The Hull Thread
Chronology of Events From October 1997 - December 1997
October 1, 1997 The Press Enterprise
Federal investigators improperly seized phone records of a leading critic of the TWA 800 crash probe, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday. But now Attorney General Janet Reno has given her blessing to a new subpoena seeking a second batch of records from freelance journalist James Sanders. The new demand for phone records indicates the investigation is continuing into possible obstruction of justice charges against the man who reported the existence of red residue on fabric of seats recovered from the jumbo jet ...... Sanders' attorney, Jeff Schlanger of New York, said authorities had not consulted with him or his client about phone records before either subpoena. Sanders on Wednesday called the subpoenas "harassment." "I had and continue to have a constitutional right to investigate federal wrongdoing," Sanders said. Sanders, the author of the book "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," believes that a Navy missile struck the Paris-bound jetliner July 17, 1996. ... Sanders says evidence given to him by crash investigators showed that a missile with an inert warhead pierced the right side of the Boeing 747 and passed out the left side, breaching the center fuel tank in the process. The evidence included pieces of seat material embedded with a reddish residue that contained elements consistent with solid rocket fuel, according to independent non-government tests and analysts. .... Shortly after Sanders' information was published in The Press-Enterprise on March 10, the FBI disclosed it was investigating him for suspected obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence from an aircraft accident..... Sanders has co-authored two non-fiction books about missing American prisoners of war from 20th-century conflicts: "Soldiers of Misfortune" in 1992 and "The Men We Left Behind" in 1993. He has appeared before Congress as an expert witness about POW issues.
October 9, 1997 New York Times
Airlines around the world will begin inspecting their planes' fuel tanks for conditions that could cause an explosion like the one that destroyed TWA Flight 800, the airlines and plane manufacturers announced Wednesday. The airlines, which plan to pool the data from the inspections, are still emphatically resisting the argument by the National Transportation Safety Board that the way to prevent future explosions may be to insulate the tanks to keep them cool, or to inject inert gases into the tanks. ........ The airlines are adamant that the equipment currently in use is safe .....The airlines made their announcement on the second day of a three-day conference here on the safety of transportation fuels. The conference is jointly sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has also been unenthusiastic about the National Transportation Safety Board's ideas...... Hall said that the board's inability to identify the probable cause "masked a very important fact about the(TWA 800) investigation, and that is that we know what happened to the aircraft" -- the center fuel tank exploded.... But airline representatives Wednesday reiterated their contention that until the safety board knows the source of the spark that caused the explosion, or mechanics spot something on a plane that they can identify as a flaw, it is too soon to make any hardware or procedural changes. ..... Airlines and the FAA often differ sharply with the safety board, but this dispute stands in striking contrast to another now taking shape, over the crash of a USAir 737 near Pittsburgh in 1994. In that case, the FAA, Boeing and the airlines appear to agree on safety steps, modifying the rudder assembly, but Boeing still disputes that the rudder was the cause of the crash. In the TWA 800 case, the airlines and manufacturers are disputing the solution even though they generally agree with the safety board that the center fuel tank exploded.
October 10, 1997 4 Jumaada al-awal 1415 A.H. 9
Tishri 5758 (Yom Kippur)
Reported by Associated Press October 11, 1997
Falling like a fireball from the sky, an Argentine airliner crashed and exploded in Uruguay, killing all 75 people aboard, ..... The pilot had been trying to dodge a turbulent storm. The Austral airlines DC-9 all but disintegrated when it slammed into farmland at 11 p.m. Friday near Nuevo Berlin, in eastern Uruguay. It was the deadliest crash ever involving an Argentine airliner. ..... ''The plane hit the ground with a heavy impact and is scattered over a very wide area.'' .....Seventy passengers and five crew members were flying from the northern Argentine city of Posadas to Buenos Aires, said Santiago Garcia, commercial manager of Austral. Officials said most of the victims were Argentine but there were a few Uruguayans and one Swiss. Three infants were among the dead. .... Lt. Col. Walter Garcia, an Uruguayan civil aviation official, told The Associated Press that the storm ''explains only part'' of the accident, but did not elaborate. He said the flight data recorders must be found to help determine the exact cause. The crew had last made contact with the Buenos Aires airport about 40 minutes before the crash and reported changing course to avoid heavy rain and hail, air force spokesman Jorge Carnevalini said. ... Witnesses said the plane was already in flames when it hit the ground and exploded. Roberto Lemos, who was driving to the nearby town of Fray Bentos, said he saw what he thought was a flash of lightning. ''Afterward, I realized it had been a plane.'' Ingrid Bidegain de Bastos, who lives on a nearby farm, described seeing a ''red ball that fell and exploded on hitting the ground.''
October 20, 1997 The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA
A meteorologist. A commercial fisherman. A commuter airline pilot. Three eyewitnesses to the fiery midair breakup of TWA 800 share one clear recollection -- an ascending object struck the jumbo jet. Yet when federal investigators reinterviewed 244 of the more than 400 eyewitnesses to the crash, no agency -- not the FBI or the CIA, not the Federal Aviation Administration or the National Transportation Safety Board -- conducted a follow-up interview with any of the three, whose accounts have not been widely published. Their initial recollections, given within hours of the disaster July17, 1996, remain part of the classified record of the second most deadly aviation crash in U.S. history. "I find it all very intriguing," said Paul Beaver, an editor and missile specialist with Jane's, a British publishing and research group. ..... "From Jane's perspective, we would like to say this leaves the whole question of what happened to TWA 800 in the balance," Beaver said in an interview. The accounts are "an indication that it may be something more than a catastrophic (mechanical) event."
The meteorologist and the airline pilot were among the first people to report the incident to authorities. All three said they talked to FBI agents within 24 hours of the incident. FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette declined to discuss any eyewitness accounts. He said they were part of a continuing investigation. ...... The three witnesses each described colored objects heading upward until they disappeared with the emergence of a large fireball that later was identified as Flight 800. Two, who witnessed events from boats, described speedy flare-like objects while the third, an airline pilot, told of a strange yellow light that he thought might pass near his jetliner. One saw a bright flash before the plane exploded and another saw the plane split into three pieces. Beaver said accounts of a flare-like object, even on a zigzag course, ascending toward the plane are consistent with some types of missiles that use infrared guidance systems. He said a missile's burning solid fuel can emit a reddish glow, with the intensity and duration depending on the specific type of projectile and its purpose. Beaver has been naval editor and aerospace and defense editor for Jane's. He is a pilot, British army reserve officer, has fired air-to-ground missiles and has observed missile tests. A witness' account of how long he saw a reddish streak could be affected by the point in flight he picked up the object, Beaver said. A bright white flash, reported by some witnesses, could be solid fuel exploding, he said. Some military drones, including a Banshee or Firebee, also emit red glows from the exhaust, with visibility depending on the background, Beaver said.
The accident's initiating event probably occurred at 8:31.13 p.m. EDT, NTSB officials say. Near sunset, the background and visibility depended upon whether witnesses faced east or west and their altitude. The FBI investigated orange-colored metal in May that was found among the Flight 800 debris recovered from the Atlantic Ocean off New York's Long Island. Officials said the metal was compared with a Firebee drone -- a stubby, bright orange, jet fighter-shaped unmanned vehicle -- but results of the study have not been made public. ...... Another witness, ex-Air National Guard helicopter pilot Maj. Fred Meyer, was on a routine training flight that evening and said he saw a reddish streak and two aerial explosions -- the first reddish orange and the second bright white -- before Flight 800 erupted into a fireball. He said that, based on his military experience, he believes the airliner was struck by some type of military ordnance but could not be positive it was a missile. His co-pilot, Capt. Chris Baur, said within hours of the incident that he thought a missile brought the plane down. Meyer said he has not been re-interviewed by the FBI since shortly after the crash and Baur is under government orders not to discuss the incident.
