It is a scenario that makes the antics of animated spy Archer seem plausible by comparison, spun by the former assistant vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.
In his unfounded version of events, U.S. special operations forces died in an attack on a CIA computer facility in Germany that was hiding information about a massive, covert effort to flip votes from President Donald Trump to his opponent, Joe Biden.
But even though big Army and U.S. Army Special Operations Command have told Military Times that there was no such attack, or loss of life, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney is sticking by his claims. They became so widely distributed on social media that numerous accounts on Twitter falsely claimed that five soldiers killed in a Sinai helicopter crash were really killed in the firefight with the CIA.
McInerney, in an email to Military Times, did not offer more information regarding the sources of what he told a conspiracy-laden website over the Thanksgiving holiday. Nor did he respond to the Army statements about their falsehood.
He did, however, double down on his claims.
“President Trump won in a landslide and the Dems left so many footprints that this TREASON must be stopped!!!,” he told Military Times. “This will be the last free election we have and I predicted it on 2 Nov on the Steve Bannon Show!”
Who is he?
Thomas G. McInerney was once a highly respected military leader who became the Air Force assistant vice chief of staff.
He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1959 and later earned a master’s degree in international relations from The George Washington University in 1972.
Though a West Point graduate, he joined the Air Force and flew more than 400 combat missions during the Vietnam War, earning among other honors the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster and Bronze Star Medal with “V” device and oak leaf cluster.
He assumed his role as the Air Force assistant vice chief of staff in July 1992.
But somehow, he went off the rails.
After retiring, McInerney spent more than 16 years as a military analyst for Fox News Channel, He was fired from the network in 2018, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper, after inaccurately claiming during an appearance on Fox Business Network Thursday that torture “worked on” Sen. John McCain, who endured a brutal 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
The comments about McCain were among a string of false and controversial statements made by McInerney, according to writer Jack Murphy, a Green Beret and Ranger veteran.
His latest tale
New military-flavored conspiracy claims emerged over the weekend in connection to the widely debunked Dominion election fraud theory, which claims that voting machines deleted votes for President Donald Trump or switched votes to Joe Biden. That theory gained widespread traction when Trump — without verifiable evidence — amplified its claims, various sub-theories have emerged claiming the involvement of the Army.
The new claim is that Army Special Forces soldiers were killed in Frankfurt, Germany, in a firefight with the CIA guarding a secret CIA server farm that allegedly held evidence of Dominion’s so-called election theft. This updated version of a weeks-old theory originally amplified by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, came from an interview with McInerney, who offered no evidence to support his claim.
McInerney made these claims in an interview with Brannon Howse of Worldview Radio & WVW-TV, a conspiracy-tinged website with stories like “Voter Fraud, Treason, Psychological Gaslighting Enemies Inside the Wire” and “The Existential Threat to Our National Security; Is the CIA Using Technology to Enslave and Control The American People?” and “The Democrat’s Plan For Secession if They Lose the 2020 Presidential Election and Their Partnership with China to Defeat America From Within.”
In his interview with Howse (which was preceded by an exclusive first interview with retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn since his pardoning by Trump) McInerney said that Trump and attorney Sidney Powell have “got the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion working with them, because in all of this, we have not seen any footprints of the DOJ or the FBI, nor the CIA on the friendly side.”
Howse then raised the issue of U.S. Special Forces troops seizing the server farm in Germany.
“In addition, the U.S. special forces command seized a server farm in Frankfurt, Germany, because they were sending this data from those six states through the internet to Spain and then into Frankfurt, Germany,” McInerney told Howse. “Special operation forces seized those, that facility, so they have those servers and they know all this data they are providing.”
Howse then asked if the “seizure went down without incident.”
“Well, I’ve heard it didn’t go down without incident, and I haven’t been able to verify it,” said McInerney. “I want to be careful in that. It’s just coming out, but I understand — my initial report is — that there were U.S. soldiers killed in that operation. Now, that was a CIA operation, and so that’s the very worrisome thing.”
Howse pressed the issue.
“But you are saying that was a CIA facility, and that was where the server was taken from by these Special Forces, was a CIA facility in Germany?” Howse asked the retired general, who now operates a cloud computing company.
“That’s correct,” McInerney responded. “Frankfurt, Germany. We have all this information.”
U.S. military officials did not mince words about the veracity of McInerney’s claims.
“The allegations are false,” a USASOC spokesman told Military Times. The command has not had a fatal incident since two soldiers died in a helicopter crash in California this August, and the most recent Special Forces combat deaths resulted from an insider attack that killed two in Afghanistan on Feb. 8.
An Army spokesman also denied this theory when reached by Military Times, describing the allegations as “definitely false.”
Real world fallout
The false claims about the Army’s role in the election put out by McInerney have gained a lot of traction. Tens of thousands of people, for instance, have since taken up the claim about the supposed role of the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion, reposting it even on college football message boards and repeatedly vandalizing the battalion’s Wikipedia page.
One Twitter user even shared a video of a tank moving through the desert with a slowed version of Tame Impala’s “The Less I Know The Better” playing in the background, claiming it was troops from the battalion.
The 305th Military Intelligence Battalion is a training unit based at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and has been assigned to Army Training and Doctrine Command — meaning that it hasn’t been participating in any operational missions — since 1990. It conducts initial entry training for new soldiers in military intelligence positions. No unit in the battalion’s lineage has gone overseas for combat operations — much less to surveil or fight the CIA — since World War II.
Another twist of the new theory alleges that the five soldiers killed in a helicopter crash while assigned to the Multinational Force of Observers Sinai mission on Nov. 12 were “really” killed in the purported Frankfurt shootout with the CIA. The proponents of the theory, which has been shared by tens of thousands of people on social media, offered no evidence in support.
The soldiers killed in the crash were assigned to Task Force Sinai’s Aviation Company, which is not a special operations unit. Only one of the soldiers had ever served in a USASOC unit, a helicopter repairer who had previously deployed as a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Staff Sgt. Kyle McKee was not Special Forces-qualified, though, and he was no longer assigned to USASOC at the time of the crash.
In an unexpected silver lining to the theories, a fundraiser for McKee’s pregnant widow and two sons that had not received donations since before Thanksgiving now has more than 140 new donors apparently moved by the conspiracy theory. One individual accompanied a $500 donation with a note reading, “He lost his life fighting for truth!”
McInerney told Military Times that he is “very concerned” about the spread of misinformation and the effect it has on the families of the soldiers who died in the Sinai helicopter crash.
But while he did not originate the claim that about the Army aviators, which emerged via social media postings in the wake of his interview with Howse, he did not dispute it, either, telling Military Times he has “even greater concern for the most massive cyber warfare package that struck the Nation on 3 Nov.”
When Military Times asked McInerney to provide evidence to support his claims, he forwarded a lengthy conspiracy newsletter that, among other things, described Rudy Giuliani’s recent conduct as “shocking and professional” and discussed whether Trump should declare martial law to overturn the election results.
Editor’s note: this story has been updated to better reflect McInerney’s role as Air Force assistant vice chief of staff.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.