Monday, December 31, 2007

Lockerbie - Hardie Amiss

At the original trial at Camp Zeist, three Judges were appointed - all Lords. In the chair was Lord Sutherland, 68, a Queens Counsel since 1969. The others were Lord Coulsfield, 66, QC since 1973, and Lord McLean, 61.

The prosecution was originally to have been led by the Blairite Peer Lord Hardie, the new Labour Scottish Advocate. Not long before the trial started, Lord Hardie applied to become a High Court Judge and dropped out as chief Lockerbie prosecutor.

Private Eye magazine reported in May 2000 : "Hardie had been a pivotal figure in the authorities' handling of the Lockerbie disaster. During the last Conservative administration he served as deputy Crown spokesman at the 1990-91 fatal accident inquiry into the disaster. His abrupt decision to cut off all connection with the trial with only two months before it was due to begin was greeted with consternation by the relatives.

On 18th February Pamela Dix secretary of UK Families 103, whose brother died at Lockerbie, wrote to Lord Hardie to express the families' 'great surprise and indeed shock' at his decision. 'I would be grateful', she continued, 'if you could clarify whether the decision was yours alone.' So disturbed was the noble Lord by this anxious letter that he did not bother to reply."

Lord Hardie was replaced as Lord Advocate by his successor Colin Boyd QC and his Advocate Depute Alistair Campbell QC. They were supported by yet another QC, Alan Turnbull and two official of the the US Justice department, who sat with them.

Megrahi was represented by William Taylor QC, 56, a former Edinburgh Labour councillor and a Parliamentary Labour candidate. Fhimah's QC was Richard Kenn, 46.

The key solicitor for the defense, who represented Megrahi, was Alistair Duff, a criminal lawyer from Edinburgh, who had been associated with the case since first approached in 1993. Mr Duff has a reputation in Scotland for believing in and fighting for his clients : a reputation powerfully vindicated throughout the Camp Zeist trial.

The trial opened on May 3rd 2000 and dragged through numerous postponements and delays until judgement day on 31st January 2001.

From the outset it was clear that the trial would take so long and it's proceedings were so insufferably boring that few journalists would last the pace. The point was made graphically by the BBC's crime correspondent Joshua Rozenberg.

Rosenberg was, and is, a firm believer in British justice. He had recently published a rather flattering analysis of British judges. He was however horrified by what he found at Camp Zeist.

Writing in the Guardian on 5th June 2000 : Who Brought Down The Lockerbie Trial? Why Is The Most Important Trial In The World Being Ignored By The Media?

The entire proceedings seemed to him to be plunged into chaos and impossible to follow. Facilities for journalists, though lavish, were absolutely useless when it came to finding out basic information. Even the list of witnesses was withheld from the media.

The lawyers were separated from the journalists, public and relatives by screens. The reporters had nothing more to go on than the formal indictment issued nine years previously.

The Lord Advocate Colin Boyd didn't like questions, and found it hard to explain why "officials from the United States Justice Department are sit next to prosecution lawyers in court" ; or what the official told the victims' families at briefings every evening ; or why the prosecution again and again ran out of witnesses, forcing unnecessary adjournments.

The whole trial seems deliberately bunged up with issues that would never have arisen in an ordinary criminal case, and hours wasted on what seemed to be quite uncontroversial evidence.

No wonder, thought Rosenberg as he headed for home, so many journalists were giving the trial up for lost, and so little even the bare bones of the proceedings were appearing in the media. "Justice will be the loser", he grimly predicted, and he was right.

(c) Paul Foot/ Private Eye 2001

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Rice To Meet Libyan Foreign Minister.

Today's Scotsman newspaper is reporting a meeting is planned between Condoleezza Rice and Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalqam in Washington on Thursday, to discuss "unresolved issues" surrounding the Lockerbie case. It will be a Libyan government officials first visit to the US for 35 years.

Article here -

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Libya May Escape Final Judgment in Pan-Am 103 Case

By Jeff Stein, CQ National Security Editor.

Libya is close to getting off the hook for millions of dollars in payments to relatives of the 189 Americans who died in the bombing of Pan American Flight 103, amid a stiff new challenge to the 2001 verdict and rapidly warming relations between the erstwhile terrorist state and Washington.

It was 19 years ago this weekend that the airliner, bound from London to New York with 259 passengers, 189 of them Americans, exploded in the night skies over Scotland, killing all aboard as well as 11 residents of Lockerbie, the village where the fiery chunks of steel and other debris came crashing down.

A memorial service was planned for Friday at Arlington National Cemetery to mark the anniversary.

Back in 1988, Iran was immediately suspected of authoring the mass murder, in retaliation for the accidental downing of one of its own airliners by a U.S. Navy warship in the Persian Gulf a few months earlier.

U.S. intelligence agencies, in overdrive to find the culprits, quickly compiled evidence that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, or PFLP-GC, had carried out the plot on behalf of Iran and Syria. (The PFLP-GC was formed to opposed PLO leader Yassir Arafat’s movement toward detente with Israel.)

Nevertheless, on Jan. 31, 2001, a panel of three Scottish judges found Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, officially the head of security for Libyan Airlines, guilty of carrying out the plot and sentenced him to life in jail. A Libyan co-defendant was set free.

Libya always denied any guilt in the crime, but agreed to compensate relatives of the dead to open the door for normal relations with the United States. It also agreed to compensate victims of the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle discotheque in West Berlin, a gathering place for U.S. soldiers. Libya also denied complicity in that attack, which killed three and wounded scores more, but likewise agreed on compensation payments.

Megrahi, now serving a life sentence in Scotland, could be freed soon, British authorities hinted on Thursday, as part of a broad normalization of relations with Libya.

Only a day earlier, the Bush administration managed to stave off a congressional effort, led by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg , D-N.J., to deny it funds to build an embassy in Tripoli until Libya completed payments to the relatives of those who died on Pan Am 103.

While Lautenberg lost that battle, he and his allies in the House did manage to prohibit the administration from giving Libya any U.S. aid until the payments are completed.

‘A Gaping Hole’

The ranks of critics of the 2001 verdict have steadily grown through the years.
Among them is Hans Koehler, the eminent Austrian jurist who was appointed by the United Nations to ensure the trial was conducted fairly.

“It is highly likely that the sentenced Libyan national is not guilty as charged and that one or more countries other than Libya, through their intelligence services and/or financial and logistical support for a terrorist group, may have responsibility for the crime,” Koehler said in a formal statement this year.

Likewise, Robert Black, the senior University of Edinburgh legal scholar who devised the trial of the Lockerbie defendants in the Netherlands under Scottish law, noted that the prosecution never produced any direct evidence tying the defendants to the bomb that brought the plane down.

It was entirely “circumstantial,” he said, based on a single computer print-out of a baggage manifest, which was contradicted by other evidence. “A gaping hole in the prosecution’s case,” he called it.

But more sinister factors were at work in the investigation, Black and other authoritative sources close to the case told me.

Black told me that he suspected Libya was framed to avoid a case that would hold Iran and Syria responsible.

The first Bush administration needed Syria to stay in the broad Middle East coalition that it was readying to oust Iraq’s troops from Kuwait.

“I have been told by persons involved in the Lockerbie investigation at a very high level, that a public announcement of PFLP-GC responsibility for the bombing was imminent in early 1991,”

Black told me, confirming earlier U.K. press reports. “Then suddenly, and to the mystification and annoyance of many on the investigation team, the focus of the investigation changed to Libya.”

Robert Baer, the former CIA officer who was based in Paris at the time and tracking Iranian terrorist operations, agrees.

Baer told me the Scottish commission reviewing evidence in the case was able to confirm that Iran and Syria paid the PFLP-GC to carry out the bombing.

Indeed, Vincent Cannistraro, who headed the CIA’s investigation of the crash, was quoted several times in 1989 blaming Iran, and right after the 1991 verdict he said it “was outrageous to pin the whole thing on Libya.” (Oddly, last week he told me the evidence “always pointed to the Libyans.”)

But Baer says, “Everybody” in U.S. intelligence knew about “Iran’s intention to bomb an American airliner” in response to the downing of one of its own only months earlier.”

