News Articles Relating to PSI TECH's Remote Viewing Project on TWA Flight 800

Bomb Seemed Unlikely Early In TWA Probe-FBI Expert

    Monday May 10, 1999 9:17 PM ET

By Tim Dobbyn

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former FBI metals expert said Monday it was clear within weeks that the 1996 crash of a TWA jumbo jet was not caused by a missile or bomb -- a theory it took the agency over a year to publicly dismiss.

    Ex-FBI chief metallurgist William Tobin told a congressional committee that bomb technicians and air safety investigators had quickly agreed by early to mid-September that the wreckage did not display explosives damage.

    Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation of jeopardizing public safety by sticking for so long to its bomb or missile theory.

    The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in December 1996 that it believed the blast was initiated inside the plane's nearly empty center fuel tank but the FBI only closed its criminal probe in November 1997.

    In particular Grassley has faulted the FBI for trying to suppress a January 1997 report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that concluded a mechanical fault in the Boeing 747 most likely caused the explosion.

    FBI insists it sent a copy to the NTSB two months later.

    TWA Flight 800 exploded off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996, shortly after the Boeing Co. 747 left New York's John F. Kennedy airport. All 230 people on board died.

    The NTSB is still examining possible ignition sources for the blast but hopes to issue a final report late this year.

    ``FBI leadership, in the case of TWA Flight 800, was a disaster,'' said Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary's administrative subcommittee.

    Grassley told reporters that the long-running FBI probe had provided no incentive for airlines to act on the NTSB recommendations for making center fuel tanks safer.

    He said the FBI should not have assumed leadership of the probe until the evidence supported criminal activity.

    But Lewis Schiliro, assistant director in charge at the FBI's New York office, said there was a widely shared initial suspicion that a terrorist or criminal act had downed TWA 800.

    The FBI's 16-month investigation had studied every possibility to guard against overlooking a very sophisticated criminal act, Schiliro said.

    He did not dispute NTSB accounts that some of the approximately one million pieces of evidence were mishandled by FBI agents. ``There may have been mistakes along the way,'' Schiliro said.

    Tobin said some senior FBI officials were very aggressive in wanting to quickly produce evidence that explosives brought TWA 800 down.

    ``It was a bomb,'' Tobin recalled FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom telling him about six inches from his face during one tense moment after Tobin told Kallstrom that a positive test for explosive residue did not amount to proof.

    The Federal Aviation Administration later disclosed that explosives had been brought aboard the accident plane a month before the crash to train bomb-sniffing dogs.

    ``I do know he was rather graphic in his approach that it was a bomb and in fact I ended up wearing several particles of his saliva from that presentation,'' Tobin said. Kallstrom retired at the end of 1997.

    Tobin said he had quickly fallen out of favor with senior FBI officials and was excluded from decision-making during the first weeks of the accident probe when it became clear that he did not support the bomb or missile theory.

    ``Scientists are not on an equal footing inside the law enforcement community,'' said Tobin who retired in 1998 after over two decades with the FBI. ``If the science does not support the prevailing theory, then the scientist is basically ignored.''

Monday May 10, 1999 12:32 AM ET

Report: FBI Suppressed Report On 1996 TWA Crash

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation suppressed a report blaming mechanical failure for the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 because its own theory was a bomb or missile, the Washington Post said Sunday.

    The paper said that in January 1997, six months after the plane crashed off the coast of Long Island killing all 230 people on board, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) issued a report that the crash was caused by mechanical failure.

    But the FBI dismissed the report as ``unprofessional and reprehensible,'' according to the newspaper, because it was convinced the flight had been attacked.

    The FBI declined to comment on the Post report Sunday.

    The paper said the FBI stuck to its missile theory despite protests from the ATF, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Central Intelligence Agency and some of its own agents until admitting in November 1997 that a mechanical problem caused a fuel tank to ignite on the Boeing 747.

    The infighting between law-enforcement agencies during the probe, the FBI's conduct and the never-released 24-page ATF report will be the subject of Senate hearings Monday, the newspaper said.

    Senator Charles Grassley who is holding the hearings told the Post they would show the FBI prolonged its investigation to boost its budget, causing a delay in airlines implementing fuel tank safety recommendations.

    ``The FBI didn't want to hear about anything but a missile or a bomb, because otherwise there was no FBI case,'' the Iowa Republican told the newspaper. ``Their conduct was disturbing from the very beginning.''

    FBI officials told the newspaper they reached the correct conclusion in the end after a $20 million probe which included reassembling almost the entire aircraft.

