TWA Flight 800 & Myths about

the Friendly Fire Theory

by Ian Williams Goddard

On July 17, 1996, Trans World Airline Flight 800 suddenly exploded killing all 230 passengers. In November 1997 CNN reported that I said the theory that the jet was shot down by a US Navy missile was a mistake and they spun the story to sound like I admitted the theory was a hoax. As the report rolled around the media that erroneous spin grew into the false story that Ian Goddard was the source of the Navy-missile theory, overlooking its actual inside sources. See the footnotes below for a listing of accurate [1] and inaccurate [2] media reports about the theory's sources.

The Obscured Reality

I began publishing commentaries on media reports on the crash well after the Navy-missile theory originated elsewhere. I was not a source of any original factual claims or alleged items of evidence regarding the Flight 800 crash. I was therefore not in a position to "admit" anything was bogus. My input was merely commentary on information already available to the public. [3] Here's an accurate timeline showing that the friendly fire theory was existent and reported by the media before my input:


The Friendly Fire Theory: A Factual Timeline

JULY 17, 1996: TWA Flight 800 explodes off Long Island, NY.

JULY 17, 1996: During the FBI's final press conference on the crash a reporter noted: "Within 24 hours of this disaster there were stories of military friendly fire circulating, they were not stories that happened later." [4] Perhaps the first suggestion of a military link came from ABC News reporter Chris Bury who, after reporting a "pyrotechnic exercise" involving a C-130 aircraft, asked: "Did the C-130 have anything to do with tonight's crash?" [5]

JULY 21, 1996: The Jerusalem Post reported that "French Defense Ministry experts" speculated that if Flight 800 was hit with a missile it must have come from the U.S. military, and "if the TWA plane was accidentally shot down by a military unit, it is unlikely that the US army will admit it." [6]

JULY 24, 1996: Parveez Syed of Shanti RTV News Agency in London began an investigation into the possible role of the U.S. military in the sudden explosion of Flight 800. [7]

AUGUST 22, 1996: An "anonymous Internet document" [8] claiming that the US Navy did in fact accidentally shoot down Flight 800 circulated over the Internet. That document was written by retired United Airlines pilot Captain Richard Russell. Russell based his report on a trusted inside source who had attended a high-level briefing on the Flight 800 crash. Russell's inside-sourced report was Pierre Salinger's so-called "Internet document." See footnote [1] for multiple accurate media reports about Russell's document.

SEPTEMBER 5, 1996: WCBS News reporter Marcia Kramer reported: "Highly placed sources say [...] friendly fire is a possibility." [9] CNBC's Mike Jerrick reported: "Now shocking allegations are that the plane may have been hit by friendly fire from a U.S. missile, off course. [...] Marcia Kramer, WCBS Investigative reporter, says basically they're saying a U.S. missile was fired and caused the explosion." [10]

SEPTEMBER 17, 1996: Ian Goddard made his first input on the Flight 800 crash with a newsgroup post expressing an opinion that favored friendly fire based on a quoted media report of more than 100 eyewitnesses supporting the missile theory. [11] Thereafter Goddard published a series of reports expressing his opinion on the crash. [3]

NOVEMBER 7, 1996: Pierre Salinger told a meeting of airline officials that a French Intelligence source with close ties to U.S. officials told him that Flight 800 was in fact accidently shot down by a Navy missile. Salinger's source, whom he trusts, gave him Richard Russell's report (ie, the "Internet document" cited previously) as it described what he knew. [1] Salinger made the error of assuming that Russell's authoritative report was a government document.

In March 1997, I, Ian Goddard, was included as a "co-author" to a report released by Salinger and Mike Sommer. [12] That report was not released by me nor was it posted to my website as some media reported. [13] My co-authorship constituted allowing the republishing of excerpts from my reports containing my opinions and commentary on media reports, not original claims of fact. [3] My reports were always honest and when necessary I published errata notices. I always facilitated my reader's ability to verify my findings by maintaining a standard of source referencing unparalleled in journalism.

