sitemap Thoughts on Kallstrom's Departure from F.B.I.

I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair

"I cried all the way to the bank"

Liberace: An Autobiography (1973)


"We do have information that there was something in the sky. A number of people have seen it. A number of people have described it similarly. It was ascending."

This statement by James Kallstrom regarding TWA Flight 800 was to become quite a common theme back in the good old days of the summer and autumn of 1996. A couple of months after the TWA downing there was a carbon copy attack which occurred on November 16, 1996 involving Pakistan International Airlines Flight 712 Leaving Kennedy at 9:25pm, bound for Frankfurt. The pilot, W. Shah, said his co-pilot saw an orange light coming from the left hand side to the right hand side of the airplane. The object was 3 - 4 miles in front of the aircraft and above it. Shah was told by Boston controllers that there were no military exercises in the area. Boston apparently confirmed two 'unidentified blips' on radar. The object rose directly out of Long Island Sound and ascended almost vertically. The Pakistani crew just saw a flash, but apparently a TWA crew, which was behind the Pakistani aircraft saw the whole thing. The TWA crew was so alarmed by what they had just seen that they considered returning to JFK. Later, they requested clearance to skirt the area where the light had been seen. Radio 5 in the U.K. reported that the object which crossed the Pakistani aircraft had exploded. On a subsequent McNeill - Lehrer newshour there was a lot of discussion about "meteor showers" as there is today about an "ignition source" in TWA 800's center fuel tank but when asked about the direction that the object was travelling, Mr. Kallstrom replied, "ascending".

A truthful response from an honorable man.  Yet, though we have all heard the expression "meteoric rise", they don't!

Mr. Kallstrom had his suspicions and he went looking ......

August 23, 1996   NY Times
Stinger missiles from Afghanistan might have made their way into the U.S. was a long-standing assumption within law enforcement circles. The presence on the crash scene of officials with the National Security Agency and the Defense intelligence Agency reinforced in some minds that there might have been some intercepted intelligence regarding a missile attack.... Mr. Kallstrom ordered his agents to research the Mistral, a French-made missile that could be launched from a tripod and that would have had the range capability.

It wasn't really surprising that he would look for a Mistral since Mistral weapons seem to have been lying around in Maryland .....

October 11, 1994 Associated Press report datelined 09/28 23:55 EDT V0009 (1994)
A State bomb squad destroyed a French-made surface to air rocket launcher armed with a live missile and explosives ....along a rural roadside in Westminster, Maryland. (Note from author - The object was actually an anti-tank weapon)

And Congress was concerned about Mistral missiles ......

July 10, 1997 The Subcommittee on Aviation Hearing "Status of the Investigation of the Crash of TWA 800 and the Proposal Concerning the Death on the High Seas Act"
Despite a massive and costly recovery and investigative effort by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FBI, the cause of the crash has not yet been pinpointed. .... Originally, the conventional wisdom was that the crash was caused by a terrorist attack. This explanation was supported by witnesses who said that they saw a streak of light in the sky, considered to be a missile, heading towards the plane just before it exploded. .....So far, no terrorist group or person has come forward with a credible claim of responsibility. Some people argue that the absence of any claim does not rule out terrorism as a possible cause. They say that terrorists today seem more reluctant to identify themselves as the perpetrators of specific acts because the impunity which they once enjoyed in many parts of the world has disappeared. ...... Investigators have apparently concluded that the plane crashed because its center fuel tank exploded. But they are still not sure why. They have generally stated that there are three possible explanations - a missile, a bomb, or mechanical failure..... The proponents of the missile theory suggest that a missile fired either by the U.S. Navy or a terrorist hit the plane. This theory remains under consideration because of the number of eyewitness accounts from people who said they saw something in the sky. For example, Capt. Chris Baur, a civilian pilot for U.S. customs, repeatedly told investigators that he saw a missile strike the plane. Because of his clear view from his helicopter and his military training, Baur's account is one of the most credible. Proponents allege that radar tapes show a projectile heading toward the TWA aircraft. Also, they point to red residue on a section of seats which could be rocket fuel. Proponents suggest that in the reconstruction of the aircraft, there is an opening on the right side of the fuselage which was caused by a missile. Opponents of the missile theory, including NTSB officials, have provided the following arguments against the missile theory:

•The radar tapes showing a projectile might not be authentic; •The dot on the authentic radar tapes thought to be a missile is in fact a Navy P-3 plane in the area at the time; •The red residue on the seats is glue; •The red residue is not rocket propellant because chemicals found in rocket propellant that would be there are missing; •What witnesses believed to be a missile was actually parts of the falling plane or a stream of flaming jet fuel from a ruptured fuel tank on the plane's right wing.

