Books by Cashill, Jack

Cashill, Jack. Deconstructing Obama. New York: Threshold Editions, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4516-1111-3.
Barack Obama's 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father (henceforth Dreams), proved instrumental in his rise from an obscure Chicago lawyer and activist to the national stage and eventually the presidency. Almost universally praised for its literary merit, it establishes Obama's “unique personal narrative” which is a key component of his attraction to his many supporters. Amidst the buzz of the 2008 presidential campaign, the author decided to buy a copy of Dreams as an “airplane book”, and during the flight and in the days that followed, was astonished by what he was reading. The book was not just good, it was absolutely superb—the kind of work editors dream of having land on their desk. In fact, it was so good that Cashill, a veteran author and editor who has reviewed the portfolios of hundreds of aspiring writers, found it hard to believe that a first time writer, however smart, could produce such a work on his own. In the writing craft, it is well known that almost all authors should plan to throw away their first million words or equivalently invest on the order of 10,000 hours mastering their craft before producing a publishable book-length work, no less a bestselling masterpiece like Dreams. There was no evidence for such an investment or of natural talent in any of Obama's earlier (and meagre) publications: they are filled with clichés, clumsy in phrasing, and rife with grammatical problems such as agreement of subject and verb.

Further, it was well documented that Obama had defaulted upon his first advance for the book, changed the topic, and then secured a second advance from a different publisher, then finally, after complaining of suffering from writer's block, delivering a manuscript in late 1994. At the time he was said to be writing Dreams, he had a full time job at a Chicago law firm, was teaching classes at the University of Chicago, and had an active social life. All of this caused Cashill to suspect Obama had help with the book. Now, it's by no means uncommon for books by politicians to be largely or entirely the work of ghostwriters, who may work entirely behind the scenes, leaving the attribution of authorship entirely to their employers. But when Dreams was written, Obama was not a politician, but rather a lawyer and law school instructor still burdened by student loans. It is unlikely he could have summoned the financial resources nor had the reputation to engage a ghostwriter sufficiently talented to produce Dreams. Further, if the work is not Obama's, then he is a liar, for, speaking to a group of teachers in June 2008, he said, “I've written two books. I actually wrote them myself.”

These observations set the author, who has previously undertaken literary and intellectual detective work, on the trail of the origin of Dreams. He discovers that, just at the time the miraculous manuscript appeared, Obama had begun to work with unrepentant Weather Underground domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, who had reinvented himself as an “education reformer” in Chicago. At the time, Obama's ambition was to become mayor of Chicago, an office which would allow him to steer city funds into the coffers of Ayers's organisations in repayment of his contribution to Obama's political ascendancy (not to mention the potential blackmail threat an unacknowledged ghostwriter has over a principal who claims sole authorship). In any case, Dreams not only matches contemporary works by Ayers on many metrics used to test authorship, it is rich in nautical metaphors, many expressed in the same words as in Ayers's own work. Ayers once worked as a merchant seaman; Obama's only experience at sea was bodysurfing in Hawaii.

Cashill examines Dreams in fine-grained detail, both bolstering the argument that Ayers was the principal wordsmith behind the text, and also documenting how the narrative in the book is at variance with the few well-documented facts we have about Obama's life and career. He then proceeds to speculate upon Obama's parentage, love life before he met Michelle, and other aspects of the canonical Obama story. As regards Ayers as the author of Dreams, I consider the case as not proved beyond a reasonable doubt (that would require one of the principals in the matter speaking out and producing believable documentation), but to me the case here meets the standard of preponderance of evidence. The more speculative claims are intriguing but, in my opinion, do not rise to that level.

What is beyond dispute is just how little is known about the current occupant of the Oval Office, how slim the paper trail is of his origin and career, and how little interest the legacy media have expressed in investigating these details. There are obvious and thoroughly documented discrepancies between what is known for sure about Obama and the accounts in his two memoirs, and the difference in literary style between the two is, in itself, cause to call their authorship into question. When the facts about Obama begin to come out—and they will, the only question is when—if only a fraction of what is alleged in this well-researched and -argued book is true, it will be the final undoing of any credibility still retained by the legacy media.

The Kindle edition is superbly produced, with the table of contents, notes, and index all properly linked to the text.

March 2011 Permalink

Cashill, Jack and James Sanders. First Strike. Nashville: WND Books, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7852-6354-8.
On July 17, 1996, just 12 minutes after takeoff, TWA Flight 800 from New York to Paris exploded in mid-air off the coast of Long Island and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. All 230 passengers and crew on board were killed. The disaster occurred on a summer evening in perfect weather, and was witnessed by hundreds of people from land, sea, and air—the FBI interviewed more than seven hundred eyewitnesses in the aftermath of the crash.

