Accuracy in Media

At a dramatic news conference on July 20th, Commander William Donaldson released a detailed 109-page report on the destruction two years ago of TWA Flight 800. The government says the plane blew apart because of a mysterious explosion in a fuel tank. But Donaldson’s report says that officials in the Clinton Administration have been guilty of criminal wrongdoing for covering up the evidence that the plane was shot down by two missiles. These are serious and striking charges.

One piece of the evidence, which helps illustrate the cover-up charge, is a presidential executive order issued shortly after accusations were being made in the press that the plane was shot down by a missile. Bill Donaldson identified the executive order as number 13039, dated March 11, 1997, and said it removed whistleblower protection from Navy personnel who had been involved in the salvage operation. It was designed to keep quiet about what they may have found.

You might be asking where you could find a copy of this particular executive order in order to do some investigation of your own. There are several White House sites on the World Wide Web where executive orders are supposed to be listed. We went to both of them, and could not find it. In the chronological listing of these documents, there is no number 13039. It is missing.

The CBS 60 Minutes program has run a story mocking the Internet because there is so much information, some of it questionable, on the World Wide Web. One of the so-called conspiracy theories that was attacked by correspondent Lesley Stahl in this story was the claim of cover-up in the TWA 800 case. However, our search on the Internet turned up the missing executive order number 13039. It was posted on one of several sites dealing with the TWA crash. We subsequently confirmed with officials in the White House that such an executive order does, in fact, exist. However, we could find no reason why it has disappeared from the official list.

The order is titled, “Exclusion of the Naval Special Warfare Development Groups From the Federal Labor-Management Relations Program.” This is a law that provides a mechanism for workers to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. In other words, whistleblower protection. Clinton excluded them from this law on national security and intelligence grounds.

One of the Internet sites where we obtained this document made the following accusation: “Copies of this order have been pulled from various places on the web, presumably by the White House. However, the censors missed at least one occasion, and so we have the additional evidence of a president who is personally involved in an effort to deceive the public.” That is stretching it a bit. We have no direct evidence that Clinton made a decision to hide this order. However, it is mystifying that the order is missing from official White House web sites, and somewhat mystifying why it was issued in the first place. One explanation lies in Bill Donaldson’s missile theory.

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