“We knew that,” Baer added. “We had that solid.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency also thought the Iranians paid the PFLP-GC to do it.
Patrick Lang, chief of the DIA’s Middle East section at the time, told me he “signed off” on the DIA’s conclusion that “The bombing of the Pan Am flight was conceived, authorized and financed by Ali-Akbar (Mohtashemi-Pur), the former Iranian minister of Interior.”

“The operation was contracted to Ahmad Jabril” [the head of the PFLP-GC] . . . for $1 million,” said the Sept. 24, 1989, memo, first reported last week in a London tabloid. “The remainder was to be paid after successful completion of the mission.”

Lang said on Friday, “I still agree with that. We felt quite sure that this was a PFLP thing.”
“The CIA wouldn’t listen to that,” Lang added, because it couldn’t find proof of Iranian or Syrian complicity and was under immense pressure to solve the case.

Just last week, a Scottish newspaper, citing “sources close to the investigation,” recently cited specific transactions that the SCCRC allegedly had uncovered, including amounts and dates.

“This doesn’t exonerate Libya,” Baer cautioned. “Iran and Syria and Libya could have been working together.”

Plenty of Theories

Conspiracy theories have grown like barnacles on the much-questioned verdict, including far-fetched allegations of Israeli and even South African involvement in the crime.

On the Internet, some bloggers see the hand of the White House in the growing evidence of Iranian complicity in the Pan Am bombing, suggesting that the administration is further laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran.

The available evidence, however, suggests that the administration is primarily interested in getting Western companies’ access to Libya’s oil fields.

A particularly persistent rumor is that key witnesses were paid off by American intelligence to finger the Libyans.

Edwin Bollier, head of the Swiss company that was said to have manufactured the timer used to detonate the Pan Am bomb, has claimed variously that he was offered “bribes” by the FBI and CIA to finger Libya.

Bollier’s company did in fact supply the circuit boards to Libya, he admitted, but also East Germany, where the PFLP-GC had an office.

Since Bollier had ongoing business with the Qaddafi regime, his veracity has often been questioned.

In response to my query, a CIA spokesman ridiculed Bollier’s accusations that it offered or paid him anything.

“It may disappoint the conspiracy buffs, but the CIA doesn’t belong in your story,” he said, insisting on anonymity.

An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed, however, that the bureau met with Bollier in Washington in 1991, but denied he was offered anything to implicate Libya.
In a formal statement, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko emphatically rejected any suggestions of a payoff.

“Any accusations that any witness was paid to lie are complete fabrications and these ridiculous statements should be immediately discounted as the untruths they are,” Kolko said. “That is not the way the FBI operates.”

Likewise, allegations have persisted that Tony Gauci, a shopkeeper on Malta who testified, in spite of contrary evidence, that he sold Megrahi clothing that ended up in the suitcase bomb, was paid to finger the Libyans.

But Gauci was paid approximately $2 million from the State Department’s USA Rewards program, an authoritative source told me, along with another, still unidentified witness.

Together, they were paid somewhere between $3 million and $4 million for information leading to the conviction of Megrahi, the source said.

The State Department acknowledged to me that rewards were paid.

“A reward was paid out in the Lockerbie-Pan Am 103 case,” a spokesperson there said on condition of anonymity, “but due to operational and security concerns we are not disclosing details regarding specific amounts, sources, or types of assistance the sources provided.”

Freeing Megrahi

All this — and much more questionable evidence related to the electronic timers and witnesses — may soon be moot.

A British Ministry of Justice spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that Foreign Minister Jack Straw had been in contact with Scotland’s justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, about a deal that would send Megrahi back to Libya.

Such a move could well make irrelevant a Scottish appeals court’s expected judgment that a “miscarriage of justice” occurred in the case.

Reopening the investigation to present evidence of an Iranian/Syrian connection to the Pan Am bombing would be extremely difficult if not impossible, in the view of all observers.

The commercial pressure against such a move would be extreme. Western oil companies are eager to develop Libya’s reserves.

How this will affect Libya’s stalled payments to relatives of the Lockerbie and LaBelle discotheque victims is unknown, but if past patterns hold true, they cannot be optimistic.

In July 2006, a lawyer for the LaBelle families was about to finalize a deal with Libya when the State Department announced its intention to take Libya off the terrorist list.

The deal evaporated, said attorney Thomas Fay.
“They had made an offer and we accepted and at their request had every client execute release of claims forms” he told me by e-mail late Friday.

“In short, we were not close to a deal, we had made the deal,” Fay said. “They just refused to pay when they came off the terrorist list.”

Jeff Stein can be reached at

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Al Kassar Appeal Rejected.

Spain's National Court rejects appeal by Syrian accused in U.S. of illegal arms deals.

MADRID, Spain (AP) - Spain's National Court on Thursday rejected a Syrian businessman's appeal against extradition to the United States where he is wanted on charges of plotting to supply weapons to Colombian rebels.

The court approved the extradition of Monzer al-Kassar in October but he appealed claiming the charges were of dubious legality, and the United States had racist and political motives in pursuing him.

Rejecting Al-Kassar's appeal, a panel of National Court judges said that he had been a known arms trafficker since the 1970s and had provided weapons to armed groups including Nicaragua, Brazil, Bosnia, Iran and Iraq.

"Some of these groups have been terrorist organizations ... whose aims have been to attack U.S properties and citizens," the panel ruled.

The final decision now lies with the Spanish governmentAccording to U.S. officials, undercover officers of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency arranged a fictitious deal with al-Kassar, convincing him they represented rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

They said they wanted to buy surface-to-air missile systems, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, thousands of machine guns and millions of rounds of ammunition for the group to take down U.S. helicopters aiding Colombia's battle against drug traffickers.

The U.S. indictment charges al-Kassar with conspiring to support terrorists, conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers, conspiring to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles and money laundering.Al-Kassar, a longtime resident of Spain, stood trial in Spain in 1995 on charges of supplying assault rifles used by Palestinian militants in the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, in which one American was killed. He was acquitted for lack of evidence.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Lockerbie -19th Anniversary.

Jim Swire's Letter to The Herald.

"International Criminal Court requires new powers to catch up with Terrorists."

This is the title of a letter published in The Herald on the 19th anniversary of the Lockerbie tragedy.

The Herald -
Angiolini rapped over Lockerbie file.
THE Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, was criticised by Scotland's senior judge yesterday over the appeal by the convicted Lockerbie bomber.

The spat between Mrs Angiolini, QC, and Lord Hamilton, the Lord Justice-General, centred on her failure to spell out clearly in written submissions her stance on the possible disclosure of confidential documents to lawyers for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, 55, the Libyan serving a life sentence for the 1988 bombing.
Earlier this year, Megrahi's case was referred to the appeal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which concluded he may have suffered a miscarriage of justice in being convicted of the murders of the 270 people who died when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie.
Published Date: 21 December 2007
Source: The Scotsman
Location: Scotland
Judge raps law chiefs for delays to Lockerbie document.
By Lucy Adams
The Herald article -

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Plus ça Change....

Today's second procedural hearing in Edinburgh in connection with the appeal of Megrahi has once again echoed the problems which have persistently plagued the investigation and the resulting trial for almost 19 years.

It is clear that the Crown prosecution team, and indeed the British government, are impervious to pleas, appeals, or reason in seeking justice - not just in the possibility an innocent man may have served nearly seven years wrongly incarcerated, but also for the victims and some family members, who after 19 years, are still finding the truth about their loved ones deaths elusive.

With the news yesterday that the British government has also committed to an agreement with Libya with regards to prisoner transfers, specifically with regards to Megrahi, it merely highlighted the lies and hypocrisy at the heart of the current New Labour Government.

Tony Blair had explicitly told, just before he was forced from office (ironically as the result of the lies in taking Britain to war in Iraq, the lies surrounding cash for honors, and the scuppering of an investigation into an arms deal with Saudi Arabia), the Scottish government, and the British public, that the prisoner transfer memo agreement under discussion with the Libyan government, had no bearing whatsoever on Megrahi's case.

7 June 2007 - "The memorandum of understanding agreed with the Libyan Government last week does not cover this (Megrahi) case."

19 Dec 2007 - "Jack Straw will be signing the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya tonight. Megrahi will not be listed in the treaty as somebody who is specifically excluded,"

The Judges have set the date 20th February in court to discuss further the matter regarding the 'document(s)' which the Crown are refusing to disclose at the behest of the Lord Advocate and the British government.

