[This article is part of CAM’s series on political assassinations. It is also part of a week of articles on Bill and Hillary Clinton—two career criminals and super-predators to use a term Hillary famously used to promote harsh law and order policies fueling America’s mass incarceration boom.—Editors]
On April 3, 1996, Ron Brown, then-Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration, was killed along with 34 others, all but two of them Americans, when their Air Force CT-43A plane crashed into a mountainside near Dubrovnik, Croatia.
A report in Zagreb listed “blunt force injuries to the head” as the cause of Brown’s death.”
A Navy photographer, Kathleen Janoski, noted three days after the crash that the circular hole at the top of Brown’s head was 0.45 inches in diameter and “looked like a bullet hole.”
This finding was confirmed by Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell after Brown’s body underwent a medical exam at the Dover Air Force Base.
Cogswell determined that the original x-rays of Brown’s head showed possible metal fragments in the brain, consistent with a high-velocity gunshot wound. Stating that the whole thing “stinks,” he recommended that Brown be opened up, and that an autopsy be performed—which never happened.
Dr. Cyril Wecht, a legendary forensic pathologist told journalist Christopher Ruddy that there was more than enough evidence to suggest “possible homicide in Ron Brown’s death; an autopsy should have been performed.”
The reason it was not, was because of pressure from the Clinton White House.
Who Was Ron Brown?
Characterized by The New York Times as a “skilled political insider and deal-maker” who helped “unify the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton,” Brown’s career reflected in many ways the cooptation of the civil rights movement by the ruling political establishment.
A graduate of Middlebury College from Harlem who served with the U.S. Army in South Korea and West Germany, Brown worked as a welfare caseworker for the National Urban League and counsel for Senator Ted Kennedy before becoming the first Black partner in the law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow.
In 1989, Brown was elected as the first African-American head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which subsequently faced allegations of procuring illegal campaign contributions for Bill Clinton from dubious sources.
Before he left for Croatia/Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brown was up to his neck in numerous scandals; he was under investigation by the Justice Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, the FBI, the Energy Department, the Senate Judiciary Committee—and even by his own Commerce Department’s Inspector General.
Brown had used his office as Commerce Secretary to “break open markets,” as The New York Times put it, while ensuring that corporate America would help drive U.S. foreign policy. He lobbied hard for the passage of free-trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he said would benefit U.S. workers.
Reflecting the corrupt ethos of America’s second Gilded Age, Brown sold seats on his plane for trade missions that he led to corporations which made large contributions to the DNC.
Brown was a key figure in the growing U.S. corporate penetration of both Russia and China and lobbied for granting China most favored nation status—irrespective of its human rights record.
President Clinton had antagonized China by expanding arms sales to Taiwan through opened trade and loosened controls on weapons exports. He allowed for the sale of advanced U.S. military technology by Lockheed Martin, Hughes Aircraft and Loral Space & Communications, whose CEO, Bernard Schwartz, was a major donor to the Democratic Party.
During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton’s top donor was Mochtar Riady, an Indonesian financier and arms merchant connected to Chinese intelligence.
Clinton had met Riady through fellow Arkansan Jackson Stephens, owner of the largest investment firm outside of Wall Street who helped bring the infamous Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI)—which laundered funds for the CIA—into the U.S.
When Webster Hubbell, an old Clinton ally from Arkansas and the Associate Attorney General, was indicted on fraud charges, Clinton had Riady pay him a bribe of $800,000 so he would not sing to the Feds.
In return, Clinton appointed John Huang, a Riady agent, as Assistant Secretary of Commerce—a position that gave him clearance to attend CIA briefings.
Huang—a Democratic Party fundraiser who later pled guilty to arranging illegal campaign donations—was accused of committing espionage and passing classified information on U.S.-China technology transfers to Riady, who headed a business conglomerate known as the Lippo Group.
According to author Victor Thorn, Ron Brown was killed because he refused to be the fall guy for the Clintons’ ethical and legal violations and cronyism, which blatantly compromised U.S. national security.
Among other things, Brown had insider knowledge about illicit bribes made by the Arkansas-Louisiana Gas Company (Arkla)—headed by Thomas “Mack” McLarty, DNC treasurer in 1992 and Clinton’s Chief of Staff—to the Oklahoma energy regulation commissioner to help cover up a scam by which Oklahoma residents were being overcharged.
Brown’s son Michael was appointed to the board of a natural gas company, Dynamic Energy Resources, whose owners, Gene and Nora Lum, were prosecuted for making illegal donations to the Clinton campaign.
On the eve of his death, Brown and his son were scheduled to receive subpoenas because it was claimed that the elder Brown had accepted $700,000 in bribes from Vietnamese officials. The probe was widening at the time to include illicit fundraising activities and the DNC.
Daniel Pearson was picked as the Independent Counsel to investigate Brown’s influence peddling.
Two weeks before Brown died, he had a stormy meeting with Clinton in which Brown demanded that Clinton get him off the hook—as he felt that his son Michael was going to go to jail. Brown threatened the Clintons and their associates with exposure as leverage for his son’s freedom.
