Accuracy in Media

My by-line is on this article because it involves some very sensitive conversations that I have had and opinions about them that are best discussed in the first person. I am revealing the name of the Navy master chief who last November told an acquaintance of his that on the evening of July 17, 1996, he was on the bridge of the USS Trepang, a submarine that was practically underneath TWA Flight 800 when the plane exploded and crashed into the sea.

His acquaintance, whose name I won’t disclose because it adds nothing to the story, had called me the night before on a line in my office that had been used to take calls for the TWA 800 Eyewitness Alliance generated by an ad placed in The Washington Times on August 15, 2000. He shared our views about the cause of the crash, and we had a good conversation. The next morning he called again to tell me that he had just run into a casual acquaintance who was a retired Navy petty officer. Because of his discussion with me the night before, he brought up TWA 800. Here is an edited partial transcript of our conversation. [H for him and I for me]

H: Have you ever heard of the submarine Tripanga?
I: It rings a bell
H: He was a master chief on the Tripanga, on the surface, underneath TWA 800, when he saw a missile hit it, and the 747 exploded overhead, and they did an emergency dive, crash dive, to avoid being hit by the debris. They were interviewed by the FBI. They had two- or three-star admirals meet them at the dock when they were recalled to port 20 hours later after filing their reports.
I: What was their position? Were they off Long Island?
H: They were on the surface, underneath TWA 800.
I: Right underneath?
H: Yup. And they have the debris falling around them on film from the periscope. Because they started the video camera to record what was going on. Did you ever hear any of that?
I: That I have never heard. (Discuss spelling of the name of the submarine. It is Trepang.) You know the Navy denied that it had any assets closer than the Normandy, which was supposed to be 180 miles away. Little by little, they had to admit that they had submarines that were closer, and the radar showed three targets that were close to the shore. They had very short tracks. When the plane came down, they disappeared. I infer that they were submarines that were on the surface and then dived.
H: He also saw the incoming helicopter, the National Guard helicopter. They were right on the scene.
I: Wow. Is he retired?
H: I believe he is. Yes.
I: Is he willing to go on record?
H: I don’t know that. I asked him if what he told me was classified information, and he told me it was not.
I: Do you mind telling me his name?
H: I do not. It is Randy, and the last name is Beers….He is out of work right now.
I: You don’t have a phone number for him do you?
H: I do not. I don’t know him that well.
I: Was he under wraps?
H: He didn’t indicate to me that he was. He said he gave a statement to the FBI. He said they checked all their torpedo tubes and all their missile silos to make sure they had all the missiles on board that they left port with. They inventoried the armament of the boat.
I: Did he say that they were part of an exercise that night?
H: Yes, he did. I asked him if there were other military vessels in the area. He said, “Yes, several.”
I: I’ll try to track the guy down.
H: I can’t believe that I had a conversation with you just last night, and I ran into him half an hour ago.
I: God works in mysterious ways.

I obtained Beers’ phone number from information and found him willing to talk. In our taped interview, he was somewhat more guarded than he had been with his acquaintance. He said he didn’t want to do anything that might “mess up” his retirement, but nothing was said about the conversation being off the record. I told him that I was with Accuracy in Media and recommended that he visit our Web site, where he would find a lot of articles we had written about TWA 800. The following is a partial transcript of the taped interview. I did not begin taping at the very beginning of the conversation. The transcript begins where the taping started. This was Thurs., Nov. 15 at 10:00 a.m.

