavy-handed piece of government propaganda. Accompanied by an illustrative animated sequence, the CIA’s narrator explains in the video that the bright rising object observed by many eyewitnesses was in fact the tail portion of the Boeing 747 ascending to higher altitudes after an internal explosion broke the airplane in two.
Even though the CIA stresses repeatedly in the video that Flight 800 was not brought down by a missile, it does did not propose a specific cause or explanation for the initial blast.
The video’s makers describe a “zoom climb” of the rear portion of the Flight 800, an event that the eyewitnesses are alleged to have mistaken for the ascent of missile-like object. In fact the eyewitnesses almost universally agreed that the ascent of the bright objects and then their convergence with the flight trajectory of the doomed airplane took place before Flight 800 burst into two descending fireballs.
If Shakespeare could have been present to witness this video he might have commented, Me thinks the CIA doth protest too loudly? Who in the government decided that the CIA, a federal agency with a long history of clandestine operations often covered up through elaborate media deceptions, would have any credibility at all as interpreters of a story such as this one?
Interestingly, during the introductory moments of the video the narrator poses the questions, “Was it a missile? Did foreign terrorists destroy the aircraft?” This double-barreled query might be interpreted as an effort to introduce into the government’s official narrative a fallback position?
Was ground being prepared to link, if necessary, the aviation disaster to the alleged misdeeds of “foreign terrorists?” Was the CIA floating this interpretation as an insurance policy to divert future attention of even the government’s most ardent critics away from a view of the Flight 800 disaster as the outcome of so-called friendly fire by the US Armed Forces?
Not surprisingly the release of the CIA video infuriated many of the eyewitnesses who did not recognize in the propaganda film anything approaching what they had seen in the skies east of Long Island on the evening of July 17, 1996.
Among the most outspoken critics of the CIA’s interpretation was Paul Angelides. Angelides emerges in Borjesson’s film as an extremely articulate and resolute witness of the federal failures to deal with the Flight 800 evidence, including his own eyewitness testimony.
The CIA video also aroused the disdain of Major Fred Meyer, a military pilot and a decorated war hero with much combat experience in Vietnam. Major Meyer compares the ordinance blasts that he saw and heard bursting from the devices that intercepted Flight 800 with the ordinance explosions he regularly witnessed when flying helicopter rescue missions over North Vietnam.
A member of the Safety Committee of the Air Line Pilots Association and a participant in seven NTSB investigations of major aviation disasters, Lahr made a number of Freedom of Information requests seeking to evaluate the data on which the CIA based its theory that the back portion of the divided Boeing 747 had climbed in an upward zoom from 13,000 to 17,000 feet.
When his requests were unsuccessful he brought legal actions against the NTSB, the CIA, and the National Security Agency. These actions resulted in 2006 a partial release of new and pertinent information on the Flight 800 disaster.
The CIA video was also a major motivating factor causing Tom Stalcup to help to found and, after 1999, to chair an entity known as the Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization, FIRO. When Stalcup first viewed the CIA’s interpretation of the airline disaster he was shocked by the implausibility of the video’s content together with the obviousness of its propagandistic intent.
During the period when the video first aired, Stalcup had already developed a mild interest in the Flight 800 investigation. In those days Stalcup was working on his Ph.D. thesis in physics at Florida State University.
He also followed the lead of Ray Lahr in using the courts as a means of extracting information from the relevant authorities as well as a tool to impose some accountability on those responsible for various forms of malfeasance whose effects often include defrauding the public.
Dr. Tom Stalcup, physicist and co-producer of the documentary “TWA Flight 800.”
Before long Stalcup began to hone in on the importance of radar information gathered on the Flight 800 disaster at multiple FAA sites. Ignored by those in charge of the process leading to the NTSB’s misdiagnosis of the disaster’s causes, the radar data showed plumes of airline debris moving away asymmetrically from the site of the mid-air explosions at four times the speed of sound.
In the film Dr. Stalcup, who received his Ph.D. in 2000 and is currently president and co-founder of a high-tech company, described the radar information as the “smoking gun” of the Flight 800 case.
There is no way that an internal explosion of a fuel tank could have generated enough energy to expel airplane fragments at such a high velocity.
It was Tom Stalcup who persuaded Kristina Borjesson to direct the feature-length documentary and to share with him responsibilities for producing TWA Flight 800.
As outlined above, Borjesson had already lived through some of the harshest dramas connected to the bad editorial decisions of those directing the activities of core media venues covering the investigation of Flight 800’s demise.
In directing the movie Borjesson indulges the audience with only a single moment of sentimentality when she calls on Stalcup to explain the significance of the loss of his beautiful and loving mother when he was still a boy.
Stalcup relates how this experience made him especially sensitive to the sanctity of every human life, a sanctity that he saw violated in the federal government’s gross misrepresentation of the causes of the deaths of Flight 800’s 230 innocent victims.
Mr Smith Poster goes here…..
This ethos of respect for human dignity is put on full display in one of the film’s best sequences. A representative group of the eyewitnesses are at last brought together to tell their stories in a public hearing put together by the filmmakers with the documentary’s A-Team, the stalwarts of FIRO, as a panel of judges.
All and all Dr. Tom Stalcup plays out in real life a role similar to the one that Frank Capra assigned to a young Jimmy Stewart in his 1939 drama, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Stalcup embodies the idealistic bright side of a new generation of American engineer determined to transcend officialdom’s descent into the junk science epitomized by the NTSB’s report on the demise of TWA Flight 800.
As an educator myself I cannot help contrast Dr. Stalcup’s embrace of the scientific method as a force for public good as opposed to Dr. Mayer’s opportunistic resort to the social sciences as a means of discrediting unfairly the eyewitnesses in the Flight 800 investigation.
Both individuals drew on their new Ph.Ds to attempt very different agendas, one to facilitate official deception and the other aimed at speaking truth to power.
Dr. Charles Wetli
Dr. Charles Wetli as well as Dr./Colonel Dennis Shanahan add their voices in TWA Flight 800to those of the other experts who condemn the final conclusions of the NTSB investigation notwithstanding the fact that they took part in the proceedings.
Dr. Wetli was responsible for identifying the corpses and doing autopsies on the human remains. Dr./Colonel Shanahan devoted his energies to making connections between patterns of destruction to the bodies and to the interior cabin.
Both medical examiners explain that the remains of the Flight 800 victims were shot through with shattered fragments.
As the cabin was hit by the massive force of external explosions it suddenly broke up subjecting passengers and crews to shooting-gallery-like barrages of high-velocity projectiles penetrating deep into their bodies.
Who Is Behind the Explosion Outside Flight 800?
Borjesson’s analytical style in TWA Flight 800 exemplifies the classic techniques of investigative journalism. Rather than lingering with secondary sources the investigator gets herself and her recording devices as close as possible to the primary sources, the original sources, so as to bring maximum illumination to the subject matter of her documentary.
Most of the primary sources in TWA Flight 800 are living human beings who either witnessed the sequence of events culminating in the crash or who are experts involved in a variety of ways with the investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Borjesson’s documentary packs considerable punch because of the unwillingness of many of her primary sources, those closest to the evidence of the Flight 800 disaster, to endorse the final conclusions of the federal agency that investigated the crash.
With 26 years of hands-on experience assessing transportation disasters, Henry Hughes condemnation of his former employer’s investigation is especially significant. The level of knowledge and understanding
NTSB veteran Hank Hughes was the point person among the whistle blowers.
Hughes brought from such a long and successful tenure on the front lines of the effort to derive aviation safety from aviation disaster went far beyond anything that Jim Hall or David Mayer had to offer.
Who should we believe when presented with such a choice? Do we believe the findings of career professionals of great experience and impeccable integrity such as Henry Hughes and Robert Young or do we believe the conclusions advanced by highly-politicized opportunists such as Jim Hall and David Mayer?
By bringing together the voices of the demeaned veteran experts as well as the disregarded and smeared eyewitnesses, the makers of TWA Flight 800 have set in motion an important push back whose ramifications may ripple widely across a so-called public service pulled farther and farther away from actually serving the public.
Dr. Tom Stalcup was the newcomer to this team of veteran experts. As a newly-minted physicist, Stalcup built up his encyclopedic knowledge of the various facets of the aviation disaster through independent collection and evaluation of the data after the CIA released its “NOT A MISSILE” video.
In her capacity as the film’s director, Borjesson leaned heavily on Stalcup’s ability to explain the fundamental principles of physics together with his specific technical knowledge of various facets of the Flight 800 file.
Similarly, Stalcup’s arm’s-length relationship with the core agencies of the aviation industry brings to the film’s A-Team of experts a perspective that complements the critical commentaries of the veteran investigators with whom the young physicist worked.
Kristina Borjesson and Dr. Tom Stalcup, co-producers of TWA Flight 800
Although Borjesson has devoted much of her work in recent times to explaining the demise of investigative journalism, in TWA Flight 800 she touches only lightly on the subject of the mainstream media’s integral role as a partner in, and enabler of, the deception. She restricts herself to covering only one media report.
This report is a particularly galling stenography of the NTSB’s main conclusions. The deliverer of the propaganda is Robert Hagar, a reporter well known for his willingness to propagate NTSB malarkey without any critical perspective whatsoever.
The intent of the text and of the whole ABC report was clearly to demean any narratives, including those of the disaster’s eyewitnesses, that didn’t support the government’s version of events.
Robert Hagar. A stenographer to power posing as a reporter.
While TWA Flight 800 leaves only minimal space for consideration of the media’s coverage, the relationship of news-and-public-affairs reporting to this story remains the 500-pound canary in the assignment editor’s office.
The story has unfolded since 1996 in such a way that puts at the forefront the obsequiousness of mass media in presenting official sources as the highest arbiters of truth.
Like so many of the cover-ups whose skeletons of deception are overloading society’s bulging closets of deception and cover-up, the scandalous nature of the Flight 800 debacle is more-than-ready for full public disclosure.
In the case of Flight 800 the conditions of disclosure depend on the mainstream media’s willingness to illuminate the larger implications of Borjesson’s feature-length documentary.
These implications should flow inexorably from the pivotal revelation that the event that brought the airliner down initiated outside rather than inside the airplane.
What led up to this external explosion? What agencies and individuals set in motion the trajectories of actions culminating in the crash? Under whose chain of command did these occurrences take place? Who led and oversaw the coordinated misrepresentations and cover-up of the Flight 800 deceptions?
Will Borjesson’s journalist colleagues build on the revelations of her whistle-blowing film or will they simply fall back into the culture of denial and cover-up that so denigrates the reputation of their profession?
Will the reputations be refurbished of those journalists such as Jack Cashill and Kelly O’Meara who have been persecuted for having the audacity to explore the whodunit aspects of the Flight 800 disaster?
Will they be invited onto talk show circuits to revisit the heretofore forbidden frontiers of their research? Will the ethics of Robert Hagar or Kristina Borjesson prevail in defining the ethos of professional journalism in the years and decades ahead?
A momentary surge of stenography-style media coverage was instigated in the mainstream media by a press release on June 19 announcing TWA Flight 800’s television premier together with a petition requesting the NTSB to reopen the case.
The press release emanated from Epix, the movie’s distributor. A joint venture of Viacom, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Lions Gate Entertainment, Epix is describes itself as a premium hybrid television channel.
