TWA 800: What the CIA Did to Mike Wire, Witness 571

TWA 800 was destroyed twenty years ago this July off the coast of Long Island. Mike Wire was one of the 258 FBI witnesses who reported an apparent missile strike. The New York Times, which owned the story, interviewed not a single one of them. In the absence of real information, the CIA and FBI collaborated to discredit the eyewitnesses and advance an exploding fuel tank theory. Wire’s case is just one shocking example out of many. To learn more, see Jack Cashill’s introductory article in this series or his book, TWA 800: The Crash, The Cover-Up, The Conspiracy (Regnery: July 5).

Recently the CIA released documents pertaining to the tragic destruction of TWA 800. During review of those documents, I have learned that the CIA had designated me as Witness #1 to the heartbreaking events of that day. For the FBI, I was only Witness #571. How the CIA came to decide upon me is at the heart of this miscarriage of justice.

On July 17, 1996, I was working to get the new Beach Lane Bridge in Westhampton ready to open. The bridge crosses the narrow inland waterway and connects the mainland with a small strip of beach beyond.

As a millwright tradesman, I had been working all day in the mechanical room of the bridge. A little before 8:30 p.m. that night, I surfaced to get some air. I was talking to one of the many men working with me when I saw what looked like a cheap firework rising from beyond the houses along the beach. This wasn’t out of the ordinary for a summer weekday so close to the 4th of July.

I watched as the sparkling white light zigzagged southeast away from shore at about a 40-degree angle. At its peak, it arched over and disappeared. Then I saw what appeared to be an explosion, it expanded into a large fireball, and then I watched the aircraft in flames descend from the fireball and fall to the sea, breaking up as it fell.

After a few seconds had passed, I heard the first of four explosions. The first was the loudest. I could feel a shock wave against my chest.  It shook the bridge enough that the other workers came running up to see what was going on.

At first, I thought it was a mid-air collision. I called my wife Joan at home in Pennsylvania and asked her to watch the news to see if anything was reported. At that point, the other men and I observed a rescue helicopter fly overhead and listened to the aircraft chatter on the PA system from the State Highway communications truck on site. Still unsure of what was unfolding; I went back to work and stayed on the job until after midnight.

The next morning at breakfast I overhead a man, a lawyer as it turned out, telling friends what he saw the night before. It was almost exactly what I saw. The only difference was that I described what I saw as “fireworks.” He was more familiar with the sea and took to describing the light as a “flare.”

Later, when I was back home in Bucks County, my employer called to inform me that the FBI wanted to speak to me. The FBI took my observations seriously enough to send an agent to my house named Andrew Lash. He interviewed me with Joan present on July 29, twelve days after the disaster.

Lash was conscientious and wrote what I said on a yellow legal pad, allowing me to check what he’d written for accuracy. We spoke for about 90 minutes, and that was the last time I talked to the FBI.

After that I followed the news on TWA 800 from a distance. Like most Americans, I trusted that the FBI would do the right thing. In November 1997, I saw the animation of the crash that the FBI showed to close the criminal case. It did not match anything I saw, and I wondered why the CIA was recruited to produce the animation. I presumed it was a temporary measure designed to pacify the public until a final cause for the crash was determined.

I paid little attention to the case after that, until the spring of 2000 when I received a call from Reed Irvine of the media watchdog group, Accuracy in Media. He asked if I was “The Man on the Bridge,” to which I replied that I was.

Irvine had something he wanted me to see. It was a certified word-for-word transcript of a 1999 meeting between the NTSB’s witness group and the CIA analysts who created the animation the FBI used to close the case. I was amazed that I was referenced so much; it seemed that a third of this 81-page document mentioned me (the man on the bridge) in some way.

As it turns out, the CIA based its animation around what I saw. However, there was a big problem. The CIA claimed that the nose of the plane blew off and when it did, the plane soared up for more than 3,000 feet. This, according to the CIA, confused me and other witnesses into thinking we saw a missile. I saw nothing of the kind. I saw an object zigzag up off the horizon at about a 40-degree angle, arch over and culminate in an explosion. After the explosion, the plane fell straight out of the sky.

As the transcript showed, at least two of the NTSB people gave the CIA resistance. They had seen the FBI “302” that Lash prepared, and it honestly reported what I had seen. When cornered, the CIA analyst responded, “He [I] was an important eyewitness to us. And we asked the FBI to talk to him again, and they did.”

This was nonsense. The FBI never spoke to me after the initial Lash interview. The CIA analyst continued, “In his original description, he [I] thought he had seen a firework and that perhaps that firework had originated on the beach behind the house.” This was true.

According to the analyst, though, I was “reinterviewed,” and I changed my statement. According to this fictional second interview, I did not see the light ascend from the beach. I first saw the light appear “as if -- if you imagine a flagpole on top of the house it would be as if it were on the top or the tip of the flag pole.” As a millwright, we do not use flagpoles as an increment of measurement. I would use degrees of angle in this kind of instance as in the original statement.

“Now, when the FBI told us that,” said the analyst, “we got even more comfortable with our theory.”

I do not know who generated this false interview to fit their scenario, but I stand by my original approved statement made to agent Lash. No other statement exists as there were none. The CIA built its case-closing animation around an interview that never took place. I would learn later that the CIA manufactured interviews with several other key witnesses.

This whole experience has left me disillusioned with the FBI, disillusioned with the CIA, and totally disillusioned with the news media that bought this whole story without ever questioning it -- even after the truth about the fake interviews had become impossible to deny.

I never wanted to go public.  However, as a parent, when I think about the people who lost their children on this plane -- 230 people died in all -- I felt compelled to reveal the facts as I saw them first hand. That’s what I would want, the Truth, not a convenient fabrication.

Wire’s testimony is the first in this series. In the weeks that follow readers will hear from family members, whistleblowers, researchers and others who have not given up the pursuit of the truth.