Beaver said the eyewitness accounts did not point to a specific missile or provide conclusive proof Flight 800 was brought down by a missile. However, based on the eyewitness accounts, "I wouldn't want to put it (missile) out of the question," Beaver said. "It keeps the debate open, which is just as important". FBI and CIA officials say they have reinterviewed and analyzed reports of 244 witnesses and determined that what the people saw happened after the initiating event and was "the burning (Boeing) 747 in various stages of crippled flight, not a missile." Some investigation analysts say witnesses mistook pressurized sprays of flaming fuel going downward for something that looked like a missile or emergency flare headed upward. All of the witnesses interviewed by The Press-Enterprise said they were never reinterviewed by the FBI or CIA and what they saw started before the midair explosion, not after. Neither the FBI nor the CIA would discuss their guidelines for deciding whom to reinterview or how they categorized witnesses' reliability. (Click for Eyewitness Reports and Witness Reliability Calculations)
October 23, 1997 New York Times
As smoke billowed from the towers of the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993, after a huge blast had torn through the center's garage, a man watched intently from the Jersey City waterfront. The man, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, may have had mixed feelings as he gazed across the Hudson River, a Secret Service agent suggested in testimony in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. While the blast killed six people and injured more than 1,000, Yousef had hoped it would topple one of the Trade Center towers and kill tens of thousands, the agent testified. ..... Secret Service agent, Brian G. Parr, described what he said were Yousef's admissions about his direct role in the bomb plot, his motives and goals, and where he had thought he had failed. "He said it was in retaliation for U.S. aid to Israel," Parr testified at one point. "I asked, why not select Israeli targets? He said Israeli targets were too difficult to attack. He said if you cannot attack your enemy, you should attack the friend of your enemy." ... "He related to us that during World war II the Americans had dropped the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 250,000 civilians, and he said that the Americans would realize if they suffered those types of casualties that they were at war," Parr said. ...... Parr testified that Yousef agreed to talk to him and another agent, Charles Stern of the FBI, on the flight on the condition that they not take notes or record the conversation. During breaks in the interview, the two agents would go to another part of the plane and reconstruct the conversation, writing down their notes, Parr testified. ...... Yousef said he had received financing for the bombing from family members and friends, though he would not elaborate. Had he more money, he said, he would have made "a more efficient bomb." As for the timing of the attack, Parr testified, it was chosen for practical rather than political reasons. "They actually were out of money, and they didn't have enough to pay next month's rent," Parr recounted. "That's how they chose that date." In making his preparations for the bombing, Yousef said that "on four or five occasions he had gone out to rural areas outside of New York, and had done test explosions," the agent said. Although Yousef did not identify the locations, he asked the agents whether residents in those areas may have heard the noises or known of the test explosions, Parr testified. ..... Asked about cyanide found by investigators in a self-storage unit, Yousef said that he had originally considered carrying out "a poison gas attack" on the trade center but decided that it would be "too expensive to implement." .... After the explosion, Yousef said he advised others involved in the plot to leave the country, Parr said Wednesday. The agent also asked Yousef about the decision by one of the plotters, Mohammed Salameh, to return to a Ryder rental agency in Jersey City and ask for a refund of the deposit on the van used in the bombing. "I asked him why Mr. Salameh ever went back to retrieve that $400 deposit," Parr testified, "and he looked at me with a grin and in one word said: 'Stupid.' "
October 23, 1997 New York Times
Delivering his most militant and impassioned speech since his return to Gaza three weeks ago, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the guiding symbol of the militant Islamic movement Hamas, vowed Wednesday not to abandon holy war against Israel. "A nation that does not wage jihad cannot exist," Yassin proclaimed to 3,000 exultant students at Islamic University in Gaza City, using the Islamic term for a holy struggle. "God is with us and Satan with them. We will fight and fight until we regain our rights and our homeland, God willing." ... At the time of his release, the 61-year-old religious leader affirmed the possibility of a truce with Israel, though the terms he set were the stock conditions of past Hamas cease-fire offers, including full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the removal of all Jewish settlements. Israel has never taken these offers seriously. In subsequent interviews and addresses, Yassin has increasingly urged a continued holy war. .... "I want to proclaim loudly to the world that we are not fighting Jews because they are Jews," .... "We are fighting them because they assaulted us, they killed us, they took our land, our homes, our children, our women, they scattered us, we became scattered everywhere, a people without a homeland. We want our rights. We don't want more. We love peace, but they hate the peace, because people who take away the rights of others don't believe in peace. Why should we not fight? We have our right to defend ourselves."
October 25, 1997 New York Times
A power failure that knocked out traffic lights, caused home computers to crash and disrupted the morning for much of San Francisco on Thursday (October 23, 1997 (n)) appears to have been an act of sabotage, the authorities said Friday. .... the power failure was described by utility officials as the worst act of sabotage of a power system in at least a decade. The blackout, starting around 6:15 a.m. and covering a large part of the business district and many residential neighborhoods, was traced to a single substation owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, San Francisco's main power provider. At the substation, officials found that 39 power-control switches had been manually turned in a way that halted the flow of electricity. Whoever caused the blackout would have needed a key to enter the substation and knowledge of how to shut down the system, the authorities said. ...... A counterterrorism task force was involved in the investigation, but officials played down suggestions that the blackout was an act of domestic terrorism. "We are exploring all possibilities," said Bob Griego, an FBI spokesman in the city. "But we have been told there was no mechanical failure, so at this point we're investigating it as an intentional act." .... "It's fair to say it required some expertise to accomplish what was done," said Leonard Anderson, a spokesman for the utility. "What happened was extremely unusual, a rare occurrence." .... The blackout has raised questions about the vulnerability of the 16 substations around San Francisco, all of which are locked but unguarded. ..... this was a very deliberate attempt to knock out power." The power failure came just as the city was stirring to life in the predawn darkness. Coffeepots went off. Electric garage doors remained shut. Lights went off. Power serving 126,000 customers was gone until about 9:45 a.m. in part of downtown and the neighborhoods of North Beach, the Marina, Pacific Heights, the Sunset District and the Richmond District. .... "Except for the earthquake of 1989, I can't recall an outage of similar magnitude," said Tony Novello, enforcement director at the Department of Parking and Traffic. Officials at the electric utility said they could not recall any time in recent memory when such an event left so many people without power. "Sabotage is rather unique," said Eugene Gorzelnik, a spokesman for the North American Electric Reliability Council, a utility organization based in Princeton, N.J. "The few instances, you can probably count them on a couple of fingers."
October 26, 1997 Agence France-Press New York
Iran today derided attempts in Washington to undercut its arms deals with other countries. The Foreign Minister ... castigated the US Congress for its efforts to punish nations found to be helping Iran to build missiles. .... Iranian military officials said... that the country had become the strongest "missile power" in the region and announced the manufacture of missiles, planes and missile-launching boats. Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's former President, said .. that Iran possessed long-rang anti-aircraft missiles able to reach into the Persian Gulf ....
November 11, 1997 The New York Times
A Pakistani immigrant was convicted of murder Monday night for killing two CIA employees stuck in morning rush-hour traffic outside the intelligence agency's Virginia headquarters nearly five years ago.... Mir Amal Kansi, 33, faces a possible death sentence. .... Kansi was captured in June after a four-and-a-half-year search that reached from Washington's suburbs to the mountains of Afghanistan and to the deserts of Pakistan. He was the lone suspect in the killings from the moment he fled the United States after the shootings, which injured three other people on Jan. 25, 1993, outside the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Va. The search for Kansi took place "in the face of often overwhelming difficulties," said William Esposito, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A son of a relatively wealthy family from Quetta, a rugged city bordering Afghanistan, he had eluded an international manhunt that took FBI agents into the lawless Afghan borderlands. His motive, as best it could be determined, was anger at American foreign policy in the Middle East. He was especially furious over the Persian Gulf war and the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, said Special Agent Bradley Garrett of the FBI, who helped arrest Kansi at a cheap hotel in Pakistan and testified against him last week. Kansi, whose surname is also spelled Kasi, gave a detailed confession to the FBI team as they flew to the United States from Pakistan, Garrett testified. Kansi said he believed that the United States and the CIA had too much power over Islamic nations like Pakistan. His hometown was a base for a $3-billion CIA paramilitary operation that was designed to arm the Afghan guerrillas who were fighting off Soviet occupiers during the 1980s. Garrett said Kansi told him he chose the CIA headquarters as a target to "convey a message to the United States." ..... He was tried under Virginia law, not federal terrorist statutes. Legally speaking, because Kansi appeared to have acted alone, and not as part of a terrorist group, it was a simple case of murder.
