Posted: November 15, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern

The Clinton-Bush air disaster cover-up plan

By Jack Cashill

© 2007 

On the Sunday morning of July 3, 1988, at the tail end of the Iran-Iraq War, an Aegis cruiser, the USS Vincennes, fired two Standard Missiles at a commercial Iranian Airbus, IR655.

The first missile struck the tail and right wing and broke the aircraft in half. All 290 people aboard were killed. Misunderstanding America, the Iranians claimed that our Navy had intentionally destroyed the plane.

The Navy did no such thing. It does not destroy innocent commercial airliners intentionally. As retired Navy Capt. David Carlson has well-documented, however, the shoot down was recklessly executed, relentlessly misreported, and dumped into the dustbin of history prematurely and all too consequentially.

Carlson was in a position to know. He commanded the USS Sides, a guided-missile frigate, just 20 miles from the Vincennes at the time of the incident and under its tactical control.

To this day he faults himself for not intervening in the Vincennes' hasty command decision to launch the fatal missiles and for not speaking out sooner against "the corruption of professional ethics" that defined the incident's assessment.

Still, Carlson's courageous public testimony, beginning a year after the incident in the U.S, Naval Institute journal, Proceedings, has shed more inside light on the fate of IR655 than has been shed to date on the parallel fate of TWA Flight 800, downed off the coast of Long Island in July 1996.

As Carlson has reported, it served the career interests of the Vincennes' command and the short-term national security interests of the White House to present the incident as an unfortunate result of an Iranian provocation.

In the waning days of the Reagan administration, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. William Crowe and Vice President George H. W. Bush took the lead in defending the Vincennes crew both against domestic critics and before the United Nations.

At the time, before the incident reports were complete, the two may have protested America's innocence sincerely. Once voiced, however, these protests would prove difficult to rescind.

The Iranians were not pleased by the obfuscation. According to David Evans, former military affairs correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Carlson's writing partner, the Iranians responded by placing $12 million in a Swiss bank account to fund the revenge bombing of an American airliner.

Reportedly, the Palestinian terrorist group Ahmed Jibril took the Iranians up on the offer. This plot culminated less than six months after the IR655 incident in the destruction of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The on-board bomb killed 270 people, including 188 Americans and 11 sleeping Scotsmen below.

As might be expected, the media and Congress had no enduring interest in protecting a Republican administration. In July 1992, in the heat of the presidential election, Newsweek ran a bold cover story, "Sea of Lies," which detailed the "cover-up" of this "tragic blunder."

Following the article's publication, Les Aspin, Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, held public hearings on the Vincennes incident and grilled Adm. Crowe in the course of them.

"While it is not our policy to respond to every allegation that appears in print or goes out over the airwaves," Aspin pontificated, "these charges go to heart of a very major historical event."

On Sept. 19, 1992, a month after testifying before Aspin, the politically savvy Crowe made an unlikely pilgrimage to Little Rock, Ark. There, according to Carlson and Evans, Crowe "declared his fervent support for presidential candidate Bill Clinton."

Upon being elected, Clinton appointed Aspin secretary of defense, and the probe into the Vincennes quietly died. Helping it stay dead was the newly appointed chairman of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, none other than Adm. Crowe.

A lesson may have been learned here. To keep the TWA Flight 800 story dead and buried a decade later, the Clintons saw to it that the executioner of the TWA Flight 800 deception – then Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick – was appointed to the 9/11 Commission.

For the record, TWA Flight 800 blew up in the sky off the south coast of Long Island July 17, 1996, Liberation Day in Saddam's Iraq. In his book "Against All Enemies," Clinton anti-terror czar Richard Clarke shares his initial anxieties about the crash.

"I dreaded what I thought was about to happen," says Clarke. "The Eisenhower option."

Three weeks after the murder of 19 American servicemen at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, Clarke and his colleagues had been discussing that option, a planned massive retaliation against Iran.

Had Iran been behind the downing of TWA Flight 800 – or Iraq for that matter – the president would have had to respond with significant force.

This was not something Clinton wanted to do. He already had a lock on the 1996 election. Military action, even if warranted, could only jeopardize it.

An equally unfortunate political outcome would have resulted had the crash proved to be a Naval accident, like, say, IR655.

The fact that TWA 800 had also been dramatically severed in two within range of another Aegis cruiser, the USS Normandy, made such a scenario seem possible, especially given the 270 FBI eyewitnesses to a seeming missile strike.

By this time, however, Clinton knew that the Navy could be kept quiet on a national security issue, and that the media could be kept quiet in an election year. So the White House steered the investigation away from a missile strike by either friend or foe.

"We were all cautiously encouraged," said Clarke upon his own politically useful discovery that a spontaneous fuel tank explosion had brought down the plane.

Despite massive evidence to the contrary, and with the shameless assistance of the media, the Clintons and Al Gore made Clarke's mechanical failure gambit stick.

The White House took care of Lockerbie just as smoothly. Wary of engaging either Iran or Iraq despite continued provocations from both, the Clinton White House put the squeeze on the defenseless Libya.

In 1999, Clinton convinced Libyan honcho Gadhafi to hand over a pair of his hapless subjects, one of whom was eventually acquitted and the other of whom continues to protest his innocence.

It seems likely that in turning the White House over to George W. Bush in 2000, the Clintons had reason to believe that the state secrets they shared with the elder Bush would be protected by the son.

So far at least, they have been proved right.

Related special offer:

Get Jack Cashill's groundbreaking exposé, "First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America"

Jack Cashill is an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue.


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