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Part 3: How Sandy Berger Paid Back the GOP


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TWA Flight 800





© Jack Cashill
January 30, 2007 -

This is the third in a three-part series on Samuel “Sandy” Berger. Before proceeding, it would be helpful to read the first two columns, “The Secret That Sandy Risked His All For”  and "Why Bush Justice Rolled Over for Sandy Berger"

On July 6, 2006, Stonebridge International, a global strategy firm, announced that it had added a new member to its high-profile, five-member advisory board—former Democrat congressman Lee Hamilton.

The Hamilton appointment received very close to no press coverage. It should have. Hamilton, who had served as Vice-Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, had just joined a firm headed by the man who had criminally undermined that very Commission, Stonebridge chairman and founder, Samuel “Sandy” Berger.

In the words of a recent House Committee report, Berger had perpetrated “a disturbing breach of trust and protocol that compromised the nation’s national security.” This breach had come at the expense of the 9/11 Commission’s very mission.

The unseemly nature of the Berger-Hamilton alliance apparently did not trouble Hamilton, Berger or the Washington media. By the spring of 2006, Berger felt sufficiently comfortable in his relationship with that media to pay back the nominally Republican Justice Department for its lenient treatment of his own crimes and misdemeanors.

Using Stonebridge resources, Berger was about to execute a brazen, political drive-by on the one legislator who most seriously threatened the Clinton legacy and his own reputation, namely Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. In the process, the unrepentant Berger would help turn Congress over to the Democrats.

Berger began his spring offensive in March 2006 with a fundraiser for Weldon’s opponent, Joe Sestak, a former vice admiral forced into retirement for what the U.S. Navy charitably called “poor command climate.” Before being recruited to run for Congress, Sestak had not lived in Weldon’s district for 30 years.

Although hosted by Berger, the fundraiser was held at the law offices of Harold Ickes, a veteran Clinton fixer, and Janice Enright, the treasurer of Hillary Clinton’s 2006 Senate campaign.

Before the campaign was through, Clinton insiders would enlist Stonebridge’s Director of Communications to serve as Sestak's campaign spokesperson, summon former president Clinton to rally the troops, and finally call in the federales.

Their reasons for supporting Sestak were transparent even to the local media. “A Sestak victory,” observed suburban Philadelphia’s Delco Times early in the campaign, “would muzzle a Republican congressman who blames Clinton for doing irreparable harm to America’s national security during the 1990s.”

As the number two Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Weldon had not only exposed the “Able Danger” breakdown, but he had also catalogued the CIA’s failures before Sept. 11 in his book “Countdown to Terror.” And he wasn’t stopping there.

In late July 2006, I accompanied Mike and Joan Wire to visit Weldon in his D.C. office. The Wires, who live in suburban Philadelphia, had arranged the interview. I happened to be in New Jersey at the time so we drove down together. The interview lasted two and a half hours and ended only because I had to leave.

Mike Wire just happened to be the most critical of the 270 eyewitnesses to an apparent missile strike on TWA Flight 800, July 17, 1996. The government had argued for a mechanical failure, but to make its story work, the FBI and/or the CIA had to manufacture from whole cloth a second interview with Wire that fit their invented scenario.

To get some sense of what Wire and the other witnesses saw I have put two relevant sections of the video Silenced on YouTube. The skeptical reader would do well to take ten minutes and examine these clips.

Video 1    Video 2

[videos courtesy of Kelly Creech]

In 2001, I was skeptical myself. Before committing to direct Silenced, I had flown to Ft. Lauderdale, where James and Elizabeth Sanders, were living and spent three days reviewing their evidence and assessing their character.

The Sanders and TWA captain Terrel Stacey had been arrested in 1997 and charged with conspiracy. At the time, Stacey was working inside the investigation, and Sanders was an investigative reporter just doing his job. Elizabeth had done nothing other than introduce the two men. As I learned, the government arrested the three of them—and convicted the Sanders—only because they had been closing in on the truth.

When the Wires and I met with Weldon and his aide Russ Caso, we showed them sections from Silenced, but we were not telling them anything they did not know or at least suspect. What most intrigued Weldon was the cast of characters involved in the misdirection of the TWA Flight 800 investigation. Many of those characters were working to unseat him.

