I spent most of the 1990s heavily involved in politics and political campaigns, often working closely with individuals quite active in conservative and Republican Party circles, and became friendly with many of them. Bill Clinton was President during those years, and I never had strong feelings about him one way or the other, agreeing with some of his policies and disagreeing with many others. But among the conservatives whom I knew, nearly all of them hated him with a passion, sometimes for reasons I endorsed and sometimes not.
Such passionate hatred naturally inspired dark theories of the evil doings of the President and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and these often merged into a broader current of anti-government sentiments common in conservative circles. Charges regarding such nefarious activities regularly boosted the circulation of leading conservative magazines while they also received much shriller treatment among activists farther to the fringe.
At the time, I never paid much attention to these accusations, except what I read of them in my morning newspapers, and while I never actually considered them debunked, I was still quite skeptical that any of them were likely to be true. Back then, I’d never done any serious reading in American history beyond the level of my introductory textbooks and I flatly doubted whether any of the more famous conspiracies from the JFK Assassination on down had any reality. So if the previous 200-plus years of American history were an open book, it hardly seemed likely that a former governor from tiny Arkansas had suddenly transformed DC into a snake-pit filled with intrigue worthy of Renaissance Italy.
But more recently, I’ve been persuaded by the opposite sort of argument. Over the last decade or so, my careful investigations have convinced me that many crucial elements of the most important events of the last hundred years of American history—from World War II to the JFK Assassination to the 9/11 Attacks—were totally different than the standard accounts presented in my mainstream media or introductory textbooks. And if the claims of supposedly disreputable “conspiracy theorists” had often been correct in all those other cases, perhaps many of the far lesser events of the Clinton Administration were also quite different than what I’d casually absorbed from the pages of the New York Times.
The 9/11 Attacks of 2001 and the endless cycle of foreign wars they unleashed marked a watershed in American history, so that the stories of the Clinton 1990s probably feel far more distant than events that happened only a couple of years later.
Just consider the boldface names from that period: Randy Weaver and Ruby Ridge, Waco and the Branch Davidians, Vince Foster, Whitewater, Oklahoma City, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr. For many of us who were of age during that period, these bring back faded memories, while for younger readers, they are probably relegated to obscure trivia questions.
But earlier this year I decided to revisit that period, and see what I could decide about some of the events that I’d mostly disregarded at the time.
A half-dozen years ago I’d already dipped my toe in those waters and investigated one of the important but almost totally forgotten incidents of the 1990s, soon discovering that the government and media had been completely misleading and dishonest.
When I used to recall the leading events of 1996, what came to mind was Bill Clinton’s triumphant reelection campaign in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and political overreach by Newt Gingrich’s Congressional Republicans. Perhaps there had also been some sort of plane crash on the East Coast, though none of the details were sharp or memorable in my mind. But in fact, the sudden mid-air explosion of TWA Flight 800 on a New York to Paris route was actually voted the top national news story of that year, ranking above the presidential campaign, while the 230 fatalities made it by far New York’s worst disaster of the twentieth century, and the second worst airline tragedy in American history to that date. Indeed, some journalists at the time suggested that the resulting media coverage had eclipsed that of any other transportation calamity since the sinking of the Titanic almost a century earlier.
The outline of facts is hardly complicated. Soon after taking off from New York’s JFK Airport on July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 suddenly exploded in the air just off Long Island. So enormous a loss of life naturally produced an immediate scrambling of numerous federal agencies to investigate the cause, and with widespread fears of terrorism, the FBI launched the largest, most complex investigation in its entire history, deploying some 500 field agents to the area. The investigators soon gathered a copious quantity of seemingly consistent evidence.
Large numbers of local witnesses were immediately interviewed by the swarm of federal agents, with 278 of them reporting that they saw a streak of light, much like a missile, shoot up into the sky in the direction of the aircraft just before the huge explosion. Employees at the local FAA radar installation immediately reported to the government that they had seen what appeared to be a missile closing with the airliner just before it exploded, and other installations produced similar radar records. When tests were eventually performed on the plane wreckage, traces of explosive chemicals were found, exactly the sort used in the warhead of a missile, as well as some reddish-orange chemical residue that a laboratory later identified as likely missile exhaust propellant. An enormous effort was made to locate every possible piece of the wreckage, and for many of these, the contours of the damage indicated an initial explosion external to the plane. Almost immediately after the disaster, a bidding-war allegedly broke out between the national television networks for an amateur home-video showing a missile striking and destroying TWA 800, with the tape eventually being sold for more than $50,000 and briefly broadcast on the MSNBC cable news channel before reportedly being seized as evidence by FBI agents. In addition, a local resident provided a still photo taken at the time showing what seemed to be a missile rising toward the aircraft.
Based on all this initial evidence, many of the early news stories reported that the plane had probably been destroyed by a missile, with widespread speculation about whether the calamity was due to terrorist action or instead accidental “friendly fire” from one of the U.S. naval warships operating in the vicinity. Given the extreme sensitivity of the topic, government officials urged the media to keep an open mind until the full investigation was completed. However, the public debate sometimes turned rancorous, with some individuals soon alleging that a government cover-up was in the works. Eventually, the CIA was brought into the investigation, given its tremendous expertise in certain matters.
