What can disinformation and anti-American conspiracy theories tell us about TWA flight 800?

There are many conspiracy theories which surround the TWA flight 800 disaster of July 17, 1996. Chief among these narratives seems to be the notions that the plane was shot down by a missile – and then covered up by the US national security apparatus; or that even the missile itself came from a US Navy training exercise gone awry.

Today, with the accumulation of quality investigative research about the crash, and the similar patterns which have emerged in internet-based conspiracy theory since 1996, it seems fairly easy to connect the TWA flight 800 conspiracy theories as emerging from similar strategic disinformation networks responsible for September 11 2001, Syrian Civil War/ISIS, and 2016 ‘election hacking’ conspiracy theories (among others).

From RT, to Veterans Today, to Infowars, to GlobalResearch, to UNZ, to the network of Mark Lane-connected L. Fletcher Prouty, and no doubt many lesser known outlets for conspiracism – there is a clear trend which emerges of information warfare around TWA Flight 800 that is connected to an Iranian and Russian/Soviet disinformation legacy. Despite their variations, in all cases, these narratives seem to be calculated to diminish faith and trust in the US government.

Perhaps the best place to start to explain this rationale is by demonstrating Russian proxy Iran’s semi-transparent motivations for creating a controversy around the TWA flight 800 disaster, which can be most plausibly found in reciprocation for the 1988 shootdown of Iran Air flight 655 on July 3, 1988 by the USS Vincennes cruiser. The US Navy ship mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian Airbus A300 airliner from within Iran’s territorial waters in a case of mistaken identity, resulting in the deaths of 290 passengers – a majority of them Iranian. In Iran, this action had significant propaganda value and it has been generally portrayed as an intentional act by Americans, although there is little rational evidence to support this perspective.

Iranian stamp commemorating Iran Air flight 655 as state propaganda

In February 1996, the Iran Air flight 655 case was settled in the International Court of Justice with the US paying Iran $131.8 million dollars, although never issuing an official, formal apology.

However, it has been subsequently alleged by high-level Iranian intelligence defectors that Ayatollah Khomeini sought quick retribution for the July 1988 tragedy by commissioning the Syrian terrorist group: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) to exact revenge on American air travel, which took the form of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988 over Lockerbie Scotland. The blame for the Pan Am flight 103 disaster was placed squarely on Libyan intelligence, although the subsequent testimony of Iranian defector Abolghassem Mesbahi seems to indicate that it was most likely a coordinated effort between Libya, Syria, and Iran.

While Libya remains officially implicated in the disaster and Muammar Gaddafi took full responsibility for the bombing (in which his son claimed was a political move simply to ease Western sanctions against Libya), this does set the stage for the 1996 early internet conspiracy theories which followed.

Gaddafi apologist and former John F. Kennedy administration press secretary Pierre Salinger was one of the first people to spread a viral conspiracy theory about the TWA flight 800 disaster, in which he posited that the plane had been accidentally shot down in a US Navy training exercise off Long Island.

In Cannes, France on November 7, 1996, Salinger held a press conference claiming that the US government was participating in a coverup of the TWA flight 800 disaster and bolstered his argument through claims of an anonymous source in French intelligence who was close to US officials. It was discovered that the source of his claims was actually a widely disseminated email chain letter which was subsequently triangulated to originate from an article by an author named “Parveez Syad” or “Parveez Hussein” who was summarily accused of being an ‘Iranian disinfo propagandist’.

Salinger was later roundly criticized for his foolish press conference, which represented one of the earliest examples of viral internet conspiracies breaking into the mainstream media. (Salinger is also noteworthy for later writing a foreword to Gaddafi’s 1998 book “Escape to Hell” as well as for being a proponent of the idea that Iran was behind the Lockerbie bombing and not Libya.)