November 12, 1997 Associated Press
Four American businessmen and a Pakistani are dead today after gunmen ran their car off a road in Karachi and riddled it with bullets. Police say they've launched a manhunt for the attackers. The Americans were auditors for the Houston-based oil company, Union Texas Petroleum. The company says it is evacuating all of its 30 personnel in the country immediately. The shooting comes two days after a Virginia jury convicted a Pakistani man of killing two CIA employees. The State Department has warned Americans in Pakistan and elsewhere to be wary of possible retaliatory attacks.
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.....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" .... The FBI plans a news conference next week to issue a comprehensive report on the criminal probe's findings, a law-enforcement source said. .... Kallstrom's letter....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."
November 13, 1997 New York Times
It was almost five years ago, but the images are still etched in memory: the explosion rumbling over the city like summer thunder, a blast furnace of fire under the World Trade Center, smoke and panic rising through the falling snow, jangling alarms, death and America awaking to the horrors of terrorism. ... But Wednesday, in a courtroom a few blocks away, the conviction of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef as the leader of the plot, and of Eyad Ismoil as the accomplice who drove the enormous car bomb into the Trade Center's underground garage and helped Yousef detonate it, brought the tangled case to a kind of close. Secrets still seem to lurk in its dark corners, and some may be important. Investigators say they may never learn whether the plotters had the backing of a government or Middle East terrorist group or acted independently, raising cash from family members and friends. And much about Yousef, from his background to his name, remains a mystery. "We have more answers than questions," Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at a news conference after the verdict last night. "But there are still questions." .... The agent .. quoted Yousef as saying he had done it .... to avenge the Palestinian people for what he called decades of Israeli persecution, and to retaliate against America for supporting Israel. This and other testimony, .. was enough to convince the jury. But .... prosecutors aiming at criminal convictions had no need to address the larger mysteries surrounding the defendant. Thus, questions were unanswered: Did a country or terrorist group sponsor Yousef, as some investigators suspect? Or did he act independently, as others believe, recruiting and training amateurs in New York, Manila and elsewhere for diabolical plots to topple the Trade Center, kill the pope and blow up 12 U.S. airliners? And, not least, who is Ramzi Ahmed Yousef? Much about him -- his nationality, associations, even his name -- remains unclear. In his six months in the United States before the bombing, officials say, he repeatedly changed disguises and identities, and over the years used 11 aliases and many passports and other false identity papers. While much about his origins are murky, investigators say he was born on April 27, 1968, to a Pakistani mother and a Palestinian father and grew up in a working-class Kuwait City suburb. Like many Palestinians in Kuwait, he and his family were second-class citizens, exiles in a diaspora who despised Israel for taking their land, and blamed the United States for supporting Israel. Yousef, who speaks Urdu, the main Pakistani language, as well as Arabic and English, studied engineering at Swansea University in Wales from 1986 to 1989. Intelligence reports say he went to Afghanistan after the mujahedeen rebels, backed by the CIA, drove Soviet troops out in 1989, and was trained in guerrilla fighting. Some reports say he learned bomb-making in Peshawar, a Pakistani town near the Afghan border that was a center of guerrilla activity in the 1980s. The town is near the Khyber Pass frontier, a lawless land that has long been a training ground and sanctuary for terrorists. In 1991, Yousef moved to the Philippines and joined the Muslim extremist group known as Abu Sayyaf. A former deputy commander of the movement recalled Yousef as a bitterly anti-American Palestinian militant who had resolved to wage an ambitious campaign of terrorism around the world. Yousef arrived in New York on a flight from Pakistan on Sept. 1, 1992. Using a false Iraqi passport, he asked for political asylum, and was released pending a hearing. Ahmad M. Ajaj, a Palestinian, accompanied Yousef on the flight. Yousef began seeking recruits through the Jersey City mosque of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric whose most ardent Muslim followers were militant opponents of the United States. In 1995 the sheik and 10 followers were convicted of conspiring to blow up the United Nations headquarters and other New York buildings, bridges and tunnels in a campaign of urban terrorism. Through the mosque, investigators say, Yousef recruited Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad and Mahmoud Abouhalima. They helped him buy and mix explosive chemicals in cheap apartments and a rented storage space in Jersey City. Abdul Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi, also was recruited, officials say. ..... Yousef set the fuse and fled before the blast. Within hours, Yousef flew to Karachi, Pakistan, and Ismoil to Amman, Jordan, leaving the others behind. Yasin also fled, and remains the only fugitive. Yousef ... renewed his campaign of terror, traveling to Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines and eventually back to Islamabad, where Pakistani and U.S. agents, acting on a tip, seized him on Feb. 7, 1995. It was on the flight back to New York that he talked to Brian G. Parr of the Secret Service and Charles Stern of the FBI. His confession was said to have included plans for a kamikaze attack on the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and an attempt to assassinate President Clinton with phosgene gas. When Yousef fled the Philippines, he left a computer full of plots, one to kill Pope John Paul II in Manila in days, another for a horror to surpass that at the Trade Center: a coordinated bombing of 12 American jetliners in 48 hours. (For the latter, he was convicted in New York last year and faces mandatory life in prison.) In his trials and statements, there has been no evidence that Yousef was working for a foreign power or terrorist group. But other investigators say his ability to travel the world as a fugitive with relative ease make it unlikely that he acted on his own. Likely sponsors include Syria, Iran, Libya or a terrorist organization, they theorize. Thus Yousef, to the end, has remained an enigma. By refusing to testify in his own defense at either of his trials, he has avoided exposing himself to prosecutors' questions about possible sponsors and financing by enemies of the United States, or even to more searching questions about who he is.
November 19, 1997 New York Times
(T)he 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 ...... 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.
November 18, 1997 Boeing Statement on FBI's TWA 800
The FBI's assessment that it has not found any criminal evidence in the investigation of the loss of TWA Flight 800 does not change the role of The Boeing Company role in the continuing effort to determine the cause of this tragedy. The role of The Boeing Company in the investigation remains the same as it has been since the early hours following the crash: We continue to assist the National Transportation Safety Board in their effort to determine what happened and why. We will keep providing whatever information and resources we can to help in that effort, including participating in the upcoming NTSB public hearing. Boeing provided information about the design, operation and performance of the 747 to the FBI throughout their criminal investigation. However, Boeing was not involved in the production of the video shown today, nor have we had the opportunity to obtain a copy or fully understand the data used to create it. While we provided basic aerodynamic information to assist in the CIA's analysis of the airplane's performance, we are not aware of the data that was used to develop the video. The video's explanation of the eyewitness observations can be best assessed by the eyewitnesses themselves. Since the beginning of the investigation, Boeing has never subscribed to any one theory. Our role continues to be to assist in determining how and why this tragedy occurred. We remain committed to that goal.
