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FBI interviews Salinger on TWA, discredits 'friendly fire' document

Kallstrom November 10, 1996
Web posted at: 10:20 a.m. EST

SMITHTOWN, New York (CNN) -- FBI agents interviewed former White House press secretary Pierre Salinger at his Paris home Saturday and dismissed his document claiming a U.S. Navy missile shot down TWA Flight 800 as nothing more than Internet chatter.

"The document is the same one we have already seen, thoroughly investigated and discounted," said James Kallstrom, head of the FBI's criminal investigation.

Kallstrom said Salinger's two-page document is the identical message that has circulated on the Internet since August. The message spawned rumors that "friendly fire" was behind the July 17 explosion of the Paris-bound jumbo jet, which killed all 230 people aboard.

Federal officials have repeatedly said they have investigated and disproved the document's allegations. And after Salinger's claim gave the theory new life, Kallstrom called a news conference Friday to label it "absolute, pure, utter nonsense."

Salinger makes more cover-up allegations

Salinger, appearing live on CNN earlier Saturday, leveled more accusations that Flight 800 was brought down by a U.S. Navy missile and hinted that the federal government has covered up similar information on other air disasters.

Salinger said he met with a man Saturday morning who claimed he was on an Air France flight that took off from New York five minutes after TWA Flight 800. Salinger didn't identify the source by name.

Salinger said the man told him that shortly after takeoff the Air France pilot made a wild turn to the right. Shaken by the incident, the passenger went to the cockpit and asked what was happening. (28 sec./325K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

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  • "We can't go over that region. They're sending missiles up there. It's very dangerous," the pilot allegedly responded. Salinger suggested that investigators track down the Air France pilot and interview him.

    Salinger, who worked for President John F. Kennedy and was once an ABC News correspondent, also stood by accusations he made earlier in the week from Cannes, France, that were based on documents he said came from a source close to the U.S. government.

    Salinger said they show the jetliner was brought down by "friendly fire" from a Navy ship. He said dozens of witnesses have said they heard or saw a missile in the area and that leading media outlets in France have publicized the reports, including photos of what appear to be a missile flying near the jumbo jet.

    Asked why investigators would keep such information under tight wraps, Salinger said the United States had done something similar before. As an example, he cited the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which all 259 people aboard and 11 people on the ground were killed.

    Salinger, without citing his source, said the facts pointed to involvement by Syrians and Iranians. But the bombing was blamed on Libyans, he said, because the United States and Britain wanted a Middle East peace accord following the Gulf War. Connecting Syria to the bombing would look bad, possibly jeopardizing the accord, he said. (39 sec./411K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

    General blasts missile theory

    Retired Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, who appeared on CNN after Salinger, said if a missile had been fired the night of the TWA explosion, the Navy would have a record of an unaccounted-for missile, remains of the missile would have been found, and someone on the ship that launched the missile would have confessed by now.

    "There would have been reports . . ."icon (12 sec./220K AIFF or WAV sound)
    "There are no launch areas . . ."icon (26 sec./220K AIFF or WAV sound)
    "We would have found out . . ."icon (20 sec./251K AIFF or WAV sound)
    "People would be involved . . ."icon (19 sec./1.7MB AIFF or WAV sound)

    "If this happened, there would be a number of people who would be involved in some kind of cover-up in the U.S. Navy and would have kept that going for a number of months," Smith said. "It's just not credible to me. The conscience of somebody would have come forward."

    On Friday, officials from the FBI, Navy and National Transportation Safety Board angrily denied Salinger's accusations of a cover-up, saying they were "totally without foundation."

    "What we can say is that the United States military did not shoot a missile at this airplane. The United States military did not shoot anything," said Kallstrom, who lost a close friend on Flight 800. An emotional Kallstrom said the FBI would not hide such information from victims' families or the public, and that no military ships or planes were "in a position to be involved."


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