The well-covered announcement identified “six whistleblowers [who] were not allowed to speak to the public or refute any comments made by their superiors and/or NTSB and FBI officials about their work at the time of the official investigation.”
As agencies deeply implicated in the cover-up, many of the media venues addressing the profound issues raised by TWA Flight 800 face the problem of dealing with their own roles in misrepresenting the aviation disaster.
CBS and CNN, for instance, cannot credibly address the controversies stirred up in TWA Flight 800 without some sort of reckoning with their own roles in sweeping aside the investigative work of Kristina Borjesson in the case of the former, Jack Cashill in the case of the latter.
According to Jack Cashill, The New York Times also carries much baggage in this story. In his own review of Borjesson’s film Cashill writes,“To control the post-crash narrative, the White House allowed the FBI to talk only to The New York Times.”
The NYT/FBI spin doctors described a possible bomb plot just days before the Democratic National Convention.
Then “in mid-September, two months after the crash, the FBI shifted the narrative once again from a bomb to a center fuel tank explosion, a possibility that had been ruled out a month earlier. The other media unquestioningly followed the Times. They too had a president to re-elect.”
In his own review of TWA Flight 800 Cashill congratulated Borjesson and Stalcup for their strategy of interpretative restraint in confining their narrative to the diagnosis of an external explosion. The necessity of such a strategy speaks to the experiences of a long list of independent investigators whose efforts to get to the bottom of the Flight 800 disaster brought them mostly grief, negative notoriety, or studied disregard in the mainstream media.
As illustrated by Borjesson’s long and difficult relationship with the Flight 800 story, those journalists were not prepared to play the role of stenographers to officials sources tended to be smeared, mocked, fired, and even criminalized for the efforts they made to contribute to a discourse of vital importance to the public interest.
Commander William Donaldson photo here.
In a classic article that appeared in the New York Observer in February of 2000 Philip Weiss documented the ruthlessness of FBI techniques in litigation and through manipulations of a compliant media to prevent stories unfriendly to the federal police force’s agenda from gaining traction. An important feature of Weiss’ narrative put in the forefront two small samples taken from the salvaged seats on Flight 800. These samples were coated with residues of magnesium and calcium, substances said to be “consistent with solid rocket fuel.”
The chemical composition of these samples came to light through the efforts of Terrell Stacey working from inside the NTSB investigation. Because of his lack of confidence in the integrity of the federal government’s process, Stacey passed on the samples and the relevant information to journalists Jim Sanders, Kristina Borjesson, and David E. Hendrix. It was this incident that led to Borjesson’s being fired by CBS on the basis of information provided by the FBI. After firing Borjesson CBS hired James Kallstrom as a commentator on law enforcement matters. Kallstrom received the new appointment on retiring from the FBI shortly following the federal police force’s withdrawal from the Flight 800 investigation.
Weiss ends his essay with an account of Howard Kurtz’s Washington Post hit job on Kelly O’Meara for questioning official sources about suppressed radar evidence indicating the presence of many US military vessels operating in the immediate area and time frame of the Flight 800 crash. Reflecting in these episodes Weiss wrote, “In the old Soviet Union, critics were put in psychiatric hospitals.” As for dissident investigators in Weiss’ own country, “the media merely labels them ‘wacky’ and ignores them.”
Media operative Howard Kurtz did a hit job on Kelly O’Meara in the Washington Post for raising the issue of the US Navy as a possible suspect in the knock down of Flight 800. The US Navy has yet to answer for its own efforts to cover up evidence of the military exercises it was conducting on the area of the Flight 800 crash at the time the Boeing 747 was knocked from the sky by an external ordinance explosion.
Kelly O’Meara’s research led to her revelations in 1999 that some two dozen US Navy ships were conducting sea trials in the area of the Flight 800 crash on July 17, 1996. Also in the area were three submarines, USS Trepang, USS Albuquerque, and USS Wyoming. O’Meara explained that something went wrong with USS Wyoming, which packed 192 nuclear warheads each containing 50 kilotons of destructive potential. The outcome of the unspecified incident was that the USS Wyoming’s captain was removed. As O’Meara saw it, “This latest revelation pounds the last nail into the coffin of the terrorist story. Those who are trying to lay a false trail to the terrorists have based their claim solely on the assumption there could not be a cover-up of a Navy shoot down, even as they concocted all kinds of reasons why the FBI and the NTSB were covering up for the terrorists.
Kelly O’Meara began her involvement in the Flight 800 debacle as a Congressional staffer. For a time she worked with Kristina Borjesson on a show on the airline disaster eventually cancelled by ABC TV. O’Meara has been persecuted for her efforts to bring out the truth of what happened to the downed aircraft.
Investigative Journalism and Public Service
TWA Flight 800 emerges from this background of hit jobs and recriminations. These hit jobs emanate from agencies that include the FBI, CBS and the Washington Post. The recriminations have been aimed at professionally crippling those investigators who have acted with varying degrees of acuity and skill on the widely-shared understanding that something was unusual and wrong with the way the federal government responded to the airline disaster. It turns out many disturbing incidents to come were foreshadowed by James Kallstrom’s order to remove from a 1996 press conference the journalist who questioned the propriety of including the Navy in the Flight 800 investigation.
Borjesson’s ability to survive the attacks on her career and reputation for refusing to play along with the federal government’s deceptiveness marks the steadfastness of her adherence to the core principles of professional journalism. She refused back away from her insistence that the content of the evidence must remain uncompromised in the course of her seventeen-year engagement with the raunchy politics of the Flight 800 investigation. By maintaining this principled stance all the way to the completion of her feature-length documentary, Borjesson has at least slowed down the pace of retreat by most practitioners in her chosen profession from the journalistic credo that the truth must eventually prevail, that only the truth can set us free.
The very structure of Borjesson’s documentary suggests the strength of her ability to reinforce similar convictions in others. The cinematic structure of TWA Flight 800 depended on Borjesson’s ability to instill sufficient trust and confidence in the experts she gathered around her to go on the record in a very public fashion. In partnership with Tom Stalcup, Borjesson assisted those career professionals to face down the forces that had attempted to intimidate and silence them in order to shield the guilty from ignominy and prosecution.
In setting the record straight the aviation experts followed Borjesson’s lead by becoming whistle blowers. They thereby transcended the humiliations of victimhood. They overcame the condescension of their opportunistic persecutors to reached for and attain the highest ideals of ethical professional conduct. In a much smaller and more modest way than the aviation experts who made Borjesson’s film their chosen medium for professional redemption, I count myself among those inspired to help the investigative journalist achieve her goals. I invested $5000 in TWA Flight 800 at a time when the filmmakers had run into some difficulties in financing their important project. My belief in the importance of this project as it was being made has only been reinforced now that I have seen the finished product.
Just as Borjesson helped the aviation experts to emerge from the repressive efforts to silence them, so she helped the eyewitnesses to champion the truth of what they saw off the shore of Long Island on July 17, 1996. In providing the testimony of the eyewitnesses with a dignified public forum as well as a credible and receptive judicial audience, Borjesson’s film upholds the basic human right to speak freely in ways that can be properly heard on issues of major public importance. This contribution addresses a major theme of the Enlightenment. There is no higher seat of understanding than that which comes to us through the agency of human perception attached to reason and rationality. The viability of our gift of reason requires that we do not subordinate that which comes to us through our own senses, through that which we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
An eyewitness of the crash of TWA Flight 800 tells of efforts of the FBI to instruct him he didn’t see what he saw.
The failure of the FBI, the CIA, and the NTSB to respect the principle that eyewitness evidence must be taken very seriously marks a stunning failure of police work in the United States. The abysmal response of federal authorities to the firsthand observations of those who saw the sequence of events leading to the demise of Flight 800 provides a cautionary tale for all witnesses to crime. For those witnesses giving evidence testimony to agencies that might be implicated themselves in the crimes being investigated, particular caution is necessary. Similarly the willingness of so many news agencies to valorize official sources over eyewitness sources illuminates a fundamental flaw that continues to diminish the credibility of our failing institutions of mass communications.
It remains to be seen whether or not the principled stand taken by the aviation experts featured in Borjesson’s film will find some sort of extension within the community of career professionals staffing the mainstream media. Will a council of deputized media truth tellers come forward to press on the public and our agencies of public government the need for some sort of reckoning with the information brought forward by the makers ofTWA Flight 800? Will the revelations brought to light in Borjesson’s film result in some sort of journalistic push back among hands-on practitioners against the decisions of those at the top who have aligned their communications empires with the deceptions of the more corrupted branches of officialdom?
Will principled journalists within the mainstream media address in some sort of considered and systemic fashion the failures of their own profession as manifest in the original misrepresentation and ongoing cover-up? Will the revelations in TWA Flight 800 ripple more widely throughout the mainstream media causing more questions to be asked about tactics for manufacturing consent for public policies that run contrary to the public interest? Given the long heritage of malfeasance in the Flight 800 investigation, the possibility of such a reckoning presently seems quite unlikely. A genuine reckoning in the mainstream media with the lies and crimes entailed in the debacle would not reflect the interests or ideological predispositions of the very small, concentrated and interwoven group that presently owns and directs it.
From the Cold War to the Global War on Terror
The manipulation of large media outlets to serve the propaganda needs of the powerful is nothing new in US history or in the history of all major countries, confederacies and empires for that matter. Psychological warfare aimed at linking the formation of public opinion to the agendas of the powerful became especially pervasive, well funded and sophisticated with the onset of the Cold War after World War II. The deployment of all sorts of techniques to shape public perceptions and attitudes became even more ubiquitous and intense with the onset after 9/11 of the so-called Global War on Terror. Even more than during the Cold War, the new justifications for never-ending wars of aggressions, many of them outright resource grabs in Eurasia, depend on the broad dissemination of demonic imagery especially of Arab and Islamic populations.
The Flight 800 debacle occurred in the decade of transition from the era when Soviet-backed communism was considered the number one national security threat to the era when a global network of Islamic terrorists was placed at the pinnacle of national security threats and operations. Seen in this light, the development of the dominant explanation of the airline crash was more in tune with the methodologies of spin doctoring that would predominate after 9/11 than the methodologies of anti-communist propaganda that sputtered into obsolescence with the USSR’s breakup in the early 1990s.
The designation of those that did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of the aviation disaster as “conspiracy theorists” helped entrench a semantic device about to be deployed on a much grander scale to deflect serious skeptical scrutiny from the originating event of the Global War on Terror. So too did the federal manipulation of the supposed causes of the Flight 800 debacle mark an extension and an updating of Cold War techniques to replace inconvenient truths with manufactured pseudo-truths more conducive to the political requirements of those on the dominant side of history. The records that emerged from the retired United Airline Captain Ray Lahr’s requests to the National Security Agency help point to some of the linkages between the Flight 800 investigation and what Peter Dale Scott has dubbed “the deep state.”
Like so many features of the national security state, the roots of the Cold War collaboration between government and the media really go back to initiatives undertaken during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson after the United States entered the First World War in 1917. In the name of the Committee for Public Education, journalist George Creel led a series of very deep federal interventions into the many branches of the media in order to engender supportive propaganda for the emerging superpower’s military efforts.