After more than a year of detailed research, the government investigation finally concluded that no missile could possibly have been involved, with all the eyewitnesses having been misled by what amounted to an optical illusion caused by the explosion of the aircraft. That explosion itself had been entirely spontaneous, probably caused by a random spark igniting one of the gas tanks. Given the controversy in the case, the CIA helpfully produced a computer animation showing the official reconstruction of the events, which was endlessly broadcast by our news media to explain the disaster to the public. The simulation showed the jetliner spontaneously exploding in mid-air, with no external cause, and just to further clarify matters, the CIA animators also inserted an explanatory message in large text: “There Was No Missile.” The New York Times, and nearly all our other mainstream media repeatedly echoed this same simple conclusion in all their stories and headlines.
The vast majority of our sheep-like population absorbed the simple media message “No Missile” and went back to watching their football games and celebrity music videos, being greatly relieved to know that well-maintained 747 jumbo jets flown by leading national airlines can occasionally explode in mid-air without any external cause.
However, various disgruntled “conspiracy theorists” refused to accept these conclusions, and returned to their “crazy missile conspiracy theories,” thereby earning the hearty ridicule of the entire mainstream media, led by the New York Times. These conspiratorial suspicions even extended to the U.S. navy, which had apparently been staging military exercises in the near vicinity of the calamity, exercises that some claimed including the test-firing of anti-aircraft missiles. Indeed, a local resident later provided a home video clearly showing a missile being fired in that exact same area a few days earlier during previous naval exercises.
The entire remarkable history of this incident is persuasively set forth in a excellent twentieth-anniversary book TWA 800 published earlier this year by investigative journalist Jack Cashill, who has been following the case since the late 1990s, having co-authored a previous book in 2003 and also produced an earlier 2001 television documentary Silenced, now available in its entirely on YouTube.
In addition, the 2013 television documentary by a former CBS producer, whose favorable review by the New York Times marked my first introduction to the topic, was discussed at length and substantially excerpted by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!
Cashill is strongly affiliated with conservative publications, while someone like Goodman clearly leans toward the left, but the question of whether an American jetliner was destroyed by a missile, and the facts then covered up by the government is a non-ideological matter, so their perspectives seem almost identical.
For anyone having less than absolute faith in the official pronouncements of our government and our media, the likely reality of what happened is hardly difficult to guess, and for those who currently maintain such naivete, I suspect it will quickly dissipate if they choose to watch the documentaries or read the books. But the loss of TWA Flight 800 is surely of no great importance to our country. Accidents do happen. A large and energetic military, eager to test its latest missile weapons, perhaps carelessly and fatally crossed paths with hundreds of unlucky travelers on their way to Paris. Some 30,000 Americans die each year in fatal car crashes, and risks are inevitable in our modern industrial society.
However, from a broader perspective, I believe that the truly horrifying aspect of the incident is the tremendous ease with which our government and its lapdog media managed to so utterly suppress the reality of what had happened—an American jumbo jet shot down by a missile—and did so although this occurred not in some obscure, faraway foreign land, but within the very sight of Steven Spielberg’s home in the exclusive Hamptons, on a flight that had just departed New York City, and despite such overwhelming physical evidence and hundreds of direct eye-witnesses. The successful cover-up is the important story, and constitutes a central subtext in all of the books and documentaries on the disaster.
Given the eyewitness testimony and other factors, it is hardly surprising that many of the initial media stories either directly referred to a missile strike or at least mentioned it as one of the main possibilities, and indeed there is some evidence that top government leaders initially assumed a terrorist attack. But President Bill Clinton was locked in the middle of his reelection campaign, and while the slaughter of Americans by terrorists might unify a nation, disasters brought about by careless military action would surely have had the opposite political impact. So it seems likely that once terrorism was ruled out and the American military believed responsible, a direct order quickly came down from the highest levels to make the missile and all evidence supporting it disappear, with all our supposedly independent federal agencies, especially the FBI, bowing to that primary directive.
As part of the standard investigation, all the debris were gathered and stored at a hangar for examination, but FBI agents were discovered spiriting away some of the most tell-tale pieces, or even caught in the wee hours of the morning hammering them into a shape that would suggest an internal rather than an external explosion. The amateur video showing the missile strike was only briefly broadcast by a cable news channel before being seized by government agents. When an investigative journalist acquired debris containing apparent missile residue and passed it along to a producer at CBS News, the evidence was quickly confiscated, with the journalist and his wife even being arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for violating an obscure law enacted to prohibit bystanders from removing souvenirs from the scene of a disaster; the veteran CBS producer who accepted the material was vilified as a “conspiracy theorist” and soon forced out of her job, her career destroyed. The written FBI reports of 278 eyewitness statements describing the missile attack were completely ignored, and in a number of cases, later statements were actually fabricated, falsely suggesting that crucial witnesses had revised or recanted their earlier testimony.
These particular examples only scratch the surface of the massive amount of coordinated government fraud and deception that was marshalled to make a missile strike seen by hundreds of witnesses officially disappear from the historical record, and transform the destruction of TWA Flight 800 into a rather mysterious and spontaneous mid-air explosion. The New York Times in particular became the primary mouthpiece of the official “See No Missile” party-line, repeatedly denigrating and ridiculing all those who resisted this total rewriting of the facts and history.
