Or read the transcript below:
(Transcription by J. C. Hendershot)
Interview with Ray Lahr & John Clarke, by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, Thursday, July 15, 2010
ROGER ARONOFF: Good morning, and welcome to Take AIM, Accuracy in Media’s weekly talk show on BlogTalkRadio. AIM is America’s original media watchdog, and every week we point out biased coverage and bring you the stories the mainstream media ignore. We encourage you to visit our website at aim.org, and sign up to receive our daily E-mail so you can keep track of what the media are up to. I am Roger Aronoff, a media analyst with AIM. We’re going to cover a lot of ground today. We will discuss the ongoing mystery of what happened to TWA Flight 800, as this weekend marks the 14th anniversary of that tragic event that took 230 lives. We will talk about that with our guests Ray Lahr and John Clarke.
ARONOFF: In 1996, TWA Flight 800 took off from New York’s Kennedy Airport, heading for Paris. About 12 minutes into the flight, it exploded and crashed into the Atlantic, killing all 230 people aboard. Though there was an official version of what caused the explosion, there is much evidence that the official version is false, and that a cover-up has taken at the highest levels of government. Ray Lahr, a retired United Airlines pilot and World War II veteran, and his attorney, John Clarke, are with us today to discuss Lahr’s case against the National Transportation Safety Board, the CIA, and the NSA, to uncover the truth about TWA Flight 800 by making government records available for public review under the Freedom of Information Act. If ever someone had the credibility to take on this task, it was Ray Lahr. He spent more than 30 years with United Airlines, the last 20 of those as a safety representative for the Air Line Pilots Association. He had taken part in eight major crash investigations, all of which he gave high marks to the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board). He joined the Navy in World War II, became a naval pilot, and in 1953 went to work for United Airlines. He received the Air Safety Award, the highest honor given by the Air Line Pilots Association. He was an engineer, and designed and patented the Jeppesen Computer, which is widely used by airline pilots. Ray, John—John Clarke is his attorney—welcome to Take AIM!
JOHN CLARKE: Hello, Roger! This is John. Thank you for having us on.
ARONOFF: Great. Today—
RAY LAHR: Good morning, Roger—this is Ray Lahr.
ARONOFF: Good morning, Ray. Great to have you on here. Tell us how you first got involved in this story, this investigation, and—why don’t you start there?
LAHR: Okay. Actually, there was Commander William Donaldson, also a Navy pilot, who was really the inspiration for all of this. He started doing a lot of the work, and then he came out to California, along with Major Fritz Meyer, and delivered a talk here in California which I attended, and that was my introduction to the independent investigation that those two gentlemen spearheaded. Also had a comrade at United Airlines, Captain Richard Russell, who had received a radar tape from the accident. Both Captain Russell and myself were acquainted with Jim Holtsclaw, an ATC (Air Traffic Control) representative, and Mr. Holtsclaw had been called back to New York on another matter, but when he was there some of the controllers that were on duty at the time of the accident approached him and gave him a radar tape. What they had done is rerun the radar, and stood over it with a video camera and taped what they saw on the scope. And it showed four blips, looked like high-velocity target, approaching TWA 800. So they smuggled that tape out and gave it to Captain Russell, Russell informed some of his associates, like myself, and that’s the other reason I got started in this investigation.
ARONOFF: And then in November 1997—that’s when the CIA animation was shown on TV, and I think that proved to be a pivotal moment for you, correct?
LAHR: That’s correct. When I looked at that tape, I realized that it was just not feasible for an aircraft, with the loss of the whole nose, to continue to fly and to climb. At that time I started asking questions, and used the Freedom of Information Act to try to get the data and conclusions that they used for that video animation. In fact, the day after that was shown on national TV, why, Boeing itself renounced the video. They said that they had no data or conclusions that matched that animation, and they said that what the eyewitnesses saw was best left to the eyewitnesses.
ARONOFF: Exactly. That’s the so-called “zoom climb,” which is sort of the name identified with your case, and refers to the animation showing that the fuselage of the plane went up 3,000 feet or so once the nose had fallen off. And so they were trying to make the case that there had been this explosion in the center-wing fuel tank, and so the whole idea of that was to say that all these eyewitnesses who believed they saw a missile heading up toward the plane actually saw this burning fuel coming down. And for that to happen it would have required this rise in the fuselage that a number of experts, including yourself, say is not very possible. Right?
LAHR: That’s very correct. The CIA said that not a single eyewitness saw the accident, because when the aircraft exploded, it was about ten miles offshore, and that it took 40 seconds for that sound to reach the shore and alert the people to look up. And then they say they looked up at just the right moment, after the explosion, to see the climb. Well, 40 seconds—the airplane had already, if it had ever done a climb, it would have completed the climb, and be descending again. The other part of it is, the eyewitnesses saw this object rising from the surface, or close to the surface, and not a point two-and-a-half miles in the sky.