According to investigators, the initial explosion in the center fuel tank caused the fuselage of the plane to separate, but the rest of the plane continued to fly with all four engines running, spewing a trail of flaming jet fuel. Even if a missile did not strike the jet, it is still possible that a missile, exploding near the plane, could have ignited the center fuel tank. Tests have been conducted to study this possibility. Some proponents of the missile theory believe terrorists were responsible. These terrorists might have hit the aircraft with a missile launched from a vehicle or a boat. Intelligence and law enforcement officials have become concerned that terrorists could use hand-held anti-aircraft missiles to attack civilian airliners. While many experts believe Flight 800 was out of the range of the American-made Stinger missile, there are some foreign surface-to air missiles that reportedly have the capability of shooting a plane at 13,800 feet. One of these missiles that has been mentioned is the French-made Mistral. The Mistral has been sold to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries with growing Islamic fundamentalist movements. Also, there is a series of Soviet missiles that could have been used to hit the plane, including the SA14, SA16, and SA18.

Kallstrom knew the terrorist threat well and was not reluctant to discuss it .....

December 12, 1996    Associated Press
The new, more violent face of terrorism in the 1990s can be summed up in a single word - 'revenge' - an FBI assistant director (Kallstrom) said in a speech at a synagogue Tuesday.

But then as the evidence began to strengthen .....Kallstrom began to weaken ....

March 10, 1997     The Associated Press
Newly disclosed evidence "points to a missile" .... the Press-Enterprise reported today. The evidence includes reddish residue found on several seat backs that laboratory analysis showed to be "consistent with solid missile fuel" ingredients. .... James Kallstrom ...confirming that the reddish residue was found on seats (denied) that it had anything to do with missiles. "There's a logical explanation but I'm not going to get into it," Kallstrom said.

Though the conversion was not yet complete ......

March 13, 1997    The Associated Press
The FBI agent in charge of the TWA Flight 800 investigation acknowledged for the first time Thursday that the plane could have been brought down by a shoulder-fired terrorist missile. But so far, there is no evidence to prove that theory, James Kallstrom said. "This terrible, terrible tragedy was not caused by our military" ...... Kallstrom said that it is "technically possible'' a terrorist using a shoulder-fired, Stinger-type missile could have caused the tragedy, and he said investigators are examining that possibility ........ he noted that similar missiles have been used to down more than 25 commercial planes over the past two decades in places such as Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. ..... "There were too many people who describe strange events like flares and streaks of light in the sky'' to ignore the missile possibility",  Kallstrom said.

But waffling was not allowed; James had to come down on the correct side ....

March 16, 1997      The Tribune Review
Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom ..... has categorically denied the Press-Enterprise claims that a red residue found on the plane's seats .....came from rocket fuel. The FBI chief says the residue is equally consistent with the chemical composition of the glue that held the aircraft's seats together. The sequencing report noted that wreckage found from the front of the plane's fuselage - including dozens of bodies and passenger seats from rows 17 through 19 - were ejected from the plane first ....The sequencing report demonstrated that more than 4,700 feet after this initial debris was found, the front section of the plane broke off and fell. At about that time, the center fuel tank erupted, causing the rest of the plane to spiral into the ocean. The trail of wreckage clearly shows that the initial event that caused the crash was not the explosion of the center fuel tank...... the FBI has only ruled out that a U.S. Navy ship or other government "asset" destroyed the American civilian airliner. If it was a missile, and if it was not fired by a U.S. ship, who did it?........

So Mr. Kallstrom began his retreat under cover of the C.I.A .....