The federal entry into the business of psychological warfare took place concurrently with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent founding of the Soviet Union. The federal government responded to these developments by incorporating anti-communist initiatives into the mix of laws, policies and regulations to control the behavior and thinking of American citizens. Among the early initiatives of the Wilson administration in laying the foundations for the national security state is the Espionage Act of 1917. This legislation formed the basis of the main criminal charge against whistle blower Edward Snowden for releasing in 2013 some of the surveillance secrets of the National Security Agency.
The Espionage Act deployed by the Obama administration against Edward Snowden and others has been a target of protest by civil libertarians since its enactment in 1917.
After the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) emerged from the National Security Act of 1947 the new organization immediately turned its attention to manipulating public opinion in the cause of promoting the worldwide interests of US corporations, but especially those at the core of the military-industrial complex. Anti-communism provided the catch-all justification for this covert federal backing extended to a favored coterie of elites on the commercial frontiers international and transnational business. These coddled comrades of capitalist corporatism were given almost unlimited license to transcend legal constraints in pursuit of profits amassed in the name of national security.
President Harry Truman signing the National Security Act into law in 1947. The illustrations below give a pictoral representation of the proliferation of federal agencies that act in the name of national security. Many thousands of private contractors are also empowered to conduct business in the name of so-called national security.
The extent of CIA involvement in the communications industry came to light in the second half of the 1970s with the investigations of Senator Frank Church’s Congressional Committee. Its work was instrumental in helping to reveal that the CIA’s Project Mockingbird employed about 3,000 journalists inside and outside the United States in the Cold War campaign to twist the news through disinformation, censorship, and distortion. In the course of this investigation a spotlight of public attention was cast on the predecessor of CIA-director, George W. Bush Sr. The former CIA-director was William Colby.
Colby may or may not have remarked that “the CIA owns every one of consequence in the major media.” Whether or not this often-quoted phrase actually fell from the lips of the man who directed between 1973 and 1976 a core agency of the USA’s national security state, there is no doubt that the idea attributed to Colby is essentially correct. The CIA was especially active throughout the news operations of the company that hired Kristina Borjesson and then fired her in the course of her investigative work on the TWA Flight 800 story. The founder of CBS, William Paley, became widely known as a very important operative in, and promoter of, the CIA. As a result one of the CIA’s premier propaganda bases coalesced in the most the famous of all the New York-basedbroadcasting empires.
The work of the Church Committee was part of the federal government’s response to the Watergate scandal that drove Richard Nixon from the US presidency in 1974. Interestingly many of the key revelations that made the Watergate saga a pivotal event in US history were brought to light through the investigative endeavors of reporters at the Washington Post, a venue deeply involved in the Cold War propaganda sponsored by the CIA’s Project Mockingbird.
The Watergate scandal drew on the exuberance of the anti-war movement opposed to further US military involvement in Indochina. The grassroots success of the anti-war peaceniks in the 1960s and early 1970s suggested that the CIA’s efforts to shape public opinion from above were subject to major limitations. Those in charge of covert operations to manufacture public consent for US expansionism had apparently lost control of the public agenda.
There is considerable evidence that the overlords of the national security state responded to this setback by upgrading their capacities to engineer public opinion. From an era whose spirit was largely defined by the likes of the fallen Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr. we passed into en era where Anglo-America was dominated by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and their many acolytes and imitators. With the close collaboration of a compliant media the civil rights and anti-war movements lost momentum as the allure of Reaganomics gathered force. The change involved a radical shift in consciousness as many individuals subordinated their sense of citizenship to an image of themselves primarily as buyers and sellers in an increasingly deregulated, borderless and all-embracing global marketplace.
In this milieu virtually everything was made to seem like it was for sale. One of the major growth fields was the mainstream media’s creation of imagery and myth supportive of power. The best-financed agendas of the so-called Public Relations industry promoted public distrust of the state except when it came to the goal of cultivating heightened acceptance of expanded police powers combined with increased militarism at home and abroad. The social welfare state was refashioned as the stock market state combined with military Keynesianism on steroids. In the name of “free trade” the industrial base of North America was largely abandoned as manufacturing enterprises shifted their base of operations to low-wage regions where authoritarian governments prohibited trade unionism. Ironically China emerged as the great winner in this retooling of capitalism.
As low wage areas industrialized the resulting vacuum in deindustrialized Anglo-America was filled by a whole circus of fly-by-night enterprises such as those that exploited Wall Street’s federally-deregulated market in smoke-and-mirrors financial derivatives. The trafficking in these derivative instruments of legalized fraud led to the financial crisis of 2008 and to enormous “bailout” payments to indemnify and reward the bankster hooligans for their overzealous betting. These bailouts, in turn, led to the austerity measures of governments saddled with masses of new debt.
Imagining the shift from the dutiful public service of Henry Hughes to the crass opportunism of the NTSB’s Jim Hall can help us put human faces on America’s transition from productive enterprise to non-productive enterprises extending to weird computerized manipulations of hyper-inflated digitalized capital. The culture of deception that permeated the federal investigation of the Flight 800 fiasco was part of a much larger phenomenon. From the proliferation of liar loans to finance real estate bubbles to rampant insider trading on stock markets, this onslaught extended the fad of deregulation to radical extremes. The ingredient of truth in public policy became subject to made-to-order alterations as required by the whims of the rich connected to shifting currents of political expedience.
Project Mockingbird and the Ongoing Subversion of the Free Press
The federal investigations generated by the Watergate scandal were followed in the late 1980s by revelations connecting secret US arms shipments through Israel to the Islamic Republic of Iran with CIA drug deals to finance terrorist incursions of US-backed paramilitary squads in Central America. Closely connected to the Iran-Contra scandal were disclosures in the late 1980s illuminating the global business operations of the Pakistani-based, Saudi-financed Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the BCCI. For those paying attention the startling news of the strange bedfellows brought together at the BCCI shed light on the nexus where CIA funding gave rise to a heavily-armed proxy force of Islamic theocrats known variously as the mujahideen and al-Qaeda.
After this US-backed Muslim fighting force overthrew the Soviet-backed puppet regime in Afghanistan, the imagery of al-Qaeda was pressed into service from the very first hours of the mainstream media’s blitzkrieg of 9/11 coverage. The former CIA asset supposedly gone rogue, Osama bin Laden, was immediately cast as the leader of a heavily mythologized network of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists. This network of scheming terrorists was made to provide the new global replacement for the defunct enemy of Soviet-backed communism.
The dramatic shift in the demonology of the permanent war economy, which has dominated the United States since 1941, kept the military-industrial complex in business. Indeed the business of war was accelerated. Militarism in all its many facets was lionized, privatized, and given unbridled license to express the Wild West-style of deregulated Reaganomics. The early years of the twenty-first century saw an extension of the Indian wars of North America into the militarized resource grabs in Eurasia. In their real or fictionalized hunt for Osama bin Laden the US Armed Forces gave the Saudi target the code name Geronimo. In 2003 Seventh Cavalry led the tank attack from Kuwait to Baghdad. This spear point of the US-led invasion of Iraq was the same Seventh Cavalry that under Commander George Armstrong Custer was defeated by Crazy Horse’s people at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
After 9/11 the ideal of “security” became a more lucrative commodity to be marketed to governments, corporations and private individuals. The Washington Post identified this phenomenon as “Top Secret America: A Hidden World, Growing Beyond Control.” The fast growth of the privatized terror economy has been accompanied by the rapid rise of a formidable political lobby. The members of this lobby have attached their nascent enterprises to the operations of older corporate entities that thrived over the course of the Cold War by integrating their activities with those of the national security apparatus and its attending the military-industrial complex.
Given the importance of the business of shaping of attitudes to conform to the needs of the permanent war economy, the big media conglomerates emerged from 9/11 with enhanced importance in the military-industrial complex. These agencies of mass communication, it seems, have become even more deeply integrated with the covert components of the national security state than they were during the Cold War.
As the politics of anti-communism gave way to the politics of anti-terrorism, the mainstream media became even less independent than it had been during the heyday of Project Mockingbird. After 9/11 the walls of secrecy and obfuscation were edified to preclude even stage-managed exercises in government self-scrutiny such as those widely-broadcasted investigations that took place in response to media revelations concerning the Watergate burglary and then the Iran-Contra-BCCI scandal.
In this post-9/11 era we do not even get sordid investigations such as those arising from the discovery that President Bill Clinton engaged in intimate erotic games that may or may not qualify as full-fledged sex with White House intern Monica Lewinski. Into the vacuum created by the dearth of genuine investigative reporting after 9/11 moved a new variety of whistle blower, a new type of truth teller. These point persons in the disclosure of otherwise forbidden knowledge were expert at moving information on the Internet from the most secret compartments of computation into very public digital arenas. So far these brave acts of public service have not generated sufficiently high levels of media-led public indignation to necessitate government investigations into areas of exposed misdeeds by officialdom.
After 9/11 we do not get government investigations to help us understand the full extent of the government’s infractions of its own law, infractions which include the invasion of citizens’ rights to privacy in our digital communications. Instead we get bombarded with officialdom’s justifications for federal efforts to round up, criminalize, and punish the likes of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. The actions of these whistle blowers can be interpreted as blowback for onslaughts of domestic and international crime perpetrated by government agencies and private contractors whose operatives claim to be acting in name of national security.
The nature, scope, and content of the claims of national security are purposely left vague and ill-defined. The imposition of secrecy imposes layer upon layer of concealment on activities that were once the legitimate realm of public affairs. The assault on the public interest, however, does not end there. Secrets are not inert entities resting harmlessly in vaults of concealment. Secrets contain authentic explanations of why things are as they are. Accordingly, the other side of keeping secrets is the need to develop false explanations that seemingly, but not actually, describe how reality is constructed. To withhold from the public proper explanations of our real conditions, and to divert attention away from actions of huge consequence that society’s most rich and powerful members wish to conceal, is to impose on citizens outside the inner circle of national security secrecy a huge burden making it virtually impossible for us to adapt to our actual conditions.
“Lies” is another term for false explanations. The job of the national security state, therefore, is not only to keep secrets but to generate lies that seem to explain what’s going on. In a world where much of the critical information is treated as secret, whole industries are developed to generate and sustain massive lies, to spin false explanations that cover up the secret transactions. In this environment the truth becomes a threat to many interests, but especially corporate interests with a major stake in the permanent war economy. One such blatant and now-exposed lie is the explanation of the crash of Flight 800 as the result of a mechanical failure. Another big lie is the explanation of 9/11 as an outside job pulled off by 19 Saudi jihadists controlled remotely by Osama bin Laden in Afghani caves.
The mere invocation of the term “national security” exempts those claiming to act in its name from requirements to adhere to laws prohibiting such basic crimes as murder, torture, perjury, larceny, and fraud. Assertions of national security, therefore, create a category of people who operate above the law with many special powers. Such powers can be deployed, for instance, to exploit privileged access to classified intelligence for insider trading on stock markets.
Since President George W. Bush declared his leadership of the Global War on Terror quite literally from a Christian pulpit, the predominant conception of national security emerges from a very specific interpretation of the 9/11 assaults on powerful symbols of American power. The major outlines of this interpretation were delivered to the public on CNN and other networks in the midst of the 9/11 debacle even before the third World Trade Center, not hit by any airplane, plunged almost instantaneously into its own footprint at 5:20 in the afternoon.