    ``It was an extremely thorough investigation,'' one FBI official told the Post. ``We didn't want to close until we felt we had done everything humanly possible to rule out sabotage.''

    The newspaper said witnesses to be called at the hearings Monday will testify that the FBI was more interested in prolonging the investigation than finding the truth, that the FBI mishandled evidence and even enlisted the help of a psychic who attributed the explosion to a bomb in the left wing.

FBI Criticized Over Flight 800 Probe

    Monday May 10, 1999 1:45 PM ET

    By SHANNON McCAFFREY Associated Press Writer

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Using hand-scribbled notes to support his claims, a Senate subcommittee chairman today accused the FBI of bottling up another agency's report saying mechanical failure caused the crash of TWA Flight 800.

    ``It's fair to say that the FBI hindered the investigation and the public's and the families' right to know. And, in the process, in my view, the FBI risked public safety,'' said Sen. Charles Grassley.

    The Iowa Republican's assertion, which came at the start of a hearing on the investigation of the TWA crash, was based on contemporaneous notes taken by an official of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which said the FBI had forbidden that agency from delivering its finding to the National Transportation Safety Board.

    But James Kallstrom, the former head of the FBI's New York office, denied today that the bureau had been overzealous in its pursuit of a terrorist cause of the explosion and crash of the Boeing 747 airliner in July 1996 off the coast of Long Island, N.Y.

    ``With the massive, complex investigation conducted into this crash, if in the end the only criticism of the FBI is that we worked too hard, too long, and did too much, I will accept that criticism proudly,'' Kallstrom, now retired, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

    The focus of the Senate hearing was a 24-page report by ATF. Released six months after the crash, it concluded mechanical failure was the cause. FBI officials said at the time that, with pieces of a mockup reconstruction of the plane not yet completed, it was too early to state a cause.

    But others read different motives into the FBI's failure to endorse the report's findings early on, saying the agency clung to the belief that terrorists were behind the attack so that it could remain involved.

    ``The FBI didn't want to hear about anything but a missile or a bomb, because otherwise there was no FBI case,''Grassley told The Washington Post. ``Their conduct was disturbing from the very beginning.''

    Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on administrative oversight, which was holding today's hearing.

    The NTSB led the investigation into the Flight 800 crash. The FBI and ATF were part of a task force working with the NTSB. Witnesses were expected to provide testimony at the hearing that the FBI attempted to suppress the ATF report.

    In Washington today, FBI spokesman Frank Scafidi said, ``We didn't sit on this report. It is dated Jan. 20; it got to (then-Assistant FBI Director) Jim Kallstrom on March 13. Where was it during those months? He forwarded it to Jim Hall at NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) on March 17.''

    ``The theory seems to be that because ATF comes out with this analysis, we should have forgotten other tests we were conducting here and at China Lake, a Navy weapons testing center in California,'' Scafidi continued.

    ``We had witnesses who thought they saw a missile and had (television commentator) Pierre Salinger running around talking about possible missile attacks,'' he said. ``If we'd have stopped the investigation then, we'd have been called premature. We owed more than that to the families. Sure, there are turf battles, but somebody has to be the ultimate answer-provider. It's our professional obligation to answer every question.''

    While Kallstrom denied that the ATF report was suppressed, he did say he did not want it publicized. He said it would have been misleading to the public to imply that a conclusion had been drawn in the crash when one had not yet been reached.

    ``Even though I did not want the report because it was premature, as soon as I received it, I forwarded a copy to NTSB and to the terrorist task force,'' he said.

    ``The report was a gross violation of the protocol of the investigation and totally unprofessional to issue a report before the investigation was done, but unfortunately that is the signature of ATF,'' Kallstrom added.

    The FBI said in the spring of 1997 that a mechanical malfunction caused the plane's center fuel tanks to blow up. Analyzing and testing wasn't completed until November 1997, when the FBI withdrew from the case, finding no evidence of a crime.

    All 230 people died when TWA Flight 800 crashed into the ocean off Long Island shortly after takeoff.

FBI Sought to Suppress Report on TWA Crash

     By Michael Grunwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 1999; Page A01

    NEW YORK, May 8—In January 1997, six months after TWA Flight 800 crashed off the coast of Long Island, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms concluded that mechanical failure had caused the tragedy. But FBI officials, still convinced terrorists had downed the plane with a bomb or a missile, dismissed the 24-page report as "unprofessional and reprehensible," and even persuaded a Treasury Department undersecretary to help them suppress it.