November 19, 1997 New York Post
Witnesses to the fiery TWA crash don't accept the FBI's explanation of the mysterious streaks they saw in the sky that fateful night. .... the FBI concluded that the witnesses were confused because they saw flaming pieces of wreckage break off before they heard the explosion - because light travels faster than sound. Those who spoke to The Post yesterday were highly skeptical. "I'm not satisfied at all," said East End fisherman Ronald [Roland] Penney, who insists he saw a "streak of light" racing into the sky just before the plane exploded. "I don't think they're being honest with the people. They're telling us we saw something else than what we say. I think it was a missile and I don't believe them." "I know what I saw," agreed Barbara Pacholk, a 50-year old housewife from Quogue. "I saw several fires go across the sky. One hit the plane at the tail and the second hit at the front, just before the wings. The fire came from both ends and met in the middle and exploded. Then the nose dropped, hung there for a minute. I understand that when a plane bursts into flames the flames fall, but this was a fire going up towards the plane,.....I wouldn't accuse anyone of wrongdoing, but I'm definitely still wondering what happened."
November 19, 1997 The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA
One of the crash's key eyewitnesses ... believes Tuesday's FBI presentation was purposely tainted. "I saw the news conference," said Meyer, who was piloting an Air National Guard rescue helicopter the night of the crash when he saw TWA 800 explode. "I saw the (CIA video) scenario. It just isn't what happened. They've changed the sequence of events." Meyer, a combat veteran who had missiles fired at his helicopter in Vietnam, said he saw a streak approach the jetliner in a slight downward arc, two small but sharp explosions, and then the huge fireball that fell to the ocean.
November 21, 1997 New York Times
The militant Islamic Group, which has claimed responsibility for the strike that killed 58 foreign tourists in Luxor, issued a statement Thursday taunting the Egyptian government, which it has said was the real target of the attack. The organization, the largest Islamic militant group in Egypt, said it might be willing to halt its military operations "for a while." But the group said it would do so only if the government took steps that Egypt has repeatedly rejected, including halting its security crackdown against the militants and severing relations with Israel. ....... As part of the price for a suspension of its attacks, the group demanded in Thursday's statement the release of thousands of prisoners, including its spiritual leader, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who remains in an American jail after his conviction in connection with the plot to bomb the World Trade Center and other prominent targets.
November 24, 1997 The New York Observer
Partial text of article entitled "File This Case Under ‘X’: Flight 800 Goes Unsolved" by Philip Weiss
"Jim Naples doesn’t want to talk to me at first, and I can’t blame him. But standing outside on the deck of his seaside home, he thinks it over, then summons me across his yard. ..... “We know what we saw. We weren’t drunk,” said the burly contractor. “I looked up and my immediate response was, I never saw an alert flare like that. It was projecting upward with a stream of smoke behind.” It was twilight on July 17, 1996, and Jim Naples was out on his boat with his wife and two daughters. Hundreds of other coastal people were out on the water that night, too, and scores of them saw what Jim Naples saw in the southern sky: a white jet trail streaking up from near the horizon and arcing through the sky for many seconds, and later a fireball as big as the sundiesel fuel exploding on Trans World Airlines Flight 800. Now the F.B.I. has reached its conclusion in the matter. Its message to the eyewitnesses: Shut up, you didn’t see anything. I first heard tape recordings of two unrelated witnesses who offered remarkably similar views of something streaking up and then angling horizontally that night to those made by a retired commander of the United States Navy, William Donaldson, and played at the Accuracy in Media conference in Washington last month. Then I banged around Center Moriches for a day or so and soon met six people who said they were eyewitnesses, whose accounts were similar to the ones Commander Donaldson had recorded. “What we saw was a vapor trail, it looked like fireworks going up,” said Paul Runyan. “They say, Was it like a missile? I don’t know, I’ve never seen a missile.” “My brother noticed it first, he said it was fireworks,” said Michelle Dorney, a teenager who was in her family’s big house on a hill overlooking the water in East Moriches. “I looked out the window, and it was a straight line going up from over the condos. It left a trail.” “It was very white, we thought it was a flare,” said a 45-year-old Center Moriches woman who was out on the bridge of her boat in the bay just north of Fire Island. “It came up over the dunes from the east toward the west, it curved up and started to fall. It never flared up. What struck me was the whiteness of the trail; they’ve got to explain that to me before I’m happy. A second later, we saw the first fireballlike a waterfall of flame in the sky, six inches across.” “It was like an alert flare, someone’s in trouble,” Randy Penney told me, after pressure-washing barnacles off the hull of a boat at Senix Marina. “It was bright white and seemed to be drifting down. Then later you saw the diesel fuel burning.” ....... The contempt that the Government shows for common people is best demonstrated by the C.I.A.’s response to The Press-Enterprise when it asked about the eyewitnesses. “C.I.A. analysts have determined that the eyewitness sightings thought to be that of a missile actually took place after the first of several explosions on the aircraft,” C.I.A. spokeswoman Carolyn Osborn said in September. “Our technical analysis concludes that what these eyewitnesses saw was in fact the burning [Boeing] 747 in various stages of crippled flight, not a missile.” Is it really possible that people saw the Boeing, which was at 13,000 feet, flying up from “over the dunes,” or coming up “over the condos”? That dozens of people who say they saw a white-hot flare many seconds before a diesel explosion were wrong, that the flare was after? And who is the C.I.A. to say the witnesses claimed to see a missile when none of the ones I talked to made that explicit claim? The Government’s treatment of the eyewitnesses has already fostered deep cynicism in the Center Moriches area. “It would be one thing if just three or four or five people saw it,” said Anita Langdon at her boat-motor shop at the Senix Marina. “But 50 or 60 people saw it in Center Moriches, well-respected citizens, and they know what they saw.” ..... The investigators’ arrogance toward the eyewitnesses angered Representative James Traficant Jr., Democrat of Ohio, who earlier this fall, at the behest of the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, began investigating the possibility that the Government is shortchanging the citizens’ views. “She [Ms. Osborn] said they were mistaken in what they saw. That’s not very professional, and it’s not the way to dispute eyewitness statements,” said Paul Marcone, press secretary to the Congressman. “Those witness statements should be part of the public record. And they [the F.B.I.] have to come up with a credible scenario of why the eyewitnesses saw what they saw.” Representative Traficant’s hope that the witnesses will be happily reconciled with the official version, let alone treated honestly and openly, is, I think, naïve. If the government was investigating reports that the emperor was naked, it would call in designers, clothing historians and fashion editors, all well paid, all authoritative, all above reproach, to produce lengthy, detailed reports saying that ordinary people hadn’t seen what they’d seen. The media would duly report it and piss on the common man’s view. “I don’t think our accounts will be reflected in the final version,” said Jim Naples. “I have a hard time believing that the F.B.I. believes its conclusions … I don’t believe that the truth is ever going to come out.” ........ Two magazine editors recently explained the current media Zeitgeistto me over lunch: “Everything you see on the front page is good news.” It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes as national vision. .... The people I buttonholed in Center Moriches all seemed to wish they could be rubberneckers, taking stuff in stridenot witnesses to the crash with the witnesses’ traditional responsibility. They didn’t want to talk about what they’d seen, or were scared that they’d seen what they’d seen. Some wished they’d never seen it. “In my opinion, we’re never going to find out what happened,” said the 45-year-old woman on the bridge. “And I don’t know that I care.”"
November 23, 1997 New York Times
In the three years since the bombing of a Jewish community center here killed 87 people and wounded hundreds, the (Argentinian) government has made little progress in identifying those responsible for the attack. The authorities have said that it is highly unlikely they will ever catch the bombers, who they believe are Muslim militants. But they have high hopes of capturing what investigators call the "local connection" -- the Argentines who investigators have said provided the attackers with the vehicle, explosives, intelligence, immigration documents and other support. ...... investigators said that the family of a former police commander who has been charged with supplying the vehicle used in the attack received $2.5 million a week before the bombing reduced the Argentina Israeli Mutual Association community center to a heap of rubble. ......While the origin of the money is unknown, investigators said they believe it was payment from terrorists for .... help. Ribelli, two deputy commanders and an inspector of the provincial police force were arrested last year and charged as accomplices in the bombing. .... "It's a very important piece of the puzzle that we've tried to assemble for three years." ..... Investigators said they are now seeking to learn the origins of the $2.5 million. .... Leaders of Argentine Jewish groups, who have complained that the investigation is moving too slowly, said the recent congressional disclosures confirm their suspicions that the provincial police were deeply involved in the attack. "No one pays $2.5 million only for the delivery of a van," said Ruben Beraja, chairman of the Argentine Jewish Groups Federation. ..... The government has come under pressure from Jewish groups to exhaust all possibilities in investigating the community center blast and to prevent future terrorism. The attack followed a 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy here in which 29 people were killed. That case has also not been resolved. Today, Argentine Jews live in a virtual state of siege. Synagogues and Jewish schools are protected by police, barricades and guard dogs.
