Skip to comments.7 years later, the whiff of conspiracy lingers
Posted on 10/27/2002 6:12:29 AM PST by sjersey
Earlier this month, as the U.S. Senate debated whether to allow the President to wage war on Iraq, an unusual spectacle unfolded in the office of Sen. Arlen Specter.
While colleagues spoke on the Senate floor, Specter sat in his office listening to a former television reporter who alleges that contrary to the findings of the largest federal investigation in history, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was orchestrated by a secret terrorist cell of former Iraqi soldiers working for either Saddam Hussein or Islamic extremists, or both.
The briefing was broadcast live on a radio show hosted by Specter's friend, attorney Michael Smerconish. Smerconish says he received so many phone calls and e-mails that the station, WHPT-AM (1210), rebroadcast the show a few days later.
There is little Americans love more than a whiff of conspiracy.
Nobody knows that better than Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who four decades ago advanced the oft-ridiculed single-bullet theory, which was designed to show how a lone gunman could have assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
"My sense is that it would take an extraordinary degree of inertia and incompetence for the FBI to overlook something this serious," the senator said in an interview after the radio show. "But stranger things have happened."
He said he has asked for, and expects to receive, a briefing from the FBI about why the agency discounts a Middle Eastern link to the bombing.
Specter is not the only one showing interest in the allegations of former television reporter Jayna Davis, which were first made public seven weeks after the Murrah Federal Building was destroyed. While the Oklahoma City news media have criticized her and most major news organizations have ignored her, the Fox News Channel broadcast an interview with her recently, and the Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article about her allegations on Sept. 5 on its op-ed page.
In that piece, former CIA director James Woolsey, who did not respond to a request for an interview for this article, was quoted as saying that the nation would owe Davis a debt of gratitude. He did not explain why he finds her assertions credible.
Accompanying Davis in Specter's office were a former CIA agent and a former defense intelligence officer, both of whom endorse her theory.
The FBI, having reviewed 30,000 witness statements and one billion documents, concluded that convicted bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols acted alone in the April 19, 1995, attack. So did an Oklahoma County grand jury, which heard testimony about some of the evidence Davis developed.
McVeigh was executed last year, and Nichols is serving a federal life sentence as he awaits trial on state murder charges.
Before he was executed, McVeigh told two journalists that he and Nichols had acted by themselves.
"How do they get around that?" asked Weldon Kennedy, the former FBI deputy director who led the investigation, in a telephone interview. "It's just like the Kennedy assassination. These conspiracy theories are going to go on long after you and I are gone."
That may be because the case has a number of loose ends. The indictment of McVeigh and Nichols said they had help from "others unknown to the grand jury." Jurors in their federal trials said they believed others had to have been involved.
The biggest discrepancies surround the identity of "John Doe 2," the famous sketch of a dark-complexioned man wearing a baseball cap - and said to have a tattoo on his left arm - released by the FBI the day after the bombing.
The government says the sketch was the product of a confused witness, that it was actually an Army private who had rented a Ryder truck the day after McVeigh did. But alternative theories have abounded. One, detailed at length in the Washington Post and London's Independent, holds that John Doe 2 was a white supremacist from Philadelphia who is now serving time for bank robbery.
Davis, who covered the bombing for KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, has been gathering information ever since, even though she left the station in 1997.
She says she has 2,000 pages of evidence "which present a persuasive argument that 4/19 was the precursor for 9/11." She says she is not sure whether the bombing was orchestrated by Saddam Hussein, as some of her supporters believe, or Islamic fundamentalists, as others do.
Seven weeks after the attack, Davis broadcast a report identifying John Doe 2 as an Iraqi refugee who had been working as a laborer in Oklahoma City. She has gathered sworn affidavits from seven people who say they saw this man - who has a tattoo on his left arm and bears an uncanny resemblance to the John Doe 2 sketch - with McVeigh.
The report noted that, shortly after the bombing, the FBI put out an all-points bulletin seeking a late-model brown pickup truck and indicating that two Middle Eastern men were believed to be in the truck. She says witnesses later placed the truck at the Iraqi man's place of employment, where he worked with other former Iraqi soldiers.
