Flight 800: Accident Or Terrorist
Attack? Part 5
Senate Judiciary Committee Investigates FBI Concerning TWA FL800
Elizabeth Tonis for Suffolk Life Newspapers
December 18, 1998
"We are confident a complete review of our conduct in regard to Flight 800 will show no stone was left unturned." The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is currently under investigation for its handling of the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, according to senate investigators. Suffolk Life has confirmed that an inquiry into the matter by a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is currently underway. The inquiry is headed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who serves as chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, responsible for oversight of the Justice Department.
Officials explained the inquiry is part of an extension of a several year investigation into the Justice Department regarding the FBI, specifically looking into the agencys criminal laboratory procedures. A Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing is expected to be held early next year on the matter, sources indicated. Jill Kozeny, press secretary to Grassley, confirmed that one avenue senate investigators are focusing on involves charges that the FBI may have allegedly rushed to judgment, initially leaning toward and then pursuing terrorism and conspiracy theories such as a missile or bomb rather than following the evidence that ultimately led to one conclusion that the crash was due to mechanical failure. Other allegations of misconduct, ranging from poor documentation, not following procedure and improper training have also surfaced. FBI officials who were contacted by Suffolk Life expressed confidence that the Senate inquiry would show they made every effort to conduct a thorough investigation of the crash which killed all 235 passengers. Assistant Director Louis Schiliro, of the FBI¹s New York office, said, "While the FBI is not on the defensive, we will not comment on the (Judiciary) hearing because it has not begun."
However, Schiliro went on to say, "We are confident a complete review of our conduct in regard to Flight 800 will show no stone was left unturned." Schilito praised FBI employees for their handling of the situation, saying "The FBI is proud of the people who conducted that investigation because of their hard work and dedication." Within hours of the crash, the FBI flooded Long Island with about 400 agents. Over the course of the investigation, the FBI said it conducted some 7,000 interviews, followed up on about 3,000 leads, and took 2,000 chemical swabs from the wreck. James Margolin, a spokesman from the public relations department of the New York division of the FBI, maintained that the FBI conducted a "thorough investigation." "From the evidence found, the FBI determined that there was no criminal act" that caused the downing of the aircraft, Margolin noted. He went on to emphasize that "keeping the families in mind, investigators searched thoroughly to find the truth." In the wake of the FL800 incident, the FBI investigated claims of the plane being exploded by one or more missiles but ultimately ruled, in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB), that the downing was due to mechanical failure. Despite hundreds of eyewitness accounts that at least one missile was seen just before the explosion, the NTSB and FBI jointly announced that the Center Wing Tank of FL800 exploded because of a spark from a wire running through or in the vicinity of the fuel tank. Ted Lopatkiewicz, deputy director of public affairs for the NTSB, said he was unaware of the Senate Judiciary Investigation. Meanwhile, authorities have indicated the subcommittees hearings are slated to take place in February, 1999. Christine Moeser contributed to this article.