November 27, 1997 The New York Times
The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday ordered an immediate change in fuel pumps in Boeing 747s and also proposed a change in the wiring of older 747s, saying that tests conducted after the crash of TWA Flight 800 pointed to both as potential causes of a mid-air explosion. Although "there is no evidence from the accident airplane that leads us to conclude that either one of these is the cause of the accident," said Thomas E. McSweeny, director of the FAA's aircraft certification service, the agency believed it was "prudent" to make the changes...... exhaustive inquiries by the safety board and the FBI have yet to pinpoint what actually caused the fumes to ignite ..... The FAA's action comes less than two weeks before the NTSB is scheduled to begin hearings in Baltimore into the cause of the crash. The FAA has now put itself on record before those hearings as having taken some corrective action, if not the one that the NTSB wanted. ...... In a conference call with reporters, McSweeny said his agency decided to issue order the order regarding the fuel pumps after tests showed that silicone seals used in parts of one of the fuel pumps could dissolve on contact with jet fuel, which, in addition to powering the plane, is used to cool and lubricate the pump motor. If the silicone disintegrates, fuel could squirt into the wheel well behind the center tank, where it could ignite, McSweeny. The pump in question is called a "scavenge pump," which drains out the last few gallons from the center tank. The scavenge pump from the TWA plane is part of the 4 percent of the airplane that searchers have not recovered. In a statement Boeing also said that the silicone had been added to some fuel pumps after their initial installation and that the company had already issued a "service bulletin" to its customers "to inspect and correct all scavenge pump connectors on affected 747s." ... The second change sought by the FAA would be far more complicated and will be put out for a 90-day public comment period. The agency wants airlines to replace wiring in a place where wires enter the tank, known as the "fuel quantity indication system." Investigators have long theorized that a spark was created in this system, where fuel probes send signals back to the cockpit to tell the crew how much fuel is left. .... in trying to assemble a plausible chain of events to explain the destruction of Flight 800, investigators have also found that 747s in airline service can have little pieces of metal in the fuel tanks, and these can become lodged in the gaps of the fuel probes, where they would help create a spark at lower voltages. .... In its statement, Boeing said that it had conducted the testing to produce electrical surges. The surges generated, however, were "far below what would be required to present any hazard to the airplane," even if contamination was present, the statement said. "Earlier laboratory testing using energy levels far in excess of what is available on the airplane did demonstrate the ability to create an arc in a fuel probe that had been purposely contaminated with debris," the statement said. Boeing said it would do additional tests before filing comments on the proposed rule.
November 27, 1997 The New York Times
Forty people accused of helping Algerian Islamic militants plant bombs that killed eight people and wounded more than 170 in Paris in 1995 went on trial this week. They are charged with conspiracy to support a terrorist campaign to get the French government to drop support for the Algerian government......... The defendants .... were arrested two years ago, after French commandos and the police killed one of the suspected ringleaders of the bombings, Khalid Kelkal, near Lyons and arrested hundreds of Algerians or people of Algerian origin suspected of being part of an underground support network for the Algerian Armed Islamic Group in France. ...... Three of the defendants in this trial -- identified as Joseph Jaime, David Vallat and Alain Celle -- are French citizens who converted to Islam and underwent military training in Afghanistan, prosecutors said. ..... The French authorities say the operations here were financed from Britain, where the Islamic group was able to publish a newsletter. The French press often rails against Britain for its perceived laxity regarding Islamic militants who are said to find sanctuary in England. French newspapers gave prominent display recently to similar charges by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after the massacre of foreign tourists at Luxor last week.
November 28, 1997 The New York Times
Iranian intelligence agents are mounting extensive operations in Bosnia and have infiltrated the U.S. program to train the Bosnian army, according to Western and Bosnian officials. The officials said they had identified more than 200 Iranian agents who they believe have quietly and methodically insinuated themselves into Bosnian Muslim political and social circles. Their aim appears to be both gathering information and thwarting Western interests in Bosnia....... "I don't know why the Americans behave so naively," said Munir Alibabic, the former chief of the Bosnian intelligence service's Sarajevo office. "They should see what is happening to us," ... A senior official in Washington insisted the Iranian intelligence network is not an immediate threat because U.S. agents are watching it closely. ....But Western intelligence officers in Bosnia are much more alarmed. They say many of the Iranian agents are already working to turn Bosnia's Muslim political and religious leaders against the West. The Iranian agents, they said, would be helpful in planning terrorist attacks against NATO forces or targets in Europe. .... Iran has been trying for several years to gain a foothold in Europe through its relationship with the predominantly Muslim leadership of Bosnia. It sold hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to Bosnia during the war against the Serbs, providing crucial aid at a time when Western nations maintained an embargo on arms sales to any nation in the former Yugoslavia. The Clinton administration learned of the smuggling and decided on a secret policy of not interfering with the arms flow, which helped the beleaguered Bosnians hold off the Serbs. ...Disclosure of the secret U.S. policy after the war set off a political storm in Washington. Some members of Congress charged that the administration had allowed Iran to expand its influence in Bosnia.
December 1, 1997 Aviation Week and Space Technology
Recent tests on Boeing 747 scavenge pumps have all but ruled out the failure of such a unit as a cause of the CFT explosion that ripped apart TWA Flight 800 - leaving NTSB investigators with rare wiring failures among the few viable explanations for that blast. .... Separate testing and analyses have eliminated a discharge of static electricity as a viable source of ignition. As Safety Board officials ...convene a .. public hearing ... one official familiar with the probe said, "All we have is a tremendous absence of evidenceas to what caused the tank to explode".
December 5, 1997 Newsday.com
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. (Click for text of Kallstrom Letter to Hall) 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 ...... In effect, the concessions redress all the objections set forth in Kallstrom's .... letter to Hall. ..... Despite the fact that the FBI publicly concluded their criminal probe ...... 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 ....... 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 eyewitnesses' veracity does not further the accident investigation."
December 5, 1997 CNN Web posted at: 9:15 p.m. EST (0215 GMT)
TWA's chief 747 pilot, a TWA flight attendant and the author of a book about the TWA 800 crash have been charged with stealing pieces of the wreckage from the hangar where investigators reconstructed the Boeing 747. .... arrest warrants have been issued for James Sanders, author of "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," his wife Liz Sanders, a TWA flight attendant, and TWA pilot Terrell Stacey ... (Stacey) who as TWA's chief 747 pilot served as the airline's number two representative in the crash investigation, allegedly took documents and seat fabric from the wreckage at Liz Sanders' request. ....Stacey had access to the wreckage because he was involved with three crash investigation committees ..... "The FBI has spent millions creating a videotape and holding a lengthy press conference to make sure their theory got the public's attention," Schlanger (Sander's attorney) said. "Why are they moving to arrest a person, a man who holds that up to a little scrutiny?" According to the complaint .....Stacey eventually provided James Sanders with information and copies of reports on the crash investigation and pieces of fabric from some of the plane's seats. ..... According to the complaint, those seats had a reddish residue, unlike residue on other seats on the plane. ....The FBI says its tests show that the residue is an adhesive, but Sanders claims the FBI is involved in a cover-up. He says, "I think they really do know with some certainty what happened." ..... FBI deputy director James Kallstrom sent a letter Wednesday to the National Transportation Safety Board asking that it not discuss the residue during its public hearings scheduled to begin Monday. He also asked the NTSB not to discuss other information the FBI uncovered in its investigation, such as the identify of eyewitnesses to the crash and testimony from experts regarding the limitations of the eyewitness observations.