There was something “off” about the accident investigation from the very start. Many witnesses, including some highly credible people with military and/or aviation backgrounds, reported seeing a streak of light flying up and reaching the airliner, followed by a bright flash like that produced by a high-velocity explosive. Only later did a fireball from burning fuel appear and begin to fall to the ocean. In total disregard of the stautory requirements for an air accident investigation, which designate the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as the lead agency, the FBI was given prime responsibility and excluded NTSB personnel from interviews with eyewitnesses, restricted access to interview transcripts and physical evidence, and denied NTSB laboratories the opportunity to test debris recovered from the crash field.

NTSB investigations involve “partners”: representatives from the airline, aircraft manufacturer, the pilots' and aerospace workers' unions, and others. These individuals observed and remarked pointedly upon how different this investigation was from the others in which they had participated. Further, and more disturbingly, some saw what appeared to be FBI tampering with the evidence, falsifying records such as the location at which debris had been recovered, altering flight recorder data, and making key evidence as varied as the scavenge pump which was proposed as the ignition source for the fuel tank explosion advanced as the cause of the crash, seats in the area contaminated with a residue some thought indicative of missile propellant or a warhead explosion, and dozens of eyewitness sketches disappear.

Captain Terrell Stacey was the TWA representive in the investigation. He was in charge of all 747 pilot operations for the airline and had flown the Flight 800 aircraft into New York the night before its final flight. After observing these irregularities in the investigation, he got in touch with author Sanders, a former police officer turned investigative reporter, and arranged for Sanders to obtain samples of the residue on the seats for laboratory testing. The tests found an elemental composition consistent with missile propellant or explosive, which was reported on the front page of a Southern California newspaper on March 10th, 1997. The result: the FBI seized Sanders's phone records, tracked down Stacey, and arrested and perp-walked Sanders and his wife (a TWA trainer and former flight attendant). They were hauled into court and convicted of a federal charge intended to prosecute souvenir hunters disturbing crash sites. The government denied Sanders was a journalist (despite his work having been published in mainstream venues for years) and disallowed a First Amendment defence.

This is just a small part of what stinks to high heaven about this investigation. So shoddy was control of the chain of custody of the evidence and so blatant the disregard of testimony of hundreds of eyewitnesses, that alternative theories of the crash have flourished since shortly after the event until the present day. It is difficult to imagine what might have been the motives behind a cover-up of a missile attack against a U.S. airliner, but as the author notes, only a few months remained before the 1996 U.S. presidential election, in which Clinton was running on a platform of peace and prosperity. A major terrorist attack might subvert this narrative, so perhaps the well-documented high-level meetings which occurred in the immediate aftermath of the crash might have decided to direct a finding of a mechanical failure of a kind which had occurred only once before in the eighty-year history of aviation, with that incident being sometimes attributed to terrorism. What might have been seen as a wild conspiracy theory in the 1990s seems substantially more plausible in light of the Benghazi attack in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election and its treatment by the supine legacy media.

A Kindle edition is available. If you are interested in this independent investigation of Flight 800, be sure to see the documentary Silenced which was produced by the authors and includes interviews with many of the key eyewitnesses and original documents and data. Finally, if this was just an extremely rare mechanical malfunction, why do so many of the documents from the investigation remain classified and inaccessible to Freedom of Information Act requests seventeen years thereafter?

July 2013 Permalink

Cashill, Jack. TWA 800. Washington: Regnery History, 2016. ISBN 978-1-62157-471-2.
On the evening of July 17th, 1996, TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 bound from New York to Paris, exploded 12 minutes after takeoff, its debris falling into the Atlantic Ocean. There were no survivors: all 230 passengers and crew died. The disaster happened in perfect weather, and there were hundreds of witnesses who observed from land, sea, and air. There was no distress call from the airliner before its transponder signal dropped out; whatever happened appeared to be near-instantaneous.

Passenger airliners are not known for spontaneously exploding en route: there was no precedent for such an occurrence in the entire history of modern air travel. Responsibility for investigating U.S. civil transportation accidents including air disasters falls to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), who usually operates in conjunction with personnel from the aircraft and engine manufacturers, airline, and pilots' union. Barely was the investigation of TWA 800 underway, however, when the NTSB was removed as lead agency and replaced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which usually takes the lead only when criminal activity has been determined to be the cause. It is very unusual for the FBI to take charge of an investigation while debris from the crash is still being recovered, no probable cause has been suggested,, and no terrorist or other organisation has claimed responsibility for the incident. Early FBI communications to news media essentially assumed the airliner had been downed by a bomb on-board or possibly a missile launched from the ground.

