Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2010, Pages 30-31

Special Report

Taking Another Look at the Destruction of Pan Am 103

By Andrew I. Killgore

A memorial to the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 in a garden of remembrance near the village of Lockerbie in southwest Scotland. (AFP photo/Paul Ellis)

“By way of deception, shalt thou wage war.”
—The motto of Mossad.

IN FEBRUARY 1986 Israeli Mossad operatives installed a “Trojan” communications device on the top floor of an apartment house in Tripoli, Libya. The six-foot-long device was able to receive messages on one frequency and automatically rebroadcast the same message on a different frequency—in this case, one used by the government of Libya.

Israeli naval commandos arriving in miniature submarines in the middle of the night had delivered the Trojan, only seven inches in diameter, to the lone Mossad agent in Tripoli, who drove a rented van to their rendezvous point on a deserted beach outside Tripoli. The agent, along with four of the commandos, then took the Trojan to an apartment building in the Libyan capital where he had rented the top floor, and installed the device. By March the Trojan was broadcasting a series of “terrorist” orders to Libyan embassies around the world.

These messages were picked up by Spain, France and the United States. Thinking it odd that normally cautious Libya suddenly would become so careless, France and Spain took them to be fake. The U.S., however, accepted the broadcasts as real—especially since Washington was assured by Israel that they were indeed genuine.

The foregoing account is taken from The Other Side of Deception, the second of two books written by former Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky after he left Israel’s foreign intelligence service.

Less than two months after the Trojan was installed, on April 5, 1986, the La Belle nightclub in then-West Berlin was bombed, killing two American soldiers and a Turkish woman. At the same time a false “success” signal was sent, apparently from the device in Tripoli.

“False-flagged” by Israel, President Ronald Reagan on April 14 sent American bombers from Britain and from U.S. aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean to strike Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 101 people, including the adopted young daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi when his house in Tripoli was bombed.

Operation Trojan was one of Mossad’s “great successes,” Ostrovsky wrote. By ingenious sleight of hand it had made an oil-rich and noncompliant Arab state look bad, and enhanced Mossad’s prestige and image of power—at the cost of its “ally,” the United States.

Clearly the imaginative and ruthless Mossad officers in Tel Aviv were proud of their success in tricking Washington. Would they not have been enthusiastic about the prospect of doing so again, thereby further exacerbating tensions between Washington and the Arab world? As soon as Pan Am Flight 103 crashed at Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988, Mossad could see the opportunity to repeat its earlier success.

The proximity in time between the Lockerbie crash and the shooting down by the USS Vincennes on July 3 of that year of an Iran Air passenger plane over the Persian Gulf, with the loss of 290 lives, presented a perfect “revenge” scenario. That, clearly, was the initial premise of the investigators at Lockerbie. Dr. Robert Black, professor of criminal law at Edinburgh University in Scotland, told this writer that, for the first two years following the Pan Am crash, investigators were focused on Iran as having hired Ahmad Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”“General Command to carry out a retaliatory bombing.

In a Jan. 28, 2009 article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, however, the late Russell Warren Howe cited the book Giddeon’s Spies by Gordon Thomas. Thomas quotes a Mossad source as saying, “Within hours after the [Pan Am 103] crash Mossad’s LAP [psychological warfare or disinformation] staff were working their media contacts, urging them to blame and publicize that ”˜Libya-did-it.’”

They could have blamed Iran, of course, but that would have gone against the Israeli grain. Iran was a large, non-Arab Muslim nation—and, as such, always of potential benefit to an Israel heavily outnumbered by the Arabs. Israel had even “done business” with the Islamic Republic a few years earlier, in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair. It’s also possible, of course, that the Israelis know Iran was not the guilty party.

An Unwelcome Surprise

The perpetrators of the crime against the passengers and crew of Pan Am Flight 103 had intended that it crash at sea, leaving no physical evidence and no bodies to tell the tale. But turbulent weather over Heathrow Airport had led the pilot of the giant Boeing 747 to steer slightly more northward than usual, so the plane was still over land when it crashed at Lockerbie, Scotland.

The criminals thus had to think fast. A fragment from the alleged bomb trigger device was “found” several days after the crash. However, as the BBC program “Newsnight” reported on Jan. 8 of this year, tests aimed at reproducing the blast indicated that no such fragment would have survived the mid-air explosion. The “evidence,” moreover, was placed in a sack which was labeled in a certain way—but the label was subsequently changed by an unknown person, causing suspicion that evidence was being altered. As Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the crash, has written: “Coming from a scientific educational background, I found that it was the forensic evidence at [the trial at Camp] Zeist...which first convinced me that the prosecution case was a fabrication.”

Another astonishing factor was that the Crown (the prosecutors) ignored evidence of a break-in of the Pan Am luggage area at Heathrow early in the morning of that fatal December day. One wonders whether Pan Am had been alerted to security problems at Heathrow by Isaac Yeffet, the former head of security at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, where security is airtight. In an article in the March 1989 issue of the now-defunct Life magazine entitled “The Next Bomb,” Edward Barnes wrote, “in 1986 Yeffet was part of a team commissioned by Pan Am to survey 25 of its branches around the world...Yeffet now runs a security consulting business in New Jersey.”

Dr. Swire, who has described the Court’s conviction of Megrahi as “a cock and bull story,” is not alone in his skepticism. Hans Köehler, the U.N. observer at the trial, has described the verdict as “incomprehensible,” and Dr. Robert Black has denounced the guilty verdict in equally dismissive language.

Thus the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 remains a mystery. If two years of investigating Iran produced no evidence, and the evidence used to convict Megrahi was fake, who was responsible for the horrific crime?

Andrew I. Killgore is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.