oversight

FBI: Delivery of ATF Report on TWA Flight 800 Crash

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-08-13.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States

GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Office of Special Investigations

      B-282979

      August 13,1999

      The Honorable Charles E. Grassley
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight
        and the Courts
      Committee on the Judiciary
      United States Senate

      Subject: FBI: Deliver-v of ATF Renort on TWA Flight 800 Crash

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      As you requested, we have enclosed a copy of our June 29,1999, briefing before the
      Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. This briefing was in
      response to your request for information about a January 20,1997, Bureau of Alcohol,
      Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) report on the crash of Trans World Airlines, Inc. (TWA)
      flight 800. That information concerned whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation
      (FBI) had forwarded the ATF report to the National Transportation Safety Board
      (NTSB), as the FBI claimed in written and oral testimony before the Subcommittee in
      May 1999.

      Our investigation revealed that the NTSB has no record of receiving the ATF report from
      the FBI. FBI officials stated that although they believed the ATF report was forwarded
      to the NTSB, it was possible that the report may not have been sent due to
      administrative error. Officials of the FBI stated that during the TWA flight 800 case, the
      FBI determined what information would be disseminated to the NTSB and when it
      would be disseminated.

      We will make copies of this letter available to others on request. If you have any
      questions, please contact Assistant Director Ron Malfi at (202) 512-6722.

      Sincerely yours,



      Robert H. Ha&        ’
      Acting Assistant Comptroller General
        for Special Investigations

      Enclosure




                                                   GAO/OSI-99-18R   ATF Report on TWA Flight 800
Enclosure I


                                   BRIEFING PAPER
                 ATF Report on the Cause of the Crash of TWA Flight 800


For the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Senate Committee on the
Judiciary

+   QUESTION

    Did the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) forward to the National Transportation Safety
    Board (NTSB) a January 20,1997, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Eirearms (ATF) report on
    the crash of Trans World Airlines, Inc. (TWA) flight 800, as the FBI claimed in written and
    oral testimony before the Subcommittee?

+   BACKGROUND

    Central to a May 10,1999, hearing before the Subcommittee was a January 20,1997, ATF
    report. That report concludes that the mechanical failure of the aircraft’s center wing fuel
    tank was the likely cause of the explosion that brought down Trans World Airlines, Inc.
    (TWA) flight 800. At the hearing ATF Assistant Director Andrew Vita testified that he had
    ordered the Special Agent-in-Charge of ATF’s New York Office to deliver the report to the
    FBI and, in the interest of public safety, to NTSB. On March 13,1997, when ATF first
    attempted to deliver the report, the then Assistant Director-in-Charge (ADIC) James
    Kallstrom of the FBI’s New York Office refused to accept it. Subsequently, ADIC Kallstrom
    reluctantly received the report, but told ATF he did not want the report delivered to NTSB.

    The Subcommittee determined that ADIC Kallstrom contacted Raymond Kelly, then Under
    Secretary for Enforcement, Department of the Treasury, regarding the ATF report. Under
    Secretary Kelly ordered ATF Director John Magaw not to deliver the report to NTSB. NTSB
    officials informed the Subcommittee that they never received an official copy of the report
    from the FBI.

    Also at the May 10,1999, hearing, Lewis Schiliro, the current ADIC of the FBI’s New York
    Office, produced a March 17,1997, unsigned “transmittal letter” from ADIC Kallstrom to
    NTSB Chairman James Hall as proof that the report had been delivered to NTSB. ADIC
    Schiliro dismissed as “ludicrous” suggestions that the FBI did not deliver the ATF report to
    NTSB.

+   SUMMARY      OF SIGNIFICANT       FINDINGS

    National   Transuortation   Safetv Board

    Our investigation revealed that NTSB has no record of receiving the ATF report from the FBI.
    Senior NTSB officials involved in the TWA flight 800 crash investigation are certain they
    never received the ATF report, formally or informally, from the FBI. NTSB did receive an
    unofficial or “bootleg” copy of the report from ATF. However, because this was not an
    official copy of the report, NTSB was not able to refer to it in any of its public statements or
    public documents. Hence, NTSB was not able to use it to help convince the Federal Aviation
    Administration to force the airline industry to act faster to implement safety
    recommendations concerning the center wing fuel tank on Boeing 747 aircraft.
    .


