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The Downing of TWA Flight 800

by J. Orlin Grabbe

Terrorists who want to arm themselves for operations in the U.S. do not need to search in foreign locales like Afghanistan. They can find all the material they need right here at home. According to military sources, over 200 Stinger missiles are missing from inventory in U.S. military bases--places like Ft. Campbell and Ft. Knox.

That TWA Flight 800 was taken out by a ground-to- air missile was known from the beginning by U.S. official agencies. The flight path of the missile was captured both on radar and by satellite. The only question was the identity of the missile and the identity of the group responsible.

You wouldn't know this, of course, if you watched the endless "press briefings" on television news. Since the U.S. government had no idea of how to handle the matter--both in the real sense and in the PR sense--official bodies like the White House and the FBI stalled for time. They talked about not all the evidence being in, occasionally mumbling something about a bomb. They even hinted darkly that Greece could be responsible--the plane had stopped there--even though the TWA aircraft had more recently spent three hours on the ground in Kennedy airport, being cleaned, refueled, and checked for mechanical problems.

A Stinger missile does not require a lot in the way of logistics. It can be fired from a small boat. One doesn't need a cabin cruiser. A 16-foot craft and a missile launcher will do. After the job is over, one simply sinks the boat with the launcher some distance off shore. Standard operating procedure.

Some experts involved in the TWA Flight 800 investigation have no doubt a Stinger or very similar missile was responsible for the takedown of the plane. Flight 800 had taken off from Long Island and entered the Boston air corridor in the process of "stacking out". It was only at around 7000 feet altitude when the apparent Stinger hit the 747 airplane skin underneath the fuel tank. That was the first explosion. Then the 11,000 gallons of on-board fuel ignited in a white heat--this in turn igniting the aluminum of the plane body in much the same way that the surrounding burning material ignites the magnesium chips in a holiday sparkler. The second explosion left few large aircraft parts to be later pinpointed by sonar.

The group responsible, identified by intelligence sources as working on behalf of Syria, say there are five more planes to go. One assumes this means they have five more Stingers. (Some Sidewinders are also missing from military inventory). The group means serious business. We saw their handiwork even before TWA flight 800: the knock-out of the energy grid that left some fifteen western states with partial electrical blackouts on July 2. The reason for this blackout was quickly hushed up by government officials. The media obligingly turned their attention elsewhere, waiting to be awakened from their lethargy when the group strikes again.

July 23, 1996