Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2001, page 17
Did Libya Really Destroy Pan Am 103? Or Is There a Cover-Up?
By Andrew I. Killgore
The destruction of Pan Am Airways Flight 103 was designed to be “The Perfect Crime.” Bearing 269 passengers and a hidden explosive device, the Boeing 747 would pull away from London’s Heathrow Airport on Dec. 21, 1988, gradually tend north and west on its usual great circle route as the shortest distance between London and New York. The flight could be expected to be well out over the Atlantic within 35 minutes.
The fates, however, decreed no. Gale-force winds vexed the skies over London that day and the pilot, looking to get “above the tempests,” guided the ill-starred “Maid of the Seas” more northward. Thus, 38 minutes after takeoff, the plane was over Lockerbie, Scotland when it exploded, killing all 269 passengers, most of them Americans, and 11 persons on the ground.
The turmoil in the skies over Britain that day has reverberated ever since in confusing and contradictory developments relating to the tragedy. It is as if the conspirators, terrified that evidence on the ground in Scotland eventually would point to them, have been able to manipulate such a level of misinformation and misdirection that the truth forever would be concealed.
Dr. Robert Black, professor of criminal law at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and mastermind of the unique judicial arrangement for trying the two Libyan defendants under Scottish law in the Netherlands, has told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, that the investigatory evidence brought to his attention during the first two and a half years after the Lockerbie crash had not pointed to Libya at all. Rather, the focus of suspicion seemed to be Ahmad Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
Dr. Black had favored, before too much time had passed, some kind of trial to achieve closure. In 1991, however, pressure to concentrate the investigation on Libya became so intense that, Black believes, only the governments of the U.S. and Britain could have been behind it.
What exactly is the Libya connection? The answer to that question may lead to the real beginning of the Lockerbie disaster.
In February 1986, according toformer Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky in his book The Other Side of Deception—one of two revealing books he has written since leaving Mossad—Israel planted a communications device called “the Trojan” in the top floor of an apartment house in Tripoli, Libya. The device could receive messages broadcast by Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, on one frequency and automatically relay them on a different frequency used by the Libyan government.
Evidence during the first years after the crash had not pointed to Libya at all.
The Trojan soon seemed to be broadcasting a series of terrorist orders to various Libyan embassies. Spanish and French intelligence picked up the broadcasts and concluded they were fake. The United States, encouraged by its “ally,” Israel—which knew the broadcasts were Mossad disinformation—concluded that they were genuine.
Only a few weeks after the Trojan broadcasts began, the La Belle DiscothÃ¨que in West Berlin was bombed, killing two American soldiers and a Turkish woman. Assuming that Libya had bombed La Belle, a club frequented by U.S. soldiers, President Ronald Reagan sent planes from England and from U.S. aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean to bomb the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. More than 100 Libyans were killed, including Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s adopted young daughter.
In describing the Israeli deception that eventually led to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Ostrovsky is careful not to point to Israel as the real perpetrator of the La Belle bombing. But his sequence of events—the planting of Trojan in Tripoli, its fake “Libyan” terrorist broadcasts, followed by the bombing of the La Belle nightclub known to be frequented by American soldiers—means that one cannot dismiss the possibility that Israeli agents may have bombed La Belle. Israel’s always fixed motive of making bad blood between the U.S. and the Arab and Muslim worlds—and its history of setting up Libya, going back to the nonexistent “hit squads”—certainly would have been well served.
Climaxing the “Libya did it” scenarios was the Jan. 31, 2001 conviction by a Scottish tribunal at Camp Zeist, an old American military base near Amsterdam, the Netherlands, of Abdel Basset Ali Mohammad Megrahi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for destroying Pan Am Flight 103. In an unusual and puzzling decision, Megrahi’s co-defendant, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted. The decision satisfied no one, particularly as the three judges’ unanimous 75-page opinion all but demanded a “not proven” rather than the “guilty” verdict.
A Paucity of Trial Coverage
A notable aspect of the Lockerbie trial itself was the paucity of press coverage about it, at least in the American media. In contrast, in the lead up to the trial much was made of “key witness” Abdul Majid Giaka, a defector from the Libyan intelligence service. Pre-trial American news accounts left the impression that Giaka would nail down the “Libya-did-it” theory: that the bomb was put aboard as unaccompanied air baggage in Valletta, Malta, flown to Frankfurt, Germany, offloaded onto yet another plane to London and then put aboard the ill-fated Pan Am flight.
A basic reason for the widespread doubt about Megrahi’s guilt is that Giaka was a flop on the witness stand. American FBI agent Harold M. Hendershot, brought to the witness stand to bolster Giaka’s testimony, also lacked credibility. A poignant moment on a BBC television broadcast following Giaka’s unpersuasive testimony, heard by the reporting officer, was a question redolent of doubt by a middle aged American (from his accent), “I wonder who killed our relatives?”