September 18, 1997    The Associated Press
Investigators have detailed anew in letters to Congress that there is no evidence that TWA Flight 800 was brought down by a bomb or missile. "The likelihood of finding such evidence in the future is becoming more and more remote,'' Peter Golsch, spokesman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said today. ..... The letters from Kallstrom and the NTSB were sent to Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., about two weeks ago in response to questions of members of Duncan's House aviation subcommittee after a hearing in July. Asked whether the plane could have been brought down by a missile exploding near it, Kallstrom said: "A conventional or shoulder launched missile exploding in close proximity to and penetrating the skin and various layers of structure of the aircraft would leave distinctive markings as well as fragmentation patterns on the skin of the aircraft. Examination of the recovered pieces of the aircraft, particularly the skin, has not found the markings and fragmentation patterns that would be characteristic of the warheads of large conventional or shoulder launched missiles.'' Kallstrom added that tests indicated that if a missile exploded near the plane, a fragment penetrating as far as the center fuel tank would no longer "have sufficient energy to create a spark to cause an explosion.'' Also, a missile exploding nearby would have left pieces big enough to have been found in the ocean with the plane's wreckage, he said. The FBI, which is responsible for determining whether the disaster was the result of a criminal act, and CIA are still doing "a sophisticated and detailed'' analysis of 200 witness accounts, Kallstrom said. He said this involves new interviews with some of them and "correlation of the witness locations and what they described seeing and hearing with known information, such as the radar trackings the aircraft and the information from the cockpit recorders.'' The analysis would take an additional 30 to 45 days, he said. In Washington, Duncan said he had no quarrel with what the investigators were doing, but added that he was "not entirely satisfied at this point. There have been numerous people who have raised concerns and questions about what happened to this plane and I think that all of those concerns need to be examined before we say this is all there is,'' Duncan said.

Whether Congress is satisfied or not does not appear to be the point. Elected officials should stick to talking about who had coffee at the White House and calling one another scumbags. Why talk about who is shooting at American aircraft especially when the C.I.A is available to "cull" eyewitness accounts .....

September 22, 1997    Aviation Week & Space Technology
CIA analysts assisting the FBI have spent more than seven month culling eyewitness acounts ... of TWA 800, and outside consultants have scoured the wreckage ...but those efforts have found no evidence that the 747 was downed by a missile, a senior FBI official (Kallstrom) has told Congress. "There is no evidence that a missile fragment could have penetrated the layers of aircraft structure to the center fuel tank and still have sufficient energy to create a spark to cause an explosion," he asserted. Missile debris from such a proximity hit "would be a lot larger than if the missile had actually impacted the aircraft and would, logically, equate to a greater possibility of recovering a piece of missile debris greater than 1 -2 in. in diameter. None of the pieces recovered and identified to date came from a missile," Kallstrom wrote. FBI agents in recent weeks have been working with government and industry safety investigators and aerospace manufacturers to identify a number of pieces of metal recovered from Flight 800's debris fields on the floor of the Atlantic.

And then the final act before the final curtain .....

November 12, 1997    The Associated Press
The FBI has told families of victims of TWA Flight 800 that it "has found absolutely no evidence'' of a crime and is suspending its probe into the disaster, the father of one victim told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Michel Breistroff of Paris, whose 25-year-old son was one of the 230 people who died in the July 1996 crash, said he received the letter Wednesday from James Kallstrom, the FBI assistant director who headed the criminal probe. Kallstrom told families, "I must report to you ... that our investigation has found absolutely no evidence to cause us to believe that the TWA Flight 800 tragedy was the result of a criminal act,'' according to Breistroff, who read the letter to the AP during a phone interview .... The FBI plans a news conference next week to issue a comprehensive report on the criminal probe's findings, a law-enforcement source said. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation are expected to attend. .... Kallstrom's letter, according to Breistroff, said the FBI's sole mission was to determine "with a high degree of certainty'' if there was any evidence of a criminal act, and if so, "to bring those responsible to justice.'' Breistroff, who lost his son Michel in the crash, said he and other family members overseas now plan a campaign to have all 747s grounded. "This plane is obviously a dangerous plane,'' he said. "It took investigators all these months and all these millions of dollars to tell us that. Therefore the plane should be forbidden to fly.''

James ran out of things to do! But his swan song included a farewell video telling all who would believe that eyewitnesses are not witnesses and what the eyewitnesses saw couldn't possibly explain the 1,400 holes ......