Perhaps the most common media myth about me is that I authored the "Internet document" given to Salinger, fabricated its contents, and thereby duped Salinger into believing a hoax. That myth obscures the historically relevant fact that Salinger's sources all led to inside and thus potentially reliable in-the-know sources rather than the mythical random liar on the Internet that so many media reports created out of thin air.

Another media myth is that my views on Flight 800 caused the government to waste millions of dollars -- as if I direct the government! As one journalist claimed: "he cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in investigative pursuit of his counterfeit claim." [14] However, not only was there no "counterfeit claim" that I made but Associated Press reporter Pat Milton claims that the FBI investigated and cleared the Navy within a few days of the Flight 800 crash, [15] which was before I said anything about it. As the factual timeline above shows, I was not the source of the friendly fire theory.


Witness Analysis Was Credible

It's also been claimed that my conclusion that Flight 800 witness accounts matched a missile strike was amateur, deluded, or misrepresentative. However, not only did witnesses with military experience say a missile struck the jet, but perhaps the only expert to review the Flight 800 witness accounts who has a background in interviewing witnesses of crashes involving missile strikes came to the same conclusion. An excerpt from the affidavit of Colonel Lawrence Pence filed in a FOIA lawsuit reads:

"One of my duties in Vietnam was battle damage assessments of our aircraft in order to increase our understanding of enemy weapons. In performing these assessments, I interviewed numerous pilots and crew members who witnessed missile attacks, both ground-to-air and air-to-air. Their descriptions were quite consistent with the eyewitness descriptions given by those who saw the TWA 800 incident. Of particular note is the internal, sequential consistency of the TWA 800 eyewitnesses, i.e., a bright light rising erratically from ground level toward the aircraft, followed by an explosion and fireball. This description and sequence of events is substantively identical to that given by anyone who ever witnessed a surface-to-air missile attack in Vietnam." - Colonel Lawrence Pence (USAF, retired)

Additionally, when I visited the National Transportation and Safety Board's public reading room several years after CNN's attack on me, I discovered that the NTSB had conducted a study where witnesses observed and then described actual missile firings at various distances. The genuine missile-witness accounts in that official study are virtually identical to Flight 800 witness accounts. While the media ignored that official study, I published a detailed analysis of its findings. [16]


Why Did I Tell CNN I Made a Mistake?

What I did admit to CNN after the repeated requests of a CNN reporter was that I made a reckless mistake to argue for the theory that the Navy was the source of a missile that eyewitnesses reported streaking toward Flight 800. [17] After the CNN report I reasserted the theory to demonstrate that it was not a hoax but was based on a possible interpretation of circumstantial evidence surrounding the crash. [18]

Reasons I felt compelled to renounce the Navy-missile theory included: (1) belief that I would continue to be harmed by misleading media attacks [19], (2) physical threats and widespread hated of me for my views, and (3) belief that if there is a cover-up of an accidental shoot down, there are most likely valid national-security reasons under a utilitarian greater good standard of ethics -- in short, more lives might be saved by the nondisclosure of local defensive military opperations than were lost by the accident. In fact since then the government has cited national security to prevent disclosure of military activity around the Flight 800 crash. [20] I expressed concern about this possibility in an post to a Flight 800 forum shortly before the CNN story. [21]

In closing, during the summer of 1997 I became sufficently pursuaded based on a constellation of factors including pilots reporting missiles off Long Island months after the crash [22] that the most likely cause of a cover up of an accidental shoot down (if there is such a cover up) is not corruption but legitimate national-security issues preventing disclosure of the naval activity surrounding the crash of TWA Flight 800.