In laying out the main frames of reference of the Global War on Terror several days later in his State of the Union address to Congress, Bush borrowed from the US inheritance of anti-communism. His language was reminiscent of the US rejection of the goals of the Non-Aligned Movement. All former colonies of European empires, the member nations Non-Aligned Movement sought to maintain their independence by not taking sides in the superpower rivalry of the Cold War. Bush declared, “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
The federal government’s formal investigation of the 9/11 debacle can be seen as a federal extension and even an amplification of the National Transportation Safety Board’s techniques of subterfuge, evasion and the manufacturing of pseudo-truths to cover over the real causes of Flight 800’s crash on July 17, 1996. The 9/11 Commission was set up by the Bush administration, supposedly to look into the many unanswered questions being asked primarily by the families of the 9/11 victims. The 9/11 Commission was set up so that no one who gave testimony was put under oath requiring that he or she tell the truth. Much can be implied from the political decision to strip judicial powers away from the 9/11 Commission in such a way that there were no criminal consequences for witnesses that lied to the questioners in this pseudo-investigation. And lie the witnesses did including the former US president and vice-president in their in camera testimony. As an entity that appeared to be a judicial inquiry without the actual powers of a judicial inquiry, the 9/11 Commission itself encapsulates the essence of the national security state’s culture of officially-sanctioned deception.
The 2004 report of this 9/11 Commission has been described by one critic as “the most unsupported, contrived and ridiculous work of fiction ever produced by the US Federal Government.” Even the Co-Chairs of the federal investigative body understood that “in many ways it was set up to fail.” “We didn’t have enough money, we didn’t have enough time and we were appointed by the most partisan people in Washington,” declared Co-Chair Thomas Kean.
Commission member Max Cleland called the investigative body a “national scandal” whose treatment by the US executive branch demonstrated that “the White House wants to cover it up.” The Legal Counsel of the 9/11 Commission, John Farmer, added his voice to the chorus of criticism from within emphasizing the propensity of federal officials to lie when giving testimony. “At some level of the government,” Farmer writes, “there was an agreement not to tell the truth about the national response to the attacks on the morning of 9/11” InHarper’s Magazine Benjamin DeMott described the 9/11 Commission’s report as a “cheat and a fraud,” as an exercise in “artful dodging” that “infantilizes” its audiences even as it “conceals realities that demand immediate inspection and confrontation.”
The huge improprieties and irregularities of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation set the stage for the intensification in the twenty-first century of the culture of concealment, junk science, and wholesale distortion of the truth. The culture of concealment privileges appearance over substance. Rather than identify and face reality on its own terms, officials who operate within the sphere of useful deception adopt the principle that it is more important to regulate, shape and exploit public perceptions of reality no matter how far removed from the truth. Nothing is treated as fixed and immutable. Everything becomes a negotiation where the need to be popular or at least acceptable with dominant oligarchies is valorized over the need to be truthful, the need to be correct in drawing logical conclusions from the available evidence.
The organization of the public face of government as a constant negotiation of surface appearances puts great influence in the hands of the small number of technocrats with access to reliable information on what’s actually happening at the deeper levels of the state. This division of the world between surface myths and underground repositories of concealed truths takes us back to pre-Enlightenment times when priestly elites and their royal adjuncts maintained positions of absolute power through the manipulation and exploitation of superstition.
Those with national security clearances and entitlements are sometimes seen to possess magic-like powers. The keepers of the state’s esoteric knowledge are, like knights of old, slayers of dragons. Often the media casts them as agents of civilization’s ascent over savagery and terror. Many years after 9/11, however, this mythology is becoming increasingly hard to sustain. The tide is turning as more and more people come to see governments as instruments of instability rather than national security. As illustrated by the rapid rise and spread beginning in in 2011 of Occupy Wall Street and related demonstrations against austerity measures throughout Europe and Latin America, governments are increasingly perceived as hopelessly beholden to corrupt financial institutions, military contractors, oil and gas interests and the like.
As the culture of paranoia becomes more intense on both sides of the relationship between governors and the governed, the incentive grows for spy agencies to widen their net of infiltration, surveillance, provocation, and entrapment. Citizens become suspects. As the international law scholar Richard Falk writes in his blog, “The disinction… between suspect and citizen now seems superceded and irrelevant, and this is an ominous development that should be challenged.”
In this milieu of heightened distrust, even the asking of questions awkward to power makes one a candidate for investigation, a possible subject of blackmail, a potential informer to be cultivated. In the era of the Internet much of the material obtained through digital surveillance ends up in government archives composed of our own E-Mails, Facebook posts, Google searches, and telephone calls. This feature of contemporary spying points to a key dichotomy of these times when the evolving character of the Internet is fast reconfiguring basic architectures of knowledge, human interaction, and ultimately civilization itself. Even as vital information is secreted away in the sphere of government as well as the corporate clients and patrons of government, old boundaries of demarcation protecting the personal privacy of individuals are digitally obliterated in the name of national security.
Social media presents an especially contested zone of conflicting digital agendas in this dialectical clash. On the one hand social networking offers new media of transnational democratic interaction in the cause of popular liberation. On the other hand social networking provides huge quantities of raw material to be mined, assessed and tweaked in the New Inquisitors’ zeal to find, quash, and smear heretics and heresies. In the reactionary rush to defend menaced orthodoxies, the burgeoning cult of national security insidiously infiltrates more and more aspects of business, mainstream media, education, police work, law, and administration.
The Science and Politics of Investigation
Kristina Borjesson’s TWA Flight 800 arrives at a time when fundamental questions are beginning to be asked even in some branches of the mainstream media about the extreme excesses of the burgeoning cult of national security. From the earliest days of the investigation into the crash of the Boeing 747 the agents and agencies of national security seemed to be leading the process. As Henry Hughes attests in TWA Flight 800, FBI agents and other special-forces operatives of uncertain pedigree were already busily searching for wreckage and other forms of evidence before the formal investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board even began.
The FBI asserted dominance over the Flight 800 investigation for almost two years until the CIA intervened with its infamous NOT A MISSILE video presented without any supporting body of evidence. As the product of a national security agency that has earned much notoriety for its history of covertly spinning into the public’s imagination strategic lies and distortions, this CIA video raised many more questions than it answered.
While the FBI and the CIA were at the forefront during the most formative stage of the investigation, the Navy and the Pentagon have remained active in the background of the Flight 800 controversy from its inception right up to the present. Since 9/11 this federal nexus of military command and control has sought to harness the cult of national security to the objectives of Total Information Awareness and Full Spectrum Dominance.  Edward Snowden’s criminalized revelations on the massive data collecting and storage activities of the National Security Agency through software known as PRISM exposed one of many elements of the US Armed Forces’ larger drive for Total Information Awareness.
Kristina Borjesson, Tom Stalcup and those with whom they collaborated in the making of TWA Flight 800 have petitioned the National Transportation Safety Board to reopen the case. This strategy essentially amounts to asking a police force to investigate itself for wrongdoing within its own ranks. The film makes it very clear that the roots of the problem do not go back to evidence inadvertently missed in the course of the investigation.
The roots of the problem go back to a process where political motivations overrode and sidelined the career professionals of aviation safety assigned by the federal government to investigate Flight 800’s demise. A proper investigation of the initial investigation, therefore, would explore problems of leadership within the NTSB and how these problems might be connected to various overt and covert relationships with other agencies such as the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon and ultimately the White House. How is the unbridled growth of the cult of national security affecting aviation safety as well as the provision of other services of vital importance to the health and wellbeing of the general public?
The TWA Flight 800 debacle demonstrates that the NTSB is not an independent agency of the federal government but is very much subject to manipulation of other agencies, but especially those operating in the name of national security.
The impediments raised by the claims of national security form the great obstacles blocking a proper federal probe into an investigation that went terribly wrong. Like so many features of life in the post-9/11 world, old conceptions of the relationship between truth and safety have become subordinate to a new conception linking the ideals of safety and security to officialdom’s capacity to conceal vital realities behind walls of government-sanctioned deception. The prevailing ethos of national security, therefore, turns on its head old notions of aviation safety and many other notions of safety through the application of reason and the scientific method. The inheritance of the Enlightenment is thereby overturned making a virtue of forms of dishonesty that would otherwise qualify as perjury and fraud.
In the normal order of things any purposeful effort to tamper with evidence, misrepresent evidence, conceal evidence, or disregard relevant evidence touching in any way on the causes of an airline crash would count as a crime. Purposely misinterpreting evidence with the goal of concealing the real causes of an airline crash would count as a crime of the highest order. Once considerations of national security are configured into the larger picture, however, the telling of lies can be transformed from crimes into acts of patriotism.
It could be said hypothetically, for instance, that some top officials in the executive branch of the US government might have classified a misrepresentation of the causes of Flight 800’s demise as a necessary measure to uphold national security if the outcome was to protect, say, the Navy’s development of a secret weapons system. Indeed, the claims of national security often point away from the need to adhere to formal exercises where evidence is presented, evaluated and interrogated from a variety of perspectives.The aims of national security point away from such public exercises of due process leading to the formulation of findings, conclusions, and judicial rulings that can be empirically demonstrated to be true.
The very idea of putting evidence and various ways of interpreting evidence in the public domain runs contrary to the epistemology of national security. The essence of national security is, after all, to put behind barriers of secrecy the highest deliberations of the state in deciding fundamental issues often extending to war and peace, life and death. The same considerations of national security through the maintenance of secrecy apply no matter whether the process at issue has to do with, for instance, extrajudicial assassinations through drone strikes, planting strategic lies in the media, or investigating the causes of an airline disaster.
The official vagueness surrounding the role of national security in the investigation of what happened to TWA Flight 800 is typical of the strategic silences that are often the trademark of operations privileging deceptiveness in public policy. These official lapses gave national security operatives in the Cold War the maximum latitude to remove and eliminate those obstructing the expansionary enterprises of favored international corporations in the name of pliable, ill-defined, and open-ended notions of how to achieve anti-communist objectives. Individuals or whole governments could be removed not for actually being communists but for simply failing to treat communists as deviants to be eliminated and repressed.
This open-ended approach would become even more pronounced in the era when anti-terrorist operations replaced those of anti-communism. The ironies of such open-ended, easy-to-exploit policies of anti-terrorism are abundant in a country founded in violent armed revolt against the duly constituted authority of British North American governments.
As the Cold War gave way to the Global War on Terror the main link of continuity was the continually expanding power of the US executive branch, the core agency of the national security state. This trajectory has given the US president and his designates increasingly large discretionary authorities to act without real accountability behind the veil of national-security secrecy. 9/11 saved from obsolescence old dinosaurs of the Cold War like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The mounting of the Global War on Terror gave new political currency to the national security state, including an enormously expanded regime of domestic and international surveillance. It made Israel’s enemies the enemies of the so-called West and it heightened budgets to an increasingly glorified and privatized military-industrial complex.
The extension of the claims of national security to the investigation of the crash of Flight 800 helps illustrate the trend of increasing overlaps between civilian and military spheres. These overlaps flow inevitably from the transformation of citizens into suspects, a process illustrated graphically at airport security gates where every entering passenger is partially stripped, searched, and frequently X-rayed in the search for weapons. Ever since Leila Khalid brought the hijacking of passenger airplanes to the forefront of public attention with her armed seizure and forced landing of TWA Flight 840 in Damascus in 1969, the movement of civilians through aviation transport has become an enterprise closely connected with the imagery of terrorism.
