The Downing Of TWA 800 (Excerpt) .

James Sanders


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                             ~ Special Report ~
                           The Downing Of TWA 800
                             By James Sanders 
     Chapter 1
     As the evening of July 17, 1996 began, Eastenders on Long Island's
     south fork had no idea that only a few miles away a joint naval
     task force was assembling for a critical test of a top secret
     weapons system. In towns like Westhampton, Mastic Beach, and along
     the Shinnecock Bay Inlet, as midweek parties began, as recreational
     boaters set out into the warm night, the could not have foreseen
     the light sow that would soon light up the skies. At 2000 hours,
     July 17, 1996, a world away from the town of Southampton's resort
     beaches, military zone W-105, thousands of square miles of ocean
     located south and southeast of Long Island, was activated by the
     United States Navy. Within minutes, from different locations around
     the sector, military activity increased as the various units
     participating in the operation deployed their aircraft and surface
     vessels. The 106th New York Air National Guard put a C-130 and
     HH-60C helicopter in the air. The Coast Guard cutter "Atak"
     patrolled just south of Long Island's Gabreski Air National Guard
     base, her sailors catching the last few rays of deep orange before
     the sun finally disappeared for the night.
     Over the horizon, to the East, in zone W-105, U.S. Navy AEGIS
     guided missile warships prepared for the final evaluation of a
     multibillion-dollar upgrade to their software, radar, and Standard
     IIIA and IV antiaircraft/antimissile missile. The AEGIS radar and
     target management system was the pride of the U.S. fleet, so
     powerful that Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser personnel
     were said to have bragged that a ship like the USS Normandy could
     single-handedly fight a nuclear war with a small country, and win.
     "AEGIS arrogance", they called it, a pride supported by the
     stubbing Tomahawk cruise missile tubes and the surgically accurate
     antiaircraft and antiship weapon that Bristled form the cruiser's
     deck. AEGIS warship protected the fleet and could fight battles on
     land, sea, or air, and in just a few short weeks, the USS Normandy
     herself would steam into the Adriatic to relieve the USS Arleigh
     Burke AEGIS destroyer and take up station to bombard the Bosnian
     Serb rebels with a barrage of Tomahawks. But that was still months
     away. Tonight, the system itself had to be tested as the surface
     vessels sailed into position. At the same time, a Navy plane, with
     newly upgraded electronic equipment designed to work with AEGIS,
     slowly cruised. The plane was the key to the new top secret and
     highly complex radar tracking system that was in its third year of
     testing. The aircraft's onboard computer hardware, weighting 535
     pounds, was the platform for a new software upgrade linked directly
     to the AEGIS warship's radar system. If all ran like clockwork, the
     computer link and integrated radar and communications net would
     make it possible for a defensive envelope to be extended more than
     thirty miles over the horizon even in the most dangerous of costal
     battle theaters, despite the foulest of weather and the darkness of
     night. But would it work?
     Zone W-105 was selected for this final pre certification test
     because of the complexity of the area. It was as close to a
     simulated Persian Gulf environment as the Navy could get without
     leaving U.S. coastal water. Long Island offered dense
     ground-clutter, and the constant flow of commercial air traffic out
     of JFK gave the navy the «neutral» radar blip it needed to test the
     discrimination skills of the targeting software. Meanwhile, navy
     planes were approaching the exercise area to present "friendly"
     electronic signatures for AEGIS to track and compute into the task
     force battle array. A "hostile" presence would soon appear in the
     form of a BQM-74E Navy drone missile launched in the vicinity of
     Shinnecock Bay, east of Riverhead, Long Island. The 106th New York
     Air National Guard and Coast Guard units would be "traffic cops"
     for the Navy drone as it briefly passed over land en route to zone
     The drone, the friendliest, the neutrals, the task force surface
     naval vessels, the National Guard aircraft, and the interlocking
     radar were all part of a test of the Navy's new Cooperative
     Engagement Capability or CEC, and integrated radar network designed
     to be fully compatible with the Army's missile defense system in
     order to give the battlefield zone closest to the water
     comprehensive protection from cruise and ballistic missiles. The
     Army's antimissile development was controlled by a command called
     Force 21, with a headquarters at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, just
     outside of Eatontown, near the Jersey shore. Attached to this Army
     program was a senior Navy Officer named Admiral Edward K.
