Flight 800: The Missing Evidence

When Suspicious Debris Arrived in the Hangar the FBI Took It Away

This residue was on two pieces of seat fabric that Stacey took from the hangar. Sanders had it analyzed at a laboratory. He now says he regrets not asking the lab simply to test for explosives, instead of giving him a breakdown of all the metals and chemical compounds in the residue. But a breakdown is what he got, and he says that missile manufacturers like Thiokol acknowledge that the chemical brew is found in missiles and the fuel that drives them. The FBI insists the residue is nothing but glue, used to refurbish the seats in that particular section of the plane.

Whatever the residue is, it has gotten Sanders, Stacey, and Sanders's wife, Liz, into serious legal trouble. After Sanders's missile theory was published in The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside, California, and a month later in The Downing of TWA Flight 800, the FBI subpoenaed Sanders's phone records.

In doing so, Sanders says, they ignored his rights as a journalist. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Campbell insisted that the conditions were met for a subpoena to be issued for the phone records of a member of the media. Sanders says the FBI moved so quickly that he had no chance to challenge the subpoena, signed by Attorney General Janet Reno.

After the FBI found Stacey's name in the phone records, they questioned him and he agreed to cooperate in return for a reduced charge of misdemeanor theft. This was in June 1997. Strangely, the FBI permitted Stacey to remain part of the investigation, with access to the Calverton hangar, until they were ready to charge him, which didn't happen until December.

Stacey's guilty plea carries the risk of a one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $100,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June. Sanders and his wife, Liz, an ex--TWA employee whose only role, she says, was to ask Stacey if he would speak to her husband, face up to 10 years in jail if they are convicted of charges of conspiracy to steal and theft of material from an aircraft accident. Their trial has yet to be scheduled.

Meanwhile, Sanders says that, partly as a result of learning about the holes in the wing debris, he has changed his mind to some degree about the accident. In his book he theorized that an unarmed missile had hit the plane. Now, he says, ''I no longer think the warhead was inert.''

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