When naive individuals suggest that maintaining a large government conspiracy in America is simply impossible because “somebody would have talked” perhaps they should consider the implications of this incident, which occurred so close to the media capital of the world. And if they ever decide to trust Wikipedia on any remotely controversial topic, they should consult the 10,000 word Wikipedia article on TWA Flight 800, comparing that exhaustive presentation with the simple facts provided in this article, or the wealth of additional information in the numerous books and documentaries upon which my treatment was based.
Then in 2020 I used the publication of a much longer article to finally present the account I’d earlier pieced together of the true story of America’s bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 air war against Serbia.
Although our limited bombing campaign seemed quite successful and soon forced the Serbs to the bargaining table, the short war did include one very embarrassing mishap. The use of old maps had led to a targeting error that caused one of our smart bombs to accidentally strike the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three members of its delegation and wounding dozens more. The Chinese were outraged by this incident, and their propaganda organs began claiming that the attack had been deliberate, a reckless accusation that obviously made no logical sense.
In those days I watched the PBS Newshour every night, and was shocked to see their U.S. Ambassador raise those absurd charges with host Jim Lehrer, whose disbelief matched my own. But when I considered that the Chinese government was still stubbornly denying the reality of its massacre of the protesting students in Tiananmen Square a decade earlier, I concluded that unreasonable behavior by PRC officials was only to be expected. Indeed, there was even some speculation that China was cynically milking the unfortunate accident for domestic reasons, hoping to stoke the sort of jingoist anti-Americanism among the Chinese people that would finally help bind the social wounds of that past 1989 outrage.
Even more remarkable were the discoveries I made regarding our supposedly accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in 1999. Not long after launching this website, I added former Asia Times contributor Peter Lee as a columnist, incorporating his China Matters blogsite archives that stretched back for a decade. He soon published a 7,000 word article on the Belgrade Embassy bombing, representing a compilation of material already contained in a half-dozen previous pieces he’d written on that subject from 2007 onward. To my considerable surprise, he provided a great deal of persuasive evidence that the American attack on the Chinese embassy had indeed been deliberate, just as China had always maintained.
According to Lee, Beijing had allowed its embassy to be used as a site for secure radio transmission facilities by the Serbian military, whose own communications network was a primary target of NATO airstrikes. Meanwhile, Serbian air defenses had shot down an advanced American F-117A fighter, whose top-secret stealth technology was a crucial U.S. military secret. Portions of that enormously valuable wreckage were carefully gathered by the grateful Serbs, who delivered the material to the Chinese for temporary storage at their embassy prior to transport back home. This vital technological acquisition later allowed China to deploy its own J20 stealth fighter in early 2011, many years sooner than American military analysts had believed possible.
Based upon this analysis, Lee argued that the Chinese embassy was attacked in order to destroy the Serbian retransmission facilities located there, while punishing the Chinese for allowing such use. There were also widespread rumors in China that another motive had been an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the stealth debris stored within. Later Congressional testimony revealed that the among all the hundreds of NATO airstrikes, the attack on the Chinese embassy was the only one directly ordered by the CIA, a highly-suspicious detail.
Although the American media dominates the English-language world, many British publications also possess a strong global reputation, and since they are often much less in thrall to our own national security state, they have sometimes covered important stories that were ignored here. And in this case, the Sunday Observer published a remarkable expose in October 1999, citing several NATO military and intelligence sources who fully confirmed the deliberate nature of the American bombing of the Chinese embassy, with a US colonel even reportedly boasting that their smartbomb had hit the exact room intended.
This important story was immediately summarized in the Guardian, a sister publication, and also covered by the rival Times of London and many of the world’s other most prestigious publications, but encountered an absolute wall of silence in our own country. Such a bizarre divergence on a story of global strategic importance—a deliberate and deadly US attack against Chinese diplomatic territory—drew the attention of FAIR, a leading American media watchdog group, which published an initial critique and a subsequent follow-up. These two pieces totaled some 3,000 words, and effectively summarized both the overwhelming evidence of the facts and also the heavy international coverage, while reporting the weak excuses made by top American editors to explain their continuing silence. Based upon these articles, I consider the matter settled.
The two examples discussed above were considerable outliers among the important 1990s events whose reality was concealed or severely misreported by our media. The accidental NYC shootdown of TWA Flight 800 by an errant American missile and our deliberate bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade were issues related to military affairs and national security. Thus, they were completely unconnected with the domestic controversies that constituted the vast majority of the incidents, while their facts also seemed much more solidly established. But they do provide some important lessons that we should apply to our other analyses.