     Kristianson, whose expertise in computers and integrated data
     management system arrays made him the perfect candidate for
     senior-level liaison with the Army for this multibillion-dollar
     21st-century warfare.
     At about the same time as the naval units were heading into
     position, the gate agents for TWA's New York to Paris Flight 800
     were announcing final boarding. As families said good-bye, fathers
     bugged their daughters, and husbands and wives promised to call one
     another as soon as the plane landed safely, the TWA cabin crew was
     checking seatings assignments on the computer printout. Out of the
     tarmac, the baggage handlers were putting the last of the luggage
     aboard, while in the cabin, Captain Steven E. Snyder and his first
     officer Ralph G. Kevorkian completed their preflight checklist.
     Earlier that day, TWA Flight 800 had flown in from Athens and had
     to be cleaned, checked, put through maintenance, refueled, and
     resupplied for the return flight to Europe. The area around the huge
     747-100 was like a small silty as the ground crew fought against
     the clock to get the plane airborne on schedule. Even as children
     at the departure gate pressed their noses against the glass to
     watch the train of little baggage trucks wind away from the landing
     gear, no one could have known the fate that awaited Flight 800.
     Not in their most terrifying nightmares could anyone, neither
     passengers nor crew, have conceived of the engine of destruction
     that was assembling itself just offshore, or of the resulting
     fireball that would consume everyone onboard when the plane's path
     brought it near the hot zone W-105.
     For several days before the final test on July 17, an Army unit had
     been deployed at the Long Island site, participating in several
     training missions that included the launch of several drones.
     Shortly before 2030 hours on July 17, an all-clear signal was given
     to the drone's launch platform. No general aviation or commercial
     aviation traffic was in the area. Is was safe. The missile launch
     unit fed in the trajectory instructions to the drone's computer and
     watched as the automatic launch sequence counted off to ignition.
     Within minutes of the all-clear, the drone was airborne.
     At about the same time as the all-clear signal, Linda Kabot from
     Westhampton Beach on Long Island was snapping off party photographs
     at the Republican fund raising event from an outdoor restaurant deck
     overlooking Shinnecock Bay. Linda was focusing her camera at the
     smiling faces of local Republican politicos and friends, not
     realizing that in the background high overhead in the purple sky,
     that little streak of light she'd seen would turn out in one of the
     photos to be an image of the Navy BQM-74E Navy drone, quickly
     descending to its altitude coordinates shortly after its launch.
     In its preprogrammed trajectory,  the Navy drone reached its
     preset altitude, it then dropped to thirty feet above sea level and
     accelerated to more than 500 mph as it began a long left turn away
     form the clutter of Long Island's land mass. The drone settled into
     a east-southeast heading toward the Navy AEGIS surface task force
     cruising on station just over the horizon. As the missile shot
     through the darkness at the speed of an airliner, the passengers
     aboard Flight 800 were just settling into a routine in the minutes
     after their late takeoff. Seat belts began unfastening as the cabin
     flight attendants began preparations for the long service through
     the night and into the braking dawn over Europe, eight hours away.
     High overhead at 20,000 feet a Navy P-3 Orion deployed form
     Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine, turned its infrared tracking
     system on as it assisted the hundreds of millions of dollars in
     Navy high-tech tracking equipment spread along the shore from
     Virginia to Long Island, installed to monitor the ongoing
     development of the Navy's CEC warship defense system. Tonight the
     P-3 would be part of the invisible eyes ot the network, monitoring
     along whit the land-based equipment, every phase of what the navy
     expected to be perfect shoot down of the drone missile already on
     its way into the heart of the AEGIS task force.
     The Navy had invested a lot of money in the development of CEC,
     even before the disastrous Exocet missile attack on the USS Stark
     in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, when American
     warships escorted oil tankers up and down the Strait of Hormuz
     while under hostile Iranian shore batteries. Amid the flights of
     commercial airliners form both adversaries, U.S. and allied
     military aircraft, and hostile aircraft from Iran, is was next to
     impossible to discriminate between targets, neutral, friend or foe.
     The heavy traffic, Saddam Hussein maintained, was how the Stark was
     attacked by his fighter pilots in the first place. It was part of
     the reason for the deployment of CEC.
