By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
In the weeks since TWA Flight 800 plunged into the Atlantic, prompting a fresh round of fulminations on world terrorism from the Clinton White House, there has been avid conjecture on and off the Internet that the 747 was actually the victim of a US Navy exercise gone a bit awry. One would have to be a little dense not to consider the possibility: There was the Navy C-130 transport plane that arrived on the scene almost immediately--because, as a crew member told CNN, it had been on maneuvers within a few miles of the TWA jet--and all the eyewitness accounts that alluded to a "flare" approaching the aircraft just before it exploded.
On Saturday a consultant named John Ellis published an op-ed column on the subject in the Boston Globe, the first mainstream account I've seen that dares mention the possibility of US culpability out loud. "What's interesting," writes Ellis, "is that many people in the business of airline security, most of whom began their careers working in intelligence agencies of the United States government, believe that the 'friendly fire' theory is a credible interpretation of the available data." The government's own crash investigators likewise have been unable to rule out the possibility--though they aren't exactly talking it up, either. On Monday, in fact, New York FBI chief James Kallstrom called a press conference to try to quiet the swelling speculation. "I've said publicly many, many times that friendly fire is highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely," he said.
Still, Ellis goes on to cite several other piquant details: that a number of the witnesses who reported seeing a streak rise in the night sky and then swerve suddenly just prior to the explosion were pilots or aeronautical engineers themselves ("people," he notes, "trained to know what they see happening in the sky"); that previous airline bombings have produced no fireball comparable to the one in this case; and that the air pressure readings gleaned from the plane's black box don't match the typical profile of a bomb detonation. "The fact remains," he concludes, "that eyewitness accounts point to a missile. The more disturbing fact is that the only vessels likely to be in the area that are capable of launching surface-to-air missiles are those of the United States Navy."
Regardless of what really happened, it's unlikely in the extreme that any official investigation would ever point to the US Navy--which, after all, has already got a track record of shooting down civilian airliners. Yet one can't help wondering what the public reaction would be. I can almost imagine that a few months down the road it would be a one- or two-day story and then vanish with hardly a trace, the machinations of media and collective memory being what they are now.
THE REMARKABLE THING about the San Jose Mercury News series on the CIA's crack-dealing pals is not the substance of the revelations but the fact that a daily newspaper saw fit to explore them and publish its findings. The CIA's complicity with coke-trafficking Contras has been known to journalism professionals for over a decade. On December 20, 1985, the AP distributed a story by Robert Parry and Brian Barger reporting that the major Contra factions were all implicated in drug-running. The major media by and large left it alone. The New York Times phoned out for a token denial from one of Ed Meese's minions at Justice and used it to summarily dismiss the charges. When the same kinds of stories surfaced around the Lawrence Walsh Iran-Contra probe, they were again shunted aside.
It seems that reporter Gary Webb's series is meeting a similar fate: no Nightline blowout, no prominent coverage in other major dailies, no impassioned debate in Congress, just a few inches here and a few seconds there mentioning the calls of various black organizations for a government probe. A Mercury News marketing rep I phoned on Monday expressed surprise that there hadn't been more big-media attention. She said most of the interest in the series has come from the ever-maligned talk radio stations.
An interesting footnote on the CIA and drug-running turned up last Thursday when the AP wire reported that a group of DEA agents stationed overseas had filed a class action suit against the CIA for tapping their phones. Never let it be said that American intelligence fails to go the extra mile for its friends.
AND THIS ON the subject of the Contras: The current issue of the aforementioned Bob Parry's excellent online 'zine The Consortium (www.delve.com/consort.html) features an item regarding General Good Government Powell's role in the affair, which turns out to have been quite a bit more expansive than he let on. And I quote: "Powell... used his bureaucratic skills to circumvent normal procedures and slip the missiles [bound for Iran] out of US Army inventories... Pentagon officials... pointed to Powell as the key Iran-Contra action officer within the Defense Department."