After the explosion of TWA Flight 800, the direct testimony of hundreds of eyewitnesses was completely disregarded, despite being backed by a great deal of hard photographic and physical evidence, while the official story widely promoted by the media seemed almost nonsensical, yet was overwhelmingly accepted. Meanwhile, in the Chinese embassy example, several leading British newspapers explicitly reported what had actually happened, directly quoting NATO officials, and those stories generated worldwide headlines everywhere outside the U.S., which enforced a tight information blockade. This demonstrated that media control may often end at the water’s edge, with foreign editors and reporters, even those of our closest Western allies, sometimes remaining free of those constraints. Indeed, in the TWA 800 case, Pierre Salinger, a former top Kennedy aide and Paris Bureau Chief for ABC News, published a long expose in one of France’s leading magazines setting out the facts, but ordinary Americans never heard the story and those veteran journalists who sought to inform them were purged from their jobs.
Perhaps for this reason, we shouldn’t be surprised that some of the most important reporting on the “secret history” of the 1990s and the scandals of the Clinton Administration was produced by a journalist of the most impeccably establishmentarian credentials, but having British nationality. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard was an Oxford graduate whose father had been a longtime professor at that same institution, and after spending years working for the London Spectator and the Economist, he served as Washington Bureau Chief for the Sunday Telegraph during most of the 1990s, and is currently International Business Editor of the Daily Telegraph.
From what I vaguely recalled, Clinton’s right-wing tormentors had bombarded him with numerous bizarre accusations ranging from drug-dealing to murder, none of which had any solid foundation and blew away like mist. By contrast, his seemingly endless string of girlfriends, most of whose names I forget, seemed very real, and finally got him impeached by outraged Republicans when he lied under oath about his sexual misbehavior with an intern named Monica Lewinsky in the White House.
Evans-Pritchard had been the author of one of the most popular anti-Clinton bestsellers of the era, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, which I’d always assumed had covered those lurid personal scandals. It had been sitting on my shelves for several years, so although I was loath to revisit the story of the stained blue dress, I decided I might as well get that out of the way. The book had been published by the conservative Regnery Press, and the back cover carried glowing blurbs by all the leading conservative editors and pundits, with Michael Reagan hailing the author as the “Woodward and Bernstein of the current era,” which seemed ridiculous praise for a lengthy account of sexual dalliances.
Yet the book turned out to be totally different from what I expected. It had been released in 1997, long before anyone had ever heard of Lewinsky, and although it ran more than 450 pages, with almost 100 of those being notes, appendices, and index, neither the name of Gennifer Flowers nor almost any of the other sexual scandals appeared anywhere in the text, the sole exception being a few pages about Paula Jones near the very end. Instead, the subject matter was far darker and more serious.
The text was divided into three main sections, of which the longest by far focused upon the extremely strange circumstances of the death of White House Counsel Vince Foster, one of the closest friends and advisors to the Clintons, who was found dead of an allegedly self-inflicted gunshot wound in nearby Fort Marcy Park, just six months into the new administration. The author began his discussion by emphasizing that Foster was the highest-ranking member of the executive branch to die under suspicious circumstances since the assassination of President Kennedy three decades earlier, a point I’d never previously considered.
As some may remember, Kenneth Starr was the special prosecutor appointed to run the Whitewater investigation, a very lengthy probe originally focused on a failed Arkansas real estate deal involving the Clintons. The investigation dragged on for years, soon digressing into all sorts of other issues, and Democratic partisans regularly denounced Starr to the media as an Inspector Javert or perhaps a Captain Ahab, endlessly pursuing his Presidential whale. But interestingly enough, the author’s own appraisal was just as negative. He noted that Starr was an extremely well-paid establishment attorney, who continued devoting more time and effort to his important corporate clients than to his hot-potato of a political case, describing him as “a servant of power” who would never seriously challenge the FBI or the other institutions of the permanent DC establishment. Evans-Pritchard reasonably argued that corrupt or not, a failed 1979 real estate deal had no real national importance, while the unnatural demise of a top White House official certainly did.
Although Foster’s death was officially ruled suicide—he’d supposedly become despondent over media criticism of a petty Clinton scandal and shot himself in despair—the facts presented by the author raised enormous doubts about that theory. Indeed, the young, apolitical prosecutor brought in from California and initially assigned to that investigation quickly found many gaping holes in the story along with indications of an FBI cover-up, but his effort was sabotaged and he was soon forced to resign. According to the author, deep skepticism of the official account was widespread among mainstream journalists, but almost none of them were willing to say a word:
The Foster case is taboo for American journalists. In private, many concede that the official story is unbelievable, but they will not broach it in print. I have been involved in some contentious matters during my career as a journalist, but I have never seen anything like the irrational fright when the subject of Vincent Foster is raised. It has nothing to do with party affiliation. If anything, Republican journalists are even more susceptible to the spell…I do not entirely understand why this should be so.
In support of his claims, almost a decade ago a well-regarded former mainstream journalist who had covered the issue at the time once casually volunteered to me that the official Vince Foster story was obviously false, but since I’d never paid attention to the topic, I had mentally filed away his statement and never followed up on that matter. But just as in the JFK case, I think it likely that for every journalist or public figure who was willing to disclose his very risky opinion, there were probably numerous others who believed the same thing but kept silent.
The facts the author provided certainly seemed odd. According to the sworn testimony of the witness who first discovered Foster’s body and reported it to two Park Service employees, there had been no blood and no gun, but he was shocked to later hear that both were described in the official report released to the media. Later crime scene photos and sworn testimony by one of the earliest police officers located the gun in different positions. Experienced homicide investigators claimed that the official crime scene was completely inconsistent with that of a suicide.