     Because of the complexity of modern electronic warfare, in which
     the front lines obliterate traffic of all types, CEC was designed
     to be an almost surgical radar tracking, evaluating, and targeting
     system which would make it possible for the Navy to enter hostile
     environments like the Arabian Sea. CEC could identify and track all
     commercial traffic, and friendly military surface and air traffic
     in and out of the countries bordering the Sea, while remaining on
     the lookout for a hostile cruise missile launch form any direction.
     The Navy believed this system would allow them to discriminate
     electronically among friend, foe, and background clutter and still
     fight a battle. At least that's what the Navy thought as their
     warship and planes glided into position on the night of July 17,
     turned their combined radars on, and began sweeping the area for
     the commencement of this final precertification test.
     Deep inside the electronic brain of a second Navy P-3 working with
     CEC, the radar communications equipment in the plane linked to the
     AEGIS-CEC transmitted signals along a downlink to the vessels AEGIS
     radar computers. They began to decipher images from among the land
     clutter, friendliest, neutrals, and the hostile BQM-74E Navy drone
     missiles rapidly heading toward the task force. It was as if
     combined radars and computers suddenly took an electronic snapshot
     of the entire area and identified friend from foe while eliminating
     neutral aircraft. Then, almost instantly, the interlocking
     software of each AEGOS-CEC platform acquired the target drone, but
     were suddenly jammed by electronic interference. One radar broke
     through the interference, however, computed a shot through the
     thickening fog of multiple "hostile" electronic jammers, plotted
     its trajectory, and commanded the software to automatically select
     the platform best positioned to make the shot.
     The computer software then launched a Navy Standard IIIA or IV
     antimissile missile, specifically altered to function with this new
     equipment, toward the oncoming drone. Form over the horizon, no one
     except Navy personnel could see the whoosh of the rocket launch as
     the missile took off from its tube. The antimissile missile climbed
     high into the evening sky and rocketed west in the general
     direction of the low-flying cruise-missile drone, toward a position
     where its onboard computer was expecting to receive a midcourse
     correction. This signal was supposed to fine-tune the Standard
     missile's trajectory in order for the inboard semi active radar
     homing device to lock onto the target as the Standard missile began
     its plunge toward the drone a few thousand feet below. At least
     that was the plan.
     Commercial planes rising into the sky from JFK were unwitting
     participants in this final test of 21st century technology. As TWA
     Flight 800 climbed towards 14,000 feet, heading eastbound over the
     water for Paris, it was about twelve miles off the south coast of
     Long Island over the horizon to the west of the military exercise
     as it crossed into the warning zone and technically became a
     "neutral". At the same time, the electronic receiver onboard the
     Navy Standard missile began sweeping its secure radio frequency,
     waiting for the course correction commands form the AEGIS computers
     to direct the weapon, now at its predesignated point, to where it
     was supposed to attack its prey.
     But prior to the mandatory midcourse correction the last AEGIS-CEG
     radar still tracking the missile and the drone through the heavy
     electronic jamming suddenly went completely blind. The drone and
     Standard missile could not be tracked. In two earlier tests all but
     one radar had been put out of action by electronic jamming. On July
     17, the Standard missile was no longer under the control of the
     AEGIS-CEC system. Following its internal programming, it continued
     on its westerly course at 3000 feet per second actively searching
     for a target.
     In an instant, the Standard's internal radar acquired TWA Flight
     800 at well above and to the west of the target drone. The
     antimissile missile's radar turned sharply to the right, aimed its
     inert war hear at the 747, and painted an electronic bull's-eye on
     an area just in front of the right wing. The missile leveled off in
     a direct line to its impact point, and then at full speed slammed
     into the fuselage several feet below the passenger cabin.
     There was no instant explosion, as the dummy war head missile
     sliced through the huge plane a sheet of paper, depositing a trail
     of reddish-orange residue in its wake. It roared through the
     fuselage and exited through the left side of the plane, just
     forward of the left wing,n where it left a hole large enough to
     walk through. After the missile exited, passengers, seats, galleys,
     food carts, and suitcases were sucked out of the interior through
     the hole in the left side, leaving a 4700 foot trail of debris
     along the sea bottom during phase one of the three phase breakup.
     On its way through the interior of the 747, the missile seriously
     weakened the front of the nearly empty center fuel tank. The plane
     went into a dive, and eight seconds and 4700 feet after the initial
     missile impact, a small explosion occurred, beginning approximately
     in the middle of the center fuel tank. The top of the fuel tank
     bowed upward, but at this stage of the breakup, did not rupture.