The investigation that followed was considered highly irregular by experienced NTSB personnel and industry figures who had participated in earlier investigations. The FBI kept physical evidence, transcripts of interviews with eyewitnesses, and other information away from NTSB investigators. All of this is chronicled in detail in First Strike, a 2003 book by the author and independent journalist James Sanders, who was prosecuted by the U.S. federal government for his attempt to have debris from the crash tested for evidence of residue from missile propellant and/or explosives.

The investigation concluded that Flight 800 was destroyed by an explosion in the centre fuel tank, due to a combination of mechanical and electrical failures which had happened only once before in the eighty year history of aviation and has never happened since. This ruled out terrorism or the action of a hostile state party, and did not perturb the Clinton administration's desire to project an image of peace and prosperity while heading into the re-election campaign. By the time the investigation report was issued, the crash was “old news”, and the testimony of the dozens of eyewitnesses who reported sightings consistent with a missile rising toward the aircraft was forgotten.

This book, published on the twentieth anniversary of the loss of TWA 800, is a retrospective on the investigation and report on subsequent events. In the intervening years, the author was able to identify a number of eyewitnesses identified only by number in the investigation report, and discuss the plausibility of the official report's findings with knowledgeable people in a variety of disciplines. He reviews some new evidence which has become available, and concludes the original investigation was just as slipshod and untrustworthy as it appeared to many at the time.

What happened to TWA 800? We will probably never know for sure. There were so many irregularities in the investigation, with evidence routinely made available in other inquiries withheld from the public, that it is impossible to mount an independent review at this remove. Of the theories advanced shortly after the disaster, the possibility of a terrorist attack involving a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile (MANPADS) can be excluded because missiles which might have been available to potential attackers are incapable of reaching the altitude at which the 747 was flying. A bomb smuggled on board in carry-on or checked luggage seems to have been ruled out by the absence of the kinds of damage to the recovered aircraft structure and interior as well as the bodies of victims which would be consistent with a high-energy detonation within the fuselage.

One theory advanced shortly after the disaster and still cited today is that the plane was brought down by an Iranian SA-2 surface to air missile. The SA-2 (NATO designation) or S-75 Dvina is a two stage antiaircraft missile developed by the Soviet Union and in service from 1957 to the present by a number of nations including Iran, which operates 300 launchers purchased from the Soviet Union/Russia and manufactures its own indigenous version of the missile. The SA-2 easily has the performance needed to bring down an airliner at TWA 800's altitude (it was an SA-2 which shot down a U-2 overflying the Soviet Union in 1960), and its two stage design, with a solid fuel booster and storable liquid fuel second stage and “swoop above, dive to attack” profile is a good match for eyewitness reports. Iran had a motive to attack a U.S. airliner: in July 1988, Iran Air 655, an Airbus A300, was accidentally shot down by a missile launched by the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes, killing all 290 on board. The theory argued that the missile, which requires a large launcher and radar guidance installation, was launched from a ship beneath the airliner's flight path. Indeed, after the explosion, a ship was detected on radar departing the scene at a speed in excess of twenty-five knots. The ship has never been identified. Those with knowledge of the SA-2 missile system contend that adapting it for shipboard installation would be very difficult, and would require a large ship which would be unlikely to evade detection.

Another theory pursued and rejected by the investigation is that TWA 800 was downed by a live missile accidentally launched from a U.S. Navy ship, which was said to be conducting missile tests in the region. This is the author's favoured theory, for which he advances a variety of indirect evidence. To me this seems beyond implausible. Just how believable is it that a Navy which was sufficiently incompetent to fire a live missile from U.S. waters into airspace heavily used by civilian traffic would then be successful in covering up such a blunder, which would have been witnessed by dozens of crew members, for two decades?

In all, I found this book unsatisfying. There is follow up on individuals who appeared in First Strike, and some newly uncovered evidence, but nothing which, in my opinion, advances any of the theories beyond where they stood 13 years ago. If you're interested in the controversy surrounding TWA 800 and the unusual nature of the investigation that followed, I recommend reading the original book, which is available as a Kindle edition. The print edition is no longer available from the publisher, but used copies are readily available and inexpensive.

For the consensus account of TWA 800, here is an episode of “Air Crash Investigation” devoted to the disaster and investigation. The 2001 film Silenced, produced and written by the author, presents the testimony of eyewitnesses and parties to the investigation which calls into doubt the conclusions of the official report.

November 2016 Permalink