The fact that Khalid hijacked airplanes in the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine helped to solidify dominant archetypes of hijacking and terrorism that gradually crept into the iconography of the Cold War. The major points of contention in the David-and-Goliath struggle between the Israeli state and the armed resistance of the dispossessed and disentitled Palestinians helped to establish the mythological frames of reference expanded to a worldwide scale in the genesis of the Global War on Terror. The originating act used to justify a series of 9/11 Wars beginning in Afghanistan and Iraq placed in the forefront the imagery of civilian passenger planes transformed into weapons targeted at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Any effort to reopen the investigation of what really happened to bring down TWA Flight 800 must take into account the role of national security agents and agencies in the work of the NTSB. It must address the possibility that officialdom’s lies and misrepresentations concerning the fate of Flight 800 may have carried the imprimatur of national security. This imprimatur of executive empowerment from the top makes a patriotic virtue of administrative lying by middle managers such as the NTSB’s Chairman, Jim Hall. Such an invocation of the alchemy of national security is meant to overpower the force of laws that carry heavy jail sentences for those that transgress them.
The mounting of a proper investigation would have to commence with a citizens’ initiative more demanding than a mere request of the NTSB to take into account information that it supposedly missed in its initial assessment of the Flight 800 crash. Such a citizens’ initiative would have to frame the demand for a proper investigation into the national security state’s assaults on our aviation safety with an insistence that the politicized character of the NTSB can no longer be tolerated. A bold and determined citizens’ initiative would have to grow from a political culture far less subject to fear and far more open to the possibilities of collective action by mutually supporting and empowered citizens. This culture of fear thrives on the pathologies of religious hatred woven into the national security state’s 9/11 fable.
Until the predominant religious fable of primal terror, martyrdom, and revenge is replaced with an evidence-based narrative of 9/11 the odds are stacked against any form of collective action aimed at pressuring government to conduct serious investigations into virtually any topic bearing on the sacred cow of national security. In order to demand meaningful and deep investigations by politicians and civil servants, we the citizens will have to turn the tables. We the suspects of the national security state will have to reclaim our identities and self-empowerment as We the People.
The governors and the governed have to be reminded that the state draws its legitimacy from citizens, not the other way around. Until this foundational point is reaffirmed through unequivocal assertions of popular sovereignty, our parliaments, our legislatures and our congress will continue to disregard demands for truth and transparency. The people have sound cause to harbor well-founded suspicions that our governments are sponsoring and protecting criminals whose violations of the law require serious investigation and arbitration in public venues devoted to the ideals of transparency, accountability, and justice to serve the public interest. We need federal probes into many realms of public policy that meet and exceed in depth and sophistication those that followed media exposés on the Watergate burglary and the Iran-Contra-BCCI scandal.
Conspiracy Theories, Conspiracists, and Truthers
Much of the mainstream media initially reported positively on the substantive issues brought forward in TWA Flight 800. Then the tide changed. Within days of the June 19 press release, reportage on the film fell back into the recycling of clichés that have become the stock and trade of the mainstream media’s function these days as propaganda arms of the national security state.
The core cliché, of course, is the “conspiracy theory” meme. CNN’s Greta Van Susteran had been one of the first to attach this tag to anyone questioning the government’s version of the causes of the Flight 800 crash. Van Susteran even described the eyewitnesses of the event as “conspiracists.” Since her interview with Jim Hall in 2000,“conspiract theories,” “conspiracy theorists,” and “conspiracists” become journalism’s most hackneyed substitutes for critical thought. The usage of these terms connotes their users’ lazy adherence to formulaic thinking together with an obedience to power that is the sine qua non of upward mobility in paid media work these days.
The term, “conspiracy theory,” was pressed into anti-public service on an industrial scale after the events of September 11, 2001. The many references in the media to 9/11 as a frequent topic of “conspiracy theorists” made it seem like the subject was some sort of taboo that should not be debated and critically discusses in polite company. The injection of the term, “conspiracy theorist,” into the linguistic commons eliminated much middle ground for civil discourse on contested interpretations of the incredibly- complex series of intertwined episodes conveniently lumped together as “9/11.”
The rise of the term, “conspiracy theory,” to become one of the most fraught and overused terms in the English language reflects a declining level of discourse that the makers of Dumb and Dumber anticipated decades ago. Technically a conspiracy describes a situation where two or more people join forces to commit some malevolent and illegal act.
The term “conspiracy theory” gained momentum after the assassination in 1963 of US President John F.Kennedy because it correctly identified the view of anyone who did not ascribe to the government’s official interpretation that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, was exclusively responsible for the US president’s murder. If more than one person was involved in the assassination, then it was indeed a “conspiracy.” Thus those adhering to such an interpretation of the event could accurately be described as “conspiracy theorists.” As Lance de Haven-Smith details in his recent book, the CIA quite deliberately built up the “conspiracy theory” meme as a means of stigmatizing those who did not go along with the findings of the Warren Commission attributing JFK’s death to the zealotry of a single shooter. De Haven-Smith’s Conspiracy Theory in Americaprovides an academic element to the broad movement of citizens demanding real accountability from our governors rather than cheap linguistic tricks of evasion and obfuscation.
Gradually however, the “conspiracy theorist” meme was twisted to become a term of derision deployed to stigmatize anyone questioning the position of officialdom on virtually any topic. The application of the term “conspiracy theorist” to describe a person not adhering to one or more aspects of the government’s official account of what happened on 9/11 is completely nonsensical. The lethal events that took place in New York and Washington on the morning of September 11, 2001 obviously involved the coordinated efforts of many individuals working together. By any definition it was a conspiracy. Hence any interpretation of 9/11, including that contained in the government’s own 9/11 Commission report, is a “conspiracy theory” in the strictest sense of the term.
As many of the members and administrative staff of the 9/11 Commission themselves acknowledge, the work of this investigating body was flawed and problematic from the beginning. The 9/11 Commission’s own legal counsel makes it very clear that government officials consistently lied to the investigating body. It can easily be concluded, therefore, that the work of the 9/11 Commission was, like the NTSB’s investigation of the demise of TWA Flight 800, very open to political interference. Moreover, the budget to investigate the 9/11 debacle was only a third of the amount devoted to the federal study of the Paris-bound airliner’s crash.
The facts of the matter in the case of 9/11 have been rendered, so far at least, more or less extraneous to the widespread perception that the patriotic course of action is to turn a blind eye to the details of the tragedy. This patriotic response included the urge to afford higher levels of trust to those responsible for providing national defense. A key adjunct of this ethos of increased trust was broader acceptance of the authoritarian message that loyal and obedient citizens should not challenge the supposedly necessary lies and deceit that are to be expected from the directors, agents and supporters of enhanced national security.
The normalization of deception as an expected motif of leadership and patriotism is being inflicted at a tremendous cost to society. This cost extends to the demonization of many forms of dissent as reflected in the stigmatization as “conspiracy theorists” of all those who question the government’s version of events on virtually any subject, but especially 9/11. As a key national security adviser to President Barack Obama on the psychological operations of so-called counter-terrorism, Cass Sunstein helped plan and direct “cognitive infiltration” of networks of “conspiracy theorists,” but especially those with an interest in the study of 9/11.
Prof. David Ray Griffin versus Prof. Cass Sunstein: Scientific Method Speaking Truth to Power versus a Defense of the National Security State’s Cover Story on 9/11.
The interjection of the phrase, “conspiracy theory,” tends to block free exchanges that would otherwise occur in both casual and more formal discourse. The mere
by Daniel Pipes
invocation of the term, “conspiracy theorist,” seems to introduce a patriotism litmus test into conversation. Those who disparaged the so-called 9/11 Truth movement as a seditious coalition of “conspiracy theorists” extended their derisiveness to so-called “truthers.” In the eyes of their unskeptical detractors, a “truther” can be defined as anyone who dares to question any aspect of the 9/11 Commission’s final report.
Even though so-called “truthers” often disagree among themselves on many aspects of what happened on 9/11, their detractors grouped together all the skeptics as a single undifferentiated constituency no matter what their age, background, topic of specialization, or level of skill, competency and education. The process of stigmatization did not end there. The so-called “truthers” were then lumped together with an an even broader array of theorists, good, bad, and indifferent, whose specialties and preoccupations cover a wide range of mostly unrelated topics, themes, and specialties.
This invented hodgepodge of humanity was then tagged with the denigrating label, “conspiracists,” an epitaph of no small consequence. This strategy of smear is designed to plant suspicions in the family members, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, employers, teachers and students of the individuals so designated. The term “conspiracy theorist” was given a spin comparable to that of “communist” or “pinko” in the Cold War.
This ideological spin was quite consistent with President George Bush’s ultimatum after 9/11 that not to side with the US government was to be “with the terrorists.” Wikipedia became a prime site where those who brought critical perspectives to the study of 9/11 became stereotyped as “conspiracy theorists.” The managers of Wikipedia allowed the replacement of valid
Dr. David Eppstein is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine campus. An avid defender of the Global War on Terror’s specious ideological basis, Prof. Eppstein has edited my Wikipedia biography, “Anthony James Hall,” 20 times. Again and again Prof. Eppstein reverts the revisions of others back to his original characterization of my main academic specialty as that of “conspiracy theorist.”
biographical information with the moniker, “conspiracy theorist.”The planting of this meme as the main identifying symbol of individuals with complex careers, backgrounds, and achievements bears comparisons with the placing of yellow or pink stars on members of horribly persecuted communities in another time and place.
This tactic of defamation recycled older examples of guilt-by-association, a strategy deployed frequently by CIA-funded disinfo agents in media campaigns to advance the objectives of Project Mockingbird. This smear tactic was reminiscent of earlier initiatives aimed at depriving targeted groups of public sympathy in preparation for state-sanction attacks on their character, careers, property, and persons. Jonathan Kay, Michael Shermer, and David Aaronovitch are prominent among those who have advanced this agenda of malevolent generalization through strategies of guilt-by-association.
These servants of power were anything but skeptical in expanding the frontiers of junk science with their many media performances as pop psychologists. By presenting themselves as instant experts in the new voodoo field of “conspiracism,” these media hacks, flacks and quacks were deputized as guards charged to protect the originating myths underlying the Global War on Terror. These shills of the national security state used ad hominem attacks to draw attention away from the mounting body of hard evidence demonstrating that many of the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission report are manifestly untrue.
The TV hosts to the instant social scientists of “conspiracism” demonstrated the important role of the media in keeping alive the mythologies animating popular consent for the continuing aggressions of the 9/11 Wars. Any systematic exposure of the fraudulent character of the prevailing interpretation of what happened on 9/11 would put in jeopardy continued public backing for the vast expenditures being funneled into the aggressions of the so-called Global War on Terror. There is every reason to suspect that the black budgets of the Global War on Terror are comparable to, or even larger in size than, the financial resources devoted to media spin doctoring on the capitalist side of the Cold War.