     This caused the floor of the passenger cabin also to bow upward,
     breaking loose seats in the center rows 21, 22, and 23. The
     explosion completed the separation of the front of the plane from
     the fuselage, initiating phase two.
     The force of the explosion followed the path of least resistance:
     forward, blowing out the weakened front of the center wing tank.
     The explosive force caused the forward fuselage to separate a few
     feet in front of the missile's path, where the fuselage had been
     greatly weakened. This blast propelled row 15, seats 1,2 and 3,
     about six-tenths of a mile to the left, while a large piece of the
     fuselage above the R2 door sailed six-tenths of a mile to the
     right. The front end tumbled end over end off to the left as the
     remaining section of the plane continued on in a steep dive.
     The pilotless stump of the 747 began to roll to the left until the
     left wing tip pointed toward the water below. The fire from the
     center wing tank spread rapidly up the right side of the fuselage
     and right wing. At about 7500 feet the inner right wing tank
     exploded. The engines and about ninety-eight percent of the center
     wing tank came to rest on the ocean floor more than 12,000 feet
     east of the missile's point of impact.
     As quickly as it happened, it was over. Flight 800 was gone, spread
     across the water in a flaming swath. Moments earlier, a Long Island
     FAA radar technician staring into his electronic view screen
     thought he had seen something approaching TWA Flight 800 just
     before it disappeared from the radar. He saw "conflicting radar
     tracks that indicated a missile." Then he filed his report and the
     paper trail had begun.
     A short time after the incident, the White House Situation Room was
     advised that preliminary assessment of FAA radar data indicated
     that a missile had shot down TWA Flight 800, en route from JFK to
     Paris with 230 passengers aboard. By 2 a.m. on July 18, key federal
     intelligence and investigative personnel were informed via White
     House teleconference that TWA Flight 800 was brought down
     accidentally by a friendly missile during a Naval exercise. They
     had on their hands, they were told in the blamelessly antiseptic
     world of military corporatese, a "situation." The Department of
     Justice Command Center and FBI Strategy Information Operations
     Center also came to life as Flight 800 information began to trickle
     in. Each was connected by a video teleconference system (VTS) to
     the White House Situation Room. The initial talk in the room
     focused not on a bomb, but on a missile. Some eyewitnesses thought
     they had seen something bright arching toward the jet just before
     it blew up. At the next video conference, about dawn, an FAA
     representative said there was indeed a "strange radar blip."
     But there were far too many people crowding into these
     teleconferences to let the missile analysis stand. So word was put
     out that "at air traffic control on Long Island, FAA officials
     reviewing radar tapes were unable to find even the mysterious
     The radar tape did not remain on Long Island for long. It went to
     the FAA Technical Center in Washington, D.C. The FAA Technical
     Center team, headed by the FAA's Tom Lintner, concluded that there
     was an "unexplained blip" on the radar tape. U.S. military missile
     experts told the FBI that a missile with a semi active radar homing
     system would show up on an FAA radar set in transponder mode, but
     that a shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile would not.
     According to Newsweek , writing in the aftermath of the crash, when
     news of the disaster had been reported in almost every newspaper
     and magazine in America, the possibility of a missile bringing down
     Flight 800 was the topic of conversation at the 6 a.m. VTS
     teleconference. They said that the Stinger theory - the Stinger is
     a shoulder-fired, American-manufactured missile - resonated with
     the FBI, which had picked up intelligence that some terrorists had
     been shopping for the lethal weapons. As the 6 a.m. meeting got
     underway in the VTS room, there was "a lot of breathless talk"
     about attacks by missiles, or MANPADS. Still, some experts were
     dubious. The Stingers handed out to the Afghan and Paki "muj" by
     the CIA were at least a decade old, and probably junk by now. The
     Pentagon cast further doubt on the Stinger theory with some simple
     math. The effective range of a Stinger is just over two miles, and
     its sensor can't lock on aircraft much above 11,000 feet.
     The Pentagon had a growing problem. They had temporarily halted the
     CNN nonstop coverage of a possible missile by having a high-level
     source "leak" disinformation, that the blip was an "anomaly", which
     CNN then authoritatively passed on to the public. But now they had
     the potential for a bureaucratic leaking sieve if they didn't get
     the missile talk under control. So a coordinated program of leaks
     began to appear, and gradually began to neutralize the few clues
     being unearthed by a few intrepid reporters.