ARONOFF: I want to talk a little about this, because Accuracy in Media was, obviously, very involved in this case from the start, as well. We worked also very closely with Commander Bill Donaldson, who pursued, I would say, a theory that this was done by terrorists. But we also worked with Jim Sanders, a former police officer and investigator, who was working with Jack Cashill, who has been a journalist who has doggedly stayed with this case for all these years, and they both did documentaries, as we—I—produced and directed a documentary called TWA 800: The Search for the Truth. And we were involved in these FOIAs, as well, and John Clarke was handling most of this for us. John, why don’t you tell us—give us your perspective on this, and then how you teamed up with Ray, and what that case is all about.
CLARKE: Sure. Yeah. I had the pleasure of representing James and Elizabeth Sanders, along with co-counsel Mark Lane, in their civil rights lawsuit regarding what happened to him. That is, James and Elizabeth, on the heels of James having written an article which appeared in the southern California Press-Enterprise newspaper. So that’s how I got introduced to the case. Later on, in 2002, while I was on my way back from northern California, I met Ray through a mutual friend who had another Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and Ray and I have been going forward with this case since 2002. We expect to wrap it sometime this summer. The case will be entirely over. What Ray had asked for, in the Freedom of Information Act, under the Freedom of Information Act, is all of the calculations and the data and the formulas—the basis for this “zoom climb” conclusion. Again, the “zoom climb” conclusion being that at 13,800 feet, the front third of the aircraft came off, and two-thirds of the aircraft, the rear two-thirds, shot up like a rocket, 3,200 feet to, it says, to a maximum altitude—the CIA video—to a maximum altitude of 17,000 feet. Well, as Ray has already described, he knew that that was impossible at first glance, as do most—the vast majority of aviators and those in the aerodynamics—aeronautics community. So, in any event, that’s what he asked for, the underlying basis of those conclusions, and we found a number of really startling things [that] came to light during the course of the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. It was filed where Ray lives, in Los Angeles. We learned, among other things, that the CIA did not have the calculations, had not done sufficient calculations to arrive at this—what is called the “zoom climb” conclusion—before they announced what it was, before they announced it and showed that video animation. They hadn’t really continued on. We were getting records—we got them sort of piecemeal from the CIA—and most of them post-dated the November 17, 1997 “zoom climb” animation, which was shown on all three networks, and on CNN. So obviously they made it up. If they hadn’t made it up, they wouldn’t have used false data as an input—for inputs.
But in any event, we were successful in that lawsuit, and one aspect of it was reversed on appeal, and we filed a petition for writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court on that one issue, and the Supreme Court did not take the case. So now it was remanded, and is back before the district court, and we expect—there’s only one aspect, that is an attorney fee award, that the district court awarded, that we’ve settled, and we expect that the case will be ending, like I said, this summer.
ARONOFF: Jack Cashill, in one of his articles—at WorldNetDaily—said that this is really a scandal more of media than of government. I mean, I think of both, but in the sense that—he said—if The New York Times had decided to really get behind this story—for instance, if they would have picked up on what you were doing, and examined the evidence, and put this to the government—you know, “Come on! Go ahead and defend this!”—that this really could have broken this case open. How do you—first you, Ray—how do you view how the media has covered this thing? Both at the beginning, and then during your case?
LAHR: I think you’re right. They did cooperate with the government on this—New York Times in particular—but there was a video movie that’s probably a home video-type thing, somebody with a camera, that did get presented on television that same evening. It went worldwide—I’ve had reports from people that saw it in Germany, people that saw it over in Asia—and it just showed that one time, that evening, and it was quickly jerked off. Jack Cashill has been trying to obtain a copy of that tape, but to no avail.
ARONOFF: And what about during the course of your case, here, that’s been through the courts? Did the media ever—The New York Times, CNN—were they ever there, looking into the facts and covering this story, and giving it the importance that it deserved?
LAHR: No. They never did appear at the court trials. The coverage was very sparse. Some of the legal documents—legal publications covered parts of it, but as far as the general media, they shut their eyes.
ARONOFF: How do you explain that? What do you think? What does that tell you?
LAHR: Well—[Laughs]—that there’s an amazing amount of cooperation between the media and the top political hierarchy.
ARONOFF: John, what do you think about the media coverage? How that’s been throughout this?