Truthiness, Truth, and 9/11
Gawker’s Max Read
Gawker’s news editor, Max Read, described TWA Flight 800 as a “New Truther Documentary.” He used his review of Borjesson’s film to launch his bid to expand the meaning of “truther” to encompass those he considers “conspiracy theorists” on any topic. “Our favorite 90s conspiracy theory is back,” Read writes. Noting that some of the revelations brought forward by Borjesson and company have been circulating for years, Read explained the movie as “the product of longtime TWA ‘truthers’ since before there was even a word we used to describe conspiracy theorists.” In Read’s view the positive media attention being given the film derived from the fact that “90’s nostalgia is big right now.” The pop-culture commentator then donned his historian’s hat to observe, “Like most conspiracy theories, TWA 800 is search-engine optimization gold, but more than that it’s one of the web’s first widespread Truther Movements.”
CNN also fell back on the thought-confounding cliché. The news organization announced Borjesson’s film with the headline, “Conspiracy Theories, Outrage Swirl Around the Flight 800 Plane Crash.” The text declared, “Behind every American tragedy there’s a conspiracy theory. Think JFK’s assassination, even the 9/11 attacks. So it should come as no surprise that there have been similar doubts that a fuel tank explosion caused the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800.”
The National Review founded by right-wing controversialist extraordinaire, William F. Buckley, ran a story emphasizing “TWA Flight 800 and the Media’s Coverage of Conspiracy Theories.” The Washington Free Beacon assured its readers that they could safely disregard Borjesson’s documentary because “NTSB Clears Up TWA Conspiracy Theory.” The article by Bill McMorris presents an account of a NTSB press conference where a Safety Board official was apparently thanked by a “veteran journalist” for “ruining his afternoon to talk about the Internet’s oldest conspiracy theory.”
The consistency displayed by Popular Mechanics in two different treatments of high-profile disaster helps to illustrate the importance of the 9/11controversy in establishing the key cultural frames of references that set the stage for TWA Flight 800’s release. Like Reader’s Digest, Popular Mechanics is a publication of the Hearst Corporation which is well known for supporting an agenda of trans-Atlantic fascism in the run up to the Second World War. In 2005 Popular Mechanics published an article expanded into a short book entitled Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts. This Hearst initiative was soon answered by the scholarship of Professor David Ray Griffin in Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and the Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory.
The Hearst Corporation rushed into the breech again in the summer of 2013 with aPopular Mechanics piece entitled “3 Reasons to Doubt the TWA Flight 800 Conspiracy Theory.” Much of this article’s contents came down to showing evidence that the center-wing fuel tank exploded, a contention that is not inconsistent with the assertion that an external explosion initiated a subsequent explosion within the airplane. As Major Fred Meyer explained in Jack Cashill’s documentary film, Silenced: Flight 800 and the Subversion of Justice, the explosion of the center wing fuel tank “was the last event not the initiating event” of the airline disaster.
Max Read’s characterization of TWA Flight 800 as a “Truther Documentary” emerging from the web’s first “Truther Movement” calls for closer consideration. Read’s choice of words is cheeky, irreverent and edgy. It is also extremely glib and disturbing. One can’t help but ask, what’s so funny about the quest for the truth concerning a subject as grave as the death of 230 innocent people. To add obscenity to injury Read combines his insult to the victims of Flight 800 with trivialization of 9/11, a lethal event that initiated a major transformation of global geopolitics including onslaughts of new wars. By now these 9/11 Wars have resulted in the murdering, maiming, and uprooting of many millions of victims, mostly innocent civilians primarily in Eurasia.
The truth of these 9/11 Wars is that the main beneficiaries form a miniscule portion of humanity made up of the profiteers of industrialized carnage on a massive scale. The truth is that it defies common sense to concentrate so much capital in the instruments of terror to fight terrorism. The truth is that the huge energies allocated to slaying the phantom dragons of “terrorism,” a term at least as problematic as “conspiracy theorist,” deprive the global community of resources that could otherwise be allocated to life affirming goals. Such goals could include alleviating poverty or extending health care and education. The truth is that the Global War on Terror, like the Cold War before it, offers cover for the increased budgets and expanded imperial operations of the world’s most massive and aggressive military-industrial complex. These martial campaigns of aggression have much more to do with resource grabs, empire building, and maintaining the power of corrupt oligarchies than spreading democracy.
The determination by the United States to put a very dubious conception of its national security above virtually all else undermines the ability to provide social security, economic security, environmental security, health security, human rights security, educational security, international security, and the security that would come from a peace dividend derived from significantly diminished militarism. Ever-expanding latitude for the expansion of “national security” into the world’s political economy elevates the role of secrecy and deception to new levels of concealment. The lying of officials and the attending cover-ups of media become normal. As transparency diminishes, the accountability of governors to citizens wanes as well.
Accordingly, a major factor in the demise of investigative journalism in the United States is the further integration of many major media organizations into the apparatus of national security. This process has been well documented by Kristina Borjesson inInto the Buzz Saw and also in her book, Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11. The failure of major US media networks such as CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, TheNew York Times and the Washington Post to do due diligence in their coverage of the TWA Flight 800 story goes back ultimately to the creeping subordination of the journalistic imperatives of truth telling to the national security state’s preoccupation with secrecy and deception.
As the big media conglomerates were trying to contain the story within the frames of reference being handed down from the national security operatives of the US executive branch, individuals such as Jim Sanders, Liz Sanders, Jack Cashill, Kelly O’Meara, Kristina Borjesson, Ray Lahr, David E. Hendrix, Commander William Davidson,Dr. Tom Stalcup, Maj. Fred Meyer, and General Benton K. Partin were breaking the story of what really happened to Flight 800. These “truthers” and “conspiracy theorists” may not have hit the mark of total accuracy in their early efforts to explain the aviation disaster. The major outlines of their narratives, however, were compelling. These accounts collectively pointed to a missile strike on Flight 800 involving the US Navy in some way. This conclusion is the theory that best conforms to the evidence available.
We do not know in detail how the national security state directed the big media conglomerates in the Flight 800 story. But once the CIA entered the picture with its NOT A MISSILE video the writing was on the wall. It became clear that the imperatives of scientific investigation had become subordinate to those of political expediency. The NTSB was given its marching orders and the captive media of the national security state fell in line to keep the actual causes of what happened to Flight 800 under wraps. Those who continued to investigate the Flight 800 story outside the auspices of Big Government and Big Media were far from perfect. They did, however, display levels of conscientiousness that make a mockery of the so-called journalism of, say, Greta Van Susteran, Robert Hagar and the communications conglomerates behind them.
A similar pattern would be replicated, but on a far larger scale, during and after the 9/11 debacle. First came the original misrepresentations where the motives and identities of the alleged culprits were announced in the media before any real investigation took place. Then came the subsequent cover-up of the most important revelations emerging from the massive and many faceted citizens’ investigation that developed to fill the vacuum left by the failure of due diligence on the part of those officials involved in setting up, directing, and doing the work of the 9/11 Commission. The citizens’ investigation into the lies and crimes of 9/11 gathered momentum especially after 2004. The failures of the 9/11 Commission were readily identified as part and parcel of a larger conspiracy aimed at discouraging open and informed public debate on the known, unknown, and contested aspects of this crime.
One facet of that conspiracy was to deprive the public of a credible, evidence-based explanation of what had really happened on 9/11 to make the three World Trade Center Towers explode into powder and evaporate, to punch a hole in the Pentagon, and to cause the creation near Shankesville Pennsylvania of a burned crater or pit strewn with small pieces of debris. While the official explanation attributed all the death, mayhem and destruction to a failure of national security the evidence emerging from the most reliable findings of the citizens’ investigation on 9/11 did not point in that direction.
Site of the supposed crash of United Airlines Flight 93 near Shanksville Pennsylvania. Where are the pieces of the Boeing 757?
Those “9/11 truthers” performing a role similar to that of Jim Sanders and Jack Cashill in the citizens’ investigation of the Flight 800 crash include, to mention only a representative sample, Professor David Ray Griffin, Professor Peter Dale Scott, journalist Barrie Zwicker, journalist Thierry Meyssan, Professor Michel Chossudovsky, Professor Niels Harritt, Professor Jim Fetzer, former MI5 agent Annie Machon, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bowman, architect Richard Gage, Professor Graham MacQueen, physics teacher Adnan Zuberi, peace activist Carol Brouillet, radio show host Kevin Barrett, Mohawk activist Splitting The Sky, Professor Daniele Ganser, Professor Ahmed Nafeez, physics teacher David Chandler, publisher Ian Woods, medical doctor Paul E. McArthur, journalist Webster Tarpley, reporter Joshua Blakeney, former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury Paul Craig Roberts, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKenney, German politician Andreas von Bülow, energy consultant Enver Masud, and former Reagan White House staffer Barbara Honegger.
These individuals and tens of thousands of others have worked prodigiously on the 9/11 file, often while suffering through many insidious forms of persecution. The contribution of Professor David Ray Griffin stands out for its high quality and prolific extent. Professor Griffin culminated his very successful career at Claremont Graduate University by publishing the last 10 of his lifetime total of 40 books on various aspects of 9/11 forensics. In spite of all the good efforts by the conscientious objectors who have analyzed and critiqued many different aspects of the originating mythology of the 9/11 Wars, the weight of responsibility for the persisting reign of the 9/11 lies is broadly distributed.
The failure to force the hand of top officials in government, the media, and the academy to do their due diligence on the 9/11 file cannot be blamed exclusively on the enormous failures of leadership that characterize the post-9/11 world. In an article I wrote in the spring of 2009 as part of our effort in Calgary, Alberta to pressure law enforcement officials to arrest George Bush for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the peace, I argued as follows:
The most serious failures connected to the events of 9/11 are not those of US intelligence agencies, airport security services, NORAD and the like. Rather the deepest and darkest of the failures to protect us from the enemies that menace us most lie with journalists, mainstream media outlets, professors and the universities that employ us. It is we who have in the vast majority of cases chosen to abandon our skepticism and with it our professional ethics and responsibilities. By and large our professional class and caste continue to respond to the events of 9/11 in ways that are expedient rather than wise. As I see it, therefore, it is a mass treason of the intellectuals that constitutes the most significant underlying condition resulting in the continuing fraud known as the Global War on Terror. The Global War on Terror continues to be packaged, promoted, and sold to the public in the most aggressive campaign of psychological warfare ever mounted. How many of us are complicit with our silence in the black psyop, the key enabling factor in the ongoing aggressive wars justified in the name of an unfounded and unproven official conspiracy theory of 9/11?
The fiascos attending the crash of Flight 800 together with the 9/11 debacle highlight the failures of research, investigation, and public education in our official agencies of research, investigation, and public education. These failures speak to the extent of systemic problems in a society increasingly prone to disregard and even shun truths inconvenient to power. This outcome is hardly surprising in a political economy that so valorizes thedistortions of advertising, the spin of Public Relations, and the deceptions of “national security.”
Its hardly surprising that the information brought forward by important truth tellers like Hank Hughes and Prof. David Ray Griffin tend to be dismissed or ridiculed while, on the other hand, falsehoods disseminated by anti-truthers like Jim Hall, David Mayer, Michael Shermer, Jonathan Kay, and Greta Van Susteran grease the wheels of commerce, government, the academy, and the mainstream media. Why wouldn’t the pesky interventions of “truthers” be resented in a society where the best way to “get ahead” is to go along with the prevailing frauds and distortions, large and small? In the choice between “truthers” or liars, who is more likely to fit into dominant motifs of relationship, transaction, and material success?