December 8, 1997 Aviation Week and Space Technology
Trans World Airlines officials aim to cast doubt this week on the NTSB's investigation into the crash of its Flight 800, even reviving the question of whether the 747 was downed by a missile. .... "We are not convinced there was a spontaneous explosion in the center tank," said Mark Abels, TWA's vice president of corporate communications. "We won't be until there is an ignition source identified and there is proof it set off the explosion. All we see now is circumstantial evidence." In meetings and correspondence with the NTSB, TWA officials have indicated that they may challenge fundamental elements of the Flight 800 investigation, including: How the NTSB tracked where each piece of the 747's debris was found on the ocean floor .... and how each was handled once ashore. .... The safety board's limited access to the statements of witnesses who claimed to have seen a missile strike Flight 800 ... The FBI gathered and controlled those statements as part of its criminal investigation ...Although it has designated the investigation as inactive, the FBI has yet to give the accident investigation team full access to the witness reports.... The FBI's work "doesn't mean there wasn't a missile, it means the FBI has not found evidence of one," Abels said.
December 9, 1997 The New York Times
The National Transportation Safety Board, in its first thorough presentation of the last moments of TWA Flight 800, displayed its own video animation on Monday and painted a picture with significantly different details from the one laid out by the CIA two weeks ago. ..... In the Safety Board's simulation -- without the music or professional announcer of the CIA video -- the explosion in the center fuel tank took less than a second to spew debris from the plane's belly, including part of the keel beam, which provides much of the support for the fuselage. Then the breakup of the plane slows or stops, but the nose begins to droop and the sides compress, until the area in front of the wings breaks off, and begins an almost leisurely flutter to the water, taking about 90 seconds. The wings and everything behind them, however, continue for more than two miles and climb from about 13,700 feet to perhaps 15,000 feet, before twisting north and south and plunging to the surface, with the left wing breaking off shortly before impact, creating a fireball. The Central Intelligence Agency's version, in contrast, portrayed the wings and fuselage as climbing to 17,000 feet, trailing flaming fuel in a way that convinced witnesses on the south shore of Long Island that they were seeing a missile. And where the CIA has the major fragment of the plane veering to the north, the Safety Board has it twist first north, toward the beach, and then south. The first turn would have given observers the perspective that the plane was continuing to climb, Board experts testified on Monday. ..... The investigators integrated information from eight radar sites around the northeastern United States, radio transmissions from the Paris-bound jet itself, "witness marks" showing where interior parts of the plane crashed into each other, analyses of the trajectory that each part of the plane would be expected to take as the Boeing 747 blew apart, locations of the wreckage on the ocean floor, and analyses of thousands of fractures. They built a case for explosion of the center fuel tank from causes internal to the plane, although just what causes those were is not yet clear.
....... At the opening of hearings by the National Transportation Safety Board on TWA Flight 800, some 75 relatives of victims of the disaster sat silently Monday as engineers and scientists described in wrenching detail the destruction of the jumbo jet and its 230 passengers. Every detail except the critical one: what sparked the explosion in the center fuel tank that split the plane. ..... But for many others, the hearing offered a media spotlight for a variety of agendas they had developed in the wake of the disaster. Some are still pressing the theory that a missile downed the plane; some are urging new rules on airline safety or compensation for victims; still others continue to criticize the response of some officials to the disaster. .... Despite their deep concern about the outcome of the inquiry, the family members have no formal role in the hearings, which are limited to the technical aspects of the investigation. Frank Carven, a lawyer from Belair, Md., who lost his sister and nephew in the crash, said the frustration of some of the families built as the proceedings went on without any opportunity for critical questioning. .... Some relatives still doubted the federal government's conclusions that a missile was not the cause. When a man disrupted the opening moments of the hearing by raising a poster and yelling about a probable government cover-up, there was a quick smattering of applause from the tables reserved for families.
December 9, 1997 Associated Press
James Kallstrom, who led the FBI's investigation into the explosion of TWA Flight 800 and helped bring down scores of organized-crime figures during a 28-year career, said Tuesday he will retire from the agency at the end of the month. "My time has come,'' the FBI assistant director and chief of the agency's New York office said in an interview with The Associated Press.
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."
December 10, 1997 The New York Times
In an effort to prevent explosions like the one that caused the crash of TWA Flight 800, Boeing officials said Tuesday that the design of the company's jetliners needed to be changed to guard against the build-up of flammable fumes. Although the cause of the explosion on the Boeing 747 has still not been determined, the company's statement was clear departure from a 40-year-old principle of commercial aviation design. ..... Daniel Cheney, an FAA expert in propulsion systems, said that "ever since aviation began," designers have simply assumed that the fuel tanks held a flammable mixture and have instead designed planes to prevent sources of ignition. "That assumption of flammability has been successful but not successful enough," he said. Now, he said, the government and airlines would look for ways to reduce the flammability of vapor in the tanks. Stuart Matthews, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, a non-profit group, said Boeing's statement was significant. "Everything in the design is always, always, always, there will be no spark, no source of ignition," he said. The investigators are acknowledging that they do not know the cause of the crash, he said, "but they decided, belts and braces are better than just belts." In fact, the hearings have not thus far shed much light on the question of what set off the tank. ......... Despite the masses of data being presented at the hearing -- the computer models, test flights, and other investigations -- some Safety Board officials said they were concerned about some things that were being left out, at the insistence of the FBI. .... Some investigators for the Safety Board said the restrictions harmed the hearing process. "This is supposed to be a complete factual accounting," said one investigator, who spoke only on condition that his name not be used. "That's not right."
December 10, 1997 The New York Times
Iran opened a world Islamic conference Tuesday with a harsh denunciation of the West, urging Muslim countries to resist what it called "persistent and cunning enemies" led by the United States and Israel. The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told his guests that the main threat to security in the region was not his own Islamic government, as many in the West assert, but "the poisonous breath" of the United States and its military presence in the Persian Gulf. .... But though Iran's president later offered more conciliatory remarks, Ayatollah Khamenei's inaugural seemed to signal Iran's intention as host of the three-day meeting to drive home a message that Islam itself is under attack. "Today, global arrogance gains hope and strength through creating discord and disunity in this front," the ayatollah said. "Is it not time to bolster and strengthen this rank in our favor?" .... But the 45-minute address by the conservative cleric put on center stage some of the hard-line views that still carry great weight within powerful sectors of Iranian society eight years after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who inspired the revolution that established Iran as the world's first Islamic republic. To underscore the gravity with which it intended the ayatollah's address to be received, the Iranian government circulated copies of the remarks in glossy pamphlets that included translations from Persian into English, Russian, French and Arabic. In his address, the ayatollah labeled as Iran's most dangerous critics "the Zionists, the notorious global Zionist media, and the agents of arrogance, in particular the Americans." And he complained that "Western materialistic civilization is directing everyone toward materialism while money, gluttony and carnal desires are made the greatest aspirations." President Mohammed Khatami, whose overwhelming victory in elections last spring has helped give Iran a gentler face, later characterized relations between Islam and the West in warmer terms. Khatami, who is also a cleric, said Islamic civil society and its Western counterpart were "not necessarily in conflict and contradiction in all their manifestations and consequences. "This is why we should never be oblivious to judicious acquisition of the positive accomplishments of the Western civil society," Khatami said. But Khamenei has emphasized since the election that it is he, and not the president, who wields control over foreign policy and most other matters of state. And because it was he, rather than Khatami, who chose to inaugurate the conference Tuesday morning, the most powerful impression left by the proceedings was his message of defiance. The ayatollah chose not to single out Arab nations that have diplomatic or commercial ties with Israel. But he condemned American-backed efforts to broker a broader peace between Israel and the Palestinians as "unjust, arrogant, contemptuous and, finally, illogical," and he called them a "losing transaction" for the Palestinians. On a matter closer to Iran's borders, he complained that "the political designers of arrogance" -- a standard euphemism for the United States and its Western allies -- "are breathing their poisonous breath to make our neighbors in the Persian Gulf fearful of Islamic Iran, which holds the banner of unity and brotherhood." As Iran has done before, the ayatollah called on countries bordering the Persian Gulf to band together for self-protection rather than rely on outsiders like the United States.
