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Secret Witness Report
From the FBI's formerly secret witness interview summary of witness #73.[1] Click for full page. Witness #73's complete file is now available at www.ntsb.gov.

Flight 800's Secret Archive

May 27, 2003

The FBI classified as secret, documents that indicated a missile hit TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in 1996. Excluded from public scrutiny were FBI eyewitness summaries with detailed descriptions of an apparent midair collision. Hundreds of official interview summaries from 278 individual eyewitnesses never reached the NTSB in time for its first Flight 800 public hearing, held a year and a half after the crash.

A report that summarized the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) analyses of TWA Flight 800 debris "that exhibited possible high energy characteristics" was also classified secret. Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization (FIRO) member Don Collins obtained a declassified version of this report under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the BNL report, one of twenty similar, pellet-like objects was among the items analyzed. It was found during a victim autopsy exam and contained zirconium, cerium, and barium within a multi-phase aluminum-titanium matrix. Originally charcoal in color, it became orange colored and transparent when polished.

Laypersons will be hard pressed to recognize these pellets and their exotic mixture of elements, but conventional missile warhead designers see them in their sleep. Always trying to improve warhead performance, warhead designers add these elements to a warhead to increase its overall yield and to add an incendiary component to the blast wave.[2]

Secret Lab Report
From the FBI's formerly secret Brookhaven National Lab report. Full report available as an attachment to FIRO's petition to the NTSB.
So when these charcoal black, apparent incendiary pellets were found during an investigation looking for evidence of a missile, you'd expect to have heard alarm bells. But the FBI agents who authored the BNL report complained about having "little forensic documentation or guidance on large-body aircraft missile engagements."

They were left ill-equipped to conclude anything meaningful about the pellets, never mind their chemical composition. Ultimately, they concluded that the pellets were of "unknown origin." But unknown origin is one thing, classifying the report secret is another.

Perhaps the secrecy had to do with timing. If you check the date of the Brookhaven report, you may notice that it was submitted on a very busy week for the FBI, the week November 30, 1997.

A Busy Week at the FBI

  • Monday (12/1/97): Brookhaven report completed, and perhaps classified secret on the spot.
  • Wednesday (12/3/97): FBI Assistant Director Jim Kallstrom sends a letter from his New York office to Washington D.C., addressed to the NTSB Chairman Jim Hall. The letter requests that all discussion of "Missile/Warhead/Impact/Bombs/Explosives" and all discussion of eyewitness evidence be banned from the NTSB public hearing scheduled to begin the following Monday.
  • Wednesday (12/3/97): Later that same day NTSB Chairman Jim Hall formally responds to Kallstrom's letter, complying with nearly every request in a thoughtful letter of his own.
  • Friday (12/5/97): FBI formally charges investigative journalist Jim Sanders and his wife with receiving and analyzing evidence from the Flight 800 investigation. Sanders received national press coverage for claiming that this evidence indicated a missile hit Flight 800.
  • Monday through Friday (12/8-12/97): NTSB conducts the first public hearing on the crash with no discussion of eyewitness, missile, warhead, bomb, or explosive evidence. NTSB focuses on damage to the center wing fuel tank, which apparently exploded. The explosion's ignition source was not determined.

So it appears that on the week of November 30, 1997, the FBI carried out a well orchestrated campaign to block any and all discussions that had to do with a missile hitting Flight 800. Charging Jim Sanders with a crime effectively quelled criticism from his sources within the NTSB investigation, who believed a missile hit the plane. And so it seems classifying the Brookhaven report as secret was in step with FBI policy at the time.

But today, organizations such as FIRO are slowly piecing together the crash by analyzing documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.[3] Sometimes declassified, sometimes simply neglected, the documents are beginning to paint a clear picture of what happened to TWA Flight 800.


[1] Although the FBI apparently declassified this witness interview early in the investigation, it was withheld from the NTSB for more than one year.

[2] Barium is commonly bonded to oxygen (oxygen was detected too), making up the oxidizer, and the metals are among a group of powdered metals, representing the pyrophoric portion. The high temperatures reached by detonating warheads ignite the metal-oxygen mixture, which can continue to burn on its own. Effective warheads are designed with high explosives (also detected in the Flight 800 wreckage) surrounded by pellets made up of these materials.

[3] FIRO is presently suing the FBI for forensic documents listed in their Central Records System that FBI FOIA officers allegedly couldn't find. FIRO appealed a circuit court's decision not to press the FBI to conduct a more thorough search. In mid 2002, the Boston Appeals Court remanded the case back to the district court, ordering the FBI to explain their search method in more detail. The case is presently under review by the Federal District Court in Springfield, MA.

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