According to federal law, the FBI would have been required to investigate the death of a top government official if there had been any possibility of a homicide, but since the verdict was obvious suicide, the matter was left in the hands of the Park Police, who had negligible experience in such matters. Perhaps under normal circumstances, the FBI might have disputed this decision, but by a remarkable coincidence the FBI Director had been fired the previous day by President Clinton, the first time any such any FBI chief had been removed in the middle of his term, so the agency was in complete turmoil.
No member of Foster’s family ever identified the gun found in Foster’s hand as one he had previously owned, and it failed to show his fingerprints where he would have handled it. According to the official story, Foster had shot himself in the mouth, but there were no powder burns there, nor traces of gunpowder on his face. No blood was found on the gun, and no bullet was ever located in the park, despite weeks of diligent searching, while neither the nearby neighbors nor the other park visitors had heard any shot. Nearly all the polaroids taken at the scene later disappeared, but one of the very few surviving ones seemed to show a neck wound made by a much smaller caliber weapon than the one recovered, and paramedics on the scene later testified to the same thing. Like most of the crime scene photos, the X-rays taken for the autopsy had all disappeared.
These particular facts appeared in the first thirty-odd pages of the section on Vince Foster’s death, and there is a great deal of additional material in the hundred pages that follow, including the strange behavior of the victim in the period prior to his demise, behavior that hardly suggested severe depression but instead other types of concern.
Foster died nearly three decades ago, and I haven’t made any effort to investigate the case in greater detail. If I had read those surprising factual claims in some dark corner of the Internet, I might not have taken them seriously, but Evans-Pritchard seems a very credible mainstream journalist, both then and now working for one of Britain’s leading newspapers, and I doubt that he simply invented the important details in his national bestseller.
During that same era, liberal journalists Joe Conason and Gene Lyons had been among Clinton’s strongest defenders, and in early 2000 they published a national bestseller of their own entitled The Hunting of the President, bearing the accusatory subtitle “The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.” So I decided to read it as well in order to get the other side of the story, and although many of their claims regarding the ideological motivation of the attacks on the Clintons seemed plausible, I found their arguments about the Vince Foster case much thinner and less persuasive. The authors were clearly aware of the earlier Evans-Pritchard book, which they repeatedly cited, but they only attempted to rebut a handful of the many strong factual claims it had made. Just as the contradictory physical evidence regarding Foster’s death recalled that in the JFK assassination, this attempted debunking of the “conspiracy theories” reminded me of the same efforts that had been made in that earlier case.
So what really did happen to Foster and why? I personally venture no hypotheses, though a wide variety of conflicting ones, all rather speculative, have been advanced. Perhaps Foster did commit suicide, but in a different, more problematical location, so that his body was moved to the park to avoid difficulties. But it seems more likely that he was murdered, though by whom and for what reason is impossible to say. Probably the most outrageous suggestion was proposed by a former senior editor at Forbes a couple of years later, whose writings claimed that Foster and numerous other important government officials of both parties had been heavily immersed in a web of intelligence espionage and corruption; although the journalist lost his job as a consequence, some of his interviews and spiked articles can still be found on the Internet.
But a more mundane explanation seems likelier. Foster died just six months after Bill Clinton entered the White House, and if he had been murdered, Evans-Pritchard suggests that the cause had probably been somehow related to doings back home in Arkansas, a notoriously corrupt state. The last chapter of this section and the half dozen chapters that follow provide a very detailed account of the widespread organized criminality that seemed to be endemic to the region, including drug-dealing and more than a few contract-killings. When Foster’s body was found, a former close Clinton associate in Little Rock told his family that he feared for his own life and began carrying a gun everywhere for protection; two months later, he was cut down by an assassin. A high-ranking local law enforcement officer even cautioned the inquisitive British journalist that he be careful lest he could end up at the bottom of a well somewhere.
Ironically enough, the author claims that some of these illegal activities were directly connected to the Nicaraguan Contra supply efforts organized by the Reagan and Bush administrations, for which Gov. Clinton had apparently been a quiet ally. These swirling accusations of rampant criminal activity associated with Clinton’s governorship had been widespread among the many Clinton-haters I’d known during the 1990s and I’d always discounted them, but after reading more than one hundred pages of the detailed reporting by Evans-Pritchard, I’ve reassessed my verdict. Even if only a fraction of these stories are accurate, Foster’s demise becomes much less mysterious, though the precise motive remains unclear.
If the highly-suspicious circumstances surrounding Vince Foster’s death evoked echoes of what had happened in Dallas three decades earlier, the first section of the Evans-Pritchard book focused upon a major incident that seemingly anticipated the 9/11 attacks a half-dozen years later. At the time it occurred, the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City was by far the largest terrorist attack in U.S. history, taking 168 lives, including 19 children in a day-care center located on the premises. The political impact was immediate and enormous, and it played a major role in reviving the scandal-ridden and politically-crippled Clinton Administration, allowing the incumbent to win an easy reelection victory the following year. The author actually entitled the first chapter “The Resurrection of President Clinton” and he reasonably described the event as the most traumatic in American history since the assassination of JFK.