    It wasn't until November 1997 that the FBI acknowledged publicly that a mechanical flaw had indeed ignited the Boeing 747's central fuel tank, a concession that finally put pressure on airlines to begin correcting the problem. For months, documents suggest, the bureau had stuck to its sabotage theory -- despite private protests by the ATF, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Central Intelligence Agency and even some of its own scientists.

    On Monday, a Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing on bureaucratic infighting during the Flight 800 probe, a hearing that is likely to bring about vigorous questioning of the FBI's role in the investigation. Part of the hearing will focus on the never-released ATF report, which furious FBI officials initially wanted to withhold from the safety board, although they apparently changed their minds. The hearing also will focus on complaints from safety board officials as well as the FBI's former chief metallurgist, William Tobin, that bureau officials repeatedly and angrily dismissed scientific evidence that pointed to a mechanical malfunction.

    Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a longtime FBI critic who is holding the hearing, said it will show that the FBI unnecessarily prolonged its criminal investigation, stoking widespread fears about terrorism that have been used to increase its budgets, fueling the discredited conspiracy theories about missile attacks, and giving airlines an excuse to delay action on safety board recommendations to protect fuel tanks.

    "The FBI didn't want to hear about anything but a missile or a bomb, because otherwise there was no FBI case," said Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on administrative oversight. "Their conduct was disturbing from the very beginning."

    The FBI declined to comment on the ATF report, but the bureau remains proud of its Flight 800 investigation. FBI officials say that while they did suspect sabotage at the outset -- arguably a reasonable law enforcement reaction after the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings -- they reached the correct conclusion in the end, thanks to an exhaustive and fair-minded $20 million probe that pieced together almost the entire plane.

    "It was an extremely thorough investigation," one FBI official said. "We didn't want to close it until we felt we had done everything humanly possible to rule out sabotage."

    But some of the witnesses who will testify Monday believe the bureau cared more about keeping its investigation alive than about finding the truth. They will complain that FBI investigators mishandled evidence, kept safety board investigators away from witnesses and even enlisted a psychic who attributed the explosion to a bomb near the left wing. Grassley will also produce a March 1997 report that the deputy director of the CIA sent to the FBI, concluding there was "absolutely no evidence" of a missile attack.

    The most controversial aspect of the hearing, many suspect, will be the murky circumstances surrounding the ATF report, which was completed on Jan. 20, 1997. The report clearly infuriated James K. Kallstrom, then head of the FBI's New York office, who denounced it as "unprofessional and reprehensible" in a memo on March 14, 1997. According to notes scribbled at the time by ATF Assistant Director Andrew Vita, Kallstrom at first demanded that the report be withheld from the safety board, which by law was supposed to be leading the probe into the accident. Kallstrom apparently feared that releasing it to the board would "lock him into eliminating" the missile theory, Vita noted.

    When ATF Director John Magaw balked, citing public safety concerns, Kallstrom appealed to Raymond Kelly, who at the time was Treasury undersecretary for enforcement. To the dismay of the ATF brass, Kelly ordered Magaw not to forward the report. In his notes, Vita fretted that the decision "could result in another similar air disaster."

    "We have what we believe, whether right or wrong, [is] evidence of possible design flaws in Boeing [747] airplanes which again we believe to be responsible for the downing of TWA Flt 800," Vita wrote. "And we are being ordered not to release that information to the appropriate authorities for no compelling good reason, to risk hundreds of human lives."

    But it appears that Kallstrom may have had a change of heart and decided to forward the report after all. Safety board officials said they do not recall receiving the report, and found no trace of it in their mail records. But FBI officials insisted that Kallstrom did send it to the board's chairman, James Hall, and produced a March 17 cover letter, in which Kallstrom described the "unsolicited and premature" report as "an extraordinary violation of protocol."

    Kallstrom did not return calls, but he characterized the TWA inquiry as a "model" during an interview last fall. He also said that he was "looking forward to this hearing," although FBI officials said he will not be available to testify because of a scheduling conflict. ATF and safety board spokesmen declined to comment, except to say that their agencies are cooperating with the committee.

    A spokesman for Kelly, who is now U.S. Customs commissioner, said he deferred to Kallstrom because he thought the FBI was in charge of the investigation. "Ray felt very strongly that the FBI was the appropriate agency to determine whether the report should be shared with other agencies," said the spokesman, Dennis Murphy.