The same document which, when requested by the SCCRC, was duly disclosed without qualification, and clearly was recognised as having significant bearing on the conviction, but now the Crown prosecution team has proposed a Public Interest Immunity (PII), that restricts Megrahi's defence team from it's use as possible evidence in any appeal process.

If the government have nothing to hide, then why keep their hands behind their back?


From The Herald, Scotland.

Government blocks release of vital Lockerbie appeal document.

Herald article here -

Other articles on the hearing :

Prof. Robert Black Q.C. offers an in depth perspective on today's hearing -

Dr. Ludwig De Braeckeleer :

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crown Refuses To Reveal Secret Document

The Herald newspaper in Scotland reports that the Procedural Hearing to be heard on Thurday 20 December in relation to Al Megrahi's appeal, will discuss a secret document that Megrahi's Defence team have asked to be disclosed to the court, but currently only viewed and held by the Crown.

The Herald's Lucy Adams understands the Crown have refused to disclose the document, or documents, originating from a "foreign source", and this is understood to have resulted in the hearing on Thursday to discuss the matter further.

The SCCRC (Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission), in it's recommendation to send Megrahi's case to appeal in June this year had discovered the document(s) during their investigation.

Megrahi's team will lodge with the Judge, their full grounds for the appeal, on Friday.

The Herald Article -

If the Crown have viewed the document(s) and the SCCRC have either viewed or clearly know the contents of the document, I fail to see any possible valid reason for it to be withheld from Megrahi's defence team. Even in a closed private meeting between the three parties : the Crown, the Defence and the Judge

Surely it is the very least to be expected in any society wishing to uphold truth, fairness and justice?


Prof. Robert Black Q.C. offers his opinion on the newspaper report :

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Three Lords A Leaping.....To Conclusions.

Left to right, Lords Coulsfield, Sutherland and MacLean.

It deals only in passing with the defence submissions that the PLFP-Autumn Leaves gang may have been responsible for Lockerbie.

"We accept that there is a great deal of suspicion as to the actings of Abu Talb and his circle, but there is no evidence to indicate they had either the means or intention to destroy a civil aircraft in December 1988". (para 81)

No means, that is, beyond working with a bomb-maker (Khreesat) who specialised in disguising explosive devices in cassette recorders so they could be smuggled onto aircraft. No intention except visits to airports and the studying and hoarding of aircraft schedules, including those of Pan Am.

Where did the bomb suitcase first get on the plane? The judges worked their way carefully through the theory that a bomb suitcase was introduced at Luqa airport. The tight security arrangements at Luqa Airport, they conceded, "seem to make it extremely difficult for an unaccompanied and unidentified bag to be shipped on a flight out of Luqa."

After discussing the evidence of Maltese airport officials that it was impossible or highly unlikely that a bag could be introduced undetected at the check-in desks or in the baggage area or by approaching the loaders", the judges concluded : "If therefore the unaccompanied bag was launched from Luqa, the method by which that was done, is not established by the Crown. The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 is a major difficulty for the Crown case." (38)

There was no evidence that an unaccompanied bag went on the plane at Malta - but lo and behold there was, as far as the judges were concerned, plenty of evidence that a bag arrived from Malta at Frankfurt. The judges sailed happily past the defence objections to the accuracy of the documents in this matter.

There was, they agreed, some evidence that the suspect bag might have come from a flight from Damascus, and the records did suggest that an unaccompanied bag from Warsaw may have been coded in the system taking it to Pan Am 103A.
There may have been discrepancies in the times and numbers of bags arriving at the relevant coding stations, but some of these could be accounted for by figures relating to other flights and "the remaining discrepancy might be accounted for as late arrival luggage which, according to some of the evidence, might not go through the automated system."

What about the x-ray system at Frankfurt? Would that not have caught the Toshiba bomb, especially after the evidence of Kurt Maier, the x-ray operator, a careful and conscientious worker who had worked out a drill for spotting electronic equipment containing bombs? The judges thought not : "Mr Maier's description of what he looked for does not suggest that he would necessarily have claimed to be able to detect explosives hidden in a radio cassette player" (34). (Note the use of that useful word "necessarily")

All in all, the conclusion was emphatic : "None of the points made by the defence seems to us to cast doubt on the inference from the documents and other evidence that an unaccompanied bag from KM180 was transferred to and loaded onto PA 103A" (35).

What of the case, so carefully presented, by Mr Taylor that the bomb may have gone onto a plane for the first time at Heathrow, London?

The judges recited the evidence of the loader John Bedford, given to Police so soon after the bombing, that, after coming back from a tea-break, he discovered a "maroony brown Samsonite" case in the luggage container in which the explosion later occurred. He had not put it there himself. He said his colleague Sulkash Kamboj told him he had put the case there - but Kamboj denied it.

The judges fought their way through this contradiction by believing Bedford instead of Kamboj. But how did they deal with the powerful argument that a brown Samsonite case, of the type in which the explosion actually occurred, was put on the plane at Heathrow in a position extremely close to the place where the bomb eventually went off?
This, they reckoned, would have required re-arrangement of the luggage before it was finally loaded. "But if there was such a re-arrangement", they said, "the suitcase described by Mr Bedford might have been placed in some remote corner of the container." Note again the judicial "might" to provide an explanation for which there is no evidence at all.

True, the Samsonite case might have come from Malta via Frankfurt Airport. There is however, no evidence of a Samsonite at either place. But there was evidence of a Samsonite going in curious circumstances onto Pan Am 103 at Heathrow.

Finally, what had the Judges to say about the amazing coincidence that a bomb of the type normally made by the PFLP-GC would have been set of by an ice-cube timer, which would have exploded some 38 minutes after take off - and the bomb went off over Lockerbie exactly 38 minutes after take off? So impressed were the Judges by this coincidence that they did not refer to it at all.

They concluded that the Lockerbie bomb was not set off by an ice-cube timer, but by an MST-13 timer. The evidence for this came from the forensic scientists, Allen Fereday, Thomas Hayes and FBI's Thomas Thurman. In June 1990 a posse of Scottish detectives had been over to Washington to test Mr Thurmans theory that a fragment found from the Lockerbie debris looked like a circuit board of an MST-13.

The Judges noted the various difficulties that had arisen in the finding of the fragment. The overwriting of its label by DC Gilchrist was inexplicable. The policeman's explanation to the court, said the Judges, was "at worst evasive and at best confusing" (13). They noted, too, the re-pagination of notes by Dr Hayes from the moment he started to deal with the fragment, but dismissed this as "of no materiality".
Not material either, apparently, was the second four month delay until Mr Fereday sent the fragment to the Scottish Police. None of these things worried the judges.
"While it is unfortunate," they concluded, "that this particular item which turned out to be of major significance to this enquiry despite it's minuscule size may not initially have been given the same meticulous treatment as most other items, we are nevertheless satisfied that the fragment was extracted by Dr Hayes in May 1989 from the remnant of the Slalom shirt found by DC Gilchrist and DC McColm."

The fragment led to the MST-13 which led to Edwin Bollier, whom the Judges found a most unsatisfactory witness, prone at best to glaring contradictions and at worst delusions, fantasy and lies. Nevertheless the Judges concluded, Bollier had sold timers to the Libyan Military, had tested some of them in the Libyan desert, and had gone to Libya to sell the MST-13 timerS shortly before the Lockerbie bombing.
Mr Bollier, they noted, had also had business dealings with Abdelbasset Megrahi, the first accused, and had rented his firm an office in Zurich - though there was no evidence that he had met Megrahi on his visit to Libya in December 1988, still less that he had conveyed a timer to Megrahi there.
The Judges also conceded that Bollier had sold MST-13 timers to the former East German secret police (the Stasi), but concluded, nevertheless, that the Lockerbie bombing was of "Libyan origin".

The three main witnesses in the trial, the Judges concluded, were the grass Giaka, whose evidence they discounted, Bollier the timer salesman, most of whose evidence they discounted, and the only witness they found reliable, Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper.

Despite the dramatic shifts in Mr Gauci's identification of the man who bought the clothes that ended up in the bomb suitcase, the Judges responded warmly to him. They did not see anything significant in thefact that his first identification of Megrahi as the clothes buyer was in February 1991, more than two years after the bombing - during which time he had seen scores of police photographs and part-identified two Palestinians.