December 10, 1997 The New York Times
The lawyer for a 52-year-old Virginia-based writer who was charged with illegal possession of pieces of the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 tried Tuesday to portray the matter as a free press issue. The writer, 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 and of withholding them from civil authorities. .... 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."
December 10, 1997 The New York Times
The Clinton Administration is putting pressure on Pakistan - "very strongly" in the words of one American diplomat - to use its influence on the Taliban .... to get them to moderate their behavior ..... The United States' major concerns in Afghanistan are himan rights, drugs and terrorism .... Among the suspected terrorists living in Kandahar, where the Taliban have their headquarters, is Osama bin Ladin .... In a recent interview, the Taliban Governor .... acknowledged that Mr. Ladin was there but answered with a terse "No" when asked if he would be handed over to the United States or any other government.
December 11, 1997 The New York Times
Federal safety investigators said Wednesday that they had found a frayed wire from a fuel gauge in the tank that exploded on TWA Flight 800, leading them to search for ways in which the wire -- combined with other problems -- could have caused the explosion that took the lives of 230 people in July 1996. They said that the faulty wire could not alone have caused the crash, since it normally carries less electricity than needed to create a spark. But they said they were looking into the possibility that problems with fuel tank wiring were part of a series of failures that led to the crash. In the third day of hearings into the crash of the Boeing 747 off Long Island, investigators explored a variety of possible ignition sources and delved deeply into fuel tank problems that Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration said were largely unexplored before the crash. One of these is corrosion in the wiring in the tanks caused by sulfur in the fuel. The chemical deposits that form around the gauges could provide the heat needed for detonation if subjected to a surge of power. But it is not clear where the surge would come from; investigators said Wednesday that some of the wiring that could have been a problem had been found in good shape, and some had simply not been found. A longstanding theory is that an electrical short-circuit somewhere else in the plane sent a surge of power into what is supposed to be a low-voltage system, although Boeing argues that there is no system on board with enough power to do so. Wiring damage and corrosion deposits could constitute "latent failures," or failures that go undetected for months or years, and are of no importance until they combine in unusual circumstances to cause an accident. They also represent a vast expansion for government regulators of the problem of aging aircraft. .... Investigators are focusing on corrosion and wiring damage partly because an earlier theory, that a static charge had built up inside the tank, has thus far been impossible to demonstrate in a laboratory.
December 13, 1997 New York Times
A year and a half after 19 U.S. airmen were killed in Saudi Arabia, officials have told their relatives they still do not know who carried out the truck bombing of their barracks. Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director Louis Freeh and other officials met privately with families of the victims of the Khobar Towers bombing at a daylong counseling session and dinner Thursday at which they promised to press on with the stalled investigation. "There was great respect for us, but little information," Fran Heiser, the mother of Master Sgt. Michael G. Heiser, said Friday. "They don't have anything concrete." The meeting, which was closed to the press and not announced beforehand, was held at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va. Mrs. Heiser, who has been active in the efforts of the families to learn more about what happened, said that members of 18 families attended. .... The airmen were killed, and 500 other people wounded, when a large truck bomb exploded at the housing complex near Dhahran for Air Force personnel mounting patrols over the no-flight zone in southern Iraq declared after the Persian Gulf War. ...... Investigators had hoped for a break when a Saudi dissident, Hani Abdul Rahim Sayegh, was arrested in Canada on information from Saudi intelligence that he drove a scout car in the bombing. But Sayegh later reneged on a plea-bargain agreement with U.S. officials to provide information, saying he only made it because he feared execution if he was deported to Saudi Arabia. The Justice Department case against him collapsed for lack of evidence. He is now in custody of the immigration authorities, awaiting deportation hearings.
December 13, 1997 New York Times
The National Transportation Safety Board wound up a week of hearings on the crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 Friday without uncovering what made the plane explode shortly after takeoff, but with something that its top officials say was almost as good: a consensus that steps should be taken to cut the risk of fuel tank explosions in all planes -- perhaps eliminating it entirely.
December 14, 1997 The New York Times
In 6,000 pages of documents and more than 35 hours of testimony presented last week, dozens of aviation engineers and scientists laid out their analysis of the explosion that destroyed Trans World Airlines Flight 800, seeking to assign a cause to the catastrophe. And no one listened more carefully during the National Transportation Safety Administration hearings than the bevy of lawyers who are trying to assign blame for the crash more ..... Just as the aviation investigators are seeking ways to guard against future fuel tank explosions without knowing precisely what ignited the one on Flight 800, the lawyers are trying to assess liability despite this critical gap in evidence. ..... The plaintiffs' lawyers and their aides studiously took notes in laptop computers or on legal pads, sitting just behind the three long sets of tables occupied by relatives of those who died. In the final hours of the hearing, the meeting halls became a hive of discussions and strategy sessions as lawyers, victims' relatives and officials of TWA and Boeing girded for would could be years of legal and financial wrangling. .... there is the challenge of proving a case for a particular cause of the crash. Several aviation lawyers who have represented airlines in similar lawsuits said that the absence of clues to what ignited the blast in the center fuel tank on Flight 800, which has proved exasperating to investigators, may also prove so to lawyers for the families as they try to build convincing cases. "It's a basic concept from Law 101: the party with the burden of proof has got to prove something," said Bonnie Cohen, a lawyer from San Francisco who for more than 15 years has represented airlines in suits resulting from plane crashes. ...... But Lee S. Kreindler, a Manhattan lawyer whose firm is representing families of 80 of the 230 victims, says the case is as basic as the ancient phrase of law: Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself. The Boeing 747 exploded when one of many potential sources of a spark ignited fuel vapor in its overheated center fuel tank. Given those facts, the case is "garden-variety product liability," Kreindler said. .... Frank H. Granito Jr., a Manhattan lawyer whose firm is representing the families of 54 victims, said the hearings also provided a kind of casting call for witnesses. He and the other lawyers were able to observe the style and communications skills of dozens of experts, many of whom might be called to testify in coming liability and damage trials. .... Another potential problem, said Granito, the Manhattan lawyer, could be trying to find a jury that did not have at least a few members who still believed that a bomb, missile or perhaps even a meteorite could have destroyed the plane. The FBI has decided that there was no evidence that a criminal act caused the crash, and all manner of experts testified that the evidence makes a bomb, missile or meteorite almost impossible. Even so, Granito said, he would try to persuade Judge Robert W. Sweet, who is handling the cases in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, to prevent the companies from reviving these theories. A hearing will be held next Tuesday before Sweet. ..... And as the hearings continued, the lawyers continued to collect more bits of evidence suggesting hidden hazards in the giant jets. Particularly significant, the lawyers said, was Boeing's concession that it needed a new approach to preventing such explosions, saying that the 40-year-old design philosophy for fuel tanks on airliners -- focused on eliminating sparks -- needed to be augmented by a search for ways to get rid of flammable vapors. "That's just another way of saying their plane's defective," Kreindler said. He said the findings reported at the hearing provided a telling road map. Referring to photographs of frayed wires and tests showing that fuel vapors would have been overheated and highly flammable, he said: "They're not talking about theory here. We can prove this stuff has happened. This is no different than tobacco or a bad car. We can prove they made an unsafe product."