CLARKE: Well, Roger, the media has acted, collectively, as one would expect a public relations department for the government to act. I mean, to show this ludicrous video from the beginning, back in November of 1997, without getting any independent advice as to whether or not it was even possible, is ludicrous. Besides, there are—673 eyewitnesses called the FBI to tell them, to report what they’d seen. So there are probably over a thousand witnesses. Now, we know that many, many of those witnesses contacted The New York Times, and contacted other newspapers, to try to explain what it was that they had seen, but The New York Times didn’t publish it. So think about it: This is homicide. These are 230 counts of homicide within the eyesight of a thousand people. Now, if the government can get away with that, because of the news media, they can really get away with—then, really, it sort of tells us that this country, the population, is kind of losing touch with reality. If that is their reality, this ludicrous “zoom climb”—and, I mean, the “zoom climb” was an excuse for what the eyewitnesses see: They didn’t see missile fire, according to the media, they saw two-thirds of an aircraft shooting up through the sky over a half a mile! It’s just absolutely ludicrous. So that’s why I think this is particularly important. I mean, you almost expect the government to cover things up. What you don’t expect is for the news media to facilitate it.
ARONOFF: 92 of those eyewitnesses saw something rise from the surface, and none of these people knew each other. I went out and interviewed a number of these people. Some of the other compelling evidence—you talked about Jim Sanders. He was given this material with the explosive residue found on it. You had—you know, one of the most compelling pieces is Hank Hughes. Tell us about Hank Hughes and his role in this thing.
CLARKE: Hank Hughes was an NTSB investigator, and he testified before Congress that the FBI was stealing evidence out of the hangar, the reconstruction hangar, and altering evidence. That was—that appeared on C-SPAN, national television. Of course, it appeared in your film, also, but The New York Times didn’t pick—nobody picked it up. When you look at the evidence—what we did, in Ray’s case, we filed evidence from 27 affiants, 27 sets of affidavits from various people, most of whom were experts—and an number of eyewitnesses, also. We filed affidavits from eyewitnesses who saw the missile intersect with the aircraft! In any event, back to the evidence—their radar evidence, the flight data recorder evidence, the eyewitness evidence, the forensic evidence, the explosive residue left over all over the aircraft, the pressure of the aircraft—virtually everything tells us—I mean, everything tells us that it was missile fire. There’s nothing that—the government has no basis for this ludicrous fuel tank explosion, and a lot of people—things that people don’t know are that that fuel tank was empty. It had been drained with a sump pump before they took off for Europe, for Paris. I mean, the whole thing is absolutely absurd. They made that up, of whole cloth, and, as we found out during the course of the FOIA lawsuit, they didn’t even have any calculations until well after they told tens of millions of people, on national television, what had happened. Or what allegedly had happened.
ARONOFF: I want both of you, if you would—give me your theory, your belief, on what actually happened, and how this cover-up has been able to be perpetrated, to be carried on through this. Ray, first give me your take on that. Do you have a theory on what actually happened?
LAHR: Well, I’m convinced that it was a missile. As to where the missile originated, the only two probable sources would be terrorism, or accidental friendly fire. The Navy was conducting military exercises along the Atlantic seaboard, and the warning areas that night were hot. But going back to your witnesses, again, really, the best witnesses didn’t depend on hearing the explosion. They were in other aircraft. There were three airline crews that witnessed this, and a National Guard crew. Fritz Meyer was the National Guard crew that saw the missile, saw the three explosions prior to the fuel tank explosion, and everything fell downward, out of the fuel tank explosion. There was a captain coming down from Boston, headed for New Jersey, he was head-on to TWA 800—he’d been cleared down to 16,000 feet, TWA 800 was climbing to 15,000—until they got past each other, and then they could both continue on the descent and climb, but Captain David McClaine had TWA’s landing lights in sight, and was tracking him, and then he reached up to turn on his own landing lights, and at that moment, TWA exploded. Huge ball of flame. Everything dropped straight to the ocean in two flaming streams. Alitalia was behind TWA 800, and after McClaine explained what happened on radio, Alitalia came on and said, “We confirm.” Virgin Atlantic was inbound from London, and they were to the north, and they came on right after Alitalia and said, “We confirm.” Three airline crews saw it, and none of their testimony ever appeared in the public hearings.
ARONOFF: Amazing. John, do you, after all this time, do you lean one way or the other? Terrorist or naval exercise gone wrong? What’s your view of it?
CLARKE: Well, my view is the same as Ray’s. There are only two possibilities, either terrorist or a Navy exercise. At least in my judgment, there are only two possibilities. Or it may be a combination of the two: There were two missiles, one ripped right through the aircraft like a bullet like a tin can, and the other one exploded on the lower left-hand side, apparently with a proximity fuse, and that would be consistent with an anti-missile missile. So it could have been a terrorist and a Navy anti-missile missile, or it could have been a friendly fire mistake, and also the Navy anti-missile missile trying to explode that missile before it shot through a passenger aircraft.
ARONOFF: So what is it going to take? Because all of this is out there, it’s been written, it’s—anybody who wants to Google can find all of this, and Ray, we’re going to give him—first tell us now, what is the website where people can read and learn about your case, and then all the things linked to that?