The Judges conceded that the difference between Gauci's original description of the man as six feet tall and 50 years of age and Megrahi's actual height and age (five feet eight inches, and 37 years of age) was "a substantial discrepancy" (68). But Gauci's indentification, they concluded, "entirely reliable".
In what must have been a novel interpretation of Scottish Law, they went further. "There are situations", they said, "where a careful witness who will not commit himself beyond saying that there is a close resemblance, can be regarded as more reliable and convincing in his identification than a witness who maintains that his identification is 100 per cent certain" (69).
On what date where the clothes bought from Mr Gauci's shop?
There was much more relaible evidence than that of Mr Gauci. From the outset, he told his
interrogators that it was raining on the day of the sale: that the man who bought the clothes noticed it was raining, and had bought an umbrella.

As he left the shop, he opened the umbrella, and walked down the road to pick-up a taxi. The question of the incidence of rain on various dates at Sliema preoccupied the trial for many hours.
To start with, there was no doubt, and it was not denied, that there was light rain in Sliema on the evening of Wednesday 23 November 1988. Major Mifsud, chief meteorologist ffrom Luqa Airport, told the court, "0.6 millimetres of rain is not that much so the cloud would not have been that thick, but it did give some rain, yes."
So the early recollection of Paul Gauci (Tony's brother and co-owner of the shop, Mary's House), and the evidence about the rain both pointed to 23 November as the day the clothes were bought, and this explained the early media reports, especially the Sunday Times, that the clothes were bought on the 23 November. No doubt this fitted nicely with the Police view that the main suspect, the man who bought the clothes, Abu Talb, was in Malta in late November, but not later.

But this evidence was no use at all to the prosecution of Megrahi, who was certainly not in Malta on 23 November. Was there any other day he was in Malta and could have bought the clothes?
Yes, he was staying in the Holiday Inn in Sliema on 7 December 1988. So the thrust of the prosecution inquiries about the sale of the clothes shifted from the 23 November to 7 December.
But, was it raining on 7 December?
At first glance, it wasn't. The police records for rainfall in Sliema on the 7 December showed a complete blank. The prosecution claimed that this was not decisive since the blank referred to the period from noon on the previous day (6 december) to noon on the 7th.
So it could still have been raining at the time the clothes were sold - at about 6.30pm on the 7th.
But was it?
The witness from Luqa, Major Mifsud, who gave evidence on 5 December 2000 was asked :
Q. Just confirm with me, please, apart from the trace of rain that we discussed that fell or was measured at 9.00am on Wednesday 7December, did any rain fall at Luqa?
A. No, no rain was recorded. No, no rain was recorded.
Q. Up to midnight?
A. Up to midnight.
Mr Mifsud estimated that Luqa is "about 5 kilometres as the crow flies from Sliema". Asked specifically about the 7 December between 6.00pm and 7.00pm, he stated, "We had no rain all right between 6 and 7 at Luqa, but I cannot exclude the possibility that there could have been a drop of rain here and there".
Later he was even more specific, "If you ask for a percentage, if I have to talk about percentage probability, I would say that 90 per cent that there was no rain, and the possibility of a few drops of rain 10 per cent." The "few drops" rather reluctantly conceded, would not be enough to wet the ground.

The records and expert evidence, therefore, were not absolutely conclusive on this important point, but most of them pointed embarrassingly away from the 7 December as to the date the clothes were bought.

"There is no doubt", said the Judges, "that the weather on 23 November would be wholly consistent with a light shower between 6.30pm and 7.00pm. While Major Mifsud's evidence was clear about the position at Luqa, he did not rule out the possibility of a light shower in Sliema.
Mr Gauci's recollection of the weather was that 'it started dripping - not raining heavily', or that there was at least a 'drizzle' and it only appeared to last for the time that the purchaser was away from the shop to get a taxi."

Then there was the conclusion. "Having carefully considered all the factors relating to this aspect we have reached the conclusion that the date of purchase was Wednesday December 7."

Among the factors not very carefully considered was that Major Mifsud had estimated the chances of rain at most at 10 per cent and that there was no rain at Luqa five kilometres away. Perhaps the factor most carefully considered was not meteorological at all - that Megrahi was not even in Malta on 23 November and therefore could not have bought the clothes on that date.

The conclusions followed swiftly.

Megrahi, though he was nothing like six feet and nowhere near fifty years old, had bought clothes and an umbrella to protect him from rain on a day it was most probably not raining. He was a business associate of Bollier, and had never bought any timers from him. There was no evidence at all that he had made the bomb, packed it in a case and put it on a plane at Malta, but he obviously had.

Paragraph 86 of the judgement starts: "We now turn to the case against the first accused", and quickly makes it clear that any evidence against the second accused, Fhimah, cannot apply to the first. There were then four paragraphs left.

The first starts with the observation that on the 15 June 1987, eighteen months before Lockerbie, Megrahi was issued with a false passport, which had been used on visits to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus.

Paragraph 88 of the Judgement deals with the identification of Megrahi by Tony Gauci.
"While recognising that this is not an unequivocal could be inferred that the first accused was the one who bought the clothing which surrounded the explosive device."
Naturally, "if he was the purchaser of this miscellaneous collection of garments, it is not difficult to infer that he too must have been aware of the purpose for which they were being bought".
Add this to the fact that he was "involved with Mr Bollier, albeit not specifically in connection with the MST timers" and had been in Malta on the 20th and 21st December 1988, and "it is possible to infer that this visit under a false name the night before the explosive device was planted at Luqa, followed by his departure for Tripoli the following morning at or about the time the device must have been planted, was a visit connected with the planting of the device."
That paragraph also contained a sound explanation as to why Megrahi had had a false passport: "he was a member of the JSO (Libyan Intelligence) occupying posts of fairly high rank."
Paragraph 89 opened with a curious disclaimer. "We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications. We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seems to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified."

Quickly abandoning their own precautions about these matters, the Judges concluded, unanimously, that the case against Megrahi "does fit into a real and convincing pattern. There is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused and accordingly we find him guilty."

There was, however, nothing remotely real or convincing (let alone any kind of pattern) in the case against Megrahi.

There was no evidence the bomb went on at Malta, still less that Megrahi put it there. All the other evidence against him - including the theory that the Lockerbie bomb was set off by an MST-13 timer, the vague nature of the Gauci identification over a period of ten years and the date the clothes were bought - were plagued by precisely the "uncertainties and qualifications" mentioned by the Judges.

The Judges, moreover, under Scottish law had the option of finding the case against Megrahi "not proven" - though in truth the only proper verdict was "not guilty."

In these circumstances the judgement and the verdict against Megrahi was perverse. The Judges brought shame and disgrace to all those who believed in Scottish Justice, and have added to Scottish law an injustice of the type which has often defaced the law in England. The verdict was a triumph for the CIA, but it did nothing to satisfy the demands of some of the families of those who died at Lockerbie - who still want to know how and why their loved ones were murdered.

In February 1990, a group of British relatives went to the American embassy in London for a meeting with seven members of the President's Commission on aviation security and terrorism. Martin Cadman remembers: "After we'd had our say, the meeting broke up and we moved towards the door. As we got there, I found myself talking to two members of the Commission - I think they were senetors. One of them said: 'Your government and our government know exactly what happened at Lockerbie. But they are not going to tell you'."

Nearly eleven years later, after a prolific waste of many millions of pounds and words, that is still the position.

(C) Paul Foot / Private Eye

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Megrahi - Second Procedural Hearing

A second procedural hearing for Mr. Megrahi is to take place on 20th December in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Megrahi's Grounds for a Second Appeal are due to be lodged by his defence the following day, next Friday 21st December - in an odd twist of fate, the 19th anniversary of the tragedy.

Full details are on Prof. Black's blog -

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Goben Memorandum?

Much has been made of a secret document that had been apparently seen by the Prosecution team during the original trial in 2000, but not revealed to the Defence team at Zeist.

In the weeks following the SCCRC decision to recommend the case for appeal, speculation, and indeed some quite definite assertions were made in the media as to this, or perhaps another document that was not revealed to the defence team, and this document's origin. It was assumed to be from either the US government itself, or one of it's agencies. However, the Defence team, led by Maggie Scott revealed at Megrahi's procedural hearing in October that the document they demanded was not from the US, nor any of it's agencies.