The Wikipedia entry for the bombing runs more than 11,000 words, and according to the official story it presents, the destruction was inflicted by a large truck-bomb, consisting of a mixture of fertilizer and fuel-oil, with the perpetrator being an American Gulf War veteran named Timothy McVeigh. Caught by a chance police-stop 90 minutes after the attack, McVeigh stood trial, and was convicted and sentenced to death, finally dying by lethal injection in 2001. Meanwhile, one accomplice received life in prison and another who had played a very minor role and agreed to testify got twelve years. These non-abbreviated judicial proceedings were very different than what followed many other similarly dramatic events in our history, and this obviously tended to support the official story, but many other aspects of the case strongly suggested otherwise.
Prior to the attack, McVeigh had spent several years circulating on the fringes of right-wing, anti-government militia groups, which had become a growing force during that period, with his alleged motive being retaliation for what he regarded as past government atrocities. The early 1990s had been a troubled time, and several deadly confrontations between government agents and right-wing whites had become notorious. In late August 1992, the household of a white separatist named Randy Weaver living in a rural cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho got into a fire-fight and siege with a large team of FBI agents seeking to arrest him, leaving his wife and teenage son dead along with a Deputy U.S. Marshall. The following year, a botched ATF raid on the Branch Davidians, an eccentric, heavily-armed religious sect living in a fortified compound in Waco, Texas left four government agents dead, leading to an eight-week siege ultimately ending in the fiery deaths of most of the Davidians, including 76 men, women, and children.
For many years afterward, mention of Ruby Ridge and Waco would inspire outrage among right-wingers and anti-government activists, regularly cited as proof that armed government agents were their deadly enemies, and these topics became a staple of the burgeoning empires of angry conservative talk-radio, led by Rush Limbaugh and his imitators. Sentiments towards the government became extremely bitter in such circles, and former FBI Agent and Watergate Burglar G. Gordon Liddy, who had reinvented himself as a popular right-wing talk-radio host, famously urged his gun-toting listeners to always aim at the faces of any attacking G-men, since those were unprotected by body-armor. The early 1990s saw the growth of various small right-wing militia groups, often heavily armed and based in rural parts of the Midwest or the South, who swore to resist what they believed was approaching government tyranny, and the widespread media coverage of their drills and conspiratorial world-views regularly terrified urban liberals. All of this popular, grassroots energy, especially propelled by the gun-control issue, had played an important role in powering the Republican Congressional landslide of 1994.
The previous year 1993 had also seen the first major incident of Islamic terrorism in our country as a group of Muslim radicals supposedly inspired by a blind sheikh had detonated a truck-bomb in the sub-basement of the World Trade Center, killing six and hoping to bring down the entire skyscraper. Fears of Muslim immigrants became commonplace, and although the flow of such newcomers was a tiny sliver of the total, these terrorism concerns vaguely permeated the overall immigration issue. Ironically enough, the exact same groups—and sometimes the same individuals—most agitated by the danger of immigrant terrorism were often themselves intensely hostile to the American government, whom they viewed as their dangerous enemy, sharing the perspective of the foreigners whom they feared and despised.
This ironic situation became most apparent in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. I remember watching the first C-Span show discussing the horrific event before most of the facts were in, and noticed that about half the agitated callers were claiming that the bombing must have been the work of fiendish Muslim terrorists while the other half said they were sure it had been carried out by heroic American patriots.
Once McVeigh was captured, the media soon reported that he had intended the attack as retaliation against the government for the deaths in Waco, staging it on the second anniversary of that incident. His truck-bomb weapon of choice had allegedly been inspired by a similar, fictional attack against the FBI building in DC described in The Turner Diaries, a wildly popular extremist novel of the 1970s, in which a small group of determined right-wing patriots successfully overthrew a tyrannical Jewish-dominated American government.
With the worst terrorist attack in American history blanketing the headlines, a heavy governmental crackdown on right-wing militia groups and their fellow-travelers soon followed, much like Muslim groups were later to be targeted in the aftermath of 9/11.
But according to the detailed account provided by Evans-Pritchard in his book, there were many extremely puzzling and suspicious aspects to the case, as he soon discovered once he began interviewing witnesses and relatives of victims a few months later.
For example, McVeigh’s alleged target had been the ATF, which had been responsible for Waco and had an office on the ninth floor of the destroyed building. Yet oddly enough, not a single agent was reported on the casualty list, and there were stories circulating that none of them had come to work that day, with some public claims to the contrary later found to be false. Moreover, a bomb disposal squad and their large vehicle had very unusually been parked nearby that morning, with the denials eventually retracted. Most remarkably, seismographic equipment at the University of Oklahoma indicated that there had apparently been at least two large explosions rather than one, seemingly objective evidence directly contradicting the official story, while initial news reports had described additional, unexploded bombs being removed from the inside the remains of the severely damaged building.