Sandy Berger: Col. Buzz Patterson, who carried the nuclear football the summer of 1996, identifies then deputy national security advisor Berger as the one person holed up in the family quarters with the president on the night of July 17. In addition to his other services, Berger donated $1,000 to the Sestak campaign. Sestak was the only congressional candidate to whom Berger gave money.

Tony Lake: As national security advisor, Lake was Berger’s immediate boss. Although he stayed out of the family quarters on July 17, he too was in the loop that night. At 3 A.M. he received a call from the president asking that he “dust off the contingency plans.” Lake donated $500 to Sestak. It was his only federal donation in 2006.

Richard Clarke: The anti-terror honcho takes credit for discovering the exploding fuel tank theory that provided a mechanical explanation for TWA Flight 800’s demise. He is likely also responsible for bringing the FBI and CIA together to create the zoom-climb animation seen in the YouTube clip, which was used to discredit the eyewitnesses. Clarke donated $2100 to Sestak. It was the only federal donation he made in 2006

John Deutch: Deutch was serving as CIA director the night TWA Flight 800 went down. In a scandal that prefigured Berger’s own, Deutch was discovered—in December 1996--to have loaded classified documents onto to his personal computer and taken them home. President Clinton pardoned Deutch on his last day in office. Deutch donated $500 to Sestak, one of of only two congressional candidates he supported in 2006.

Mary O. McCarthy: In 1996, McCarthy, a CIA analyst, served as an intelligence officer on the National Security Council. In 1998, Berger appointed her as Special Assistant to the President. In 2006, the CIA fired her for allegedly leaking secret information about overseas prisons to the Washington Post. The only federal candidate to whom she donated in 2006 was Joe Sestak. To give some sense of the politicized nature of the CIA, McCarthy donated $2,000 to John Kerry in 2004.

Jamie Gorelick: Gorelick does not have the excuse of knowing Sestak from his work on the National Security Council, where he labored in July 1996. At the time, Gorelick served as Deputy Attorney General in the Justice Department.

On August 22, 1996, Gorelick met with the FBI brass and directed their efforts away from any serious terror or missile leads. From this point on, the FBI was tasked to find an alternative explanation for the explosive residue found all the over the plane and duly reported to The New York Times for the previous month. This search culminated in an FBI cover story of a sloppy dog-training exercise. Though easily disproved, the story satisfied an incurious media.

Gorelick was one of five Democrats appointed to the 9/11 Commission. There were any number of reasons why she should not have been, among them her role in establishing a “wall” between the FBI and the CIA on intelligence gathering. The primary reason for her appointment, I have argued from the day of her appointment, was to keep talk of TWA Flight 800 out of the Commission room.

After September 11, much was at stake. In January 1995, the FBI received from the Philippine police detailed plans for an aerial terrorist assault on the United States. Those plans called for the use of hijacked airliners and/or explosives-filled private aircraft as flying bombs to attack the United States.

The architect of those plans was Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing and a cohort of 9-11 chief strategist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, his alleged uncle.

Richard Clarke obviously took Yousef’s planes-as-bombs plots seriously. In planning security for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Clarke warned of the possibility of terrorists hijacking a 747 and flying it into a packed Olympic stadium.

The U.S. Navy apparently took Yousef’s plans seriously as well. On July 17, 1996, National Liberation Day in Saddam’s Iraq and two days before the start of the Atlanta Olympics, a small fleet of ships and subs, some perhaps NATO, cruised locked and loaded off the coast of Long Island.

One of two things happened next: Either Navy missiles intercepted a terrorist plane and inadvertently took out TWA Flight 800 in the process; or, more likely, while practicing to intercept a terrorist plane in the kind of crowded air corridor where such an attack would likely occur, Navy missiles accidentally destroyed the 747.

In either case, the U.S. Navy did not have the will or the wherewithal to conceal this on its own. That decision would have been made in the family quarters of the White House in the early morning hours of July 18.

The evidence for Navy involvement has been greatly enhanced by the research of Capt. Ray Lahr on the west coast and the legal work in the Federal courts by his counsel, John Clarke. Highly useful too has been a new and stunningly sophisticated crash analysis drafted by an apparent insider, whose identity remains stubbornly unknown.