Since then, given the complex issues surrounding the case and plethora of foreign governments who have had an interest in the investigation, there has been little speculation from where the document might originate.

Is this the document Megrahi's Defence team are waiting for?

Private Eye magazine reported in 2001: Soon after FBI agent Edward Marshman had finished giving his evidence at Zeist in 2000, the trial was subject to a long delay.

The Prosecution team explained that they had had notice from a foreign government that more information might be available that would be relevent to the trial. The foreign government, it was revealed later, was Syria and the information was known as the Gober Memorandum, of which the full text was now in the hands of the government in Damascus.

Goben was the Palestinian "professor" based in Yugoslavia, who was said to have played a crucial part in the PLFP-GC/Iranian plot to blow up an American aircraft in revenge for the Iranian airbus wrecklessly shot from the skies by gung-ho USS captain over the Persian Gulf in July 1988.

On his death bed, it was rumoured that Goben has set out the entire 'Autumn Leaves' conspiracy. (The Autumn Leaves operation was carried out in Neuss, Germany in autumn 1988 by the BKA in which several arrests were made including Khreesat and Dalkamoni, and Toshiba radio's converted to bombs were confiscated)

He had since died and, after a few more weeks' delay to the trial at Zeist, the Syrian government made it clear that if there was any such memorandum, they had no intention of releasing it.


The Goben Memorandum -,,509150,00.html

FBI agent Edward Marshman at Zeist-

Megrahi Defence call for secret document -

Operation Autumn Leaves -

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Abu Nidal Behind Lockerbie, Says Aide

From CNN, August 23, 2002.

CAIRO, Egypt -- A former close aide to Abu Nidal has alleged the fugitive Palestinian terrorist was behind the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

In a series of interviews published in the Arabic Al Hayat newspaper, Atef Abu Bakr said Abu Nidal told a meeting his radical Fatah-Revolutionary Council was behind the explosion on Pan Am fight 103.

The claims come days after Abu Nidal was found dead in a hotel room in Iraq.
Abu Bakr is a former spokesman for the group and one of Abu Nidal's closest aides between 1985 and 1989 when he split with him over leadership of the organisation. Abu Bakr's whereabouts were not known.

"Abu Nidal told a... meeting of the Revolutionary Council leadership: I have very important and serious things to say. The reports that attribute Lockerbie to others are lies. We are behind it," Abu Bakr was quoted as saying in the interview to be published in the paper's Friday edition.
Abu Bakr did not say when the alleged meeting took place. The gathering was attended by five members of the council, including Abu Bakr and Abu Nidal.

'"If any one of you lets this out, I will kill him even if he was in his wife's arms,"' Abu Bakr quoting Abu Nidal as saying.
Ghassan Sharbal, al-Hayat's assistant editor who conducted the interview, said he spoke to Abu Bakr before Abu Nidal's death was announced this week. He refused to provide other details.
In March, a Scottish appeals court upheld the murder conviction of former Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi for multiple murder.

Al-Megrahi was jailed for life, with a minimum term of 20 years. A second Libyan, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.

The Libyan was convicted of murdering the 270 people killed when the New York-bound Pan Am flight exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.
Relatives of the Lockerbie victims renewed their calls for an independent inquiry into attack in light of Abu Bakr's remarks.

Jim Swire, a spokesman for families of British victims, said Nidal's possible involvement was "one more of the many questions which we feel absolutely demand an independent inquiry into Lockerbie."

British Labour MP Tam Dalyell is also calling for an inquiry into the possibility of a Nidal link to the Lockerbie bombing.

Dalyell, who has long argued that the Libyans were not responsible for the attack, said: "I understand that close associates of Nidal are now saying that he, and he alone, was responsible for Lockerbie.

"If these allegations are true they blow everything relating to Lockerbie out of the water, including the trial in Holland."

Earlier this week Iraqi secret services chief Taher Jalil Habbush told reporters that Nidal shot himself in the mouth as he was about to be arrested by Iraqi authorities for communicating with a foreign country.

Habbush said Nidal pulled out a revolver and shot himself after saying he wanted to change his clothes when Iraqi agents came to his Baghdad apartment to take him away.

Copyright 2002 CNN.

Abu Nidal -

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Chronical Telegram 22 December 1988 - pdf file.

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Post Script to Jim Swire...The Untold Story

From 1st July 2007:

Friday’s (Lesley) Riddoch Questions with Lockerbie relative leader Jim Swire was a pleasant case of déjà vu.

In 1994 when I was Asst Editor of the Scotsman, I took the decision to screen a film made by the late Alan Frankovich called the Maltese Double Cross. The film argued that Iran not Libya was behind the Lockerbie bombing and though it was meant to be screened by the London Film Festival, they dropped it after getting a legal challenge from….someone. This got me interested. Lockerbie was the biggest single act of terrorism on British soil and no-one wanted to screen a film trying to explain what happened.

A solid week followed with reporter Stephen Breen, working through the film frame by frame to answer the many, many reservations raised by the Scotsman’s lawyers. I booked an Edinburgh cinema, which discovered it was double-booked -- at the last minute. Happily, the Glasgow Film Theatre came to the rescue. Along with Jim Swire.

His daughter Flora was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 and earlier that day Jim had been at the Commons where Tam Dalyell showed Frankovich’s film in a private screening. He agreed to head to Glasgow the next day and to take the second tape of the film with him.

Unlike Tam, we were showing the film in public and could be sued for defamation if we put a foot wrong. We had several last minute edits ordered by the lawyers and there was no other way but Jim to get the film to Glasgow on time.

While Jim and Tam were at the Commons, the only other copy of the Maltese Double Cross was stolen in a burglary at a Birmingham Human Rights Office, which, as I recall, was also burned to the ground. Which left me feeling a trifle jumpy, heading for Glasgow with the first tape in a shopping bag, praying that Jim Swire would make it in time, with the second. Minutes before the start, with a cinema fill of hacks, spooks and humans, he appeared.

Exhausted but optimistic the film would raise questions, open doors, open minds…… And here he is again. 13 years later, looking not a day older with his wife Jane. Still hopeful that the true story of the Lockerbie bombing will emerge and quite convinced that Al Megrahi, the man convicted and given leave to appeal again this week, is actually innocent.

Like many other relatives, Jim and Jane hardly allow themselves to believe the guilty man or men will ever be found. But after the appeal they’ll press for an independent inquiry to find out what they really want to know. Why did the British authorities ignore all the warnings that caused other countries to take people off the flight from Heathrow.

I really hope we won’t all be gathering again in another 13 years time. But who knows?

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Time magazine and Coleman Rebuttal

Taken from the American Journalism Review, this article carries a firm rebuttal of the Time magazine article (Why Did They Die? (1992)) posted below, Juval Aviv who investigated on behalf of Pan Am and Lester Coleman the ex-DIA agent.

PanAm Scam

How two self-styled intelligence agents took the news media for a ride.
By Steven Emerson

Steven Emerson is a Washington, D.C. based reporter who writes frequently on U.S. intelligence and the Middle East. His most recent books are "Terrorist" and "The Fall of Pan Am 103."
Michael Schafer is a 39-year-old American who owns a floor cleaning company in Atlanta. In late April, he received a phone call notifying him that his photo was in the current issue of Time magazine. Schafer found a copy and began leafing through the cover story, "The Untold Story of Pan Am 103."

Near the bottom of page 31 was a passport-size photo. It was his picture. But the caption identified the person as "David Lovejoy, a reported double agent for the U.S. and Iran."
"I just couldn't believe what I was looking at," says Schafer. "There it was in front of millions and millions of people – Time magazine accusing me of being a terrorist!"

Time obviously screwed up. Publications, even ones as reputable as Time, make mistakes. But in this case, misidentifying Schafer was only one indication that something was amiss. More troubling was the article's reliance on self-described "intelligence operatives" who had already convinced a number of news organizations, including ABC, NBC and Barron's, as well as the now-defunct Pan American World Airways, that they knew the true story behind the December 1988 bombing.

Time not only ignored evidence that contradicted key elements of its story, but it also discounted information that disputed the credibility of its two main sources. The fact that both sources had a financial interest in the story should have made the magazine even more skeptical: They were paid consultants for Pan Am attorneys fighting a multimillion - dollar negligence claim by the victims' families, who alleged the airline's careless baggage handling allowed the tragedy to happen. If Time's sources were correct in their contention that U.S. undercover agents could have prevented the bombing, Pan Am probably would not be found liable.