A development that called into question the integrity of the Lockerbie trial only emerged in the media after the trial was over. It was reported that American intelligence agents were in the courtroom when Abdul Majid Giaka was questioned. The Americans conferred with Giaka before he replied, leaving the impression with some trial observers that the witness was being “coached.” Jane Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the Pan Am 103 crash, was quoted in the April 9, 2001 Birmingham (U.K.) Post that the presence of the intelligence agents was “a little disturbing.”
Probably the biggest reason for questioning the “Libya-did-it” scenario is the improbability that terrorists looking to bring down a London-to-New York flight would resort to the complicated Malta-Frankfurt-London-New York sequence, with its requirement that baggage containing a bomb be transferred off one plane and onto two others. Common sense dictates that placing the bomb on the plane in London, where the flight originated, would be much simpler and less risky. The Malta scenario does have the advantage, however, of implicating nearby Libya and its leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Despite Megrahi’s conviction, therefore, his guilt is viewed with widespread doubt, linked to the conviction that the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103 was put aboard the flight in London. Dr. Robert Black has told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, that he holds this view, as does Dr. Jim Swire, spokesman for the relatives of British nationals killed in the crash, and the father of Flora. Dr. Swire told this writer that the British nationals for whom he is spokesman share his conviction that the bomb originated in London.
Jim Swire is a remarkable man. An engineer specializing in explosives, he was an officer in the British Army. He then decided to change directions, studied medicine and became a practicing physician. Swire does not accept as credible some of the Lockerbie trial’s technical details about the explosives that brought down Pan Am 103.
Swire’s technical expertise and quiet determination as a father who lost his daughter to pursue the Pan Am 103 tragedy may yet trip up the real criminals who thought they would carry out the perfect crime. Had they succeeded, based on the sequence of events initiated by Mossad/ Trojan, Libya indeed would have seemed the guilty party.
Nearing the End of the Trail?
At last, however, investigators following the trail that may lead to the real criminals who destroyed Pan Am 103—or others on a trail leading nowhere—may be nearing its end. The Financial Times of Oct. 16 reported that the appeal by a woman who lost her sister at Lockerbie for “increased scrutiny of the intelligence agencies’ role in the tragedy,” had been rejected, not by the three-man lower court but by the five-judge appeal court which will begin hearing Megrahi’s appeal on Jan. 23, 2002.
Professor Black told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, that the court of appeal would not easily overrule its fellow Scots on the lower court. If new evidence not heard by the lower court should be presented, however, the higher court would be less likely automatically to uphold Megrahi’s conviction. The same Financial Times item says that a security guard at Heathrow Airport is ready to testify that Pan Am’s baggage area at Heathrow was broken into hours before the doomed Flight 103 took off. This would be entirely new evidence.
Further evidence, although not entirely new, from the first trial, will question the credibility of a Maltese shopkeeper who identified Megrahi as having purchased certain clothing found in the wreckage on a particular day in Valletta, Malta. British newspaper articles, including one last spring by Professor Black, argue that, if he was describing Megrahi, the shopkeeper was wrong about a critical date and extremely inaccurate in his description of the purchaser. Yet the lower court somehow found, to Professor Black’s astonishment, the shopkeeper’s inaccurate description to be an indictment of the Libyan.
By a strange coincidence of timing, on Oct. 31, as this article was being written, an article appeared in The Washington Times about one Isaac Yeffet, the former chief of security for the Israeli airline, El Al, whose record of tight security precautions at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport is touted as being unequaled. Yeffet was quoted as advising against federalizing 28,000 baggage screeners at American airports.
In an article in the now defunct Life magazine entitled “The Next Bomb,” (date unknown, but obviously not earlier than 1986) Edward Barnes reports, “From 1978 to 1984 Isaac Yeffet, 56, was director of security for El Al...in 1986 Yeffet was part of a team commissioned by Pan Am to survey 25 of their branches around the world....Yeffet now runs a security consulting business in New Jersey.”
Yeffet may have been successful in maintaining perfect security for El Al at Ben-Gurion Airport. But his efforts at Heathrow Airport in London, one of the airports he surveyed for Pan Am, and to which he and his employees had full rein, failed to save Pan Am Flight 103.
Yeffet’s professional expertise, combined with his knowledge of Pan Am security procedures and vulnerabilites, would seem to make him a compelling expert witness for the defense at the upcoming Lockerbie appeal trial. ❑
Andrew I. Killgore is the publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, on Middle East Affairs.