                                              GAO/OSI-99-18R ATF Report on TWA Flight 800
Enclosure I


    Senior NTSB officials believe the FBI “rolled over” NTSB during the TWA flight 800 case.
    According to Chairman James Hall, the NTSB should have been in charge of the case since no
    evidence of a criminal act was developed. However, unlike normal aviation accident
    investigations, the FBI took charge of the TWA flight 800 case to the detriment of NTSB.
    Chairman Hall stated that a number of factors caused NTSB to lose control, including the
    strong personality of FBI ADIC James Kallstrom and the weak personalities of the NTSB
    officials at the scene of the crash. The FBI withheld critical information from NTSB, such as
    a Central Intelligence Agency report. That report concluded that a missile did not cause TWA
    flight 800 to crash.

    Bureau of Alcohol.    Tobacco and Firearms

    ATF Director John Magaw and Assistant Director Andrew Vita informed us that the agents
    who prepared the ATF report are certified fire investigators. These agents, who worked
    closely with FBI and NTSB personnel at the crash site on Long Island, believed that the
    report raised safety concerns about Boeing 747 aircraft. They disagreed, but complied, with
    Under Secretary Kelly’s decision to order ATF to deliver the report only to the FBI.

    Demrtment     of the Treasurv

    Former Under Secretary Raymond Kelly said he ordered ATF to deliver the report only to the
    FBI based on a request made by ADIC Kallstrom, a longtime friend. Under Secretary Kelly
    stated that the FBI should have been the disseminator of the ATF report because the FBI was
    the lead investigative agency. He stated that he believed that the FBI would forward a copy
    of the report to NTSB.

    Dewrtment     of Justice

    The two Assistant U.S. Attorneys assigned to work the TWA flight 800 case in the Eastern
    District of New York had no recollection of the ATF report. No record of the report could be
    located in the TWA flight 800 case files at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

    Federal Bureau of Investietation

    The FBI cooperated with our investigation and afforded us access to its records and
    personnel. We reviewed the official FBI files for the TWA flight 800 case at FBI Headquarters
    in Washington, DC, and at its New York Office.

    We found no copies of the ATF report or the teletype (also known as an Electronic
    Communication or “EC”) from ADIC Kallstrom to the FBI Director in the FBI Headquarters
    case file. We were informed that these documents should have been located in the file. (One
    month after our visit, we were informed that the missing documents had been located in the
    workpapers of a supervisor at FBI Headquarters.)

    In the New York Office file, we found (1) the unsigned transmittal letter from ADIC Kallstrom
    to Chairman Hall dated March 17,1999, (2) an EC from ADIC Kallstrom to the FBI Director
    dated March 14,1997, and (3) an ATF report dated January 20,1997. We examined the
    unsigned transmittal letter and determined it was an “origir# document that is suitable for
    signature. A FBI official told us that it was possible that this unsigned letter was actually the
    original that somehow had not been signed by ADIC Kallstrom and then placed in the file by
    mistake. He added that this scenario could explain why NTSB never received the ATF report.


3                                             GAO/OSI-99-18R   ATF Report on TWA Flight 800
Enclosure I



    Retired ADIC Kallstrom and current ADIC Lewis Schiliro stated to us that they believe the
    ATF report was sent to NTSB. However, both also said that it was possible but unlikely that
    the ATF report had not been sent to NTSB and somehow “fell through the cracks.” In
    addition, both stated that during the TWA flight 800 case, the FBI determined what
    information would be disseminated to NTSB and when it would be disseminated. The FBI
    was concerned about sharing classified or sensitive information with NTSB, especially
    because of the “party system” used by NTSB in accident investigations. Both ADIC Kallstrom
    and ADIC Schiliro told us they believe the party system had a built-in conflict-of-interest
    concern.

+   SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY

    We conducted our investigation from May 17,1999, to July 8,1999. We reviewed relevant
    documents and interviewed knowledgeable representatives of the Department of the
    Treasury, Department of Justice, NTSB, ATF, and FBI.




    (600550)




4                                            GAO/OS&99-18R   ATF Report on TWA Flight 800
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