It has also emerged that in the wake of the 1996 crash, that Iran was the chief suspect in the minds of many authorities, if the act was found to be terrorism. This seems to be because Iran was suspected of being behind the Khobar Towers Bombing of June 25, 1996 in Saudi Arabia which killed 20 American servicemen (although blame has subsequently been placed on Iranian terror proxy Hezbollah). (Since 1995, US President Bill Clinton had issued a series of executive orders sanctioning Iran for its support of Hezbollah and for its nuclear program, finally culminating in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of August 1996. Today this act still exists in modified form as the Iran Sanctions Act.)

To top it off — poignantly, but perhaps wholly coincidentally — Flight 800 had at one time been sold by TWA to the regime of the Shah of Iran, before it was repurchased 12 months later.

Here is where our second anti-US conspiracy narrative begins to take root around TWA flight 800 – specifically that there was a coverup of a missile strike on the airliner by the FBI and CIA.

In short, there is a body of conspiratorial reasoning that the official dismissal of eye witness testimony alleging a missile strike on the plane and subsequent secrecy around the FBI-managed reconstruction of the aircraft, which resulted in an official final conclusion of an explosion of vapor in Flight 800’s fuel tanks – constitutes some kind of a coverup which either A. validates the initial narrative of the Navy shooting down the plane – and/or B. that the US media is a lapdog of the national security intelligence apparatus and constitutes an indictment of our free press.

This narrative is perhaps made most salient for contemporary audiences via the 2013 EPIX TV documentary film “TWA Flight 800” which was directed and written by ex-CBS and CNN journalist Kristina Borjesson (watching this film and digging into the background is what actually gave me the inspiration for this post). The documentary and its director have received strong and supportive coverage on sites known to be involved in modern Russian information warfare like RT, Global Research (where Borjesson also directly contributed an article), and Veterans Today.

Kristina Borjesson

Borjesson for her part was apparently personally invested in the 1996 investigation and potentially lost her CBS job for receiving stolen evidence from the crash (which she intended to have tested for explosive residue) and for pitching “wacky” proposals for stories about US government conspiracy theories to her producers. Instead of supporting Borjesson, CBS ultimately returned her purloined evidence to investigative authorities.

She was also involved in an aborted project about the disaster with Oliver Stone for the cancelled ABC show “Declassified”. (Stone of course is notable for his close connections with Russian elite (read Putin) and purveyance of conspiratorial narratives about the JFK assassination which have provable roots in Russian disinformation/active measures and links to the KGB asset Mark Lane.)

Borjesson is a writer-director for the website “Project Censored” (examples of her work there were carried on Global Research) which was lauded by notorious figures like Daniel Ellsberg, I.F. Stone, and connected to promotion of Gary Webb. (Webb was most notably responsible for the debunked but persistent conspiracy theory that the CIA trafficked crack cocaine into black neighborhoods. Webb even contributed a chapter to Borjesson’s book “Into the Buzzsaw”. He apparently considered KGB asset I.F. Stone and communist patsy Lincoln Steffens to be his journalistic role models.)

Today, Borjesson’s Twitter feed supports the likes of Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and George Papadopoulos; but takes a critical tone on ‘RussiaGate’, Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the so-called ‘deep state’ (to cite  just a few examples of many). Perhaps this tells us a lot about her anti-CIA, anti-FBI, and generally anti-mainstream media stance as reflected in her Flight 800 documentary. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination about where her political allegiances may lie in the present day.

In the end, the conspiracy theories which surround the downing of TWA flight 800 do seem to have objective roots in Iranian disinformation and discontent directed at the US, as well as a clear current propagation by information networks which are related to Russian and Syrian disinformation efforts. They seem to have reciprocal elements of the 1988 Iran Air flight 655 accident (specifically relating to a US Navy shootdown of an airliner). Ultimately, they bear a striking pattern in similarity to the kinds of false flag narratives which surround 9/11 and may represent an instance of how the US national security apparatus and system of secrecy which keeps us safe can be turned into an information weapon to be used against us by a determined adversary.


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