The Mystery of TWA 800

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It is sometimes easy to forget that the principal function of government, like any other organism, is to protect itself. In a perfect world a regime that has erred egregiously would admit to its mistake, apologize to the public, and make corrections to prevent any recurrence. By that measure, the United States should have long since declared the Iraq War to be a disaster of the first magnitude and stated its intention to never again engage in intervention and nation building anywhere at any time unless a genuine vital interest is actually threatened. Alas, a number of distinguished Republican Senators continue to insist that Washington brought something called democracy to Baghdad and the current incumbent in the White House appears unable to resist the urge to meddle in places like Libya and Syria, where the United States national interest would appear to be somewhat elusive.

The unwillingness to admit to grave errors and the willingness to lie about what has occurred also corrupts the entire government accountability process, which, in the U.S., has been virtually non-existent since 9/11 if not before. The government is always explaining itself, loath to admit that it has done wrong and, as a corollary, no one is ever to blame, least of all those who sit in the White House. The internalized inability to confront unpleasant truths has been aided and abetted by a general failure of the Fourth Estate to expose government malfeasance in any serious way, largely a product of the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the media and the decision makers in Washington, rather like remora feeding on the leftovers provided by sharks.

Nevertheless, one might expect that there will be an occasional story that might capture the imagination of the public and lead to serious inquiry about whether the government has been engaging in what might be considered a cover-up. The recentaccount of the downing of Trans World Airways flight 800 near Long Island, killing 230 passengers and crew, appeared to fit the bill. TWA flight 800, a 747 jumbo jet bound for Paris, blew up on July 17th 1996 when it was at an altitude of a little over 13,000 feet ascending in a take-off from JFK International in New York City. The cause of the crash has always been somewhat of a mystery, inspiring numerous conspiracy theories, but an exhaustive investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the explosion that brought down the plane occurred after an electrical short ignited a fuel tank.

That might well have been the end of the story but for the about to be aireddocumentary film which actually interviews three experienced investigators on the NTSB panel who disagreed with the conclusions and are, to this day, convinced that the crash was caused by an outside explosion such as might result from a missile detonating. They cite eyewitness accounts, radar images, forensic evidence, physical damage assessments, and traces of explosive residue to make their case. They note that from an engineering perspective no other plane has ever experienced an exploding fuel tank caused by an electrical short. They point out that not one of the scores of witnesses on the ground was allowed to testify and claim that their own viewpoints were suppressed in the final report while they kept quiet for fear of losing their jobs. Now that they are retired they have spoken out. One might reasonably consider their arguments to be credible.

The NTSB has responded to the documentary by defending its original findings and it is certainly possible to argue that the three men are wrong, that the evidence points another way, but that is not necessarily the case being made. The mainstream media quickly registered its own judgment on the matter, killing the story in roughly 48 hours, possibly because it might lead to some alternative conclusions that could be considered disturbing about how the U.S. government operates when it is in its self-protect mode. Or it might even require questioning the somewhat restrained role of the press in reporting on the crash and its aftermath.

I might add for what it’s worth that it has long been rumored inside government intelligence and law enforcement circles that the investigation into the crash of TWA 800 was a cover-up and that the airplane was actually shot down by accident by a U.S. fighter on a training mission. Will we ever know for sure? Not likely.

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