Her broadcast did not identify the man, Hussein al-Husseini, by name. But he later approached competing news stations complaining that he had been wronged. He sued Davis and her station for defamation.
In November 1999, the suit was dismissed by a federal judge who ruled that Husseini's attorneys had not met their burden of proof. Davis' reports did not directly accuse Husseini of complicity in the bombing, and the judge ruled that what she reported was undisputed: that Husseini had served in the Iraqi army, that he had no concrete alibi at the time of the bombing, and that he worked for a Palestinian businessman who was suspected of having ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
None of that proves anything, said Husseini's attorney, Victor Greider, who has appealed the ruling. Greider says that there is no credible evidence to tie his client to the bombing, and that is why the FBI has never questioned him about it.
Greider said Husseini's father had been executed by Saddam Hussein and that he himself had been imprisoned in Iraq after he criticized the dictator. And Greider said his client is not a practicing Muslim.
Court records show that Husseini's legal team never got the chance - for reasons that are in dispute - to question Davis under oath or otherwise subject her work to the scrutiny typical of a defamation lawsuit.
Some of what she cites as evidence is regarded by critics as the kind of coincidences and dot-connecting that animate conspiracy theories the world over.
For example, she makes much of the fact that after leaving Oklahoma, Husseini went to work at Logan International Airport in Boston, which was a boarding site for some of the 9/11 hijackers. And she points out that Nichols was in the Philippines in 1994, at the same time as Ramzi Yousef, who was later convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (An alleged Philippine terrorist, while in police custody, gave a statement saying Yousef and Nichols had met. Kennedy says the FBI checked and concluded that they had not.)
In interviews, Davis went beyond her presentation to Specter. She alleged, for example, that government officials are hiding a surveillance tape that shows Husseini getting out of the yellow Ryder truck outside the Murrah building on April 19, 1995.
Kennedy, who retired in 1997 as deputy FBI director, calls talk like that ludicrous and insulting. He said investigators repeatedly had been able to disprove the accounts of those who say they saw another man with McVeigh in the hours before the bombing. (Nichols was in Kansas.) Some were lying, Kennedy said, and others were simply mistaken.
"I can't tell you how many thousands and thousands of man-hours went into pursuing every lead that came in on unsub number two," Kennedy said, using the FBI shorthand for unidentified subject. After the sketch was released, he said, "half of Oklahoma City just knew and swore that they had seen those two men together before the explosion."
Kennedy said that through phone and other records, agents tracked "98 to 99 percent" of McVeigh's and Nichols' movements in the months before the bombing. He's absolutely convinced they were not working with others.
Even one of Nichols' attorneys, Michael Tigar - who does believe there is a chance others were involved - said in an interview that he saw no hint of a Mideast connection.
"That dog wouldn't hunt," he said, noting that "there was a great deal of evidence that McVeigh was a stone racist."
After such a vast and untidy investigation, however, Kennedy can't immediately answer every question Davis raises. That probably would take a team of people with the entire case file at their disposal. That's unlikely to happen, which is why such theories tend to live on, experts say.
"If something big and important happens, we like to see a cause that's equally big and important," said Clark McCauley, a Bryn Mawr College psychology professor who has studied conspiracy theories. "If one idiot who gets up on the wrong side of the bed one morning is enough to change our whole world, that gives us a feeling of lack of control, lack of power."
the FBI put out an all-points bulletin seeking a late-model brown pickup truck
sounds like a white van to me.
This fool steps foreward every time something needs to be swept under the rug.
By the way, the Inquirer tries to discredit the story right out of the block by refering to it as a "whiff of conspiracy". By definition OKC bombing absolutely was a conspiracy between, at a minimum, conspirators McVeigh and Nichols. This much is undisputed. The allegations raised by Davis are that it was a wider conspiracy, but saying so would not be as explosive in discrediting the theory. After all, if you admit up front that there was indeed a conspiracy it wont seen so nutty to say we didnt get all the conspirators. Better to just make it sound crackpot.
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