TWA 800: Remember the Missile Theory?

“If you take the time and read through [the witness reports], you’re gonna be a believer. I mean, a hundred people can’t be seeing this stuff without something being there,” says retired Navy Commander James Donaldson, who was a crash investigator for the service and is currently the most vocal critic of the government’s investigation and a strong advocate of the missile theory.

Donaldson has posted the FBI forms, obtained from the NTSB, on a Web site,

Terrorism Seemed Possible

In fact, immediately following the crash, the possibility that an act of terrorism had downed the jet seemed very real to the FBI, the bureau’s Legislative Council A. Robert Walsh later explained in a letter to a U.S. senator:

“[A]t the time of the TWA explosion, [convicted terrorist] Ramzi Yousef and others were on trial in the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York for plotting to blow up 12 United States airliners over the Pacific Ocean, all on the same day, as well as for charges connected with a test of their device on an airliner that resulted in the death of a Japanese national.”

The tragedy occurred just one week before the Olympic Games in Atlanta, and when Washington was still on a high state of alert following the April 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma.

In the hours and days immediately following the crash, hundreds of FBI agents fanned out across the Long Island’s south shore interviewing potential eyewitnesses.

Initially, “everyone thought this was an act of terrorism,” says then-FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who would lead the bureau’s investigation into the crash.

“I assigned 500 additional agents to look at the missile theory. We thought there was a likely chance it could have happened,” he said.

But as FBI and NTSB investigations progressed, federal agencies publicly began to discount the likelihood of a missile strike.

FBI Stops Investigation

Sixteen months after the crash, the FBI’s Kallstrom held a press conference to announce that the bureau was suspending its extensive criminal investigation, saying no evidence had been found to suggest the accident was due to a criminal act.

Kallstrom said the FBI exhaustively investigated one lead after another, and conducted forensic tests, with no results.

“If a bomb or a missile or a missile fragment or a concussion missile or a shape charge or a bomb in a suitcase, or any of those things happened, we would have seen forensic evidence of it, metallurgic evidence of it,” said Kallstrom, who now works in the private sector, in an interview with

The eyewitness testimony initially pointed the FBI in the direction of the missile theory, said Kallstrom.

“But the reality is, eyewitnesses seeing things in the sky does not make evidence. It can point you in directions. You can’t bring that kind of testimony into a court of law. In the final analysis, the evidence of what hit the plane is in the plane itself. And there was no evidence,” he said.

So the agency turned to a CIA analysis for a way to explain what the witnesses had seen.

CIA Challenges Theory

The CIA, at the FBI’s request, produced an analysis concluding it was improbable eyewitnesses saw a missile strike the plane.

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