References and footnotes

[1] Here are some accurate media reports citing Captain Richard Russell, a retired 747 pilot and former crash investigator, as the source of the "anonymous Internet document" that spread the Navy-missile theory in August 1996 before Ian Goddard published anything on the Flight 800 crash. Russell's report was honest and based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just attended a high-level briefing on the crash. These media reports also prove that Pierre Salinger's sources were Russell and a French Intelligence agent, not Ian Goddard as some media reports have claimed:

Accurate Reports About Pierre Salinger's Sources

CNN (11/8/96): "Salinger said he was basing the claims on information he saw in a document given to him six weeks ago by someone in French Intelligence with close contacts to U.S. officials."

CNN (3/13/97): "Salinger first based his friendly fire claim on a memo Russell wrote and circulated on the Internet." Russell's memo is the document that Salinger's French Intelligence source gave him noted in the previous CNN report.

USA Today (10/31/96): "Richard Russell, a retired United Airline pilot and former crash investigator, shouldn't have been surprised when an authoritative sounding e-mail he sent to fewer than a dozen friends Aug. 22--claiming a government cover-up in the crash of TWA Flight 800--was copied across the 'Net.'"

New York Times (11/17/96): " [The] anonymous message that began circulating in late August ... was written on America Online by Richard Russell, a 66-year-old Floridian and former United Airlines pilot. ... Russell can't be accused of courting publicity. He says he has been contacted by several major television shows, but they've all lost interest because he won't give up his source."

The Westchester Weekly (1996) published a detailed and accurate review of Richard Russell and the Flight 800 friendly fire theory.


Accurate Book Citings of Pierre Salinger's Sources

Pat Milton (AP reporter) in her book In The Blink of an Eye writes: "Sometime in early October, Salinger was handed a copy of an unsigned document written, he was later told, by a former United Airlines pilot." (page 266-7). Milton goes on to note in detail that the author and retired pilot was Richard Russell (see pages 272-5).

Christine Negroni (CNN reporter) accurately states in her book Deadly Departure that the author of the document that Salinger held as evidence was Richard Russell (see pages 109, 141-5). Negroni also accurately describes the content of my Flight 800 reports: "Goddard, a thirty-five-year-old graphic artist, assiduously reviewed every bit of media coverage and created an impressive Web site that was a patchwork of news reports, smart-looking graphics, eyewitness quotes, and personal commentary." (page 144). Ironically Negroni produced the CNN report that resulted in other media sources errantly assuming and then claiming that I was the author and source of Salinger's so-called "Internet document."


NOTE: the file to which the Richard Russell links here go is an affidavit from Russell filed in a lawsuit against the NTSB for their refusal to make mathematic equations available for peer review that allegedly support their claim that Flight 800 shot upwards like a missile after its forward section was blown away, causing witnesses to think they were seeing a missile. Numerous experts and others have filed affidavits in that case testifying against a wide range of claims the government has made about the TWA Flight 800 crash. Affidavits filed in this lawsuit are available here. Further details on this lawsuit are available here.

[2] These media reports make false claims about the Flight 800 friendly fire theory:

Inaccurate Reports About Pierre Salinger's Sources

Los Angeles Times (11/06/97) headline reads: "Author of Flight 800 Tale Admits Hoax." The article falsely claims Ian Goddard created the friendly fire theory.

Omaha World Herald (11/8/97): Internet Hoax a Damaging Lesson [...] "the reputation of Pierre Salinger was tarnished by Goddard's story. Salinger swallowed the story and went public with a condemnation of the government."

Howard Kleinberg: "Ian Goddard who influenced former John Kennedy press chief Pierre Salinger to make a fool of himself last spring in not only accepting the missile theory, but claiming he had irrefutable evidence - which he did not." The Tampa Tribune, November 9, 1997.

Roxanne Barber: " [...] Pierre Salinger, who reported in the fall of 1996 that TWA Flight 800 had been shot down by U.S. Navy missiles, a claim supported by 'government documents' in his possession. After a national stir, news reports revealed that the source of the 'government' information was Ian Goddard's Web site." The Quarterly, winter 2001.