November 19, 1997   New York Times
The FBI provided an unusual public explanation Tuesday of how it had become convinced that the crash was not the result of sabotage. The centerpiece of the presentation was a computer- generated videotaped reconstruction of the crash, produced by the CIA, that sought to explain the reports of 244 witnesses who said they saw ascending lights before the plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. ....... James K. Kallstrom, the head of the New York office of the FBI, said the FBI's decision to suspend its investigation "is based solely on the overwhelming absence of evidence indicating a crime, and the lack of any leads that could bear on the issue. In fact, we ran out of things to do.". ..... In fact, Kallstrom said, most people who believed they saw a missile were actually seeing different stages of the fiery breakup of the aircraft. And after the plane first exploded, blowing off the cockpit and front section of the fuselage, the flaming rear section zoomed upward several thousand feet, giving some witnesses the impression that a missile was rising in the sky, Kallstrom said. ...... Representatives of TWA and the plane's manufacturer, Boeing Corp., said Tuesday there was no indication of any flaws, either in Flight 800 or in 747s in general. James Brown, a spokesman for TWA, added that investigators had found no sign of a human error leading to the explosion and crash. "At this point we're satisfied with all our procedures," he said. "The FBI even noted that our security and baggage handling procedures on Flight 800 were flawless." Despite Kallstrom's presentation, Pierre Salinger, the journalist who last year publicly embraced the theory that a U.S. military missile had struck the plane, said he would await the results of the safety board's investigation. "I have talked to Kallstrom," he said, "I said I wasn't going to be talking about it any more. But I still believe what I said was true." ..... Kallstrom said, for example, that forensic experts had analyzed more than 1,400 holes in the many layers of metal in the recovered pieces of the plane, determining their relationship with each other in hopes finding a telltale path through which a missile or other object might have moved.

A question arose about a red residue ....

Some were charged with possessing a piece of fabric from the wreckage that was sent for testing and which apparently contained residue from a missile ......

December 10, 1997    The New York Times
...James Sanders, published a book saying his investigation concluded that the plane was brought down by a missile. Tuesday, he and his wife, Elizabeth Sanders, a 51-year-old flight training supervisor for the airline, were in Federal District Court here to answer charges of illegal possession of parts of the wreckage ..... Sanders wrote that tests of the fabric helped confirm that a missile had caused the jetliner to explode. .... Schlanger said, "The action which the government has taken with respect to the Sanderses, in choosing to invoke a relatively new statute which was clearly intended to prevent looting of an aircraft and not situations like those at hand, is unconstitutionally chilling to the concept of a free press and certainly does nothing to alleviate the suspicions of many concerning the possibility of a government cover-up."

While James was not charged with possessing a piece of fabric from the wreckage that was donated to family members and which apparently contained only the "sand of the sea" .....

August 12, 1996   People Magazine

During a July 27 eulogy for Janet Christopher, Kallstrom presented her husband, Charlie, and the couple's only son, Charles, 12, with a small flag recovered from the submerged wreckage of Flight 800. "It's dirty. It has the sand of the sea on it," said Kallstrom.

Then the waffling began again - the red residue was declared to be "glue".  But just in case it wasn't, nobody was permitted to discuss it, and the eyewitnesses were not to be permitted to talk lest they discredit themselves and any future investigation with their blatherings .....