ARONOFF: Okay. So what will it take for this to break through the national consciousness? For this to be taken up? We all believe that, clearly, this is what happened, and this cover-up has taken place, and, again, it’s not that it’s not out there for people who want to read it, and learn about it, and can examine it—people with your credibility, Ray, and still, somehow. . . the only time when the media, CNN, runs this documentary over, and the discovery, and they always come back to accept the government’s conclusion that it was a spark in the center-wing fuel tank from an unknown source, and the rest are just conspiracy theories. Can we ever get past that?
LAHR: Well, I hope so—
CLARKE: I’m sorry, Ray. I was just going to say, Roger, I hope so. I don’t know the answer to that question, but think of how powerful the interest is if CNN, NBC, ABC, all of the major news organizations and newspapers, in addition to broadcast, see how strong their motive is for the people not learning the truth. I mean, they have a record now, of a decade and a half, of replaying propaganda over and over again. Now, the most valuable asset that the news media has is their credibility—and so if the truth were to come out, it certainly would destroy their credibility, it would take a major hit. And these are big corporations. They’re not going to—they’re just not going to do that. They’re just not going to voluntarily do that. You know, we don’t need any more evidence. We have the evidence. We have every aspect of the probe, the evidence, that shows that it was shot down by missiles. People say, “Suppose somebody comes forward?” Well, a number of investigators have already come forward—four of them, of those investigators inside the probe, filed affidavits in Ray’s case. So we don’t really need any more evidence. I can’t answer your question, however, what’s it going to take—I don’t know. But, again, I think it’s very important that we pursue this, and that we try, on the chance that we might succeed in getting the word out—and the reason is because if the news media will go along with the government in some outrageous lie like this, with over 230 homicides in full view of a thousand people, well, then, anything is possible. We could, perhaps, go to war under false pretenses, or maybe even have a President who was not an American citizen. I’m not taking a position on any of those things, I’m just saying it’s possible. I mean, this is important for people to know: They’re really destroying the experiment of our Founding Fathers, in my estimation. I don’t think that’s an overstatement.
ARONOFF: Yeah. I just want to tell one little anecdote, because I remember this was one of the big moments here at AIM—was when Reed Irvine, our founder and chairman, was going through some of the FBI statements of the witnesses, but they didn’t have their names on it, and Reed noticed this name, “Wire,” in there, but it was viewed—apparently, the people who blocked out the names apparently didn’t realize that Wire was a name, and they thought Wire was a wire, and Reed just kind of followed up on that—this is just good investigative work—and called Information, and found Mike Wire. Mike Wire, at that point, had no idea that he was the person who was the person that the CIA claimed was the witness that viewed it the way that their animation showed it. There have been so many moments like that throughout this case—we say, “Look at this! If this isn’t proof . . .” All these things, adding up—it’s just compelling. Well, Ray, we’re almost out of time. Why don’t you give us your final thoughts—what you see happening from here. You’re well up in your 80s, and you’ve fought this fight. I think it’s really amazing what you did, and I salute you and your service to this country in so many ways for so many years. Give me your final thoughts on this, today, as we have the 14th anniversary coming up on this Saturday, of this unbelievably tragic event, and cover-up of just unbelievable proportions.
LAHR: I feel like I owe it to this country. This country has been so good to me all the way along. Gave me my flying career when I was in the Navy, and I parleyed that into my airline career. As to what’s going to happen, the future, you know, it took 17 years for the Glomar Explorer, the truth on that to ever come out, so we still have three years, on that track record. And I firmly believe the truth will come out. One of the first things that President Clinton did was issue a Presidential Order that retracted whistleblower protection, but there must be a lot of people there who know what happened, and the truth will come out.
ARONOFF: John, any final thoughts from you?
CLARKE: No, I would just add that, for any one of your listeners who may be wondering, “Well, it happened 14 years ago, is it really that important today?” The answer is yes, it’s more important, because everyone would agree, all the people who study the news media, would agree that the news media is worse, by way of conglomeration, and being sort of homogeneous in what it was they report—all reporting the same thing—much worse today than it was 14 years ago. So if it could happen back then, it’s worse today. It’s something that needs to be known.
ARONOFF: Well, gentlemen, thank you. This is not going away, and we will continue to bring it up to the public’s attention for years to come. We did a documentary on this, too, and you can see it at twa800video.net, and, actually, we’ve recently put a few of them—back then it was VHS only—there’s now some on DVD, so, anyway, again, I just want to thank you both for sharing your thoughts and experience with us today on Take AIM. We’re going to have to leave it there. Again, Ray Lahr and John Clarke. And Ray, one more time, it’s raylahr.com—R-A-Y-L-A-H-R-dot-com?
ARONOFF: Okay. And John, thank you, as always, for being there. ’Til next week, so long for Take AIM!
LAHR: Thank you, Roger.
ARONOFF: You bet. Bye-bye.