REALITY: Salinger's sources, documents, and belief in the friendly fire theory were based on a trusted French Intelligence source and Captain Richard Russell, not on Ian Goddard or his website. Goddard was also not a source of any original factual claims or alleged items of evidence regarding the Flight 800 crash. Russell's document claiming that the Navy shot down Flight 800 was based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just attended a high-level briefing on the Flight 800 crash. See the previous footnote on accurate media reports and the factual timeline in this report for details.


Inaccurate Book Citings of Pierre Salinger's Sources

Jim Hall: "One of the effects of Drudge and others like him [...] seems to be a reduction by media generally in the time and effort devoted to checking stories. Perhaps the most notorious example of such abrogation of responsibility are the reports, derived solely from mischievous information placed on the web (via Usenet), that TWA flight 800, which crashed off Long Island in 1996, was brought down by a missile." Hall, Jim. Online Journalism, A Critical Primer. London: Pluto Press, 2001, page 134. The source of the friendly fire theory was not "mischievous information placed on the web" but media reports (see timeline), the official investigation that purportedly investigated the Navy, a French Intelligence agent and Captain Richard Russell whose claims were based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just attended a high-level briefing on the Flight 800 crash.

Ronald De Wolk: "The consequences of these destructive elements suddenly grown from the Web were evident in an early debacle involving former newspaperman, network news correspondent and presidential spokesman Pierre Salinger. He announced to the world that he had discovered that the sudden explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York, in July 1996, was caused by a U.S. military missile. His announcement, because of his standing, was covered widely. When real reporters asked him to attribute his statement, he said he had read it on the Internet.

The sites Salinger used were run by non-journalists who had little or no concern about accuracy, multiple sourcing, independent verification, libel or fairness. The result of Salinger's initial pronouncement and subsequent insistences resulted in a sad ending to a long and distinguished career." De Wolk, Ronald. Introduction to Online Journalism, Publishing News and Information. Allyn & Bacon: 2001, page 172. I wrote a message to De Wolk outlining his erroneous claims, which can be found here. Additional examples of inaccurate media reports are cited in this report.


Kristina Borjesson: "Salinger announced to the world on November 8, 1996, that he'd received documents from French intelligence proving that a U.S. Navy missile had accidentally downed the jetliner. [] Without a doubt, Salinger's rushing to the press with a statement he couldn't back up was incredibly irresponsible, and he got what he deserved." Into The Buzzsaw. New York: Prometheus Books, 2002, pages 110, 116.

While I recommend Borjesson's book, her comments on Salinger are inaccurate. In reality the press rushed to Salinger catching him unprepared rather than Salinger "rushing to the press." Milton (pages 266-70) and Negroni (pages 141-5) cited in the accurate-reports section above give accurate accounts of this. As Negroni aptly puts it: "Salinger had mentioned TWA Flight 800 in a speech to aviation executives" (141). Being famous, Salinger gives lectures in various forums. On November 7, 1996 he happened to be speaking at an aviation conference in France and thus decided to mention what his friend in French Intelligence had told him a month ago (Milton, 266). Then, an AP reporter who happened to be in the audience rushed to publish a report about Salinger's allegation at the conference. Within hours the media and the FBI were rushing to Salinger's door (not the other way around) and he found himself in the world spotlight.

Salinger's certitude in the friendly fire claim rested with the trust he placed in his long-time friend in the DGSE, but scrambling for some concrete justification other than faith in a friend he relied on the papers his friend had given him a month ago errantly assuming they were government documents. The picture Borjesson paints in her book Into The Buzzsaw, of Salinger breathlessly rushing to the media is inaccurate and unfair because she uses it to denigrate, indeed to "buzzsaw," someone who was subjected to more buzzsawing than anyone.

Salinger, a retired journalist had valid concerns about the crash and expressed them in a forum that seemed appropriate. When he spoke to the media that then rushed to him he was not speaking as an active investigative journalist, just as someone relaying what he had been told to people who were asking him. The mistake Salinger made was assuming that Captain Russell's report was a government document.

[3] Archive of Ian Goddard's TWA Flight 800 reports.