December 5, 1997
Responding to pressure from the FBI on the eve of the first public forum on the explosion of TWA Flight 800, the National Transportation Safety Board has canceled the discussion of eyewitness accounts and explosive residue at the five-day hearing into the cause of the crash. After an exchange of letters Wednesday between Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom and NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, the safety board eliminated scheduled sessions on the accounts and pulled a screening of the CIA video re-creation of the crash, according to a copy of Hall's letter obtained yesterday. Reacting to Kallstrom's concerns that the information would hinder any revived criminal probe, the safety board also agreed to cut discussions of explosive residue found on the plane's seats during the hearings, which are set to begin Monday in Baltimore. In effect, the concessions redress all the objections set forth in Kallstrom's four-page letter to Hall. And it once again highlighted the discord between the two agencies. Despite the fact that the FBI publicly concluded their criminal probe of the July 17, 1996, crash in which all 230 passengers died, Kallstrom warned Hall away from "the use of any of the 244 eyewitness [accounts] ... or summaries prepared ... by the NTSB." And he said that experts scheduled to analyze the eyewitness testimony "could complicate our efforts if the criminal investigation were to be reactivated. Until the NTSB has definitively determined an accidental cause for the crash, I believe it is prudent to withhold from public disclosure or discussion the identities of witnesses and the raw investigative details of the criminal investigation," Kallstrom wrote in his letter. Since declaring that investigators found no evidence of sabotage in the tragedy, Kallstrom has consistently said the probe is not closed, opting to characterize it as inactive. In his letter to Hall, he conceded that the possibility of rekindling the criminal query is "remote." In a two-page response to the FBI objections, Hall told Kallstrom that he didn't "see any fundamental disagreement between our agencies." And while he said he would comply with the "general objections" he said he was "compelled to deny certain of your specific objections." Those elements were not spelled out in the letter however, and FBI officials could not be reached yesterday. Declining to comment further, Hall issued a statement yesterday, saying that he would honor the FBI's positions but that the NTSB would continue as planned to "discuss its work done outside the criminal investigative process -- including that work which overlaps in substance, such as wreckage documentation and the examination of any and all potential ignition sources." The revision of the hearings, which are meant to present the NTSB's findings on the crash off Long Island, cancels testimony by two experts, including Elizabeth Loftus, a University of Washington psychology professor whose studies call into question the accuracy of eyewitness accounts, according to sources. Loftus could not be reached yesterday. But the message on her answering machine said she that she would be in Baltimore this weekend. In his letter, Kallstrom said that "I believe that the presentation of expert testimony that could cast doubt on the eyewitness' veracity does not further the accident investigation."

So he left the 'Federal Bureau of the Not-Obvious' renowned for his characterization of terrorists who bomb airliners as "cowardly scum".

December 10, 1997  The New York Times
James Kallstrom, the FBI official in New York who tracked down terrorists, mobsters and swindlers but who will probably be best remembered for his criminal inquiry into the explosion that blew apart TWA Flight 800, said Tuesday that he would retire from the bureau to take a job in the private sector. The 54-year-old ex-marine said he would probably have retired earlier had it not been for the lengthy investigation into the Flight 800 disaster, which killed all 230 people on board. Strongly suspecting that the cause was a bomb or missile, Kallstrom led an exhaustive investigation that lasted 16 months and involved more than 1,000 agents. Ultimately, he said, the investigation disproved his initial hunches. .... "Imagine the notion of us looking for the obvious things in an investigation and not finding them and sort of vacating the scene," Kallstrom said at the time. "We're the Federal Bureau of Total Investigation," he added, "not the Federal Bureau of the Obvious." .... Kallstrom said that he would become a senior executive vice president of MBNA Corp. of Wilmington, Del., which is the nation's second-largest credit card company after Citicorp, with 25 million accounts and receivables of $46 billion. ... it was Kallstrom's blunt, no-nonsense approach to investigations that inspired loyalty from agents and the public. While sometimes criticized as being in the spotlight too often, he felt comfortable with reporters, and could be relied upon for a colorful quote at a news conference. When Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and two others were convicted for plotting to blow up American commercial airliners in the Philippines, Kallstrom described them as "cowardly scum."

June 15, 1998    The Associated Press
CBS News has hired the chief investigtor into the TWA Flight 800 explosion
to be a law enforcement consultant, the network said Monday. James Kallstrom, the former FBI assistant director in charge of the New York City office, retired from the FBI after 28 years last December. He headed the probe into the Flight 800 disaster, which killed 230 people in July 1996. "He will add significant insight to CBS News' coverage of stories and issues involving law enforcement and will be a major asset in our dedication to enterprise reporting in that area," said Al Ortiz, CBS vice president and Washington bureau chief. Kallstrom is currently senior executive vice president of MBNA America Bank.

And he left Mr Francis and his NTSB colleagues still looking for their command center....

July 14, 1997     Washington Post
The FBI already had a mobile command center on site and more agents working the case than the entire NTSB had staff. Francis complained about the NTSB's limitations. "We don't have a mobile command center we can just order up," one official quoted the NTSB vice chairman as saying.   Kallstrom exploded: "You want a command center? Is that what you need? Tommy [speaking to Thomas J. Pickard, head of national security investigations] get him a command center."

So I'm gonna wash that man right outa my hair and send him on his way!