Brown allegedly told Clinton, “unless you get the independent counsel off my back, I may have to turn over evidence [related to Huang’s appointment, Mochtar Riady and China].”
Hillary Clinton would never allow such a move.
Brown consequently was sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia unexpectedly on a fundraising trip—whose purpose was to help U.S. companies such as Boeing get an edge on competition for up to $5 billion in military procurement contracts.
Brown’s mistress, Nolanda Hill, smelled a rat and begged Brown not to go—but to no avail.
Enron executives were tipped off and took their own plane. However, Charles F. Meissner, Assistant Secretary for International Economic Policy and John Huang’s immediate supervisor at Commerce, was on-board and died in the plane crash.
For the Clintons, this killed two birds with one stone.
Spoofing of Plane
Brown’s plane had made 12,000 landings and had recently ferried Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary William J. Perry around Croatia.
Aircraft safety authority Al Diehl presents a plausible scenario in which Brown’s plane crashed as a result of a process known as spoofing—in which a spurious navigational aid is used to trick the pilot to change course.
This practice was used by the British during World War II and the United States in Vietnam. When it is adopted, the pilots are deceived into not being able to hone-in on the electronic beacon transmitting a signal to their aircraft.
A key figure in the spoofing scenario was Croatian air traffic controller Niko Jerkovic who did not report for work on the morning of April 3rd. This was because he had been given an assignment by two officers in the Croatian intelligence services to help down Brown’s plane for which he was offered a substantial amount of money.
Under the assignment, Jerkovic drove to an isolated spot outside of Dubrovnik, east of the Kolocep Island. There he set the frequency of a portable radio at 318 kilohertz to match the Kolocep Island beacon and then encoded the KLP Morse code identifier, which was powered up after the earlier scheduled flights landed.
When word came from Dubrovnik that Brown’s plane had checked in at 2:46 p.m. local time and other planes landed, Jerkovic shot down the normal nondirectional radio beacon (NDB) and activated the rogue NDB.
The automatic direction finder in the plane now pointed to Jerkovic’s beacon near Dubrovnik.
At this distance, the needle shift was negligible, meaning that the two pilots of Brown’s plane—Ashley Davis and Tim Schafer—scarcely noticed.
Davis then proceeded to fly toward Kolocep and the St. John’s Peak (Sveti Ivan), instead of to the Dubrovnik Airport runway, because the rogue transmitter had altered their course.
Before they knew it—Bam!—the plane smashed into the mountainside 1.6 miles north of the runway.
When word of the crash came over Jerkovic’s radio, he shut down the temporary transmitter and reactivated the Kolocep Island beacon.
On April 8th, the Associated Press reported that Jerkovic—the man responsible for the Dubrovnik airport’s navigation system’s maintenance—had shot himself in the chest—an hour before the bodies of Brown and other victims of the plane crash were flown out of the airport. He died “before the U.S. team got a chance to question him about the navigation aids.”
According to The New York Times, Jerkovic did not commit suicide because of guilt over the crash but because a “fatal romance had left the 46-year-old bachelor despondent.”
However, the chest is an unlikely place for a suicide bullet. The inquiry into Jerkovic’s death was headed by Miroslav Tudjman, Croatian intelligence chief and son of Croatia’s neofascist President Franjo Tudjman, a close U.S. ally—ensuring that the truth would be suppressed.
According to a scenario laid out by author Jack Cashill, the Croat intelligence agents were initially thrilled to hear that Brown’s plane had been downed. When Brown was spotted further from the plane than everyone else, crawling on the ground, the leader of the group said “oh Christ,” pulled out his pistol and shot Brown on the top of the head.
The weapon that killed Brown may have been an exotic weapon like a captive bolt gun, which had been used by drug traffickers to kill DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in Mexico in 1985.
Strobe’s Strange Request and Other Oddities
After Brown’s death, Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State and a longtime friend of Clinton dating back to their time together at Oxford University, made a suspicious request that Croatian Radio Television (HRTV) not film the crash site.
In essence, a foreign official was telling another country’s media to black out a news event.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) meanwhile did not perform an investigation—as it was supposed to have done.
The Air Force’s investigation was concluded in six weeks when other airplane crash investigations, such as that involving TWA Flight 800, took at least a year.
Croatian investigators reported that there was a black box—though the Pentagon said that there was none. The Air Force, in an unprecedented move, blocked Pratt and Whitney from sending an investigator to the crash scene—a routine and expected procedure.
Only four of the sixteen Air Force officers of the 86th airlift wing deemed responsible for failed oversight of Brown’s plane were named publicly and none was court-martialed.
After the bullet wound was detected in Brown’s skull, all the x-rays and photos of Brown’s head went missing from the case file at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology facility in Rockville, Maryland.
Clinton’s Carefully Choreographed Reaction
Right after Brown’s death, Commander Edward Kilbane, who signed Brown’s death certificate, made an unexplained visit to the White House.
Conveniently, President Clinton ordered all the bodies from the wreckage to be cremated.