B: I told everything, you know, when the Navy came on board with everybody else on my submarine.
I: What was the name of the sub.
B: Trepang. (spells it)
I: You were off the coast of Long Island that night.
B: Uh huh.
I: And you said the Navy—Go ahead. Tell me.
B: You know, I don’t want anything to mess up my retirement.
I. Yes. Well, I don’t see how telling the truth can mess up your retirement, Randy. That would be the scandal of the day if they were to- –
B: I told them all the truth, you know, when they came, Reed.
I: Yeh. And what did you tell them.
B: You know, that me and Mr. Leitner were on the bridge. Mr. Leitner was the officer of the deck. (Discuss spelling of Leitner, pronounced Late-ner.)
I: Go ahead.
B: So me and Mike Leitner were on the bridge and he was, you know, he would control the submarine. And the only reason I was up there was ‘cause I was the second senior enlisted guy on the boat. I was ship’s corpsman and I went up there just ‘cause, well first off ‘cause it was a nice evening. ‘Cause I never went out in the rain, you know, and I had a couple of Diet Pepsis, so me and Mike Leitner shared a couple of Pepsis and hanging out and one thing leads to another and it looks like somethin’ went up and somethin’ come down.
I: You saw it go up and you saw it come down.
B: Well, I seen something come up. I don’t know, you know, I don’t know what the hell it was, but that’s what it looked, you know, somethin’ went up.
I: How far away from the sub was it?
B: It was about a mile.
I: Which way? Out to sea or toward the shore?
B: I don’t have the navigation charts in front of me, and I can’t remember exactly. I mean, you know, but I know we was-
I. How far from the shore were you?
B: A few miles, not far.
I: Only a few miles.
B: Yeah, not far at all.
I: Were there a couple of other subs nearby?
B: We were operating with some, yeah.
I: The reason I say that is because the radar picked up three targets on the surface that had very short tracks. They all disappeared when the plane went down.
B: Yeah, that’s what we did.
I: I mentioned that to Jim Kallstrom, who, you know, headed the FBI investigation.
B: Yes.
I: And I said, you know the FBI won’t even tell us. This was after he retired, and I said the FBI won’t even tell us what those targets were, and he said, “Oh, I can tell you what they were.
B: Submarines.
I: He said they were Navy vessels on a classified maneuver. That’s interesting because he never said—Oh, he said, “I’ve said that in public,” but I had no record of him…
B: Oh ####. I don’t think anything we did off Long Island was classified.
I: Is that so? Wasn’t there a Navy maneuver out there that night?
B: Oh yeah.
I: Because there were a lot of Navy ships that seemed to be heading out for W-105.
B: Uh huh.
I: Is that right?
B: Yes.
I: Yeh. You had the P-3 overhead and we got radar that shows there was an airplane without a transponder that was caught on the radar, primary radar, that was sort of doing a racetrack, going in and out of W-105, coming out and going back in again.
B: Yeah.
I: So it looked like there was something interesting going on there. Were you guys supposed to be targets for the P-3 or-
B: You know, this is getting. I’m uncomfortable with saying what we was actually doing.
I: Okay, never mind. Skip that.
B: And if you want, if you sent me something in writing then I could respond better. ‘Cause I’ve never met you.
I: Sure.
B: And you know—
I: I’ll tell you what. You can go to our Web site. Are you on the computer?
B: Not right now.
I: No, but you have a computer.
B: Yes.
I: Let me refer you to our Web site. It’s We’ve written a lot about TWA 800. There’s a couple of other Web sites that are very good that have a lot of primary documents on them. One is
B: Yeah, I’ve seen that one.
I: That’s Cmdr. Bill Donaldson’s site. Bill Donaldson worked closely with us. He just passed away a few months ago from a brain tumor, a hell of a guy. And he put a lot of his time and effort into this investigation. He was absolutely convinced that it was a missile that brought the thing down, and he collected a lot of information. He interviewed a lot of eyewitnesses that confirmed that. Let me tell you a little about what bugs us, and that is that the government-Did you ever see the CIA video that shows the simulation of what happened?
B: Oh, yeah.
I: That was based on the presumption that none of these eyewitnesses saw anything but the TWA 800. And that the fuel tank blew up and that explosion took the front end of the plane off and –
B: The rest of the plane continued on.
I: And the tail dropped back and it went up at a sharp angle, over 3000 feet before it came down again. Which all the aviation people I’ve talked to say is absolute nonsense. If you lose your front end you lose your- –
B: Yeah, that ain’t happening.
I: -your power you aren’t going to climb like a rocket. You’re going to fall like a rock, which is what the radar shows it did. (A long description of the CIA’s lie about what eyewitness Michael Wire saw is omitted.)
B: I don’t mean to cut you short. I’ve got to take my daughter to a doctor’s appointment in two minutes. I was about out the door.
I: Okay. We’ll talk again. Go to our Web site and you’ll see.
B: Okay. I’ll check it out today.
I: Okay
B: Thank you. Goodbye.

A Different Randy Beers

I called Randy again the next morning, Friday, Nov. 16. He asked me to call him back Monday morning, Nov. 19. I did, and I found myself talking to an entirely different person. The confident, courageous master chief had been transformed into a quivering moral coward. He said he had talked to his skipper over the weekend and that he had been reminded that he had signed certain papers when he retired from the Navy. Whoever it was that he had talked to had scared him to death. He feared that he was going to lose his retirement because of what he told me. He claimed he had spoken off the record, but I told him that was not so and that was very clear from the tape that I had recorded.

I said I didn’t want to hurt him and that there was no way the Navy could rescind his disability pension because he told the truth about what he had seen on the evening of July 17, 1996. Something had obviously gone wrong and they had successfully covered it up, but that too was wrong. It would be a scandal if they tried to deprive him of his pension because he had helped expose an illegal, immoral cover-up of a mistake that had cost the lives of 230 people. Cmdr. William S. Donaldson, who tried very hard to pin the blame on terrorists, told me several times that if it turned out that the Navy was responsible he would spearhead a demand that the officers behind it be court-martialed.

Shamed By A Woman

I told Randy that he had a moral obligation to go public with what he knew and to help us expose the cover-up. I cited the example set by another chief petty officer, Kathleen Janoski, who was in charge of photography for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Dover Air Force Base. She had found and photographed the perfectly round hole, about the diameter of a .45-caliber bullet, in the top of the head of the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. She had also photographed what was called the “lead snowstorm” inside his skull that showed up on the head x-ray. She took photos of the x-rays that were up on a light box, and it was a good thing that she did, because the one showing the lead snowstorm was destroyed. The colonel in charge rejected recommendations of three lieutenant colonels that an autopsy be performed on Brown’s body.