The Time story and similar ones preceding it have been dismissed as baseless by U.S. and British officials who investigated the bombing. Nevertheless, Time editors insist their story is accurate. "We stand by this story as a good faith effort to explain the bombing," says John Stacks, Time's chief of correspondents. "This piece went through the same vetting procedure as all other articles."

The "Untold" Story

Time's April 27 cover story, written by veteran correspondent Roy Rowan, described a conspiracy involving U.S. agents of the CIA and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who allegedly collaborated, wittingly and unwittingly, in a Byzantine plot in which terrorists and drug traffickers bombed Pan Am 103 on December 22, 1988. It killed all 259 passengers and crew members as well as 11 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland, where the plane crashed.

The story, according to Rowan, goes like this:

• In the late 1980s the CIA operated a "freewheeling" unit in the Middle East, known as COREA, that trafficked in "drugs and arms in order to gain access to terrorist groups." The CIA and the DEA also was secretly cooperating with a Syrian drug trafficker and arms dealer named Monzer al-Kassar. In return for his help in obtaining the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon, COREA allowed al-Kassar to ship drugs to the United States on U.S. airlines. Meanwhile, the DEA was using al-Kassar's drug-smuggling ring in a sting operation designed to flush out drug dealers in Detroit, Los Angeles and Houston – cities with large Arab populations.

• At about the same time, Syrian terrorist Ahmed Jibril, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, was contracted by the Iranian government to avenge the downing of an Iranian Airbus by the U.S.S. Vincennes in July 1988. Jibril solicited and received al-Kassar's pledge to help by using his "CIA-assisted drug and arms business" to plant a bomb on an American plane. Al-Kassar was "reluctant" to get involved because he didn't want to disrupt his profitable smuggling operation, but he went along with the plan.

• Jibril had an additional motive for the bombing: He wanted to eliminate a U.S. "intelligence team" that was working on a plan to rescue American hostages in Beirut.
U.S. military intelligence official Charles "Tiny" McKee, who had been stationed in Beirut to collect information on the whereabouts of American hostages, learned of the CIA's secret COREA unit. McKee had complained to the CIA about COREA's ties to al-Kassar, but the agency had failed to respond. Furious at the agency's silence, McKee and four other U.S. intelligence operatives "decided to fly back to Virginia unannounced and expose the COREA unit's secret deal with al-Kassar."

Tehran found out about McKee's plans from an American double agent named David Lovejoy, "a one-time State Department security officer." Armed with this information, Jibril's group was able to target McKee and the other officials who had flown from Cyprus to London, where they changed planes, boarding Pan Am 103. To do this, the terrorists – with al-Kassar's assistance – switched a suitcase containing a bomb for a suitcase containing drugs and loaded it onto Pan Am 103 in Frankfurt. The plane picked up the McKee team and others in London.

• Al-Kassar wasn't involved in selecting the target or the date of the bombing. But after an Israeli agent warned German and U.S. intelligence agents about a terrorist attack on a U.S. airliner leaving Frankfurt "on or about December 18," al-Kassar – "playing both sides of the fence" – told COREA that Pan Am 103 was Jibril's "most likely target." The CIA could have foiled the plot, but, as one purported source charged, the agency "knew about it and screwed up."

The Mistold Story

In 1990 the independent President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism examined the same allegations – initially raised in 1989 – and found "no foundation for speculation in press accounts that U.S. government officials had participated tacitly or otherwise in any supposed operation at Frankurt Airport having anything to do with the sabotage of Flight 103." More recently, officials at the Justice Department, FBI and DEA have called the Time story – and the stories by ABC, NBC and others that preceded it – fabrications. And the findings of the U.S.-British Pan Am 103 investigation – the most comprehensive counterterrorist probe in history – completely contradict the Time cover story. The bombing inquiry included hundreds of investigators who spent three years on the case, conducting more than 14,000 interviews in 53 countries.

Initially the investigators concluded that Syria and Iran were responsible. But in the summer of 1990 the investigation took a dramatic turn, and in November 1991 the U.S. Justice Department obtained the indictments of two Libyan intelligence agents, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, on charges they conspired to bomb the plane.

According to the indictments and other government and airline records, a remnant from a microchip in the bomb's timer identified in mid-1990 showed that the timer was one of many acquired by Libyan intelligence operatives and that the suitcase containing the bomb was loaded onto an Air Malta flight and transferred twice : at Frankfurt Airport onto a Boeing 727 with the Pan Am 103 flight number, and again onto a Boeing 747, also called Pan Am 103, at London's Heathrow Airport. According to U.S. officials, the evidence was further buttressed by a Libyan government agent who defected to the United States last year.

The indictments generated some controversy, leading several critics to charge that the U.S. government might be engaged in a cover-up. Some victims' families alleged that the indictments of the Libyans – and the fact that no Syrians were named – were a reward for Syria's involvement in the Desert Storm campaign and an attempt to persuade Syria to help win the release of American hostages. President Bush rushed to claim that the indictments exonerated Syria. "Syria took a bum rap on this," he told reporters.

Time exploited this controversy to advance a radically different explanation for the bombing, one that was being promoted by, among others, an ex-Israeli named Juval Aviv.
In fact, Time's investigation appears to be drawn largely from a report assembled by Aviv, now a U.S. citizen. Aviv is president of Interfor, a New York-based international security firm hired by Pan Am's attorneys in June 1989 to build a case to defend the airline from negligence charges.

Less than three months after Pan Am hired Aviv, he "solved" the mystery of who carried out the bombing. Claiming to have collected information from his own sources – none of whom he would identify – Aviv assembled a 26-page report and later made it available to the press. Two-and-a-half-years later he would give a longer version to Time. A line-by-line reading of Rowan's article and the updated Aviv report shows that Rowan repeated many of its most controversial allegations.

When carefully scrutinized, Aviv's report turns out to be a mixture of unsubstantiated declarations, previously reported arcane facts, and widely known information (such as the fact that passenger Khalid Jaffar initially was considered a suspect in carrying the bomb aboard the plane in Frankfurt) – all woven together in a tapestry of demonstrably false and largely uncorroborated theory. Aviv even asserts that German intelligence agents gave the CIA a videotape of the bomb being put aboard the plane. He claimed to have seen the video and promised reporters he would obtain a copy – a promise he has never kept.

Equally problematic is Aviv's background, which is decidedly different than what he told Pan Am and the press. Aviv says he worked for the Mossad, Israel's secret service. He also has claimed that he was personally responsible for tracking down and killing the Palestinian terrorists who massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Rowan acknowledges that "Israeli and U.S. intelligence sources deny Aviv was ever associated with Mossad," but does not challenge further Aviv's background and repeats Aviv's claim that he was a Mossad agent.
Staff members of the the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism checked Aviv's background and concluded that he had "fabricated" his credentials.

The commission also had received a May 1990 report from Yigal Carmon, Israel's top counterterrorism official, which states that Aviv "never worked for the intelligence community of the State of Israel" and that the only connection he had to security work was a job he held as a "junior security officer" for the Israeli airline El Al. He was fired in April 1974 after less than 18 months work for being "unreliable and dishonest." Aviv, the report further notes, "has been involved during the years (after being dismissed from El-Al) in various acts of fraud and impersonation."

Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA's Pan Am 103 investigation, says Aviv was never in Israeli intelligence and that "none of his allegations have any basis in fact. He's a fabricator and a scam artist." Aviv refused to be interviewed for this article.

The Observer Weighs In

Because his report lacked substantiation, Aviv might have been ignored by the media except for one development: Once Pan Am received his report in October 1989, its lawyers issued subpoenas to the CIA, DEA, FBI and other government agencies. The detailed descriptions in the subpoenas reiterated Aviv's claims.

To some journalists, the fact that Pan Am had issued subpoenas seemed to legitimize the charges. Within weeks, the combination of the subpoenas and the "leak" of Aviv's report resulted in a spate of headlines in Britain and the United States.

In response, the U.S. Senate and House intelligence committees asked for briefings from the CIA, FBI and Pentagon about Aviv's charges. In a series of classified briefings in November and December 1989, CIA and FBI officials told the committees there was no substance to the allegations.