    In a way, that is the question lingering behind the culture clashes that led to this hearing: Who's supposed to be in charge? Under current laws, the safety board is supposed to be the lead investigative agency after an aviation accident until there is an official determination that a crime has been committed. But from the frenzied opening hours at the crash site, the law enforcement-oriented FBI was clearly the only agency with the resources to handle much of the work, and the science-minded safety board reluctantly took a back seat.

    Under Director Louis J. Freeh, the FBI has been trying to change its image as the playground bully of law enforcement, but the TWA probe is unlikely to enhance its reputation for getting along with other agencies. In fact, the safety board, which hopes to determine the exact cause of the mechanical failure by the end of this year, asked Congress last week to clarify its relationships with law enforcement agencies. And sources said the board is negotiating with the ATF on a bilateral "memorandum of understanding" to work together in the future.

    FBI officials suspect that the two agencies are trying to freeze them out. "I guess they don't think we work well with other agencies," an FBI official said. "Well, we're just going to keep doing our job."

Tuesday May 11 2:54 AM ET

FBI Criticized Over Flight 800 Probe

    By SHANNON McCAFFREY Associated Press Writer

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Almost from the moment TWA Flight 800 plunged into the ocean off Long Island in July 1996, conspiracy theorists argued that the FBI did not do enough to prove that a bomb or missile downed the Boeing 747.

    On Monday, the bureau came under fire for what some said was a single-minded pursuit of that terrorist theory, even as evidence mounted that mechanical failure was to blame.

    ``FBI leadership, in the case of TWA Flight 800, was a disaster,'' Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said at the opening of his Senate subcommittee hearing on the crash investigation. ``In fact, it's fair to say that the FBI hindered the investigation and ... in my view, the FBI risked public safety.''

    The hearing relied heavily on a 24-page report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that concluded just six months after Flight 800 went down that mechanical failure was to blame.

    The FBI was accused Monday of trying to suppress that report in what critics said was a heavy-handed and sometimes bumbling rush to prove that a bomb or a missile downed the plane.

    Investigators eventually determined a mechanical malfunction caused the plane's center fuel tanks to explode, killing all 230 people on board.

    A former scientific investigator with the FBI who worked on the Flight 800 case described how James Kallstrom, then-director of the FBI's New York bureau, became enraged when the investigator disputed the bomb theory.

    ``He got about six inches from my face and proceeded to advise me in very graphic terms that it was a bomb,'' said William Tobin, who was later taken off the TWA 800 case by Kallstrom. ``I ended up wearing several particles of his saliva from that presentation.''

    Kallstrom, who did not testify Monday and has since left the FBI, denied he had suppressed the report but said he did not want it released prematurely.

    ``We didn't even have all the pieces off the ocean floor yet, we hadn't even built the reconstruction (of the plane),'' Kallstrom said. ``It is not that we were holding out for a bomb or missile. We were holding out for a thorough comprehensive investigation.''

    Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the ATF maintained that the FBI took over the investigation and was sloppy in collecting evidence. Only FBI agents were allowed to develop pictures of the plane and evidence was allowed to disappear from the hangar where the plane was being reconstructed, the officials said.

    Some seat covers from the plane were found in a trash bin and one NTSB official said he walked in to find an FBI agent pounding one piece of evidence with a hammer.

    They said the NTSB was, by statute, the lead agency on the crash but the probe became an adversarial turf war, something Grassley hopes to change by clarifying language to make the roles of the agencies clearer.

    ATF officials also said once they had concluded that mechanical failure downed the plane, they pushed to circulate their report out of fear that other planes might meet a similar fate. But the FBI stonewalled, they said. ATF officials were brought in as experts in explosives.

    Grassley presented various hand-scribbled notes from ATF and NTSB officials that he said showed frustration with the FBI.

    ``Kallstrom upset with report. Locks him into eliminating missile. Refuses to see report,'' read one March 12, 1997, note from Anthony Vita, the ATF's assistant director of field operations.

    Lewis Schiliro, the FBI's assistant director in the New York office, testified Monday that claims the FBI had sat on the ATF report were wrong.

    He said the crash came at a politically volatile time - Ramzi Yousef was on trial in New York City for conspiring to blow up 12 U.S. airliners. That, combined with eyewitness descriptions seemingly consistent with a missile firing, made a terrorist attack more than a possibility, he said.

    ``Can you imagine, Mr. Chairman, if we had not pushed to look at every possibility, no matter how remote?'' Schiliro asked Grassley. ``I and all of the law enforcement people who worked on this would not have been doing our jobs and would have been rightly subject to harsh criticism.''