The Clintons’ initial expressions of grief were perfectly timed for the nightly news—and occurred well before the full facts of the crash had been reported.
After going to Brown’s Washington home to comfort Brown’s wife Alma, in what Clinton described as “one of the saddest moments of my life,” Clinton visited the Commerce Department, where he spoke of Brown as “a magnificent life force.”
At Brown’s funeral, Clinton delivered a stirring eulogy in which he called Brown a “trailblazer, patriot; wonderful friend, and a great American” and recounted an experience they had had in Los Angeles where they played basketball together with inner-city youths.
However, Clinton was later seen laughing with Reverend Tony Campolo as he was walking back to the White House, raising questions about whether he was actually grieving. When Clinton recognized that the cameras were on him, he shed a fake tear.
Brown’s death was convenient for the Clintons, as it helped to prevent exposure of illicit dealings which could have compromised Bill’s chances for re-election in 1996 and Hillary’s future political career.
Many liberals continue to attribute allegations of criminal wrongdoing by the Clintons to right-wing conspiracy theorists working under the purview of billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife.
But there is strong evidence to implicate the Clintons in major criminal acts, including murder.
The hatred for the Clintons in many parts of the U.S. is not a product of the people’s prejudice, but rather their understanding of the Clintons’ unbridled ruthlessness and phoniness, which the Brown tragedy sheds light on.
Postscript: Barbara Wise—Another Suspicious Death
On November 30, 1996, Brown’s co-worker, Barbara Wise, 48, who was employed in the International Trade Administration and was under enormous pressure not to cooperate with ongoing White House investigations, was found dead locked in her office at the Department of Commerce.
Wise was bruised, partially nude and lying in a pool of blood. The D.C. police claimed that Wise died of natural causes; the autopsy, however, was unable to determine the cause of death.
Wise had worked with Brown for 14 years and worked closely with John Huang. She was suspected of leaking Commerce documents exposing Huang’s espionage for the Chinese.
A mere two hours after Wise’s death, President Clinton, Hillary, and Chelsea flew back to Washington, D.C., from a Thanksgiving retreat at Camp David on Marine One.
Clinton claimed that the reason for the trip was that he did not have some books and wanted to research poetry to read at his second inaugural—though the inaugural was two months away.
When Clinton returned, he had a briefcase and huge box filled with materials.
Jack Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body: How One Man’s Death Saved the Clinton Presidency and Hillary’s Future (Nashville, Tenn.: WND Books, 2004); Victor Thorn, Hillary (and Bill): The Murder Volume: Part Three of the Clinton Trilogy (Washington, D.C.: The American Free Press, 2008). ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 262. ↑
Thorn, Hillary (and Bill). ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 35, 36; Steven A. Holmes, Ron Brown: An Uncommon Life (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000); Tracey L. Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown (New York: William Morrow, 1998) offers a defense of her father’s taking on Duvalier as a client. One of the firm’s namesakes, James Patton, came from the CIA. The film’s clients included a who’s who of corporate of America—American Express, Bear Stearns, MCI Corp, M&M Mars, the Dole Food Company and the Major League Players Association. ↑
Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown, 257, 258, 260; Holmes, Ron Brown, 250. As a former army officer, Brown supported the 1991 Persian Gulf War as DNC chairman because he believed that both political parties should support the president in a time of war. ↑
Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown, 265. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 163. According to Cashill, in the first two years of his tenure at Commerce, Brown lobbied incessantly against the Reagan-era controls aimed at preventing the leakage of technology to China and Russia. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 77-85. ↑
Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown, 3, 12. Brown’s daughter Tracey wrote that “it was my father’s intention to disrupt an arrangement between the Croatian government and Airbus Industries, a European plane-manufacturing consortium. His goal was to convince the Croatians to place their eighteen-plane, one billion-dollar [account] with Boeing, an American company.” The U.S. had supported Croatian secession and armed the Croats against the Serbs in the Balkans conflict, while cultivating close relations with Croat leader Franjo Tudjman. ↑
Other victims of the crash included Robert A. Whittaker chairman of Foster Wheeler Energy International of Clifton, N. J.; Robert E. Donovan, president of Asea Brown Boveri of Norwalk, Conn.; and Nathaniel C. Nash, bureau chief of The New York Times who was accompanying Brown to write an article on reconstruction efforts in the Balkans. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 270. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 271. ↑
Thorn, Hillary (and Bill). ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 264, 273. Jerkovic was most likely murdered by Croatian intelligence agents after he returned home from his work manipulating the navigation system on Brown’s plane. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 241. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 198. ↑
Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown, 295. ↑
Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown, 295. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body; Thorn, Hillary (and Bill). ↑
Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown, 293, 295. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body; Thorn, Hillary (and Bill). ↑
Introduction by President Bill Clinton to Brown, The Life and Times of Ron Brown, xv, 17, 18, 19. Clinton was the one to inform Alma of Ron’s death. Later, he established the Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership to honor companies for outstanding achievements in improving employees, lives and the health of communities in which they operate. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 206. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 221. ↑
Cashill, Ron Brown’s Body, 219. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
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