Evans-Pritchard also provided several pages summarizing the statements of more than a dozen eyewitnesses who had seen McVeigh accompanied by one or more other men during all his activities, as he rented, drove, and parked the truck, or who reported other facts at total odds with the official story that he had acted alone. A former ATF informant Carol Howe had infiltrated the white-separatist militants of Elohim City and she told the author that months earlier she had reported their plans to bomb federal buildings, with the one in Oklahoma City being one of their intended targets. Other federal agents or informants had apparently been involved in the plot as well.
Although this British journalist never attempted to formulate his own theory of what had actually happened, he provided a great deal of detailed evidence suggesting that official story was false or at least extremely incomplete, with both the government and the media apparently involved in the cover-up for unknown reasons.
Given the complexity of the case and the number of potentially significant facts and individuals totally excluded from the orthodox narrative, keeping them all straight is sometimes challenging. For that reason, I would strongly recommend the dozen pages summarizing these “conspiratorial” elements provided in Hidden History, a 2014 book that I read earlier this year. The author was Donald Jeffries, a longtime conspiracy-researcher who got his start as a student volunteer for Mark Lane, the JFK assassination trailblazer, and the 350 pages of his mini-encyclopedia usefully provide the core elements of dozens of major alleged conspiracies from the death of JFK up to the present day, also including TWA Flight 800 and the death of Vince Foster. Whether or not one agrees with him on all his analyses, he performs a very useful service in presenting the crucial information in a highly-condensed form, though seriously marred by its lack of crucial source references.
At the other end of the spectrum is The Medusa Files II by Craig Roberts, which runs more than 500 pages and is entirely devoted to the details of the Oklahoma City bombing. Roberts was a longtime Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer and bomb expert who had immediately been brought in by the local office of the FBI to assist their investigation, partly because of his technical expertise and partly because of his extensive personal contacts with right-wing groups, which were otherwise reluctant to speak with government representatives. He had already published numerous previous books, many of them on military matters or the JFK assassination, but he said that he had waited twenty years to release his tell-all account of this particular case.
Although I’m quite skeptical of the various conspiratorial theories Roberts advances as to the motive and perpetrators of the attack, his factual, first-hand evidence and his technical expertise seem much more credible. According to the eyewitnesses he interviewed at the time, there definitely was a second, much larger explosion, confirmed by audio tapes and seismic records. He also notes all the initial news reports claiming that additional, unexploded bombs of a highly-sophisticated nature had been found in the building by the first rescue workers, with top government officials saying the same thing. In addition, the FBI had quickly seized all the surveillance videotapes from the vicinity, which could have revealed who parked the truck and also the pattern of explosions, and these have never been released. And as a bomb expert Roberts believed it was simply impossible that the massive destruction to the building could have been caused by a parked truck-bomb of the type claimed, and a top government explosives expert independently came to the same conclusion: explosions from within the building must have been responsible.
As is often the case, it’s far easier to establish a negative than a positive, and demonstrating that the official story is very likely false is much easier than determining what really happened or why.
Despite this, I do think it’s worth mentioning the scenario proposed by the late Michael Collins Piper, a renowned conspiracy-researcher. In 2013 he published False Flags, one of his last books, and although the bulk of the work was devoted to other issues, several short chapters, totaling 30-odd pages, covered the Oklahoma City bombing and provided his analysis of the case, which drew upon the original reporting of Evans-Pritchard.
Piper noted that there was strong evidence of ADL foreknowledge of the attack and that one of the key figures likely involved, a German national apparently working as a government informant, had considerable ties to Israel and its military. Meanwhile, immediately after the bombing, there was a major media effort to blame the devastating terrorist atrocity upon Arabs in general and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in particular, something I had certainly noticed at the time. Under Piper’s speculative scenario, the Israeli Mossad and its American collaborators had orchestrated the false flag attack, intending to implicate their Middle Eastern rivals and thereby provoke America into large-scale military retaliation, much as actually happened in the aftermath of 9/11. However, Clinton or his advisors quickly realized the game that was being played and not wanting to be dragged into an unnecessary Middle Eastern war, they ordered the FBI and other agencies to completely suppress all the evidence of an organized conspiracy that the plotters had previously been put into place, instead portraying McVeigh as a lone-nut, unconnected with any foreign power, while also concealing the Israeli fingerprints.
This scenario seems at least as plausible as any other, and since Piper’s book is conveniently available on this website in HTML form, those so interested can read his dissection of the evidence and decide for themselves.
In order to balance out all of these accounts from sharply alternative sources, I also decided to read A Force Upon the Plain, published in 1996 by Kenneth S. Stern, which bears the subtitle “The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate.” Stern is appropriately enough described as the American Jewish Committee’s chief expert on hate groups, and his short book, barely 250 pages of main text, mostly focuses upon the histories and ideologies of the right-wing groups that are his targets, while also sticking very closely to the standard narrative of events. Unfortunately, instead of effectively refuting the disturbing evidence presented by the other side, he mostly ignores it and his few attempted rebuttals seem rather weak, so I wasn’t at all convinced by his arguments.
This handful of books hardly constitutes an exhaustive treatment of this complex topic, but it does provide an introduction to some of the important issues that interested individuals can use as a basis for further investigation.
