[This is the headline over a report on the MSNBC News website on 7 March. It reads in part:]
A former top CIA official who helped oversee the agency’s investigation into the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, tells NBC News there is "no doubt" that Moammar Gadhafi personally approved the bombing.
"There are two things that you can take to the bank," said Frank Anderson, who served as the agency's Near East affairs chief between 1991 and his retirement in 1995. "The first one is, Pan Am 103 was perpetrated by agents of the Libyan government. And the second thing is, that could not have happened without Moammar Gadhafi's knowledge and consent.
"There is no question in my mind that Moammar Gadhafi authorized the bombing of Pan Am 103." (...)
Anderson acknowledged that the CIA never had direct evidence tying Gadhafi to the bombing. But during Anderson's tenure as chief of the CIA's Near East affairs division U.S. and British officials were able to wrap up an investigation that uncovered forensic and other evidence linking the planting of the bomb to Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer.
While there have long been suspicions of Gadhafi's involvement, Anderson has particular credibility on the issue. As one of the CIA's top experts on Libya — he had served as a case officer in Tripoli in the early 1970s after Gadhafi first came to power — Anderson dismissed the possibility that Megrahi could have been acting as a "rogue" agent without the knowledge of the regime's top leader. By the time of the bombing, he said, Gadhafi had so consolidated his hold over the regime that there was "absolutely no way" for Libyan intelligence officials to have carried out the bombing without the dictator's authorization.
Geopolitical and other realities led U.S. officials to handle the matter as a criminal case, resulting in a federal indictment of Megrahi and an alleged co-conspirator, rather than with military force, noted Anderson, who now serves as the president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based think tank. President Ronald Reagan ordered a bombing of Libya in 1986 after U.S. officials linked Libya's intelligence service to an earlier terrorism bombing in Berlin that killed two U.S. servicemen.
In a separate interview, Richard Marquise, who was the chief FBI agent on the Lockerbie case, said he and other bureau officials always assumed that senior Libyan officials were complicit in blowing up the aircraft, but never had enough evidence to build a case against them.
When Megrahi and an alleged co-conspirator, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, were indicted by a federal grand jury in 1991, FBI officials were eager to convict them in a U.S. court – and then get them to finger the higher level officials who gave them their orders, said Marquise. Some evidence against higher level Libyan intelligence officials had surfaced in the course of the probe, said Marquise. He even considered seeking "material witness" warrants that would authorize FBI agents to apprehend the suspects and force them to testify.
"We always hoped that had we gotten (access to Megrahi and Fhimah) they would start to roll," said Marquise. "There was always an expectation that we would get further up the chain."
But much to the frustration of U.S. officials, that never happened. As part of a deal to get the Libyans to turn over Megrahi and Fhimah, the U.S. agreed to allow them to be tried in Scotland — and Scottish officials agreed to restrict the case only to them, preventing the disclosure of any evidence that might point to higher-ups. (...)
[Posted to the blog from Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of South Africa, indeed the world.]