April 8, 1999


The Honorable William Cohen

Secretary of Defense

The Pentagon

Washington, D.C. 20301-1155

Dear Secretary Cohen:

Last year, at the request of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, I examined the federal government’s investigation of the July 17, 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York. Last July I submitted my report to the subcommittee (see enclosed).

My report concluded that there is no credible evidence to counter the preliminary findings of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the crash was likely caused by an internal explosion of fuel vapors in the center wing fuel tank. My report also concluded that there was no credible evidence that the crash was caused by a bomb or a missile. As part of my investigation, my staff interviewed key personnel at the NTSB, the FBI, the Suffolk County (NY) Medical Examiner’s Office and the Department of Defense’s China Lake facility. I also engaged in a lengthy correspondence with the NTSB, the FBI, the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency. Copies of this correspondence are included in the appendix of my report.

As I am sure you are aware, there are still a number of people who remain convinced that Flight 800 was downed by a missile. Some maintain that the United States Navy was responsible for firing the missile or in some way involved in the downing of the plane. I had originally intended to question the U.S. Navy about the proximity and actions of its vessels off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996. However, these questions were effectively answered through my questioning of the NTSB, the FBI and missile experts from China Lake. In addition, a member of my staff also closely examined the eyewitnesses’ statements. Based on conversations my staff had with missile experts at China Lake and the Congressional Research Service, I am convinced that what the majority of the eyewitnesses described was Flight 800 in various stages of crippled flight – not a missile launch. These are the same conclusions that the CIA’s missile experts came to when they were asked by the FBI to examine the eyewitnesses’ statements.

Given all of the above-mentioned factors, I decided not to submit questions to the Pentagon. Regrettably, despite numerous assertions by my office, the NTSB and the FBI that there has not been a "cover-up" relative to the Flight 800 investigation, many people continue to contact me with allegations that the U.S. Navy was responsible, in some shape or form, for this tragedy. In order to "close the loop" on my investigation, I would appreciate it if you could answer the following questions for the record:

  1. How many U.S. Navy vessels, including submarines, were within 300 miles of the crash site of Flight 800 at the time of the crash?
  2. Could you please detail the names, vessel types and location for each of these vessels?
  3. Did any of the above-named vessels fire any missiles at any time on July 17, 1996?

Thank you for your time and consideration of this important matter. Should you or your staff have any questions relative to this request, please don’t hesitate to contact me or my chief of staff, Paul Marcone, at 202-225-5261.



James A. Traficant, Jr.

Member of Congress