Not long after the 9/11 Attacks, I was disturbed by the ease with which so much of the country was soon persuaded that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had somehow been responsible, and stampeded into a disastrous war as a consequence. The extremely suspicious aspects of the anthrax attacks had also led me to begin questioning the reported version of events presented in our mainstream media. And around that same time, I began work on my content-archiving project, digitizing the last 150 years of many of America’s major periodicals and gradually noticing that the contemporaneous accounts they provided sometimes differed very sharply from what I’d always believed the history to be.
After a major crack in one’s wall of skeptical disbelief occurs, it is natural to carefully reexamine much of the past, and a dozen years later I published my original American Pravda article, explaining the transformation in my understanding:
The realization that the world is often quite different from what is presented in our leading newspapers and magazines is not an easy conclusion for most educated Americans to accept, or at least that was true in my own case. For decades, I have closely read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and one or two other major newspapers every morning, supplemented by a wide variety of weekly or monthly opinion magazines. Their biases in certain areas had always been apparent to me. But I felt confident that by comparing and contrasting the claims of these different publications and applying some common sense, I could obtain a reasonably accurate version of reality. I was mistaken.
Aside from the evidence of our own senses, almost everything we know about the past or the news of today comes from bits of ink on paper or colored pixels on a screen, and fortunately over the last decade or two the growth of the Internet has vastly widened the range of information available to us in that latter category. Even if the overwhelming majority of the unorthodox claims provided by such non-traditional web-based sources is incorrect, at least there now exists the possibility of extracting vital nuggets of truth from vast mountains of falsehood. Certainly the events of the past dozen years have forced me to completely recalibrate my own reality-detection apparatus.
The ultimate result of this process has been the production of my American Pravda series, now approaching a half-million words and extending into the controversies of the 1990s that I had so casually dismissed at the time:
Meanwhile, within a year or two after 9/11 I had discovered Alexander Cockburn’s Counterpunch, a leading alternative media webzine, and became quite impressed by the coverage it provided of events ignored or misreported by my mainstream publications. I eventually became friendly with Alex himself, and he occasionally dropped by Palo Alto for lunch, so I mourned his passing in 2012, and in my tribute to his work explained what had attracted my admiration:
Given my own scientific background in theoretical physics, I tend to follow a simple rule in attempting to discover the reality of the world. When people say things widely denounced by all established opinion but that turn out to be correct, I grant them an extra point. But when allegedly well-informed people backed by massive resources say things that seem absurd to me and these turn out to be totally false, they lose a point. By the time the massive hoax of the Saddam’s WMD had exploded into international ridicule and national disaster, Alex’s Counterpunch and the Sulzbergers’ Gray Lady had largely switched their positions of credibility in my mind, at least across a broad range of issues. In the years that followed, there were many mornings when I would read endless amounts of absurd, dishonest nonsense in the news pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, only to discover a far more plausible and accurate discussion of world events on Counterpunch’s bright pages.
However, a few years later, I realized that Alex had operated under important constraints of his own, refusing to publish any of the controversial claims regarding the 9/11 attacks themselves that I later discovered and concluded were probably correct. One of his most experienced writers on intelligence matters was Bill Christison, who had spent decades at the CIA, rising to become a senior figure in its analysis division, but Christison’s 2006 essay endorsing the 9/11 Truth Movement had to appear elsewhere, so I never encountered it until many years later. During the 1970s Alex had been a highly-influential journalist at the Village Voice, but he had been purged from his position in 1982, and I suspect he was concerned that being associated with conspiratorial beliefs might cost him his remaining foothold in mainstream media circles.
At one point, he’d sent me a copy of Washington Babylon, a 1996 muckraking book he’d co-authored on the dark side of American politics during the early Clinton Administration, and as I began to explore the hidden facts of the 1990s, I decided to finally read it. Although his former colleagues at the Village Voice praised it as “Down and dirty muckraking” and it extensively covered issues of campaign finance and corrupt lobbying, scarcely a skeptical word appeared about Vince Foster’s death or the Oklahoma City bombing or any of the other major events of that period I have discussed above, which disappointed me but was not a great surprise. I’d like to believe that if he had lived a few more years and been fortified by the dramatic shift of influence between the mainstream and alternative media, he would have become much bolder in his public positions.
Consider, for example, the recent trajectory of Prof. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University. For decades, he had ranked as a leading pillar of the elite academic establishment, with no indication that any of his views on historical events signficantly deviated from the official narrative. But a couple of years ago, he was named chairman of the Lancet‘s Covid Commission, and in that role he gradually became aware that the facts surrounding the origin of the disease that has killed so many millions around the world were being concealed, with attempts to bring them to light being blocked by the concerted efforts of government and media. Then earlier this year, Russia’s devastating war with Ukraine broke out, and once again, many of the crucial facts regarding the cause of the disaster were being kept from the general public. In a recent column, I praised him as a “righteous rogue elephant” and his interviews and other public statements have reached audiences numbering in the many millions.
As a consequence of these developments, he has also now apparently become far more suspicious of numerous historical matters he had previously accepted on faith, notably including the circumstances of the Kennedy assassination. In a remarkable recent podcast interview, he voiced sentiments strikingly similar to some of my own, saying that he had discovered that on many different issues of great importance, we are all living in “a sea of lies.”