The quest for truth often involves the development of “theories” to explain how various coalitions of individuals, groups, and institutions “conspire” to advance plans and agendas of shared interest. Such activities happen all the time. Without the development of theories we lack the capacity to organize knowledge in coherent and useful ways. Theories of various sorts are therefore crucial to imposing some sort of structure, order, and pattern on otherwise random and arbitrary conglomerations of ideas and information. The development, teaching and learning of theories is not only respectable but it is a necessary feature of analytic thinking and effective communications.
The idea conveyed in the word, “conspiracy,” is equally essential to understanding and explaining how human beings operate. Quite naturally, those who already command access to wealth and power are more likely to conspire together in ways that are successful and concurrently consequential for the whole society. How convenient for the small group of elites at the top that a few references in strategic locations to “conspiracies theories” can so easily derail investigations into their shared efforts to advance common interests and purposes. How ironic that the founder and editor of Skeptic Magazine holds positions on so many subjects that are decidedly unskeptical and conveniently supportive of the status quo. Who funds the weird operations ofSkeptic Magazine?
The stakes are huge when it comes to the process of distinguishing what is genuinely true from what TV humorist Stephen Colbert has satirically identified as “truthiness.” This satire, however, has some basis of serious substance. Colbert explains “truthiness” as the identification of truth through intuition rather than evidence. Truthiness describes a condition where “facts matter not at all,” where “perception is everything.” Colbert’s conception of “truthiness” reflects trends in the academy where preoccupations with relativism favor analytical approaches that integrate multiple perspectives.When everything is seen to be a function of varying perspectives, no perspective is more true or less true than any other. Everything is relative. Nothing is fixed and permanent and absolutely true.
For those schooled in the post-modern heritages of French philosophers Francoise Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, the established truths of former times have been reassigned the role of illusory ploys exploited for the maintenance of oppressive relationships of of power. Indeed, for many post-modernists the quest for some sort of absolute standard of truth has been made to seem passé and banal. Ironically, the post-modernists’ disparagement of “truth” as fiction in the service of power has converged with the disparagement of “truthers” for challenging power’s deceits.
The national security state’s elevation of secrecy, concealment and deception conforms well with post-modernism’s problematic orientation to truth. Indeed part of the CIA’s function during the Cold War was to fund and promote post-modern art, but especially those branches of cultural production such as Abstract Expressionism whose purpose was to draw public tastes as far away as possible from realism.
Those operating within the enclosures of the national security state, however, exploit the full the power of scientific methods and human reason to identify and apply fundamental truths that are absolute, universal and timeless in nature. Science is applied to the invention and refinement of technologies aimed primarily at the conquest and dominance of nature, but especially human nature.
The technological reach of national security extends to every corner of the globe, every aspect of the economy, every medium of communications. The oceans are exploited to conceal multiple fleets of Trident submarines, each individual vessel containing dozens of missiles with multiple nuclear warheads. Collectively this lethal concentration of nuclear power is capable of eliminating all life on Earth many times over.
The weaponization of outer space and the world’s oceans extends to the weaponization of food and water. A food company with close connections to Lockheed Martin, Monsanto purchased the “Total Intelligence” arm of the mercenary corporation, Blackwater (aka Xe, Academi). The addition of this death-squad enterprise added new instruments of killing power to Monsanto’s arsenal of Round Up/glyphosate-ready suicide seeds and GMOs. Meanwhile the evidence mounts that the addition to tap water of fluoride, a deadly toxin essential to the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, is injurious to many aspects of human health causing, just for starters, higher rates of cancer, brittle bones, and lower IQs.
The infatuation of the Pentagon with Total Information Awareness forms the leading edge of technological innovations to monitor and record our movements and activities through the proliferation of spy satellites and earth-bound TV cameras attached to huge banks of computers. The Internet connections enabling interaction between computers and their operators began as a medium of military communications. As the Internet evolved it continued as a major site of activity for the national security state, a medium to suck up and store huge repositories of personal, business, and intergovernmental communications. As back-door spyware becomes more and more ubiquitous and sophisticated, the practitioners of national security monitor each other closely.
As we have seen, outside the inner sanctums of national security very different rules, conditions and philosophies prevail. The culture of national security thrives behind walls of deception and concealment requiring the planting of confusion, misapprehension and illusion in the mental environment of the general public. The necessary illusions promoted by the national security state favor “truthiness” over truth, junk science over genuine science, and fake skeptics over authentic skeptics. Reality becomes virtual reality. The exaggerated vividness of high-definition television replaces the more subtle tones of the world as it is outside frames of digital representation.
In this mileu even the most clear-cut distinctions between fact and fiction are made to seem incredibly complex, mysterious and obscure. The constitution of reality becomes equated with the outcome of public opinion polls. How may believe the Twin Towers were evaporated and turned into dust by the evil machinations of Islamic terrorists with box cutters and how many believe the pulverization of the giant structures involved the ignition of explosive devices planted within the buildings?
How many believe that an office fire caused Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex to instantaneously plunge to the ground at 5:21 pm on September 11, 2001, 23 minutes after the collapse had already been announced on the airwaves of the BBC. How many believe that the demolition of Building 7, which was not hit by any airliner on 9/11, was caused by controlled demolition?
How many believe that the waterboarding of suspected terrorists is a crime and how many believe that the torture of suspected terrorists, who often have been charged and convicted of nothing, is an acceptable means of gathering intelligence? How many believe that the proliferation of torture and torture chambers in the secret enclaves of national security have been a means of extracting false testimony to give the aura of authenticity in order to disguise the deceptions of a fraudulent Global War on Terror? How many believe that it is OK that much of the evidence used by the 9/11 Commission to arrive at its conclusions was gathered through torture?
How many believe TWA Flight 800 was removed from the sky by a missile and how many agree with the federal government and every major news agency that mechanical failure within the airplane caused it to crash? How many believe that eyewitness testimony concerning major explosive events outside TWA Flight 800 and inside the three WTC Towers on September 11, 2001 has been covered up and disregarded by federal authorities in the formulation of both the NTSB’s report of 2000 and the 9/11 Commission’s report of 2004? How many believe that federal oversight of the commercial airlines industry has been deeply permeated by the secretive activities of the national security state?
Whistle blowers in a Dangerous Time
At what point does a “conspiracy theorist” become a “whistleblower?” Will some of those that call into question the conclusions of the federal inquiries into 9/11 and the fate of Flight 800 transcend their stigmatization as “conspiracy theorists” to become become vindicated as successful whistleblowers?
If the subject matter of many Hollywood films is as an indicator that the USA is infatuated with the imagery of America as a place of brave men and women that overcome evil to bring the light of truth into the dark places where corruption festers. Think, for instance, of the plot of Serpico where an honest cop exposes drug dealing in the New York Police Department, Silkwoodand its revelations about the inner workings of the nuclear energy industry, and All the President’s Mendramatizing the work of the reporters who broke open the Watergate scandal. Think of Erin Brokovich, the dramatized account of an actual person who organized a class action suit to hold a public utilitycompany accountable for contaminating a community’s water supply. Think ofThe Informant, a satirical account of the experiences of a whistleblower at the food processing and commodities trading firm of Archer Daniels Midland.
Obviously there is a large appetite and a rich market for whistleblowing as a movie theme. America has popularized throughout the world its love affair with truth-seeking underdogs going up against corrupt power brokers at the top. One can’t help but ask, however, if the whistleblowers depicted by Hollywood are more the aberration than the rule. Truth tellers in the real America are more often despised than revered. For every truth teller that prevails against the lies and crimes of the establishment, how many are destroyed? How many end up having their careers ruined? How many end up burned out, alienated from their families, abandoned by fair-weather friends, institutionalized, medicated, criminalized, or worse?
In Hollywood fiction the whistleblower as well as the Superhero champion the cause of the oppressed. In happy Hollywood endings these friends of the subjugated always prevail. They emerge from combat triumphant, bringing America back to its mission as humanity’s fountainhead of truth and justice for all. This dramatic storyline has resonated over decades for a reason.
There was a time in America when this Hollywood mythology had some basis in truth. This not-so-distant era goes back to a time when competent career professionals like Hank Hughes could, like many millions of other Americans, do their job with security, respect, and collegiality. Mr. Hughes could protect transportation safety by working methodically with expert colleagues to investigate airplane crashes unimpeded by the FBI, the CIA and the more concealed interventions of the Navy and the White House. The professional integrity of vital agencies like those dealing with transportation safety was held to be paramount.
As the great disjuncture of 9/11 approached, however, the distance between fact and myth widened. As the national security state’s devotion to deception and concealment spread, America’s mythological embrace of truth tellers became increasingly problematic. After 9/11 the myth became an outright lie and the culture of deception became the norm.
There can be no mistaking that some of the most unrelenting and accomplished whistleblowers of our times have been blacklisted and ruthlessly smeared by the big media cartels. Among the many examples of malevolent maltreatment that immediately come to mind are the mainstream media’s abuses of Jim Sanders and Jack Cashill with their pioneering investigative work on Flight 800, and of Professor David Ray Griffin with his ten scholarly books on 9/11. The outcome of such smear campaigns is that civil public discourse on many taboo subjects, but especially 9/11, ceases to be possible.
The truth tellers are blocked from access to those supposedly democratic arenas where the big decisions of life and death, war and peace, are made. The entry points to these closely guarded venues of amplified public discussion are controlled by gate keepers whose exclusion of, for instance, “9/11 Truthers” effectively constrains free speech. At worst the persecuted and excluded truth tellers are destroyed. At best “conspiracy theorists,” “truthers” and other demonized whistleblowers are permitted to engage in some sort of new-fangled virtual free speech in digital enclaves reserved for monitoring their thoughts and activities.
This special category of dissident is considered high up the scale of national security risks. Those so categorized are placed only one step below being labeled as terrorists. The closer a particular truth teller comes to exposing the content and location of the national security state’s most coveted secrets, the more endangered he or she becomes. After more than a decade of sustained cover-up, there can be no question that 9/11 is the pandora’s box of the national security state.
Those public intellectuals who know what’s good for their careers, their reputations, social mobility, and continued access to grants, consultant contracts, and influential venues of mass communications have learned to avoid any mention of 9/11 that strays beyond permissible frames of reference. Better yet for the careerists is to avoid the forbidden 9/11 subject altogether. Commentators of the left and the right are encouraged to divide world history into pre-9/11 and post 9/11 periods without delving too deeply into the substance of what actually happened during those hours when the geopolitics of global relations were transformed. The term, 9/11, is repeated as if there is some consensus about what it means, when, in reality, almost every aspect of this history-altering event is subject to contestation.
Not only has the original narrative of 9/11 been retained but the myths to which it has given rise have been reinforced with a whole series of new national security concoctions, mixing some elements of truth with ample portions of deception in officialdom’s accounts of terrorism on the rise. First the imagery of the falling Twin Towers gave way to warnings of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Then came, to mention only a few, the train bombings in Spain in 2004, the 7/7 tube bombings in London in 2005, the Mumbia attacks of 2008, the seizure of the underwear bomber in 2009, the Benghazi attacks of 2012, and the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013.
