On July 3, the FBI’s Jim Kallstrom died at 78 of a rare cancer of the blood. This was just two weeks before the 25th anniversary of the destruction of TWA Flight 800. In its opening sentence, the Washington Post summed up Kallstrom’s public role.
Kallstrom, wrote Emily Langer, “became a familiar presence on the nightly news as chief of the criminal investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in 1996, a confounding disaster first suspected to be an act of terrorism but ultimately attributed to a fuel tank explosion.”
For years, I thought Kallstrom would be the one person to finally come clean about the real cause of this “confounding disaster.”
I got my hopes up in the fall of 2016 when Kallstrom regularly blasted Hillary Clinton from his perch at Fox News where he served as something of an anti-terrorism expert.
A few weeks before the election, I got his home address from a PI friend and sent him a registered letter. In short, I said that if he were truly serious about keeping Hillary out of the White House, he would tell the truth about the missile attack on TWA Flight 800.
After sending the letter, I voted absentee and headed off to France to sit out the election. Living in a liberal neighborhood, I had seen all the Hillary signs I ever wanted to see.
About a week before the election, I was sitting out on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, looking out over the Mediterranean, when my phone rang. The call came from Connecticut. It was Kallstrom.
I had heard he was a profane bully, and he more than lived up to his reputation on both counts. He didn’t want to talk. He wanted to vent. I had to hold the phone away from my ear. I was hoping the people sitting nearby did not speak English.
He was a Marine. I wasn’t. He served in Vietnam. I didn’t. How dare I question his judgment? Reminding him we were on the same side politically, I got him to calm down.
“So are you trying to tell me that terrorists shot down the plane?” he barked.
“No,” I said. “I wish that were the answer, but the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the U.S. Navy shot the plane down—I hope by mistake.”
Now, Kallstrom carpet F-bombed me. The French people nearby had to know that one word.
“You know who you sound like?” he asked.
“That f***ing Pierre Salinger. He held a f***ing press conference on the f***ing French Riviera accusing the f***ing U.S. Navy of shooting down that plane.”
At this point I almost laughed out loud, thinking, “Thank God I didn’t tell him where I was!”
Salinger, JFK’s legendary press secretary, was right. A loyal Democrat, Salinger spoke at an aviation conference in the French resort city of Cannes two days after the Nov. 5, 1996, presidential election.
There, Salinger told the assembled executives that he had “very important details that show the plane was brought down by a U.S. Navy missile.”
He added the obvious, “If the news came out that an American naval ship shot down that plane, it would be something that would make the public very, very unhappy and could have an effect on the election.”
American authorities did not care what role Salinger had played in Camelot. They were quick to swat him out of the Kennedy pantheon. The FBI, the White House, the Navy all took a shot.
Salinger was unready for the assault. The documents he had were sketchy, and his knowledge base was shallow. The media found the subject irresistible.
In the month of November 1996 alone, the New York Times ran four articles with headlines that mocked Salinger. George Johnson was particularly merciless. “It was all linked to Whitewater,” Johnson wrote, “unless the missile was meant for a visiting U.F.O.?”
Johnson’s reference to “Whitewater” was not uncommon. He made slighting illusions as well to Waco, Ruby Ridge, Arkansas state troopers, Vincent Foster and other sources of amusement in Clinton-era newsrooms.
What Johnson was attempting to do, and he was hardly unique in so doing, was to paint TWA 800 as one wacky anti-Clinton conspiracy out of many. What he did not do – no one at the Times did after the first two days – was speak to any of the 258 FBI witnesses to a likely missile strike.
After my contentious call with Kallstrom, we did speak one more time. It was, appropriately enough, on All Souls Day, 2016, still a few days before the election. I was just coming out of a choral presentation at a local church when “Connecticut” flashed on my screen.
“Who’s this?” Kallstrom demanded. “Who’s this,” I shot back. “You called me.” He butt-dialed me. That was awkward.
Here’s hoping that if Mr. Kallstrom gets to heaven, the 230 souls who preceded him by 25 years are more forgiving than he ever was. Au revoir, Jim, bon voyage.
Jack Cashill’s 2016 book, “TWA 800: The Crash, the Cover-Up, The Conspiracy,” is the definitive book on the subject. His latest book, “Barack Obama’s Promised Land: Deplorables Need Not Apply,” is now on sale. See www.cashill.com for more information.
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