Cmdr. William S. Donaldson, III - USN, Ret.
Aviation Mishap Analyst
P.O. Box 90, Clements, Maryland 20624
Web site:

June 18, 1999

Honorable Joanna Seybert
Uniondale Federal District Court 
2 Uniondale Avenue 
Uniondale, NY 11553

Your Honor,

This letter is offered as a friend of the court statement for your consideration prior to the sentencing of Elizabeth and James Sanders on 9 July 1999.

It is my finding after a two year independent investigation into the unexplained loss of TWA Flight 800 that the Boeing 747-100 was intentionally shot down and that Justice Department actions intimidating Congressman Traficant, prosecuting the Sanders and Captain Stacey, fit a clear pattern facilitating a White House cover-up.

On 6 May 1999 I was invited to testify before the House Aviation Subcommittee hearing into the Reauthorization of the National Transportation Safety Board.  I argued, in the presence of the Chairman of the NTSB, James Hall, three points.  1) The NTSB leaderships should be replaced, 2) the NTSB should be reformed without political appointees, and 3) Title 18 and Title 49 of the US Code should be reformed to prevent future harassment and malicious prosecutions of Parties or their investigators.  My written testimony is Attachment 1.

I brought into the hearing physical evidence (maps and FBI Operational Orders) of a covert missile recovery operation manned by FBI Agents and paid for by the NTSB.  News coverage of that testimony is Attachment 2.

Congressman James Traficant's behavior during those proceedings was theatrically overblown praise for the FBI and NTSB, enough so as to derail meaningful discussion of my testimony.  His inexplicable reversal from strong public supporter to irrational critic of our investigation prompted me to check his motives.  What I found has a direct link to the Sanders case.  Multiple Justice Department leaks of Mob affidavits tying Mr. Traficant's office to organized crime were released in his hometown precisely concurrent to the arrests of Sanders, Captain Stacey and the Baltimore NTSB Public Hearing in December 1997.  Attachments 3, 4 and 5 are news coverage and letters to Chairman Duncan and Chairman Smith about Mr. Traficant.

A detailed discussion of the shootdown of TWA Flight 800 is well beyond the scope of this letter, but please be assured my credentials and career experience exceed those of anyone in the NTSB or FBI leadership positions.  Ironically, my first crash investigation was the accidental missile shootdown of my assistant aircraft maintenance officer by Marine F4 Phantoms in 1977.

1. White House staff knew when Mr. Clinton signed the Iran/Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 that threats of war and retaliatory strikes against American interests from the Iranian Supreme Council were credible.

2. White House staff knew Iranian surrogates had already car bombed US troops at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in November 1995.  This act conveyed a warning not to sign the Sanctions Act.  The White House also knew that shoulder fired missiles had been smuggled across our borders by January 1996.

3. White House staff knew Iran called a summit meeting in Tehran with terrorist surrogates from nine Mideast countries on 2 June 1996.

4. The White House failed to warn of, or prevent, Iranian attacks before they came.  The first was against the Khobar Towers Air Force barracks complex in Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996.  The second was on TWA Flight 800 on July 17, 1996.

The White House justifiably believed a counterstrike against Iran would unleash a world wide terror campaign just before the 1996 elections and that public understanding of these events would jeopardize the Clinton/Gore reelection.

By the time of the NTSB Public Hearing, 8 December 1997, eighteen months after Flight 800 went down, the Justice Department was signaling that the Riyadh and Khobar Towers bombings were unsolvable due to lack of Saudi cooperation and the White House was scapgoating our own military commanders.  The FBI had already declared the TWA loss a non-criminal event, illegally quashed the testimony of TWA witnesses, and illegally sealed indefinitely real evidence and laboratory testing.

At enormous expense, the NTSB political leadership had convinced a technically inept media that its nonsense mechanical failure theory was plausible.  In early December 1997 three problems remained: 1) disgruntled inside investigators who might go public during the Baltimore Hearings, like Captain Stacey; 2) investigative journalist James Sanders who was talking to an interested producer, Oliver Stone; and 3) James Traficant, the sole Congressman looking into the Federal investigation who's questions were embarrassing the NTSB and FBI.

The Justice Department solved all three problems by taking direct action against those individuals between 5 and 12 December 1997.

The Sanders' conviction should be vacated and all felony stigma expunged because they were victims of a malicious prosecution undertaken to facilitate a political cover-up.  Your Honor, the Constitution provides you immunity from political pressure through life tenure on the Federal bench.  In cases like this, you are the people's lifeline, a constitutional check and balance with the power to stop in its tracks, politically motivated assaults on private citizens.

In the TWA investigation the government has clearly acted as a partisan and proactive interested party, silencing witnesses, distorting facts and striking down its critics by all means available.  Please restore the Sanders' full citizenship rights and rebalance the scales of justice.