Kathleen Janoski had put her job at risk when she was still on active duty. She was relieved of her duties, and she feared she was going to be court-martialed. But she nevertheless shared her photos with Chris Ruddy who reported on the suspicious hole in the top of Ron Brown’s head and the lead snowstorm in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I suggested that he ought to show as much courage as she had. Kathleen Janoski retired and is drawing her pension.

Nothing I could say had any effect. He explained that he had lost his job, and although his wife was working, they would be in deep trouble if he lost his pension. I can sympathize with him, but there are whistleblowers in the government who risk their jobs by exposing wrongdoing. If we want to encourage more government employees to follow their example it would make sense to reward the whistleblowers and punish those who see the wrongdoing but seal their lips and close their eyes. I couldn’t budge Randy Beers, but one of the significant things about that conversation was that he did not deny the truth of anything he had told me when we first talked.

Beers Was A Breakthrough

When Pierre Salinger held a press conference in March 1997 and declared that TWA Flight 800 had been shot down accidentally by a U.S. Navy missile, this former presidential press secretary, U.S. Senator and ABC News correspondent, was mercilessly attacked by his former colleagues in the media. They accused him of peddling unsubstantiated Internet gossip. Salinger said that his information had been confirmed by a source who had a friend whose son was in the Navy. The son was said to have called home and told his family that “we” shot down the airliner. Salinger said the father did not want to be identified, fearing his son would suffer retaliation for disclosing information the Navy wanted to keep hidden. That, of course, was dismissed as hearsay.

We succeeded in verifying that Randy Beers was a chief petty officer on the Trepang and that he was the ship’s corpsman. We verified that Lt. Michael Leitner, with whom he drank Diet Pepsi on the Trepang’s bridge on the evening of July 17, 1996, was also a member of the crew. What Beers said about the Navy ships in the area that night and the exercise that was being conducted confirmed what we already knew from the radar data obtained by the Flight 800 Independent Research Organization, FIRO, and what Jim Kallstrom had told me about the three Navy vessels on a classified maneuver.

I wrote a column about what Randy Beers had revealed, but I did not include in it his name or the name of his submarine. Finding someone in the Navy who was willing to talk as freely as he did was an important breakthrough. He was the answer to those who were sure that the Navy could not have been responsible for shooting down TWA 800 because it would have been impossible to keep a secret like that when so many Navy personnel would have known about it. In the five and a half years since TWA 800 was shot down we heard stories about Navy personnel who had told family or friends that the Navy did it, but we were never able to make contact with them.

An Encouraging Response

The response to the column was encouraging even though it did not get the attention of the big media. I was persuaded by the e-mail I received that we should reveal Randy Beers’ name and the name of his submarine. The Navy had claimed that the Trepang was 117 miles from the TWA 800 crash site. The exposure of that lie and the fact that it took so long for someone on the sub to expose it should have shaken up those who have so confidently insisted that a secret like that could not remain hidden for long. However, I was surprised to get a few responses from individuals who completely missed this important lesson. The claim that the Navy couldn’t have done anything wrong because someone would have revealed it, dies hard.

Beers Boasts Of Being A BSer

My last conversation with Randy Beers was on February 5. I wanted to tell him that I was going to reveal his name, and I left a message saying it was important that he call me. He did. He first asked me if I was recording the call. I wasn’t and I said so. He then said that he was so upset that he had experienced trouble sleeping for two months. But he had found a solution to his problem. He told me that he was notorious for telling tall tales and that all that he had said about where the Trepang was and what he had seen was false. He claimed he just made it up.

He said the submarine was at its homeport in Groton, Connecticut that night, not beneath TWA Flight 800 when it was blown out of the sky. He said he didn’t know anything about any exercise that was taking place and he had never heard of W-105, the large area off Long Island that is regularly used by the military for testing and training. He said at least twice that this was his story and he was sticking to it. That is a gag line that says, in effect, I am lying but don’t expect me to admit it.

The transcripts of his conversations with his acquaintance and me have been printed out because they are the best evidence that he was not lying. He had no reason to lie to either one of us. What he says and the way he says it has the ring of truth. It is consistent with what we know from other sources. I asked him for references who would attest to his propensity to lie. He gave me one name, someone who had served on the Trepang. He doesn’t know where he is now. The office manager of the firm where he worked for over a year attested to his honesty.

The fact that he was worried sick when we had our second conversation and was virtually begging me not to report what he said shows that the idea of claiming that he had told tall tales had not yet occurred to him. If he were a habitual liar, he would not lose a lot of sleep worrying about his lies. Unfortunately his stratagem casts a cloud over his credibility, giving the media an excuse for ignoring anything he says. We are printing a list of the officers and petty officers who were on the Trepang in 1996. We will try to locate and question them and FOIA their FBI 302s (interview reports). Your help is invited.



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