As the Global War on Terror gathered momentum we were presented with a deluge of hateful imagery depicting Arab and Islamic bad guys, bearded devils in elaborate headgear sporting high-tech weaponry. In this freak show on a global stage Osama bin Laden, who was initially depicted as the civilized world’s most dangerous enemy, magically morphed through a quick slight-of-hand into Saddam Hussein. Somehow Hussein was made to replace bin Laden as the most deserving target of flag-waving Americans seeking revenge for the martyrdom of the innocent 9/11 victims.
After putting aside bin Laden and executing Saddam, the national security state then dragged Khalid Shaikh Mohammed from the dank confines of US torture chambers. Khalid was introduced to the American people as “the mastermind of 9/11.” The 9/11
Two propaganda images of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed presenting stereotypical representations of Islamic terrorism. The 9/11 Commission described Khalid as “the mastermind of 9/11.” The 9/11 Commission came to its conclusions about Khalid based on testimony obtained through torture.
Commission had bestowed this title on him based on information obtained through multiple rounds of torture at Guantanamo Bay. “Intelligence” gained through torture is notoriously unreliable. Most people subjected to torture will admit to anything when presented with a promise that harsh inflictions of pain and humiliation will stop. Moreover, torture has quite rightly been included in the big leagues of domestic and international crime. Those who inflict torture and those who order its infliction are subject to a very high order of legal punishment reserved for culprits that commit such terrible acts of barbarity.
The plan of holding a New York show trial for Khalid and several supposed underlings was set aside. Instead, the Obama administration marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11 by announcing the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, supposedly by US Navy SEALs. News of this macabre victory sparked many ghoulish celebrations in the United States. In the days that followed we learned how the ultimate mastermind of all Islamic terrorists had apparently been shot dead in an Abbottabad compound, apparently without any attempt to take this supposed keeper of many secrets into custody for careful interrogation.
If the government’s explanation of 9/11 and the Global War on Terror was founded in fact, it would have made far more sense for the US Armed Forces to have spared Osama bin Laden’s life as the most important source of information in the in the world on the subject of Islamic jihad. If bin Laden was in fact who he was described to be by the procession of the national security experts put in front of the camera in the media feeding frenzy immediately following the 9/11 attacks, then capturing al-Qaeda’s leader alive would have amounted to the biggest score ever in US military history.
The decision to murder such a person rather than to apprehend him for questioning could be condemned as one of the most conspicuous errors of judgment in the history of intelligence gathering. Public credulity was stretched farther yet with the announcement that the overlords of the national security state had opted to get rid of bin Laden’s body through burial at sea. This ritual was enacted we were told to respect Islamic “procedures”.
With the imagined corpse of bin Laden now secreted away in the depths of the Indian Ocean, the opportunity was opened for the Obama administration to put its own Democratic Party brand on the national security state’s continuation of George Bush’s Global War on Terror. In the autumn of 2011 the US Armed Forces and its NATO allies targeted the regime of Libya’s longstanding president, Muammar Gadaffi. Gadaffi’s local assassins were showered with US and French weaponry as Libya’s oil wealth was reapportioned to an A-list of national security state oilmen. The regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was then targeted for demolition. In the effort to break up Syria through civil war, some reports began to depict al-Qaeda in much the same light as when the alleged culprits of 9/11 were founded, funded and armed by the CIA to advance US objectives in Afghanistan.
News of most of these international stories emanated from the interpretive efforts of embedded reporters specially vetted, trained, and cultivated by the Public Relations experts of the national security state. Future historians will be able to see easily the huge biases of the embedded journalists’ record of America’s showdown with the demonic forces of Islamic terror. This documentary record of conflict will constitute a huge case study in a new genre of war propaganda. With a few exceptions, this propaganda profiled the enemy largely in ethnic and religious terms. The most vicious forms of caricatures and stereotypes were deployed to mobilize public antipathy towards an ill-defined enemy.
The psychological operations of the Global War on Terror present a picture of “the West” as a cultural inheritance rooted exclusively in the Judeo-Christian heritage. The Judeo-Christian West is portrayed as an endangered entity menaced by the infiltration and attacks of aberrant Islamic extremists. The communist enemy was thus replaced with the “Islamacist” enemy. The term, “Islamacist,” is a new propaganda meme deployed by Daniel Pipes and others to indicate that Muslims have produced an in ideology similar to that of former fascist, communist, or anarchist enemies. It is no accident that the term “Islamacist” resembles “conspiracist,” another made-to-order term introduced as part of the national security state’s psychological operations on the home front of the 9/11 Wars.
Compared with the severity of the international crimes committed after 9/11 in the name of the Global War on Terror, the subject of a dishonest federal investigation of the Flight 800 crash might appear at first glance like a rather prosaic subject for a documentary film. But first impressions can be deceiving. From 1996 until today, the Flight 800 scandal presents genuine skeptics with a very significant point of entry into the study of the inner workings of the national security state. The relationship between passenger airliners, terrorism, national security, eyewitnesses, and the media’s shaping of public perceptions would emerge as a nexus of central importance in the events of September 11, 2001 that followed.
The federal role in the Flight 800 fiasco provided the national security state with a living laboratory for its operatives. The convergence of people, interests, and institutions provided a test in how far the agents of national security could go in pushing agencies like the NTSB and the big media conglomerates to replace truths with pseudo-truths in service to power. The decision to call in the CIA helped signal where the activities of deep state politics were pointed. The shape of much larger misrepresentations to come was foreshadowed in the willingness of so many in positions of authority to go along with the NOT A MISSILE scenario in spite of so much hard and soft evidence to the contrary.
Spin Doctors and National Security
As Kristina Borjesson and her resolute band of whistleblowers clearly demonstrate in TWA Flight 800, the evidence is overwhelming that the priorities of “national security” won out over other considerations like passenger safety, the integrity of mainstream media, and the capacity of citizens to feel some confidence in the honesty of government. Can this hierarchy of priorities be reversed to push back the ascendant claims of national security?
If the federal government of the United States cannot come up with a credible, evidence-based explanation of the crash of TWA Flight 800, how can we expect genuine investigations on so many other matters crying out for authoritative explanation. We live in an era where the pace of change is accelerating in ways that are unprecedented. We will need responses to many crises and challenges looming on the horizon that are nuanced and sophisticated and not held back by hostile word blocks such as “conspiracy theorist.”
Consider, for instance, the necessity of dealing with the substance of matters like climate change, the political economy of alternative energy sources, and the need to reconfigure the global economy in ways that apportion wealth more fairly. The need for authoritative investigations and proposals for action in areas such as these requires that we return to methods of inquiry that put scientific method and adherence to the imperatives of universal truth in the forefront of the process. We need to develop a new politics of truth and transparency in a rejuvenated sphere of public policy that subdues the national security state’s core preoccupation with secrecy, deception and war.
The Global War on Terror steals attention and resources away from issues that should be in the forefront of national and international politics. We are being held hostage to a politics of acrimony and fear that prevents us from organizing to realize a more lofty agenda of health and restoration. The delusion that terror can be vanquished through high-tech violence is maintained by armies of well-funded spin doctors. These propagandists for war fill the airwaves and print media with surreal and fantasmagorical imagery of determined American warriors combatting the evil of Arab and Islamic jihadists.
This military Crusade is falsely presented as the key to a better, safer and more democratic world. The delusional character of this mythology is being brought to light by the revelations of whistleblowers like William Binney and Edward Snowden. As they have revealed by breaking free from the regime of lies and deception that employed them, something very different than a war on Islamic jihad is taking place in the inner sanctums of the national security state.
William Binney quit the National Security Agency (NSA) shortly after 9/11 when the huge surveillance facility shifted its data collecting capacities from spying on foreign populations to spying on basically everyone inside and outside the United States. A former Chair of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Analysis Reporting Group, Binney exposed the national security state’s massive program of domestic surveillance. Binney’s revelation was confirmed and expanded by Edward Snowden, who went into exile in Hong Kong and Russia after blowing the whistle on what he had learned as an employee of the NSA’s contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton.
William Binney resigned from his high-ranking position at the National Security Agency after his employer violated scores of US laws in the post-911 period. Binney speaks openly of the assault of the US government on the privacy rights of US citizens.
The proceedings against Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and many recent whistleblowers fired by the administration of US President Barack Obama is the subject of a film by Robert Greenwald. It is entitled War on Whistle Blowers: Free Press and the National Security State. In discussing this documentary with the hosts of Democracy Now, Greenwald points out that the administration of Barack Obama has fired more whistleblowers in the federal government than all previous US presidents put together. This “crackdown” Greenwald asserts, “is very deeply connected to the growth and power of the national security state, which believes completely in secrets.”
As investigative reporter Chris Hedges sees it, the war of the national security state on whistleblowers is making “impossible” the “investigation into the inner workings of government” on virtually any subject, from 9/11, to the demise of TWA Flight 800, to the role of Pentagon-Wall Street connections in banking scams. Drawing on the authority of national security agencies to deploy deception and illusion in order to protect secrets, many cloak-and-dagger enterprises thrive under the radar screen of legal accountability.
Some federal contractors are effectively extended licenses to murder and steal with impunity in the privatized post-9/11 terror economy. The veils of national security effectively shield and hide the perpetration of many major crimes outside and inside government. NSA whistleblower William Binney has commented, for instance, on the propensity of members of the US executive branch, including President George Bush, “to highly classify evidence of the extreme impeachable crimes they were committing.”
The increasingly authoritarian power asserted by officials acting in the name of national security is cutting off public access to many vital repositories of accurate information on a great variety of subjects. This shutting down of access to reliable information is like denying the life-giving flow of oxygen to the lungs of democracy.
Kristina Borjesson’s TWA Flight 800 presents an illuminating case study of how vital information brought forward by eyewitnesses and by experts in the field of aviation safety was subordinated to the politics of deceptiveness that characterize the operations of the national security state. The same patterns ascertainable in the sacrifice of the imperatives of airline safety to those of “national security” are being replicated across a broad spectrum of fields, from medicine to education to communications to financial services. In this fashion the demands of the permanent war economy continue to victimize truth at every turn. The economy of never ending war, commodified fear, and unfettered corporatism continues to engulf the remnants of a mixed political economy formerly devoted, in part at least, to the rights, interests, and wellbeing of civilian populations. In the empire of fear and deception, the pursuit of truth becomes treason.
By revisiting the dire problems attending the NTSB’s original investigation of the Flight 800 crash, perhaps Borjesson’s documentary can provide a beachhead of honest investigation and common sense in a rising tide of officially-sanctioned lies. To right the wrongs of a sabotaged investigation into an airline crash seems as good a place as any to begin the arduous work of attempting to win back turf for the heritage of the Enlightenment.
In fighting to regain the basis of a society valorizing reason, rationality, scientific method, transparency, and the accountability of governors to the governed, we need to push back the feudal forces manipulating fear and superstition in the name of the national security state’s fraudulent Global War on Terror. Only thus can the tiny group manipulating us from above be dethroned from their place of enormous privilege and entitlement that projects into the twenty-first century many features of the divine right of kings.
TWA Flight 800 Directed by Kristina Borjesson
Produced by Tom Stalcup and Kristina Borjesson
Distributed by Lionsgate Movies
and Epix Premium Television Channel