The Sanders' conviction should be vacated because they were prosecuted outside the intent of Title 18.  The statute is designed to protect aircraft crash debris from loss to souvenir hunters, scavengers or other parties whose pilfering would prevent qualified aircrash investigators from physical examination and laboratory analysis of real evidence.

In this case the only scavengers or pilferers who were preventing qualified aircrash investigators from examination and laboratory analysis of real evidence were FBI agents acting without due regard for the controlling Federal Statute, Title 49 of the US Code.  Testimony at Senator Grassley's hearing clearly proved that FBI agents were guilty of far more serious violations in removing evidence without authorization, evidence that remains missing to this day.  Non response of the FBI to NTSB / Party Investigators was a constant impediment to progress.  The FBI has no professional crash investigators.

Captain Stacey's transfer to James Sanders of a small sample of suspicious material for laboratory testing may have been overzealous, outside of normal protocol and actionable under Title 49 by sanctions such as being severed from the investigation.  Prosecution under Title 18 for either man, however, is totally inappropriate because their actions were taken within the broad scope of a Title 49 aircrash investigator's mission, which is to develop evidence and to expeditiously discover the cause of an air disaster.

The Sanders' conviction should be vacated in order to restore Title 49 to the status intended by Congress.  Allowing the Sander's and Stacey convictions to stand would set Judicial precedent subjecting Title 49 aircrash experts to the whimsy of the Justice Department and would render Title 49 authority moot.

This precedent is dangerous to public safety.  Flight 800 was the first American Flag transport shootdown by shoulder fired missiles, but the 27th such shootdown worldwide.  Masking the true cause of any aircraft loss is a compound hazard.  In this case, failing to publicly identify the true cause allows the administration to avoid politically risky national defense responsibilities, leaving the threat in place.  A second hazard occurs if operational or engineering changes are made based on false assumptions.  These types of changes may actually degrade air safety margins.

The Sanders' conviction should be vacated to restore their 1st Amendment rights of free speech and free press.

Although the Sanders' were charged under a statute, Title 18, intended to protect physical property, the Administrations actions in this prosecution clearly portray a different intent, suppression of information that by law should be in the public domain.

Sanders, a published investigative journalist, was given this material by a legitimate crash investigator with the express purpose of conveying vital information to the general public.  As agreed, Sanders then analyzed and published the data gleaned from these worthless swatches of seat fabric.  If the government is right and this seat fabric bears no evidence of a criminal act, then it is worthless to the investigation and its removal has caused no harm to the investigation.  Their actions however, portray that the seat fabric was very important to the investigation, either because it did contain real evidence of a crime that they wanted suppressed or because Sanders embarrassed the government.  Neither of these reasons warrants prosecution under Title 18.

Regardless of whether Sanders laboratory analysis was correct or if his published information was accurate or not the Government has no standing to punish him or anyone else exercising free speech or free press.  Indeed, government agencies operating within constitutional constraints should be deaf to what private citizens say or publish.

The Sanders' conviction should be vacated to right the injustice of selective and prejudicial prosecution.  Regardless of the outcome of the Sanders' case, an irrevocable punishment process began with the indictment.  Defense costs, stress, loss of jobs and ultimately bankruptcy are imposed immediately.

Since the demise of the Jim Crow laws in the South, Americans have grown accustomed to equal treatment under the law.  They do not expect to be selectively prosecuted for things other citizens are openly doing on a routine basis.  This case is particularly egregious because the other citizens were the FBI.  Agents routinely removed debris without following any semblance of protocol.  Recent Senate testimony established that agents were actually caught by security in the act during early morning hours at Calverton.

The Deputy FBI Director who ordered the arrest of Captain Stacey and the Sanders' thought nothing of helping himself to debris for a public relations souvenir giveaway that was televised nationally.

 Your Honor, you alone have the ability to right these wrongs.  Regardless of what you believe about the fate of TWA Flight 800, you have to ask yourself, "why did the Justice Department go after these two people so rabidly?"  Was it because they did real harm to the investigation or because they embarrassed the government?  The government's actions in this case are completely out of proportion to the act committed by the Sanders and committed by others without penalty.  I urge you to set aside this verdict and rebalance the scales of justice.


William S. Donaldson, III

The Honorable John J. Duncan, Jr.
U. S. House of Representatives 

The Honorable Lamar J. Smith
U.S. House of Representatives

District Attorney James M. Catterson, Jr. 
Suffolk County Office of the District Attorney Mr. Philip M. Condit 
The Boeing Company

Mr. Jerry L. Gitner 
Trans World Airlines 

J. Bruce Maffeo 
Attorney at Law