As a result of Lahr’s work in particular, the NTSB and FBI have quietly abandoned the CIA zoom-climb scenario shown in the YouTube clip and rely now only on a quiescent media to ignore the un-rebutted testimony of some 270 eyewitnesses to a missile strike.

In the summer of 1996, President Clinton had a keen interest in the planes-as-bombs plot as well. Soon after the destruction of TWA Flight 800, Col. Buzz Patterson was returning a daily intelligence update from the Oval Office to the National Security Council when he “keyed on a reference to a plot to use commercial airliners as weapons."

"I can state for a fact that this information was circulated within the U.S. intelligence community," Patterson writes, "and that in late 1996 the president was aware of it." The President’s hand written comments on the documents verified the same.

Most likely to keep the subject of TWA Flight 800 off the table, all talk of planes as bombs ended in the summer of 1996. Incoming national security advisor, Condoleeza Rice, was not even warned about the possibility. Richard Clarke verified as much when he testified before the 9/11 Commission.

“Knowledge about al-Qaeda having thought of using aircraft as weapons," admitted Clarke, was "5-years, 6-years old.” He asked that intelligence analysts "be forgiven for not thinking about it given the fact that they hadn't seen a lot in the five or six years intervening about it."

As to President Clinton’s legacy-killing notes on the Yousef plot documents, they obviously did not find their way to the 9/11 Commission. Not surprisingly, according to the National Archives staff, “Berger was especially interested in White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke’s personal office files.” He reviewed these and “original NSC numbered documents” on his first visit to the Archives.

The House report noted, “Had Berger seen ‘a smoking gun’ or other documents he did not want brought to an investigatory panel’s attention, he could have removed it on this visit.”

When the Wires and I left Weldon in July 2006, he was on his way to review the Berger evidence. Weldon was the one man in Washington willing and able to put all the pieces together of what loomed as the most serious scandal in American political history. But this was not to be. The Clintons and their cronies had other plans.

During the now legendary Chris Wallace interview with President Clinton in late September 2006 on FOX News, the nation saw just how big were the guns aimed at Weldon.

“A three-star admiral,” Clinton announced out of nowhere, “who was on my National Security Council staff, who also fought terror, by the way, is running for the seat of Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania.” He did not even mention Sestak by name. He may not have known it. Other than President Bush, Clinton mentioned no other Republican by name than Weldon.

It is not easy to take out a popular ten-term congressman. Weldon’s enemies, however, had a nasty little ace up their sleeves. A week after President Clinton visited Weldon’s district to fire up the troops, the McClatchy Newspapers broke a story attributed to two anonymous sources, namely that Weldon had “traded his political influence for lucrative lobbying and consulting contracts for his daughter.”

Alleging a need to act quickly because of the leak, the FBI raided the homes of Weldon’s daughter and a friend on Monday, October 16. By noon of that same day, a group of nearly 20 Democrat protesters were protesting outside Weldon's district office in Upper Darby, carrying matching signs that read, "Caught Red-Handed." The story received a great deal of unreflective attention from a media desperate for a Democrat win, and Weldon went down to defeat.

The move against Weldon was naturally attributed to the Bush Justice Department. As the Berger case proved, however, there are powerful forces operating in the Justice Department and FBI that seem to have no greater goal than protecting the Clinton legacy and advancing the Democrat agenda. The idea that Karl Rove somehow orchestrated the Weldon hit makes sense only in the nether reaches of the liberal blogosphere.

Sometimes, as in the case of Watergate, conspiracy is not a theory. It's a crime. Still, the major media will use the "conspiracy theory" mantra as an excuse to ignore this story.

To this point, the "respectable" conservative media have been intimidated into following their lead. It is past time for those media to show some sand.



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Special Note:

Jack Cashill and James Sanders' First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America is now available. First Strike explains how a determined corps of ordinary citizens worked to reveal the compromise and corruption that tainted the federal investigation. With an impressive array of facts, Jack Cashill and James Sanders show the relationship between events in July 1996 and September 2001 and proclaim how and why the American government has attempted to cover up the truth.

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