[4] VHS tape recording of question-and-answer session of FBI press conference, November 17, 1997. The unidentified reporter's quoted comment seems to have been raised to counter the implication made during the conference that the friendly fire theory was fabricated by Ian Goddard months after the Flight 800 crash. Here is an outline of topics covered by the FBI at the press conference, which is not a transcript.

[5] Bury, Chris. ABC News NightLine, July 17, 1996.

[6] Beck, Eldad. France: It's possible TWA plane was shot down by missile. The Jerusalem Post, July 21, 1996, page 1.

[7] Syed, Parveez. TWA Flight 800 A U.S. Mistake? Shanti RTV News Agency, July 24, 1996.

[8] Here is a copy of the "anonymous Internet document" that was written by retired 747 pilot Captain Richard Russell whose claims were based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just attended a high-level briefing on the crash of TWA Flight 800.

[9] Kramer, Marcia. Newsradio 88 and Channel Two News, WCBS New York, September 5, 1996. Later that day U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Edward Kristensen responded to Kramer's report saying "the Navy didn't bring it down in friendly fire" (Nighttime Edition, NTLI Cable, New York).

[10] Jerrick, Mike. America After Hours. CNBC, September 5, 1996.

[11] Goddard, Ian. FBI Says Missile Theory "Outrageous." September 17, 1996.

[12] CNN: Salinger 'totally sure' TWA 800 missile theory is true. March 13, 1997.

[13] Kettle, Martin. Missile theory on TWA crash was Internet hoax. The Guardian, November 7, 1997, page 15: "In March, Mr Goddard released a report on his Internet website claiming that the US government was covering up the fact that a Navy missile had mistakenly brought down the Paris-bound Boeing 747 [...] Mr Salinger, who was President Kennedy's press secretary, and Mike Sommer helped him to write the 69-page report." In reality I never posted the March report to my site. Kettle also echoes the media myth that I was the report's primary author while Salinger & Sommer merely helped. In reality I allowed excerpts of my Flight 800 reports to be used in their report, and my reports were merely opinions and commentaries on media reports, not original claims of fact. I was later included as a co-author (last listed) due to the inclusion of said excerpts. Here's the press confernece where the report actually was released by Salinger & Sommer, not by Ian Goddard.

[14] Kleinberg, Howard. Losing Faith in the Internet. Plain Dealer, November 9, 1997, page 3E.

[15] Milton, Pat. In the Blink of an Eye, The FBI Investigation of TWA Flight 800. New York: Random House, 1999. See pages 88-93 and 157-74.

[16] Goddard, Ian. Official Witness Study Released. January 25, 2001.

[17] See several eyewitness sketches. Also see a listing of FBI witnesses.

[18] Goddard's Journal - TWA Flight 800.

[19] Pre-CNN attacks: 60 Minutes attack, PBS Attack, Newsday Attack.

[20] FIRO: National Security Invoked Re Navy Activity Near Flight 800.

[21] Goddard, Ian. Maybe Not Now. October 21, 1997.

[22] Goddard, Ian. The Crash of TWA Flight 800 - Circumstantial Evidence.


LINKS TO ONGOING FLIGHT 800 RESEARCH & LAWSUITS

At the time of CNN's attack on me in 1997 very few citizens were proponents of the friendly-fire theory. There was James Sanders, who was being arrested and tried for acquiring evidence from the crash investigation; Jeremy Crocker, who mysteriously disappeared days after a radio interview and acquiring something of importance related to the crash; and Pierre Salinger and myself who were being torn apart by the media.

Since that time a number of courageous citizen investigators including scientists, journalists, aviation professionals, and former government officials have entered the scene to question the official investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800. Here are links to two groups that they formed along with a couple other private efforts:

Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization (FIRO)

The Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

Emmy-award winning journalist Jack Cashill

THE IMPOSSIBLE ZOOM-CLIMB

Accuracy In Media's Video

Freedom of Information
Advocacy Coalition



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