The first journalists to report critically on the Aviv report were John Merritt and Simon de Bruxelles of the London-based Observer. In November 1989, Merritt began to scrutinize the few allegations that were subject to independent verification.

Merritt and de Bruxelles went over the report with painstaking detail. For example, Aviv had alleged that terrorist-drug trafficker al-Kassar had rented a car from a Paris car rental agency on November 25, 1988, and driven it to Frankfurt and back. But Merritt obtained the rental agency's records and found that no car rented at that time logged enough miles to cover such a trip.

The Observer reporters also found that COREA – which Aviv (and later ABC, NBC and Time) claimed was a CIA unit or operation – was in fact the "designated code word for communications [among an official] group of police, customs, and intelligence services cooperating in Europe" on terrorism and violence. The group, TREVI, has an office in Brussels. Despite Merritt's findings, Aviv's misrepresentation of COREA as a renegade intelligence unit would be repeated by the media for the next two-and-a-half years.

Merritt also found that Aviv's report contained passages about European law enforcement surveillance of al-Kassar that were similar to those in an obscure 1984 German nonfiction book ("Der Pate Der Terroriste" by Manfred Mohrstein) that has never been translated into English.
"Aviv had pieced together known events and facts together in a wild conspiracy," Merritt says. "He's never been in the Mossad."

The Retold Story

The Aviv conspiracy story died down until late October 1990, when a slightly newer version was broadcast as the lead news item on NBC and ABC evening and morning news shows. Instead of blaming the CIA for allowing the tragedy to happen, the two networks shifted the spotlight to the DEA.

NBC's Brian Ross reported that terrorists may have infiltrated a DEA undercover drug sting in which a 20-year-old passenger with dual Lebanese-U.S. citizenship, Khalid Jaffar, had been working as an informant and courier for U.S. agents. NBC reported that terrorists had secretly switched a suitcase containing a bomb for Jaffar's suitcase, which contained heroin. NBC said the name of the DEA Beirut-Cyprus-Frankfurt-Detroit drug operation was "Courier." ABC's Pierre Salinger reported the same allegation, but said the DEA drug operation was called "Corea" and was discontinued two months before the bombing. Salinger also suggested the DEA was involved in a cover-up. Despite competitive pressures, CBS refused to air the story.

Ira Silverman, Ross' producer at NBC, says the network's story was triggered by the fact that DEA was "calling in their own people – sources and subsources – to determine for themselves whether DEA operations were connected to the bombing." He says that he and Ross were concerned that DEA may have lost control of some of its informants, who may have been providing terrorists information about DEA sting operations.

Salinger says he stands by his story. "The fact that there was a drug operation in Frankfurt and in Cyprus was verified and the fact that the drug operation was called off a month before the Pan Am 103 bombing also has been verified," he says. However, Salinger acknowledges, "There is no proof of the connection between the drug operation and the bombing."

Besieged by inquiries from the press and Congress – which announced it would hold hearings – the DEA accelerated its investigation. Within a week the agency reviewed every file from the previous five years and sent inquiries to its agents overseas. The evidence collected by the DEA – and independently confirmed by the FBI – showed that the allegations reported by NBC and ABC were baseless.

The DEA produced a 350-page classified report in November 1990, released information to reporters, and then sent agency officials to testify in open congressional hearings in mid-December. According to the agency, there was no DEA operation or unit named "Corea," "Courier" or anything similar to that name. Passenger Jaffar had never been used as an informant or subsource, and no DEA office or agent ever had any contact with him. According to FBI and Scotland Yard forensic analyses, Jaffar's two pieces of luggage showed no signs of explosives or drugs – a conclusion publicly confirmed by Scotland's Fatal Accident Inquiry Board. (If one of Jaffar's bags had been "switched" after checking in, then that bag would have remained in Frankfurt. But both of his bags were accounted for.) Finally, there had been no "controlled deliveries" of drugs or sting operations through Cyprus or Frankfurt since 1987. There had been three controlled deliveries through Frankfurt between 1983 and 1987, but none involved Pan Am planes.

Still, some journalists were not convinced. In its December 17, 1990 issue, Barron's published a lengthy article reporting virtually everything in the Aviv report. The conspiracy theory would not die.

A New Source

The reports by NBC and ABC were also based on information from a new player in the conspiracy story: Lester Coleman. Coleman, who said he was a top operative for both the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), an arm of the Pentagon, and the DEA in the Middle East, had been hired by Pan Am in mid-1990 to assist in the Pan Am 103 investigation.
To journalists and Pan Am attorneys, Coleman was a dream come true. He said he was willing to talk about everything he knew – including a purported DEA sting operation that he believed led to the bombing of Pan Am 103. Coleman alleged that passenger Jaffar was one of his "informants" who served as a U.S. courier from Lebanon via the Frankfurt Airport as part of a DEA-sanctioned sting operation.

Conspiracy supporters claimed that Coleman's allegations independently corroborated Aviv's story. But, in fact, Coleman had teamed up with Aviv earlier in 1990 after reading about Aviv's investigation. An internal November 1990 DEA memo reported that Aviv told a DEA agent that Coleman had contacted him several months before and that "Coleman was approaching different people offering to sell information about the Pan Am 103 bombing." Journalists who were in regular contact with Coleman also confirmed that he collaborated with Aviv. By the time NBC and ABC interviewed Coleman, he had worked out his story with Aviv.

Coleman also was a principal source for Time's cover story a year-and-a-half later. Rowan reported Coleman's allegations as facts, repeating his description of himself as a top DIA agent working undercover for the DEA in Cyprus and intimately involved in covert "controlled drug operations" for the U.S. government. Calling Coleman Pan Am's "key witness," Rowan wrote that Coleman "spotted a newspaper picture of one of the Pan Am victims" and recognized him as one of his "drug-running informants" from Lebanon – Khalid Jaffar. Coleman, said Rowan, then contacted Pan Am.

Rowan quoted a source who suggested that Coleman was arrested in May 1990 in the United States on "trumped-up charges" in order to keep him quiet. Coleman, Rowan wrote, is now "hiding in fear of his life in a small town in Europe." In fact, Coleman fled the United States rather than stand trial after his arrest for passport fraud.

The charge of passport fraud is a minor indication that Coleman may not be completely honest. DEA documents, court records and interviews with journalists and government officials show him to be someone who operated at the periphery of U.S. government agencies but repeatedly exaggerated his work and involvement in anti-terrorist and anti-drug operations.

Rather than serving as an agent, DEA files state that Coleman was a freelance journalist in the Middle East who also worked as a U.S. informant. Coleman is married to a Lebanese woman, and therefore has an identity card that allowed him to move freely in and out of Lebanon.

An internal DEA memo states the agency hired Coleman on January 31, 1986 as a "confidential informant" in Cyprus for a 10-month period and again between February 1987 and June 1988. He was hired, according to the memo, after he "offered to video record the opium/cannabis production in Lebanon." But in June 1988, Coleman was "deactivated" by the DEA for "unsatisfactory behavior," which included selling DEA information illegally to Soldier of Fortune magazine and "obtaining goods and services" on Cyprus under "false pretenses." Coleman's file at DEA states that he had been "caught up in a quagmire of fabrications with DEA, the Cyprus Police Force and his] subsources and other associates in Cyprus."

To bolster Coleman's credibility, Rowan reported that Micheal Hurley, DEA's country attaché in Cyprus, "admitted in a Justice Department affidavit that he had paid Coleman $74,000 for information." But Rowan omitted nearly everything else in Hurley's detailed nine-page affidavit. Hurley stated flatly that there was no substance to Coleman's assertions and that Coleman had misrepresented his activities, bounced checks to subsources, and had been banned from Cyprus for failing to pay his bills.

Furthermore, Rowan didn't contact Hurley. Had he done so, Hurley says he would have provided him with a transcript of a tape-recorded telephone call between Coleman and a friend in which Coleman admitted that he never met Pan Am 103 passenger Jaffar – whom Coleman had identified as "one of his drug-running informants" to Time, NBC and ABC.

Besides U.S. government agencies, several journalists also have discovered Coleman has credibility problems. For example, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters Ron Martz and Lloyd M. Burchette Jr. went to Cyprus in 1988 to do research for a story on drug trafficking and terrorism. They hired Coleman as a consultant.

