Satellites Tell The Truth
The explosion of a Russian airliner over the Black Sea on Oct. 4 has
raised an interesting question relating to the crash of TWA Flight 800 off
Long Island five years ago. Both planes exploded and crashed into the
sea. Flight 800 was still in its ascent, at 13,800 feet, and it was only
10 miles off the shore of Long Island. Its crash was witnessed by hundreds
of people who have been questioned by the FBI about what they saw. Many of them said they had seen what must have been a missile either rising from
the surface or high in the sky streaking toward the airliner just before it
The Russian airliner was over 30,000 feet above the Black Sea, and as far
as we know, no eyewitnesses saw the crash. But U.S.
satellites apparently did. It was reported the next day that Defense
Department satellites equipped with infrared sensors detected a missile
launched by Ukrainian troops on the Crimean peninsula which
U.S. intelligence officials believed hit the airliner. The government of
Ukraine acknowledged that a training exercise involving missiles was being
conducted at the time, but insisted that none of its missiles could have
shot down the Russian plane.
Russian investigators have found small metal balls from the missile’s
warhead in the bodies of the victims. President Kuchma of Ukraine now says
he will accept the findings of the investigation.
In 1996, the U.S. had two KH-11 satellites in polar orbit. Their infrared
sensors have a resolution down to a few inches. Ray Lahr, a TWA Flight 800
aficionado, has pointed out that if one of those two satellites was over
New York on July 17, 1996, there is a lot of information about TWA 800 that
has not been released. Apparently one of them was able to record images of
the TWA 800 crash.
Request for that imagery or descriptions of it have been made under the
Freedom of Information Act to both the Department of Defense and the
CIA. Both have acknowledged that they have the images, but they have
refused to release them or descriptions of them to the public.
In rejecting a FOIA request last January, the CIA claimed that information
was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. It cited exemptions (b)(1)
and (b)(3), which cover material that must be kept secret in the interest
of national defense or foreign policy and for the protection of
intelligence sources and methods. The CIA has actively propagated the
government’s claim that the TWA 800 crash was the result of a fuel-tank
explosion. It is hard to see why releasing satellite images of an airliner
fuel tank exploding would imperil national security, damage our foreign
relations or reveal anything not already known about the use of satellites.
The CIA devoted a lot of time and money to the production of a video that
was crafted to prove that the hundreds of eyewitnesses who thought they saw
a missile streaking toward the airliner actually saw nothing but the
airliner itself. The CIA claims that it rocketed upward after its entire
front end was broken off and that the eyewitnesses mistook it for a
missile. That claim and the video that presented it have been the subject
of a lot of ridicule by people who are knowledgeable about aeronautics. It
was not at all convincing.
If the CIA has satellite imagery of what transpired and the pictures show
that there were no missiles anywhere near the airliner when it blew up,
they could have used those pictures to make their case. It would have been
far more convincing and would have cost them nothing. The speed with which
the government released the information about the Ukrainian missile, which
no doubt offended the Ukrainians and showed them our intelligence
capabilities, exposes the absurdity of the CIA’s excuses for not releasing
The press officer for the National Transportation Safety Board says that
they examined the satellite images but they were of no help in determining
the cause of the crash. He said they did not retain them or keep any
records of what they showed. The member of the staff who gave him that
information refuses to be interviewed, and Mrs.
Marion Blakey, the new NTSB chairman, also seems to think that not
returning calls is the safest policy.
Apparently the satellite imagery is not being released because it does for
TWA Flight 800 what it did for the Russian airliner. It tells the truth
that governments want to hide.
Reed Irvine is chairman of Accuracy in Media.