December 15, 1997 The New York Times
President Mohammed Khatami of Iran aimed a conciliatory message at the United States on Sunday, saying that he hoped to re-establish a discussion with the American people that has been virtually suspended since the Islamic revolution of 1979. The tone of Khatami's remarks, his first news conference since he took office in August, was markedly different from that usually heard from Iranian leaders. He declared "great respect" for the "great people of the United States" and even his criticism of the government in Washington, which he said stood in the way of possible reconciliation, was restrained. "I hope the American politicians would understand their time better, understand the realities, and move forward," Khatami said. At the "appropriate" time, he said, "I will present my words to the American people." "I would hope for a thoughtful dialogue with the American people and through this thoughtful dialogue we could get closer to peace and security and tranquillity," he added. ...... In Washington, a State Department spokesman, James Foley, cautioned that "it's too early to tell whether this represents an offer or not." He said the United States has been "open to a dialogue" with Iran, but has "stipulated that the dialogue would have to be official and authoritiative, acknowledged publicly by the Iranian government." If such a dialogue occurred, Foley said: "We would certainly be raising with the Iranians our concern about aspects of their foreign policy which are deeply troubling to us, concerning weapons of mass destruction and terrorism and the like. But we are open to a dialogue and would expect they could raise issues of concern to them as well."... "Instead of talking with forked tongues we want to have a rational dialogue," Khatami said. "We want to have a dialogue of civilizations." Khatami's message might help to mute American objections to closer ties with Iran, but there was little in what he had to say that appeared sufficient to allay what have been the United States' principal concerns. He did not address allegations that the Iran is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, a charge that his country has repeatedly denied in the past. He said Iran was opposed to terrorism, but made an exception for "the legitimate defense of people in occupied land," thus offering an implicit justification of Iran's support for Hezbollah and other militant groups fighting against Israeli occupation.
December 15, 1997 The New York Times
For several months, in low-key meetings at the United Nations that began after Mohammed Khatami took office in August as Iran's first popularly elected president, Iranians and Americans have been working together in a small group of interested nations to explore ways to end the civil war in Afghanistan. ... "We are hopeful that the Iranians will play a constructive role in bringing their influence to bear to see the fighting stop and negotiations begin for the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan," said Karl F. Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs and the American official who has been meeting with the Iranians in New York.
December 15, 1997 Aviation Week and Space
NTSB efforts to elicit potentially vital information from witnesses to the flight and crash of TWA Flight 800 were stymied for months by FBI agents who blocked any attempts to interview the witnesses, according to a copy of a safety board report obtained by Aviation Week & Space Technology. The witnesses included .... 96 ... witnesses who claimed to have seen a streak of light rise from the surface prior to the 747-131's crash. ...... Two days after the July 17, 1996, crash, as the witness group was preparing to start interviewing witnesses, an FBI agent informed NTSB officials that the bureau "was not prepared to share any information outside the NTSB, so parties [to the safety board investigation] could not be involved," the witness group report states. The NTSB had named one of its investigators, Bruce Magladry, to head the witness group, which initially included representatives of TWA, the Air Line Pilots Assn. and the FAA. On July 21, 1996, the report states, Assistant U.S. Attorney Valerie Caproni informed Magladry and Norm Wiemeyer, head of the Flight 800 probe's operations group, "that no interviews were to be conducted by the NTSB." Safety board investigators could review FBI-supplied documents on the witnesses, "provided no notes were taken and no copies were made." The next day, FBI and NTSB officials reached an agreement that safety board officials could conduct interviews "under the direction and in the company of the FBI, and all information would be kept private with no notes taken." Concerned that this interfered with the NTSB's mandate to make public the information gathered in its investigations, Magladry withdrew from the witness group two days later. The NTSB's efforts to glean information from witnesses did not resume until mid-November 1996. The new witness group was made up of representatives of the NTSB, TWA, ALPA and the FAA, as well as Boeing, the International Federation of Flight Attendants and International Assn. of Machinists. It was then that the FBI permitted the group members to review notes of interviews with witnesses (26 of whom were airborne when they observed the crash) and service, maintenance and cargo personnel from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and the airport in Athens. ... It was not until mid-January that the group members interviewed New York Air National Guard personnel who were on duty the night of the crash, including the HH-60 and C-130 crews operating in the area (AW&ST Mar. 10, p. 35). ... The report said there were 458 witness interviews provided by the FBI. Of those, 183 reported seeing a streak of light and 102 provided information on the origin of the streak. The report stated that six witnesses said the streak originated in the sky and 96 said it rose from the surface. It is not clear whether the accounts of the 96 witnesses were included in the 244 analyzed by the CIA for the FBI. The analysts concluded that the witnesses did not see a missile strike Flight 800.
December 16, 1997 Reuters
Lawyers defending TWA and Boeing against suits over the Flight 800 explosion told a judge on Tuesday they were asking federal authorities to share their data on whether a missile or bomb could have caused the crash. The FBI has decided there was no evidence that a criminal act caused the disaster, but a lawyer for Boeing Co. said the defendants still wanted to review information gathered by the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board. The lawyer, Steven Bell of Seattle, said that authorities have denied TWA and Boeing access to the data so far. He said that the information could be relevant to the defense. "It's something we have to assess," ... U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet told the lawyers that since the probe was not officially closed, he doubted that the request would be successful. ..... Lee Kreindler, a lawyer whose firm is representing about 80 families, said he expected the missile and bomb theories would eventually be removed from the case. "If that is an issue in the case, we have everything introduced in Baltimore. There's a lot of hard evidence on our side," he said. The hearing on the matter was set for March 4.
December 16, 1997 The Associated Press
TWA and Boeing asked a judge Tuesday to help them get evidence from the criminal investigation into the TWA Flight 800 explosion, including statements from people who thought they saw a missile near the plane. The lawyers made the appeal to U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet during a routine pretrial hearing in the case brought by some of the families of 230 people who died in the July 17, 1996 disaster. Steve Bell, a Boeing lawyer, said the companies had been denied evidence relating to the criminal investigation by the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board. Sweet said he would wait to consider intervening until it was clear exactly what evidence the lawyers believed was relevant. ..... Bell said evidence that could show a jury that a bomb or missile may have caused the disaster was "obviously relevant. It means somebody else is responsible, not Boeing," he said.
December 23, 1997 The Associated Press
An FBI agent who early in his career posed as the head of dummy companies in the undercover ABSCAM operation was named Tuesday to head the agency's criminal division as an assistant director. The announcement by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh elevates Thomas J. Pickard from head of the bureau's Washington field office to its No. 3 post. Freeh noted that Pickard, 47, played a primary role in the investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800 and helped personally take two terrorist suspects who were in foreign countries into U.S. custody. He also supervised the FBI's role in the trials of four World Trade Center bombing defendants and Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind cleric convicted in 1995 of conspiring with nine others to blow up the United Nations headquarters and other New York City landmarks. ..... In an interview, Pickard said computer technology and the opportunities it gives criminals to commit fraud poses one of the greatest challenges to the FBI. "When I started in the FBI, I used to jump over fences and chase fugitives and bank robbers and white-collar criminals through the back yards,'' Pickard said. "Now the new young agents are jumping over fences and jumping into cyberspace. ...Pickard recalled that as a young agent he posed as the head of two "cover companies'' the FBI set up in 1979 to offer money to politicians in return for helping other agents posing as Middle East businessmen get immigration papers to stay in this country.....ABSCAM resulted in convictions of several members of Congress. The FBI was criticized by a Senate committee for not properly supervising the investigation and targeting some officials without evidence they were predisposed to take bribes.
December 24, 1997 The York Times
Denver, Dec. 23 - Terry L. Nichols was convicted today of conspiring to bomb the Oklahoma City Federal Building, but in a nuanced verdict, a Federal ... jury acquitted him of ... committing .. the worst terrorist act on United States soil.