     Whether the president or vice president actually knew about these
     events in the hours immediately following the crash or even whether
     they knew about the cause of the crash itself is a matter of
     conjecture. Nevertheless, somewhere within the topmost echelons of
     the military establishment, whether it was for national security or
     purely political reasons, a cover-up was initiated to conceal the
     real cause of the crash from the American people. Maybe the
     identities of the ships of the ships in the task force had to be
     hidden. Maybe it would be too embarrassing to reveal with the
     Democratic convention only a few weeks away. We only know that the
     true details of some of the most critical evidence assembled on the
     floor of the hangar at Calverton have never been revealed to the
     This cover-up would have been easier to maintain had there been no
     witnesses. But witnesses were everywhere, and they had to be
     discredited or dismissed. Thirty-four civilians at various
     locations along the flight window across Long Island saw the
     missile rise out of the ocean and intercept Flight 800. After
     extensive FBI and military debriefings, these thirty-four people
     were found to be highly credible, too credible to be dismissed as
     flaky. Each, from a different location, had seen a missile exit
     zone W-105 and intercept Flight 800. For example, an on-duty Air
     National Guard pilot saw a missile going from east to west slam
     into TWA Flight 800. The Air National Guard put out a press release
     the next day saying only that an unknown object, going from east to
     west, was seen by the captain. A woman on a boat south of Long
     Island was taking photos while facing the east. One of the photos
     shows a missile trail rising out of zone W-105.
     The missile itself had left tangible evidence of its flight path
     through the aircraft in the form of a solid fuel residue deposited
     on the seats in rows 17, 18, and 19. It also left a red trail
     attached to airplane parts that fell off into the ocean during the
     first eight seconds of the plane's breakup.
     Knowing that the United States Navy shot down the plane with a
     missile, a plan of action was developed to remove evidence from the
     scene that would implicate the United States Government. Coast
     Guard MPs from a closed facility with only a skeleton crew
     maintaining and guarding it were brought over to guard a dock when
     sensitive debris was brought to shore.
     One source described a Coast Guard MP team that observed this
     happening. The story is partially confirmed by the New York police
     officers who observed a highly sensitive diving operation in the
     Red Zone during the first days after the crash. They were
     prohibited from the area during the multi-day course of the
     operation. Debris was brought to the surface and placed on the
     boat, but it did not go to Calverton hangar, they said.
     But the source of the Coast Guard MP team story went further. He
     said that not only was the recovery of airplane wreckage a
     clandestine operation, but that the team was debriefed by
     intelligence personnel - they identified themselves as CIA - and
     warned that anything they say to the media or to any other sources
     would be a violation of national security and that they would be
     punished accordingly.
     A team of Navy divers was brought in to dive in a particularly
     sensitive area of the Red Zone. No divers from any other
     organization were allowed to approach this area.
     The Navy divers brought debris up and placed it on a ship which
     delivered the cargo to the dock guarded by the Coast Guard MPs, who
     watched as missile parts were off-loaded and placed on a truck.
     Pieces of the 747 that had red residue attached were also loaded
     onto the truck, which then drove off to an unknown location.
     Unbeknownst to those charged with removing the evidence from the
     crime scene, they missed some of the reddish-orange residue.
     On August 3, 1996, a seat was recovered from the ocean floor with a
     significant amount of reddish-orange residue attached to its back
     side. Over the next few weeks, as the seats in rows 17, 18, and 19
     were recovered, FBI investigators at the Calverton hangar saw the
     residue trail extend entirely across the cabin, scorched into the
     backs of most of the seats in these rows. The FBI took five samples
     of the reddish-orange residue for analysis. But, once tested, the
     results became part of a criminal investigation and the FBI
     declined to release their findings.
     As the cover-up moved forward, it took the form of a lengthy
     process of creating new truths while systematically hiding the
     evidence. A series of nightly leaks to the press by unnamed
     government "sources", the content of which became increasingly
     illogical, kept conditioning the American population into believing
     whatever the NTSB suggested. Ultimately, they settled on a
     "mechanical" finding. But the real cause all along was a terrible
     lack of judgment on the part of the Navy, who had used innocent
     civilians as human guinea pigs as they rushed a multibillion-dollar
     weapons system into its final certification test before it was
     Copyright 1997 James D. Sanders.

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