"Les promised to provide us access to all sorts of people and it's clear that he had greatly exaggerated his contacts," Martz says. "We soon found out what the Cypriot police already knew: He was a wannabe, scurrying around on the fringes... He was a great fabricator; he had a great ability to spin a yarn. I'm embarrassed to say that he even convinced me."

Burchette, now a screenwriter, recalls that Coleman continuously ran up hotel and telephone bills without delivering on any of his promises. "We were suckered," he says. "Coleman was a first-rate liar."

Following his arrest for passport fraud in May 1990, Coleman unsuccessfully tried to get DEA officials to quash the case against him. Embittered both by his termination from DEA and by the agency's refusal to protect him, Coleman apparently sought revenge, in particular against DEA agent Hurley, who had fired him. Revenge – in the form of the phony Pan Am story – would prove to be financially rewarding as well.

In a telephone conversation with Burchette in November 1990, Coleman said that he had provided information to ABC and NBC and that Pan Am was paying him for his information. "Coleman was snickering that he had pulled the wool over the networks' eyes," Burchette recalls. "He even admitted to me that he didn't know who Khalid Jaffar was." Coleman had just told ABC and NBC – and they reported – that Jaffar was a drug courier for the DEA.
The two networks were the first of many media outlets to be misled by Coleman over the next year. For example, in the Sunday (London) Times on July 22, 1991, Coleman's assertions – ranging from his claims about being an intelligence agent to his allegations about a drug sting aboard Pan Am 103 – were again reported uncritically.

The payoff for Coleman, who along with Aviv was working for Pan Am, has been significant. The two men have been paid tens of thousands of dollars by Pan Am's attorneys, according to officials close to the case. Pan Am's law firm, Windels, Marx, Davies & Ives, would not comment.
Having conned journalists about their inside knowledge of the bombing of Pan Am 103, Aviv and Coleman began plugging into other conspiracies fanned by various American reporters. INSLAW, a small company that alleges the Justice Department stole computer software from it, retained Aviv as an investigator. Prominent television shows such as "Nightline" and "60 Minutes" also have used Aviv as a consultant. Meanwhile, Coleman provided INSLAW with an affidavit claiming he has evidence linking the DEA, the Iran-contra scandal, the BCCI scandal and the INSLAW affair.

Like Aviv, Coleman refused to be interviewed for this article.

More Problems

Aside from its acceptance of Aviv and Coleman's allegations, Rowan's story had a number of other half-truths, misstatements and omissions. Among them:

• Rowan reported that in January 1990, Aviv, a Pan Am attorney and a "polygraph specialist" administered lie detector tests to two Frankfurt Airport Pan Am baggage handlers suspected of allowing the bomb on board. Rowan reported that both men had flunked their tests and that the polygraph specialist said one was "not truthful" when he denied that he switched suitcases.
Rowan neglected to point out that all of the court rulings in the Pan Am 103 case, in addition to FBI and Scotland Yard investigators, have dismissed as totally baseless allegations that the baggage handlers had anything to do with the bombing.

• Rowan also reported that the terrorists got the bomb aboard Pan Am 103 because they knew in advance which flight the targeted intelligence agents would be taking. In fact, at least three of the agents made their travel arrangements within 48 hours of the flight. Moreover, the agents flew from Cyprus to London. Rowan never explained how or why terrorists would place a bomb on a plane in Frankfurt in order to target agents travelling on a different route. Moreover, Rowan failed to report that the first leg of Pan Am 103's flight from Frankfurt to London was on a Boeing 727. In London, 49 out of the 125 passengers transferred to a Boeing 747 – also called Pan Am 103 – bound for New York. It was the second plane that blew up over Lockerbie.
U.S. and British investigators concluded that the fact that McKee and four other U.S. intelligence agents were aboard Pan Am 103 was a tragic coincidence.

• Time did not reveal a potential conflict of interest. Aviv, a key source for Time's Pan Am story, had been working on a project with Rowan for Time's sister company, Warner Books. The publishing company had paid "seed money" to Rowan and Aviv to explore the possibility of the two collaborating on a book about Aviv's life, according to Rowan and Nancy Neiman, a Warner Books executive vice president. Rowan says he could not substantiate enough of Aviv's biography to warrant the project, so he returned the unused portion of the money he had received. Aviv, however, did not return his unused portion, according to sources at Time. Neiman would not comment.

Time Chief of Correspondents Stacks said the Warner deal was completely separate from Time. "Time did not pay Aviv anything," he said. "This wasn't checkbook journalism."

The Lawsuit

The civil lawsuit pitting the victims' families against Pan Am's insurers was scheduled to begin last spring. The Aviv-Coleman conspiracy theory – essentially Pan Am's defense – would be put to the test. The stakes were enormous: If the jury found that the airline's security program had been negligent, Pan Am's insurers would be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars. Pan Am itself had gone bankrupt in January 1991 and went out of business last December.
The Time cover story appeared a week before the opening of the trial on April 27. Much of Rowan's story was taken from court records and exhibits filed by Pan Am's attorneys before the trial, which included material supporting the Aviv-Coleman allegations. But Pan Am's attorneys never introduced their "key witness" Coleman, Aviv, or the allegation that terrorists infiltrating a CIA-DEA drug sting.

According to sources familiar with the defense strategy, Pan Am's attorneys began having doubts about Aviv and Coleman two years ago. Even so, they went along with the conspiracy story because it was their only hope of winning the case. But when the defense attorneys apparently realized that their prize witnesses and their story would be torn to shreds under cross examination, they withdrew the witnesses. Even so, the Aviv-Coleman story showed up on the cover of Time just one week before the trial.

Rowan's story was not the first time allegations similar to those outlined in the Aviv report surfaced just before judicial proceedings on the bombing. As David Leppard, author of "On the Trail of Terror," a book on the bombing, pointed out in an article he wrote for the Washington Post in late April, Time's "untold story of Pan Am 103" "appeared twice before under similar circumstances... In autumn 1989, in the midst of evidence-taking in Frankfurt that proved highly critical of Pan Am, the story surfaced in the British and U.S. media. A year later, on the eve of the 1990 inquiry in Scotland, an identical item was reported on NBC-TV."

Two days after the Time story appeared, attorneys for the victims' families, in a letter to the court, charged that Pan Am's attorneys were trying to sow confusion in an effort to influence the 550-member jury pool. In the letter, lead attorney Lee Kreindler stated that "false information..appears to have been given to Time by the defendants."

Nevertheless, the strategy didn't work. On July 11, a jury found Pan Am liable for "willful misconduct" in its sloppy baggage handling that allowed the bomb on Pan Am 103.

False Accusation

Time's Rowan stands by his story. He says he independently confirmed the substance of his article and cites the fact that other "stories had also reported these things."
He says Aviv and Coleman correctly identified COREA as a secret CIA unit dealing with drugs and weapons. "I buy the notion that COREA was a rogue unit," he says. "I have talked to another intelligence agent. But I can't tell you his name."

As for the other allegations in his article, Rowan says, "I only used from Aviv what I could corroborate from another source. There were a lot of things in his report that I could not substantiate and I did not report them. In the case of Coleman, I used things for which I had documentation either from him or from other sources. A lot of people in the government would like to discredit Coleman. I haven't found anything that he told me that was proven wrong.
"We made one mistake in identifying [Schafer as] Lovejoy," he acknowledges, "but that wasn't Coleman's error."

Michael Schafer and his attorney complained to Time about the false accusation. Time acknowledged in a one-paragraph "correction" four weeks after the Pan Am story was published that the photo was actually that of Schafer and stated it "regrets that Schafer's photograph was used in error." Time said that the photo was "identified in court documents as being of David Lovejoy, a reported double agent for the U.S. and Iran." But how did the photo get into the court records?

Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Burchette believes the picture was given to Pan Am by Coleman, who had worked with Schafer when the latter was a cameraman for the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in Lebanon in 1985. Burchette recalls that one day in May 1988 in Cyprus, Coleman showed him a letter of identification stating that Michael Schafer "is a representative of CBN News assigned to the Beirut bureau." It included a photo of Schafer – the same photo Time said was "David Lovejoy" – and was signed by Coleman, who was a CBN senior correspondent at the time. A copy of this letter of identification shows that the photo of Schafer and that of "Lovejoy" are exactly the same.

"Coleman never thought the picture would ever end up in Time," says Burchette. "He just thought that Pan Am would buy it and that would be it."

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