Although the Chinook crashed on land and not over water like TWA 800--the Boeing 747 whose fuel tank spontaneously blew up off the coast of Long Island on the evening of July 17, 1996--and there was little scattering of the wreckage, recovery of all the parts, according to sources, will probably be a slow process. Iraqi civilians reached the site before a U.S. Army rescue team did and carried off as war trophies anything that could be lifted by hand and carried on the back of a pickup truck. The FBI is offering a reward of $250 per pound, no questions asked, for any parts of the Chinook--the workhorse of the U.S. Army--that may be brought to them.
"Of the $87 billion we have been given to play with in the coming year, this expenditure, though open ended, is likely to amount to little more than budget dust and should be well worth it," said one official, using a Pentagon expression usually applied to items of less than $100,000.
Asked why initial reports indicated that the Chinook was probably downed by a shoulder-fired missile, an FBI source noted a number of high-profile cases in which it has been involved where the initial reports proved to be in error. In the case of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, by Timothy McVeigh, there were initial reports of several unexploded bombs being found in the building, in addition to the massive fuel-oil-fertilizer bomb that was in the Ryder Truck that McVeigh parked in the street in front of the building. There were also reports that McVeigh was with an accomplice when he rented the truck and with other accomplices when he was seen in the truck on the day of the bombing. All these reports were determined by the FBI to be in error.
In the case of the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster on July 20, 1993, it was initially reported that the Foster family was certain that he had received no medical treatment for his depression, and this proved not to be the case. There were also mistaken initial reports that the nondescript revolver found in Fosterís hand was part of a matched set and a handwritten list of local psychiatrists was found in his office and had only two names on it. Actually, the list had three names on it and the paper with the names was found by U.S. Park Police when they searched his car in Fort Marcy Park.
In a lesser-known case in which the FBI became involved, that of the murder of three Starbucks employees in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC, on the evening of July 6, 1997, one of whom was a former Clinton White House intern and lesbian political activist, there were initial reports of a witness attempting to gain entrance after closing time and being turned away from the locked door by the employees. Police and the FBI finally concluded that the lone killer, using two guns in a botched robbery, had gained admittance to the store before the front door was locked for the night.
Even the rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used to kill President John F. Kennedy was initially reported by a gun expert who examined it to be a German Mauser instead of Oswaldís mail-order Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano, and Kennedy was said to have been turned around looking in the direction of the Texas Schoolbook Depository when the first bullet struck him in the throat. We would later learn that the small hole in Kennedyís throat was really an exit wound, caused by the same bullet that made a hole some six inches down from the collar of his suit jacket and then went through John Connallyís rib, lung, and wrist and lodged briefly in his thigh.
One FBI source was particularly contemptuous of reports of "eyewitnesses" purporting to have seen one or two missiles streaking up from a date palm grove toward the helicopter.
"Do you know how many people thought they saw a missile going up toward TWA 800?" he asked rhetorically. "There must have been several hundred," he said, "and these were all Americans, not just Iraqis with an axe to grind."
He went on to explain that the Iraqis in the Fallujah area were jubilant over the crash of the helicopter and were all too eager to believe that "resistance fighters" had the ability to bring it down.
"We have been on the case for a week now," said the official, "and we are yet to find an Iraqi who says he saw a missile and will also tell us his full name, address, and place of work."
The official, alluding as well to the aforementioned Oklahoma City bombing case, said that in seemingly clear-cut examples, eyewitnesses, especially when they are mere citizens without the expertise of the FBI, are often wrong.
Citing another example, he said that every single person who saw Vince Fosterís light gray Honda at Fort Marcy Park where his body was found described it as "brown" or "reddish-brown," and not a one of the two dozen people at the park who saw the body noted the half-dollar sized exit wound in the crown of Fosterís head later discovered in the autopsy.
One emergency worker even thought he saw a bullet hole in Fosterís neck and an automatic pistol in Fosterís hand instead of a revolver. He later admitted that he might have been wrong after extensive re-interviews by FBI agents.
The most famous case of mistaken witnesses that the FBI has exposed with its crack investigations, of course, was in the assassination of President Kennedy. So sure were most of the people in Dealey Plaza that the shots had come from the grassy knoll to the right and front of the motorcade that many of them ran up the hill in an attempt to catch the killer.
Asked why the FBI was conducting the investigation instead of the Army, which lost the helicopter and the personnel in the crash, the FBI source responded that the government "wanted to be certain that the investigation produced the right outcome," and there is no better investigative body for that purpose than the FBI.
"Itís really no different than the investigation of the September 11, 2001, crash into the Pentagon," he said. There the victims were also military, but the FBI kept military investigators out of the picture.
He also mentioned the investigation of the bombing of the Murrah Building, from which uncooperative Oklahoma City police officers like Terrance Yeakey (who later committed suicide in despondency) where totally excluded, and TWA 800, which normally would have been the responsibility of the National Transportation Safety Board. In that case, the FBI re-assembled the entire airplane in a hangar in order to come up with its spontaneous-explosion conclusion.
The FBI also found it necessary to get into the case of the botched-robbery-murders at the Washington, DC, Starbucks, even though there were apparently no federal laws violated because, "with the District police in charge, this high-profile case was apparently not going to be brought to closure." Similarly, ostensibly no federal laws were violated in the murder of rock legend John Lennon, but the FBI handled that investigation, as well.
"The public is not generally aware of the extent of the FBIís international responsibilities," added a senior Defense Department official. "The FBI is deeply involved in intelligence gathering on a continuous basis in Iraq," he said, "and they are to be credited with our great successes up to this point in the guerilla war," he said.
FBI international operations were supposedly initiated on a large scale for the first time in the Clinton administration and have expanded in the George W. Bush administration. The Great Speckled Bird has learned, however, that the FBI has been engaged in international intelligence gathering in competition with the Central Intelligence Agency for quite a long time, even in the absence of a legislative mandate. After the failure of other organizations, the FBI has also been recently given the task of finding Saddam Husseinís missing weapons of mass destruction.
As for the likely cause of the Chinook crash, the FBI source said that they were examining all possibilities. Three, in particular, were mentioned, static electricity in the fuel tank as with TWA 800, a pin falling out of a grenade carried by one of the soldiers, or a suicidal soldier who may have intentionally blown the helicopter up.
November 11, 2003
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