By Bruce A. Smith
The only comprehensive book on this iconic hijacking, DB Cooper and the FBI—A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking, is now in paperback. Published by CreateSpace, a print-on-demand title, it is available at Amazon and in selected bookstores. This is the 2nd Edition of this work, as the e-book version was published by Amazon’s Kindle division in 2015. The paperback features a deeper examination of the DNA issues of Norjak, as the DB Cooper case is officially called by the FBI.
The book also illuminates how Norjak is a story for our times. Not only does it reveal how the FBI—and by extension all law enforcement—truly functions, but it shows how technology has evolved since 1971. The forensic tools now available to the FBI and the media have reshaped Norjak, in effect reopening the case. This is despite the 40-plus years since a man called Dan Cooper jumped out of a jetliner with $200,000 tied to his waist and a parachute on his back.
The advent of the Internet can not be over-stated. Investigative reporters can now circumvent the efforts of law enforcement to suppress information, and the FBI can no longer control the narrative of DB Cooper with self-serving press releases or by stonewalling intrepid journalists. Google goes a long way to slice through sloppy or doctored federal record-keeping, or the white-washing of a crew’s actions by the airlines.
Internet sleuths have now interviewed passengers, crew, federal investigators, and other principals involved in the case—and little of the official story matches.
Despite the widely-told tale that Northwest Orient was fully compliant with DB Cooper’s demands, we now know that elements within the FBI wanted a shoot-out with the skyjacker, and the passengers-be-damned if anyone got shot. It was the proverbial “collateral” damage scenario. We know with near-certainty that an armed FBI agent, known by name to at least one passenger, boarded the plane before the passengers departed and before the flight attendant carried the money bag into the aircraft. Fortunately, the crew was able to convince him to leave before he provoked an incident that might have compelled the skyjacker to detonate his bomb and kill the 36 passengers and six crew members.
The passengers were also allowed to stay in their seats during the flight or move about the cabin area and use the lavatories, in stark contrast to the official story by Northwest Orient that the flight attendants moved everyone to the forward area for safety shortly after the hijacking commenced. Rather than keeping DB Cooper in relative isolation in the aft portion of the plane, the flight attendants treated DB Cooper like a special NWO official, a ruse that apparently worked according to passenger interviews.
We also know that the skyjacker wasn’t the only problem aboard Flight 305, and the flight attendants “had their hands full” dealing with a drunk passenger sitting amidships. As a result, the crew shut down their beverage service in mid-flight.
Interviews with County Sheriff’s departments that supported the FBI’s ground search now reveal that DB Cooper had at least a 13-hour head start before anyone even flew over the primary landing zone, and a 40-hour lead before any boots hit the ground in his LZ and started tromping through the mud.
Time, like the power of a Colorado River to carve out a Grand Canyon, has also eroded the Old Stories of the FBI. Gone now is Earl Cossey, murdered mysteriously in 2013, but for much of the past forty years a reliable consultant for the FBI who told the world with convincing detail that DB Cooper was a skydiving whuffo who only knew enough to get himself killed. Now, however, Cossey’s commentaries are largely considered canard due to shocking revelations brought forward by investigative journalists, most prominently Geoffrey Gray in his Skyjack—The Hunt for DB Cooper, and we now know that Coss was a Big Time Liar who didn’t own the parachutes Cooper used. Either the FBI was suckered into Cossey’s contrivances, or actively supported them to help build the story that Cooper was a dumb-bunny and dead.
Another major technological breakthrough is the advent of DNA testing. First developed in the 1980s, genetic testing came of age in 2000 and effectively reopened Norjak. In response, the FBI tested many of their primary suspects, such as Sheridan Peterson, an individual only known to the public though the activities of Internet sleuths and DB Cooper chat rooms, especially a skydiving website known as The DropZone.
But these chat rooms and email exchanges also reveal that the FBI botched the DNA analysis. Now we know that the FBI has either lost DB Cooper’s eight cigarette butts, which contained his dried saliva and thus his DNA, subsequently to testing. Or the FBI has hid them purposefully, along with all the documentation of their findings. We know this from the work of other Internet journalists, especially NPR’s John F. Kelley, who covered the investigation of the FBI’s National Crime Lab (NCL) in the late 1990s. In 1996, both the Department of Justice and the US Congress investigated the investigators, and found numerous examples of tainted and tampered evidence at the FBI’s vaulted laboratory, coupled with lost records, incompetence and inadequate supervision. To wit: one of the major whistleblowers at the NCL, Dr. Fred Whitehurst, told me that over 20,000 federal felony convictions may be in jeopardy of being over-turned due to official misconduct.
Other cultural dynamics have made the DB Cooper case resurgent, and one of the primary drivers has been the declassification of commando operations from Vietnam. One group of soldiers from the 5th Special Forces, a super-secret unit called Material Assistance Command—Vietnam—Special Operations Group, or MAC-V-SOG, has been released from their silence and are telling stories that shed great light on Norjak. In fact, some of the SOG troopers I interviewed are convinced DB Cooper is one of their guys. They see the tactical precision of DB Cooper’s hijacking as akin to their own, and as one SOG trooper told me: “If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
One of the elements to arise out of the investigation of Vietnam as a training ground for a hijacker is the use of drugs to improve the fighting capacity of soldiers in long-term combat. This, in turn, has led to other factors that could enhance the impact of America’s commandos, especially mind-control processes as found in the notorious MKULTRA program. Numerous examples of memory-loss and fuzzy thinking by FBI agents involved in Norjak or Flight 305 crew members are now a significant part of the Cooper lexicon, and examined in DB Cooper and the FBI.
Other surprises to the Cooper story are the astonishing number of death-bed confessions to the skyjacking. This dynamic, in turn, has led to an examination of a phenomena often called “The Cooper Vortex,” where lots of people want to be DB Cooper, even if it means going to prison for the rest of their lives. A sad corollary is how many families want a certain family member to be DB Cooper.
As one FBI agent told me, “The longer this DB Cooper thing goes unsolved, the crazier it’s gonna get.”
In the meantime, there’s DB Cooper and the FBI—A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking.