Monday, 5 November 2018

Kenneth Roy: 26 March 1945 - 5 November 2018

I am saddened to learn of the death today of Kenneth Roy. As editor of the Scottish Review he wrote many articles about the Lockerbie case and the disgraceful conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, as well as publishing contributions by other Megrahi campaigners, such as Robert Forrester, Morag Kerr, John Ashton and James Robertson. A selection of these pieces can be found here. Although the Justice for Megrahi campaign and Ken Roy had occasional spats (he was a prickly character), his support for Megrahi and his advocacy of the case for the conviction to be overturned were unwavering.

At Ken's invitation, I spoke about the Lockerbie case on several occasions in the Young Scotland Programme organised by the Institute of Contemporary Scotland which Ken had set up. And on a memorable occasion in 2011, I shared a platform with him at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. A recording of our conversation, chaired by Iain Anderson, can be found here. Scotland has too few journalists of the calibre of Kenneth Roy. I shall miss him.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Air Malta wins out-of-court settlement over Lockerbie programme

[This is the headline over a report published on this date in 1993 in the Maltese newspaper The Times. It reads as follows:]

Air Malta has won an out-of-court settlement from an independent British television company over a programme it felt implied negligence on its part in the 1988 Lockerbie Pan Am airliner bombing, lawyers for the Maltese carrier said yesterday.

Granada Television agreed to pay Air Malta Company Limited £15,005 to settle the dispute in connection with a dramatised documentary Why Lockerbie? About the bombing of the Pan American World Airways Boeing 747 over Scotland in which 270 people were killed.

The payment was made without any admission of liability, Air Malta’s lawyers said in a statement.

Air Malta had objected to a reconstruction of how the bomb might have been smuggled into the international airline system. The dramatized segment showed an Arab checking the bag on to an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt.

The Pan Am flight from London to New York, carrying some passengers who had travelled from Frankfurt, was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988. Two suspected Libyan intelligence agents have been accused of carrying out the attack but Tripoli has not handed them over for trial.

[RB: Granada was compelled to settle because there was no credible evidence that the bomb started from Luqa Airport in Malta. The judges at the Zeist trial held that it had done so. What follows is my published comment at the time of the verdict:]

The trial judges held it proved that the bomb was contained in a piece of unaccompanied baggage which was transported on Air Malta flight KM 180 from Luqa to Frankfurt on 21 December 1988, and was then carried on a feeder flight to Heathrow where Pan Am flight 103 was loaded from empty. The evidence supporting the finding that there was such a piece of unaccompanied baggage was a computer printout which could be interpreted to indicate that a piece of baggage went through the particular luggage coding station at Frankfurt Airport used for baggage from KM 180, and was routed towards the feeder flight to Heathrow, at a time consistent with its having been offloaded from KM 180. Against this, the evidence from Luqa Airport in Malta (whose baggage reconciliation and security systems were proven to be, by international standards, very effective) was to the effect that there was no unaccompanied bag on that flight to Frankfurt. All luggage on that flight was accounted for. The number of bags loaded into the hold matched the number of bags checked in (and subsequently collected) by the passengers on the aircraft. The court nevertheless held it proved that there had been a piece of unaccompanied baggage on flight KM 180.

[RB: Dr Morag Kerr has since, in her book Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies, conclusively established that the bomb suitcase started its fatal progress at Heathrow Airport, not Luqa.]

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Lockerbie: Three decades on but still a tragic lack of justice

[This is the headline over an article by Campbell Gunn published yesterday on the website of The Press and Journal. It reads in part:]

Only one person, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, has ever been convicted of taking part in the bombing. He was later released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government and has since died. Many involved in the investigation believe that even if he was involved it was in a minor role. The result is that there has been no justice for those killed and no closure for the relatives of the victims.

I have a personal interest in the case. On the night of the bombing, I was the newly-appointed chief reporter of a newspaper office in Edinburgh. When word came through that a plane had crashed in the Borders – that was the original belief – I rounded up two colleagues, and the three of us headed for the incident.

I have to confess that we used some subterfuge to get near the town, as the motorway was closed and there were long tail-backs on the approach roads. Even from a few miles distant, however, the smell of burning fuel was heavy in the air, and in the distance, we could see a glow in the sky. Police officers were obviously tied up in the town, and it was left to an AA man to direct traffic away from the motorway. I showed him my press card and lied to him that the police had told us to come this way. He waved us onto the motorway with a warning, “Drive south on the northbound carriageway. There shouldn’t be anything coming the other way, but put on full beam just in case…”

The result was that a few minutes later we were standing gazing into what looked like the bowels of hell, on the edge of the huge crater at the side of the motorway where the fuel-laden wings had landed, exploded and were still burning. The rest of the night was spent speaking to witnesses, attending press conferences in the town and sending regular updates to head office from a telephone box – no mobiles in those days, remember – before heading home at seven in the morning.

Lockerbie then became a major part of my journalistic life, as I followed the events of the subsequent years. I attended the press conference where the then Lord Advocate announced the charges against Megrahi and his co-accused Khalifa Fhimah, I was at Camp Zeist in Holland when the two accused flew in for trial, and I was at Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s press conference when he announced he was to release Megrahi.

In between these events were a number of interesting asides. I knew the late MP Tam Dalyell, who campaigned long and vociferously that Megrahi was innocent. On one occasion, after there were reports in the American media containing details of documents relevant to the inquiry which were available under US freedom of information, but which we were unable to see in Scotland, I asked Tam if there was anyone he knew who could help. “Why don’t you call the US embassy and ask for John Doe,” he said. Even at this distance in time I’m reluctant to disclose the real name he gave me. I asked who this was. “His official title is First Secretary at the US embassy. His real job is head of the CIA in Europe. No-one knows more about the Lockerbie bombing investigation.”

I called the embassy, was put through to the man in question and he asked to see me before answering any questions. Next day I was in London facing the head of the CIA for Europe. He obviously wanted to check out that I was a real journalist and that my interest in Lockerbie was genuine. After a long chat he agreed to arrange for all these documents to be forwarded to me from the US State Department. They were the source of a number of stories in the subsequent weeks.

Additionally, it appears I was also put on a US Government list of “interested journalists”, as every time a documentary on Lockerbie was due to be screened on TV, I would receive a press release from Washington rebutting the claims the programme was expected to make.

When the Lockerbie media storm begins again in a few weeks, I’ll be able to reflect on my own coverage of the event and its consequences. Most importantly, I’ll reflect on the fact that not one of the main players in the attack, whether in Iran, Syria or Libya, has ever been brought to justice. Nor at this distance in time are they ever likely to face a criminal court in Scotland.

And that is a tragedy for the Scottish, UK and American justice systems.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Lockerbie cited in proposal for international court in Khashoggi case

[The following are excerpts from an article by Geoffrey Robertson QC headlined Only an international court can bring Khashoggi’s killers to justice published in today's edition of The Guardian:]

The slaying of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a barbaric act, ordered and carried out by barbarians. It cried out for justice – which means, inevitably, a trial. Yet all the British government is demanding is an “investigation” – by the same Saudi state that spent 17 days lying about its responsibility and is still offering unbelievable excuses for the murder. Any Saudi investigation would, at most, offer up a few scapegoats who would be subjected to a secretive procedure and in reality punished for their incompetence rather than their guilt.

But this was an international crime that took place in breach of United Nations conventions in the precincts of a consulate enjoying inviolability under international law. It involved the silencing of a US-based journalist for exercising the right of freedom of speech – a right also belonging to all his potential readers, and guaranteed under every international human rights convention. It was an action by a UN member state that threatens peace and security and it should be taken up by the UN security council, which has acted before to set up tribunals to deal with similar atrocities – the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, for example, and the Lockerbie bombing. (...)

[RB: The Lockerbie court was a Scottish, not an international, court; nor was it "set up" by the UN Security Council, though that body instructed all UN members to cooperate with it.  The court was set up by a treaty between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.]

There are enough precedents for the security council, under its chapter VII power, to act so as to avoid international conflict, to set up a court to research and punish the carefully planned assassination of a journalist in a member state by agents of another member state. There are plenty of experienced judges available who have dealt with atrocities in the Balkans, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and prosecutors well qualified for mounting cases of international crimes. The Turkish authorities have ample evidence against the immediate perpetrators and western and Israeli intelligence agencies can undoubtedly supplement what is already known about the Saudi chain of command. 

[RB: I am highly sceptical about the legality of resorting to Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression) to deal with criminal acts committed by states against individuals. If Libya's World Court actions against the UK and the USA had not been abandoned after the Lockerbie trial, this issue might have been ventilated under the powers of judicial review of the legality of Security Council acts that the World Court looked likely to assume.]

Continuing pressure from the security council and orders by the court, backed by sanctions against powerful Saudis (preventing them from travelling to Europe or using schools and health services), trade boycotts and sanctions, and threats of diplomatic isolation, could force the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to send suspects to The Hague, as it forced Gaddafi to cooperate over Lockerbie, and to disclose evidence that, when analysed together with other evidence, might lead a chief prosecutor to include him in the charge sheet – at least as an “unindicted co-conspirator”. Only an international legal process can establish with any credibility whether Bin Salman actually gave the lethal order, or perhaps said in the manner of King Henry II: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”

Monday, 22 October 2018

Pik's Lockerbie mystery

[This is the headline over an article published on 20 October 2018 in South Africa's Saturday Star newspaper by retired Kwazulu-Natal High Court judge Chris Nicholson. The following are excerpts:]

On January 11, 1989 [South African foreign minister Pik] Botha travelled to Stockholm in Sweden with other foreign dignitaries – including UN Secretary-general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar – for the funeral of the UN’S Commissioner for South-west Africa, Bernt Carlsson. Botha was interviewed by Sue Macgregor on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and alleged that he and a 22-strong South African delegation, who were booked to fly from London to New York on December 21, 1988, had been targeted by the ANC. However, having been alerted to these ANC plans to kill him, Botha said he managed to outsmart them by taking the earlier Pan Am Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK Airport, New York.

Despite having the knowledge, the question remains why he did not tell the airline security and alert the other passengers that their deaths were going to follow in a few minutes. Is there any other conclusion but that Botha was happy for them to go to their deaths?

The notion that Botha was warned is bolstered by statements made by Oswald Le Winter, who worked for the CIA from 1968 to 1985, and Tiny Rowland in the 1994 film The Maltese Double Cross. This film was made by Allan Francovich, who later died under suspicious circumstances.

In the film Le Winter quotes Rowland as disclosing that Botha had told him he and 22 South African delegates were going to New York for the Namibian Independence Ratification Ceremony and were all booked on the Pan Am Flight 103. They were given a warning from a source which could not be ignored and changed flights. The source revealed by Le Winter is the SA Bureau for State Security (BOSS), which he claims had close contacts with Israeli intelligence and the CIA.

The grave misgivings of the public about this tragedy persuaded a relative of a victim to write to retired South African MP Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party, asking him to make enquiries on the South African side. On June 5, 1996, Eglin asked Justice Minister Dullah Omar in Parliament if Pik Botha and his entourage “had any plans to travel on this flight (Pan Am Flight 103) or had reservations for this flight; if so, why were the plans changed?” In reply on June 12, 1996, Omar stated he had been informed by Botha that shortly before finalising their booking arrangements for travel from Heathrow to New York, they learnt of an earlier flight from London to New York, namely, Pan Am Flight 101. They were booked and travelled on this flight to New York.

Eglin wrote back on July 18, 1996, and added: “Since then I have done some more informal prodding. This has led me to the person who made the reservations on behalf of the South African foreign minister Pik Botha and his entourage. This person assures me that he and no one else was responsible for the reservations, and the reservation made in South Africa for the South African group was originally made on PA 101, departing London at 11:00 on 21 December 1988. It was never made on PA 103 and consequently was never changed. He made the reservation on PA 101 because it was the most convenient flight connecting with South African Airways Flight SA 234 arriving at Heathrow at 07:20 on 21 December 1988.”

Eglin gave the victim’s family the assurance that he had “every reason to trust the person referred to” as he had been given a copy of “rough working notes and extracts from his personal diary of those days”. In his letter Eglin wrote: “In the circumstances, I have to accept that an assertion that the reservations of the South African group were either made or changed as a result of warnings that might have been received is not correct.”

Could the “rough working notes” and the “personal diary of those days” have been fabricated to save Pik Botha’s skin from a most embarrassing and possibly criminal act? Two years before Eglin asked the questions in Parliament, Botha was contacted by the press and his replies were reported on a Reuters Textline of November 12, 1994, under the heading “South African Minister denies knowing of Lockerbie Bomb”.

The article said: “Former foreign minister Pik Botha denied on Saturday he had been aware in advance of a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. The minister confirmed through his spokesman that he and his party had been booked on the ill-fated airliner but switched flights after arriving early in London from Johannesburg.”

There is further confirmation of the fabrication from other sources. On November 12, 1994, Botha’s spokesperson, Gerrit Pretorius, told Reuters that Botha and 22 South African negotiators, including Defence Minister Magnus Malan and Foreign Affairs director Neil van Heerden, had been booked on Pan Am Flight 103. He said “the flight from Johannesburg arrived early in London and the embassy got us on to an earlier flight. Had we been on Pan Am Flight 103 the impact on South Africa and the region would have been massive. It happened on the eve of the signing of the tripartite agreements,” said Pretorius, referring to pacts signed at the UN headquarters on December 22, 1988, which ended South African and Cuban involvement in Angola, and which led to Namibian independence.

Another statement by Pretorius was in appallingly bad taste: “The minister is flattered by the allegation of near-omniscience.” Pretorius goes on to explain again how the change had come about. “But we… got to London an hour early and the embassy got us on an earlier flight. When we got to JFK (airport) a contemporary of mine said, ‘Thank God you weren’t on 103. It crashed over Lockerbie’.”

There is further confirmation of the change of flight from another spokesperson for Pik Botha. “Had he known of the bomb, no force on Earth would have stopped him from seeing to it that Flight 103 with its deadly cargo would not have left the airport,” his spokesperson Roland Darroll told Reuters after consulting the minister.

Theresa Papenfus has written a hagiography of Botha and his times, which gives a further version of the events of that fateful night. Papenfus says: “A former member of staff related that there had been a hitch in the travel arrangements. The SAA flight took off from Johannesburg for London on 20 December 1988… I was concerned with the travel arrangements to New York. Because Pik preferred Frankfurt Airport to Heathrow, the party was booked on (Pan Am) Flight 103 from Frankfurt via London to New York.”

This conflicts diametrically with the statement that there never was a booking on Flight 103. Papenfus goes on to say: “It was the third scheduled daily transatlantic flight from London to John F Kennedy Airport in New York. But this schedule would have interfered with affairs of the heart. The official had a fiancée in London and he simply had to see her. He arranged for the delegation to take an earlier flight, from Johannesburg to London and then from London to New York.”

The official who changed the bookings was clearly with Botha. Papenfus says: “Once they arrived at New York the official had to attend to the usual administrative duties of ministerial staff. While the ministers were being whisked away from the airport in cars their baggage had to be collected and their passports stamped. Through the glass panels he could see people showing signs of hysteria. Some were crying, others screaming and a few were lying on the ground. ‘Americans!’ he muttered to himself. Then he was told by a member of the secret service that the Boeing on Pan Am Flight 103 had crashed. This was the flight on which the South African delegation had originally been booked.”

Papenfus admits a further intriguing detail: “In response to enquiries the Department of Foreign Affairs initially officially denied that seats had ever been booked for the ministerial party on Pan Am Flight 103. They said that the bookings had been on Flight 101 right from the beginning.” Papenfus concludes: “The tragedy claimed the life of the UN’S Commissioner for South West Africa, Mr Bernt Carlsson of Sweden. He was supposed to have been present at the signing of the agreements.”

The question remains whether he was not the real target of those who put the bomb on Pan Am 103.

[RB: Further treatment on this blog of the Pik Botha story can be found here.] 

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Lockerbie trial was a parody of justice

[This is the headline over a letter from Dr Jim Swire published in today's Scottish edition of the Mail on Sunday. It reads as follows:]

Thank you for publishing Douglas Boyd’s analysis of the Lockerbie case last week.

I am the father of Flora Swire, who was murdered on the aircraft in 1988, and I attended the subsequent trial of Libyan Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.

By the end I was convinced that we had witnessed a parody of justice. There were many deficiencies in the evidence, and those of us who have sought the truth have been further frustrated by the Government and Scottish High Court.

It has become clear to us that the trial was designed not to convict those responsible, but to further the wishes of the US and UK governments.

We agree with Douglas Boyd that the available evidence points to an Iranian decision to get revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian plane with 290 souls aboard.

In our sad search we have also uncovered material showing that the Government of the day had ample accurate warnings in advance of what was about to happen, but raised not a finger to prevent it happening.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Compensation could be sought for Megrahi's imprisonment

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined Lockerbie Convict's Family Demands Acquittal Following New Evidence in Case that was published today on the website of the Saudi-owned Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat:]

The family of Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi demanded compensation for the period he spent in prison after new claims emerged that Iran may have been behind the 1988 downing of the US airplane in Lockerbie. [RB: (a) These are not new claims, but have been common currency for very many years; (b) the only evidence at the Zeist trial that Megrahi was an intelligence officer came from the CIA asset Majid Giaka whose testimony, except on this one point, was dismissed by the judges as utterly incredible.]

The Daily Mail published excerpts of a book by US author Douglas Boyd where he charged that Iran was behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. (...)

[Megrahi] was released from jail in 2009 on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in 2012.

Lawyer Ghada Abdelbaset al-Megrahi demanded on behalf of her family compensation for each hour her father spent in British prisons.

Ahmad Hamza, of Libya's National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), said Boyd's book may have leaked facts and information that acquit Libya’s former regime and condemn Iran. [RB: The articles that have so far appeared have produced no new facts or information. Whether the book itself does so will be seen only once it is published later this month.]

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian regime adopts policies and practices that target the safety and stability of the West, United States and Arab countries. 

He said that the Libyan authorities can seek compensation from the international judiciary for the damage caused to the country over the Lockerbie case.

The official authorities in Libya had yet to comment on Boyd’s allegations, but many political and judicial circles have been demanding that the truth be revealed in the case.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Lockerbie has dealt with the atrocity with grace and dignity

[What follows is the text of a speech made by Christine Grahame MSP during the debate in the Scottish Parliament on 2 October 2018 on the motion Cycle to Syracuse to mark the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster:]

I declare an interest as a member of the Justice for Megrahi campaign. I congratulate Oliver Mundell on securing the debate and welcome his so-called Syracuse team to the gallery.

It is important to recall that dreadful night nearly 30 years ago, with the deaths of so many people. They included the young students who will be commemorated on the cycle journey. Their lives ended tragically, but now the cyclists are taking the journey to the destination that those students never reached. We are also reminded of the 11 Lockerbie residents who died that night, and the actions of the professionals who, through their sensitivity and kindness, then and over the years, have created a bond across the ocean between the families of those who were killed that night.

Lockerbie, like Aberfan before it and Dunblane, never wanted to be in the headlines for being a graveyard for so many, but it has dealt with the atrocity with grace and dignity. It should not have been Lockerbie, of course. The delay to flight 103 meant that the bomb, which was probably intended to detonate over the sea without evidential trace, did so over acres of bleak winter Scottish countryside.

Although I have nothing but admiration for the Lockerbie community, I feel that no line can be drawn under that night until the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is finally and fully tried on a last appeal. Members will recall that a second appeal on a referral from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission was abandoned by Megrahi. In my view, that was to secure his transfer from Greenock to Libya to be with his family as he succumbed to terminal cancer. The evidence has not been heard to this day.

I met him three times, and he made it clear at our last meeting that it was not for himself but for his family that he wished his name to be cleared. He did not want the name “Megrahi” to forever be part of the Lockerbie atrocity. At this moment, a third application for review, which has been lodged by his family, is in process with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. I have been told by the SCCRC that the application has passed stage 1; in other words, the commission has accepted his reasons for abandoning the second appeal—in other words, because he thought that would help to secure his release. The process is now at stage 2; that is, the substance of the grounds for a new appeal are being considered. The commission hopes to report by summer 2019.

In the meantime, yet to be completed and sent to the Crown Office is the separate police-led Sandwood inquiry into the actions at the time of police, prosecutors and forensic officials. The inquiry, which is investigating claims of attempts to pervert the course of justice prior to the Camp Zeist trial, started in 2014. Pronouncements have been made on its imminent conclusion, which has been much postponed. Although the SCCRC could conclude its findings without that report, I have no doubt that it would be difficult for it to fully conclude without it. Sandwood’s—to be kind—slow progress is cause for concern, because 30 years on, justice delayed is justice denied for the people of Lockerbie, the Syracuse students, every other one of the 270 who died and their families and friends—and, perhaps, even the Megrahi family.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

How the whole world was sold a monstrous lie over Lockerbie

[This is part of the headline over a long article published in today's edition of the Mail on Sunday. The article, which advances the familiar proposition that responsibility for the Lockerbie atrocity rests with the PFLP-GC acting on behalf of Iran, is condensed from a forthcoming book Lockerbie: The Truth by Douglas Boyd which is due to be published on 11 October 2018. The following are a few paragraphs from the Mail on Sunday article:]

With a loss of 259 lives on board and 11 more on the ground, the destruction of Maid of the Seas, blown up by a terrorist bomb on December 21, 1988, was the worst civil aviation disaster in British history. Yet 30 years later, we still do not officially know who is responsible for mass murder high in the air above a small Scottish market town preparing for Christmas.

There was, of course, a fall guy. Eleven years after the atrocity, a 47-year-old Libyan Arab Airlines security officer called Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted on a tissue of lies which centred on the evidence of a Maltese shopkeeper who claimed to remember him buying clothes similar to those that may have been in the suitcase with the bomb that would rip through the fuselage.

A low-level Libyan CIA ‘asset’ called Abdul Majid Giaka said he recalled seeing al-Megrahi collect a brown Samsonite suitcase from the Arrivals carousel in Malta’s Luqa airport on December 20, 1988. On the following morning, he alleged, the unaccompanied suitcase was loaded on to a flight to Frankfurt, from where it would be transferred to London on a Pan Am ‘feeder flight’ and loaded aboard Flight 103 – before then exploding.

A further 11 years later, al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment at an extraordinary trial held in a disused American air base near Utrecht, Holland.

After years investigating the Lockerbie disaster and its background, I have found that little of the evidence against him can be taken at face value. Instead, a very different story has emerged from the morass of lies, one that should have been apparent from the very start.

It is a story of incompetence, vengeance, political expediency and then a cover-up orchestrated from the very highest levels in London and in Washington – where the real bomber is said to live today, under the cover of an American witness protection scheme.

[RB: The "real bomber" is said by the author to be Basel Bushnaq, alias Abu Elias. This is not by any means a new claim. Indeed Bushnaq was named by Christine Grahame MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 2 September 2009 (Official Report, columns 19051 to 19053). There is lots about him to be found here on The Lockerbie Divide website.]

Monday, 24 September 2018

Salisbury Incident — Skripal case investigators could learn from the Lockerbie affair

[This is the headline over an article published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website, to which resort should be made for important accompanying references and links. The article reads in part:]

“The men and women at Bletchley had no idea that in the Napoleonic Wars we had broken the French ciphers, any more than those people knew how ciphers had been cracked when we faced the threat from the Armada.

There was absolutely no question of learning from experience. This repeats itself more in intelligence than in any other area because the experience is less well known, and much of it classified. That is why you get major policymakers whose abilities are adequate in other ways who do so badly in matters of intelligence.

There is no profession that know so little about its own history as the intelligence community does.”

Professor Christopher Andrew — Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History

There is no do doubt whatsoever that Intelligence professionals should have a much better knowledge of their history as, now and then, they could use a few hints from past cases. (...)

The comments from Professor Andrew are not without irony. Ten years ago, I wrote to a British scholar who specializes in the history of MI5. I strongly suggested to this professor that it was urgent to save all information regarding the Lockerbie Affair. The reply was direct. “There is no need for that. Nobody, absolutely nobody, cares about this old story.”

Well, never mind that the SCCRC has decided last year to conduct a full review of the Lockerbie case. A new trial is widely expected to quash the infamous Zeist verdict.

Today, although I am certainly not an expert in the Skripals investigation, I would like to tell you about two striking similarities between this case and the Lockerbie affair. (...)

The Smell Test

LOCKERBIE — For many months, a Germany-based terrorist cell was the prime focus of the Lockerbie investigators. Marwan Khreesat — the bomb maker of this organisation — had built five explosive devices. One was hidden inside a Toshiba cassette-recorder similar to the one that allegedly destroyed Pan Am 103.

According to Intelligence reports, Khreesat, Dalkamoni — the leader of the cell in Germany — and Ahmed Jibril — the head of the PFLP-GC — had repeated discussions about various methods to cover the smell of SEMTEX, the explosive used in these five radio-bombs as well as in the attack of Pan Am 103.

These events occurred in October 1988 and Pan Am 103 was downed on December 21 1988. At that time, only one company produced SEMTEX and terrorists like it very much because it was odourless. Chemicals were added after 1991 to give SEMTEX a distinct smell.

One of the first questions addressed to Dalkamoni after his arrest by the German police at the end of October 1988 was if he knew what SEMTEX smells like. He was quite surprised. “Who do you take me for? I am an explosive professional. I know everything about explosives. Of course, SEMTEX is odourless.”

Today, we know that Khreesat was a CIA mole. Why did he made up all these stories about the smell of SEMTEX? Thirty years later, we still do not know.

SALISBURY — According to UK media, Charlie Rowley mentioned that the perfume that killed his girlfriend had an odd ammonia-type smell. Again, Novichok, like all nerve agents, is both tasteless and odourless.

And if you try to spin the story, you quickly run into troubles. Sure, ingredients could have been added. But, we have been told all along that the samples match exactly the Russian ‘secret’ formula.

The Mystery of the Residue Analysis

SALISBURY — According to the official press release:

“On 4 May 2018, tests were carried out in the hotel room where the suspects had stayed. A number of samples were tested at DSTL at Porton Down. Two swabs showed contamination of Novichok at levels below that which would cause concern for public health.

A decision was made to take further samples from the room as a precautionary measure, including in the same areas originally tested, and all results came back negative. We believe the first process of taking swabs removed the contamination, so low were the traces of Novichok in the room.”

So, we must accept that residues of Novichok were present in the hotel room for two months, and then disappeared because of a couple of swabs? How often do they clean a hotel room in East London, where the “suspects” stayed before travelling to Salisbury?

LOCKERBIE — The Lockerbie trial statistics are impressive. The trial amassed 10,232 pages of evidence amounting to more than 3m words. The court was shown 2,488 pieces of evidence and heard 229 prosecution witnesses. The trial cost £60m.

One would therefore safely conclude that the evidence of SEMTEX in the bombing of Pan Am 103 is well established. One would be wrong! None of the important fragments — radio, timer and pieces of clothing surrounding the device — were actually tested for explosive residues.

Only one piece of debris (a beam from the luggage container) — out of 4 million pieces collected — indicated the presence of SEMTEX. When I first saw these data, I immediately understood that something was badly wrong.

The spectrum indicated that all kinds of explosive residues were present in the swabs. This is clearly nonsense as some of these explosives, such as TNT and SEMTEX components, do not mix. Obviously, this was a case of contamination.

Years later, we learned that the laboratory that had conducted these measurements was indeed totally contaminated. One could find explosive residues in the offices, in the library, in the restaurant, anywhere. Over the years, that laboratory has been renamed many times: RARDE, DERA, DSTL. Many names, but it is the same damn place.

It was contamination in the Lockerbie Affair. And I would not rule out contamination in the Salisbury Case. If there is something we learn from history, it is that some people never learn from history.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Lockerbie's 30th anniversary commemoration plan revealed

[What follows is the text of a report published today on the DnG24 website:]

A plan to honour the 270 people who lost their lives in the Lockerbie air disaster has been revealed.

This year marks 30 years since the December 21 attack in 1988.

And this week Lockerbie Community Council announced their chosen tribute.

Helping them reach their decision was a a survey, conducted by the Annandale Herald in conjunction with the town council, which netted over 500 responses.

The online survey asked two questions: firstly, if locals thought the anniversary should be marked, with 86 per cent of respondents voting yes.

A second question asked how the date should be honoured, listing five options: a minute’s silence the in town, ceremony at the cemetery, civic reception, no event, or another idea.

Coming out top was the option of a ceremony at the cemetery, preferred by 47 per cent of people.

Meanwhile, the second preferred option, with 21 per cent of the vote, was a minute’s silence.

As well as the survey, locals were strongly encouraged to contact the community group to let their suggestions on how best to mark the anniversary be known.

Speaking this week, Jan Andrews, chairwoman of Lockerbie Community Council, said: “We consulted with the town from January this year.

“We had an online survey and, not forgetting those who do not use computers, we also urged locals to come to our meetings or contact us in anyway to let their thoughts, wishes and ideas be known.

“Following consultation, we have listened to the public and they do not want a repeat of the 25th anniversary events. Instead they want an entirely more subtle tribute to remember and respect all those involved in the disaster.”

As a result, a wreath laying ceremony will take place at Lockerbie Garden of Remembrance at 12 noon on Friday December 21.

It will include speeches and be conducted by Lord Lieutenant Fiona Armstrong.

Lockerbie RBL [Royal British Legion] Pipe Band will be in attendance, as well as a host of local groups wishing to lay wreaths, and townsfolk are strongly encouraged to attend.

Any group wishing to be involved should contact Lockerbie Community Council, care of Lockerbie Town Hall, or speak to Jan Andrews for further information.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

In memoriam: Robert Forrester

On 22nd March 2018 Justice for Megrahi (JfM) lost a valued supporter and friend.

Robert Forrester brought intellect, skill and enthusiasm to his role as JfM Secretary. We will miss his unique talents and personality and are left with a deep and profound sense of loss.

Over the years many of us had heard Robert express his determination to be buried in Highgate Cemetery in London beside his hero, Karl Marx. Many saw this as a wish unlikely to be fulfilled.

We should have known better. On Friday 31st August members of our committee joined with family and friends in celebrating his unique life at the interment of his ashes at Highgate Cemetery in the shadow of a large bronze bust of Marx's head and shoulders set on a magnificent marble plinth.

In true Robert style this unique ceremony took place with the music of a jazz band reverberating around the gravestones and tombs of Highgate’s great and good and somehow this musical invasion appeared completely appropriate in this haunting sepulchral place.

At the gathering afterwards we joined his family, friends and students he had taught over the years. We shared memories, laughter and tears as we followed Robert’s journeys and adventures as he travelled in the Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Italy and China before returning home to Scotland.

Robert’s work for Justice for Megrahi should never be underestimated and will remain as a fitting memorial to him. He brought a range of unique talents and a deep sense of justice into play as we worked to uncover the duplicity and deceit behind the system’s efforts to cover up the truth about the Lockerbie tragedy and to remove this massive stain on Scottish Justice.

We wish you could have remained with us to see the results of your work, Robert, but will always be thankful that our paths crossed albeit for too short a time.
JfM Committee: 12 September 2018 

Thursday, 6 September 2018

In the path of terrorists

[This is the heading over an article by Maltese journalist (now magistrate) Joe Mifsud published on website on this date in 2000, during the course of the trial at Camp Zeist. It reads as follows:]

A terrorist, like any other criminal, will do what he can to cover his tracks.  The Maltese origin of clothing in the bomb suitcase does not establish that either the suitcase or the bomb was once in Malta.

The clothing in the bomb suitcase, which was identifiable as having been manufactured in Malta, bore labels to this effect, enabled Royal Armament Research and Development (RARDE) to determine the country of origin as Malta.  So these labels had not been removed by the terrorists.

The Lockerbie investigators established that six items of the clothing and an umbrella, which originated in Malta were new and had been purchased new from the same shop in Malta on the same occasion.

These items of clothing had been purchased from Mary’s House in Sliema weeks, not days, before 21st December 1988.  The prosecution is claiming that the clothes were bought on the 7th December, while the defense is suggesting the 23rd November 1988 as the date.

In my opinion the facts and matters set out above are consistent with an attempt by the terrorists to distract the attention of the investigating authorities away from Frankfurt or Heathrow to Malta in the event of the bomb being detected or as in fact happened of the bomb exploding above land and debris from the bomb and the bomb suitcase being recovered.

It is inherently unlikely that terrorists would have tried to place the bomb suitcase on board Air Malta KM 180 on the 21st December 1988 for the following four reasons.

1.  Terrorists do not expose themselves and their plans to any unnecessary risk of detention or of error;

2.  Accordingly the terrorists responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103 would not have routed the bomb suitcase through Frankfurt and chosen to run the risk of it passing undetected through the security systems of three different airports on two different airlines when Air Malta during that period flew only three flights each week to Frankfurt but ten flights each week to Heathrow.

3.  Further if the bomb consisted of a timer device, terrorists would not have run the unpredictable risk of the passage of the bomb suitcase being delayed in one or more of the following ways:

a)  on the ground at Luqa as a result of mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert, air traffic control or any other reason;

b)  by being diverted away from Frankfurt for any of the reasons at above;

c)  above Frankfurt as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights (as in fact happened);

d)  by missing the interline connection at Frankfurt as a result of the bomb suitcase being lost, mishandled or detected in the course of x-ray or baggage reconciliation procedures;

e)  on the ground at Frankfurt for any of the reasons at (a) above;

f)  by being diverted away from Heathrow for any of the reasons at (a) above;

g)  above Heathrow as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights;

h)  by missing the interline connection at Heathrow for any of the reasons at (d) above;

i)   on the ground at Heathrow as a result of the connecting transatlantic aircraft being delayed, mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert or any other reason.

4.  Further if the bomb consisted of a barometric pressure device triggered by altitude which itself triggered a timer, terrorists could not have avoided (alternatively would not have risked) the bomb being prematurely triggered on board KM 180 or on board Pan Am 103A from Frankfurt to Heathrow, and then detonating on board either of these flights or on the ground at Frankfurt or at Heathrow.

No terrorist could have predicted in advance the exact altitude at which either flight would have flown or, if such a prediction had been made, no terrorist could have guaranteed that the aircraft would have remained at that altitude and would not have been ordered away from it by air traffic control.  The bomb on board Pan Am 103 exploded approximately 35 minutes after take-off from Heathrow.

It is not clear for me why the Lockerbie investigators choose to blame Malta and Air Malta in this case, when it is so clear that we are the scapegoats for others that lacked security at their airports.

Joe Mifsud is currently following the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist for ONE News and Kullhadd.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

The Crown and the CIA

[This is the headline over an article authored by me that was published on this date in 2000 on website which Ian Ferguson and I ran during the period of the Zeist trial and first appeal. It reads as follows:]

When the trial resumed on Tuesday 22 August [2000], the defence teams complained to the Court that they had just learned the previous day that certain CIA cables relating to the Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, which they had thought had been made available to both the prosecution and the defence only in a censored or redacted form, had in fact been seen by members of the prosecution team on 1 June 2000 in uncensored or unredacted form.  The defence contended that the principle of equality of arms enshrined in article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights required that the defence should have similar access to this material.  The Crown opposed the defence's application.  They conceded that it is the duty of a Scottish prosecutor to supply to the defence any material available to the prosecution which advances the defence case or is relevant to a defence attack on the credibility of a prosecution witness. However, in the course of the Crown's lengthy submissions, it was stated by the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, that the deletions from the versions of the cables supplied to the defence related only to matters which were (a) irrelevant both to the facts in issue in the Lockerbie trial and to the credibility of the witness Majid Giaka or (b) related to sensitive matters of United States national security.  Indeed, it was for the purpose of ensuring that the Crown were in a position to fulfil their disclosure obligations that members of the Crown team inspected the unredacted cables on 1 June.  To quote the Lord Advocate:

"First of all, they considered whether or not there was any information behind the redactions which would undermine the Crown case in any way.  Secondly, they considered whether there was anything which would appear to reflect on the credibility of Mr Majid.  They also considered whether was anything which might bear upon the special defences which had been lodged and intimated in this case.

"On all of these matters, the learned at Advocate Depute reached the conclusion that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the Defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special defence... 

"There is nothing within these documents which relate to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid on these matters."

The Court was unimpressed by the arguments of the Lord Advocate and instructed him to use his best endeavours to secure the release by the CIA to the defence of the unredacted or uncensored cables. 

These cables were in due course made available to the defence, and on Tuesday 29 August various excerpts from them were read out in open court by defence counsel in an attempt to convince the judges that further CIA cables relating to Giaka should be made available to the defence, if necessary by means of a request by the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist to the appropriate Federal Court in the United States of America for an order compelling the CIA to disgorge the relevant material.  The Court, wishing to avoid the delays which would necessarily be caused by any recourse to the American courts, has instructed the Lord Advocate again to use his best endeavours to secure the release by the CIA of these additional cables.  Only if he is unsuccessful will the Scottish Court reluctantly consider the option of a formal request through the American courts. 

The previously blacked-out passages read out to the Court from the cables now in the hands of the defence indicated that, as at 1 September 1989 (more than eight months after the destruction of Pan Am 103), Giaka's CIA handlers were highly critical of him and of the lack of important information supplied by him.  He is described in the now-revealed portions of the cables as a man in the business of selling information for his own benefit; as someone who will never have the penetration of Libyan intelligence services that had been anticipated; as someone who had never been a true member of Libyan intelligence; and as someone whose CIA salary of $1000 per month should be cut off if he supplied no significant information.  It seems to be the natural inference from this that, by 1 September 1989, Giaka had still not informed his CIA masters that his Libyan colleagues in Malta had been responsible for the Lockerbie bombing: if he had done so, it is difficult to see how these criticisms of his value and of the worth of the information supplied by him could conceivably been made. 

But apart altogether from that, if the excerpts read out in court on Tuesday 29 August and summarised in the preceding paragraph accurately reflect passages from the cables which had been blacked out from the versions originally supplied to the defence, it is somewhat difficult to appreciate how it could possibly have been accurate or justifiable for the Crown to state to the Court on Tuesday 22 August that the redacted or censored portions within the documents contained nothing "which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid."

Sunday, 26 August 2018

A mosaic of supposition and surmise

[What follows is a short excerpt from a profile of special prosecutor Robert Mueller published in today's edition of the Sunday Herald:]

In 1982, he became an assistant US attorney in Boston, investigating and prosecuting major cases that ranged from terrorist to public corruption. He then had spells as partner in law firms or in public service. In July 1990, he took over the criminal division of the US Department of Justice.

In his book Enemies: A History of the FBI, author Tim Weiner says FBI agents “instinctively liked [Mueller], despite his aristocratic demeanour ... [He] had a sharp mind, a first-rate temperament, and a high regard for well-crafted cases ... [He] was a born leader”.

One of the cases that fell to him was the investigation into the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. Weiner says that at that time, the investigation was “a mosaic of supposition and surmise ... Someone needed to take charge”. Mueller quickly put FBI Special Agent Richard Marquise, who had been involved with the case from the outset, in full charge of it now, tasking him with turning intelligence into evidence.

Intelligence began to be shared much more widely and diligently, and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was charged and convicted.