Tuesday, 17 February 2015

CIA evidence 'clears Libya' of Lockerbie

[This is the headline over an article published in the Sunday Herald on this date in 2002. It reads as follows:]

Megrahi's appeal team ignored 'evidence' from key CIA investigator that claims Iran was behind PanAm 103 bombing

One of the CIA's leading Lockerbie bomb investigators has come forward with compelling evidence that Libya was not behind the downing of PanAm 103 which killed 270 people.

Robert Baer, a retired senior CIA agent, offered to meet the defence team leading the appeal of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who was convicted last year of the bombing. However, his offer was not accepted and the new evidence never raised in court.

The new evidence, according to Baer, shows Iran masterminded and funded the bombing; implicates the Palestinian terrorist unit, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), as the group behind the plot; and reveals that just two days after the December 21 1988 bombing the PFLP-GC received $11 million (£7.6m), paid into a Swiss bank account by Iran.

Legal experts say the new evidence should have been brought before the court, and are asking why Megrahi's defence didn't take up the offer.

Megrahi's appeal, which took place at a special Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in Holland, adjourned on Thursday for judges to consider whether to overturn the original verdict.

Baer claims he is breaking his silence now because of growing disillusionment with the CIA's counter-terrorist operations and the war on terror.

Baer, an anti-terrorist specialist, was one of the key CIA officers investigating Lockerbie. He says the CIA received definitive evidence that the PFLP-GC struck a deal with Iranian intelligence agents in July 1988 to take down an American airliner.

Baer also has details of an $11m payment made to the PFLP-GC. On December 23 1988 the money was paid into a bank account used by the terror group in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was transferred to another PFLP-GC account at the Banque Nationale de Paris and moved to the Hungarian Trade Development Bank.

A terrorist linked to the PFLP-GC, Abu Talb, who was later jailed for terrorist offences in Sweden, was also paid $500,000 (£350,000). The money went into an account in Talb's name in Frankfurt four months after the bombing, on April 25 1989.

Germany was a key base for the PFLP-GC in the late 1980s. Baer has the number of at least one of these bank accounts.

Talb and the PFLP-GC were to have been implicated by lawyers working for Megrahi and his co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, at the original trial, but little evidence was ever raised to show they were part of the Lockerbie plot.

On legal advice Baer is not disclosing his Lockerbie records, but the Sunday Herald has seen CIA paperwork that supports his claims. British and US intelligence have always publicly denied that the PFLP-GC played a part in the Lockerbie plot, saying raids by German police two months before the Lockerbie bombing took the terror group out of action.

Baer says, however, that these arrests were a mere hiccup in PFLP-GC plans as other members of the German unit rem ained at large. This theory also fits with claims that the bomb began its journey in Frankfurt, rather than Malta, where Megrahi was based.

PFLP-GC leader Hafez Dalkamoni and the group's chief bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, were arrested in Germany in October 1988 in possession of a Toshiba radio-cassette player containing a bomb. PanAm 103 flew from Frankfurt and was destroyed by a bomb built inside a Toshiba radio-cassette.

Timers matching the one used in the Lockerbie device were sold to both Libya and the East German secret service, the Stasi, which had close links to the PFLP-GC. 'I don't know what components the bomb contained,' Baer said, 'but there was very reliable information from multiple sources that (the PFLP-GC) were running around between East and West Germany and Sweden, trying to get the operation back on track. It's conceivable that the Stasi supplied components during a trip to East Germany.'

Baer said the components for the bomb were supplied by a terrorist known as Abu Elias, who was for a time the CIA's prime suspect but was never caught. 'He was the big centre of the investigation, but he was very elusive,' Baer said. Khreesat and Dalkamoni were on their way to meet Abu Elias when they were arrested in Germany. Abu Elias was a close associate of Abu Talb. Both lived in Sweden. [RB: More about Abu Elias can be found here and here.]

Talb had made a trip to Malta just weeks before the Lockerbie bombing. Clothes from a shop in Malta were packed in the suitcase which contained the PanAm 103 bomb.

Baer also claims the CIA has irrefutable intelligence that Talb and Dalkamoni were Iranian agents and were on a government roll of honour for their services to the 'Islamic revolutionary struggle against the west'. Baer added: 'Although it was not specific, Dalkamoni's citation praised him for achieving Iran's greatest- ever strike against the west'.

Iran had vowed 'the skies would rain with American blood' after a US battle cruiser, the USS Vincennes, accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people, six months before the Lockerbie bombing.

'It doesn't take a genius to figure out where the $11m came from,' says Baer. He added that 'the information [would] be useful to the defence as much of it was of a type that would be admissible in court. Once the investigators had the timer evidence, which seemed to point to Libya, they stopped pursuing other leads -- that's the way most criminal investigations work. People sleep better at night if they think they have justice. Who wants an unsolved airplane bombing?'

Edinburgh University law professor Robert Black, the architect of the Lockerbie trial, said of Megrahi's defence not seeking to interview Baer: 'I don't know why they would act like this. Real hard evidence of a money transfer from Iran to the PFLP-GC is so supportive of the alternative theory behind the bombing that I'm at a loss to explain their actions.

'At the very least, you would interview the source of the information and make a decision once you have spoken to him. A lawyer's job is to provide a belt-and-braces defence for his client, so to refuse to even meet with Baer requires a lot of explaining.'


  1. Is this not the tale followed up by Aljazeera in their latest documentary? The one where they tracked down Marwan Khreesat from his Facebook page and were trying to get him to confess?

    As I understand it, the defence looked at the material and decided it would never stand up in court. Not that it was demonstrably false, but that it was all uncorroborated hearsay being over-hyped by its proponents.

  2. In 2002 Tam Dalyell MP had pursued the rumoured multi-million dollar payments by Iran to the PFLP-GC, and took things to a British parliamentary adjournment debate.

    He asked of Under-Secretary of State to the Foreign Office Mike O'Brien: "Does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have any knowledge of an $11 million payment to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command on or about 23rd December 1988, evidenced by a credit to a bank in Lausanne, and moved from there to an account at the Banque Nationale de Paris, and from thence to the Hungarian Development Bank? Or does it have knowledge of a payment of $500,000 made on or about 25th April to the Degussa Bank of Frankfurt and Mohammed Abu Talb, a convicted murderer, incriminee of the Lockerbie trial and a long term suspect in the Pan Am 103 bombing?"

    To this O'Brien replied: "The intelligence agencies investigated all those reports. Indeed, I have been told that the intelligence services are not aware of any payment that corresponds with the details given in the question." O'Brien always seemed an honest man. The intelligence officers who supplied his brief were lying through their teeth.

  3. My own opinion is that this lot is by and large all true. However that's a different matter from there being evidence that would actually have stood up in court in 2002. But you know what, it shouldn't have mattered. Nobody needed to delve into the murky dealings of a bunch of middle-eastern thugs to know that Megrahi was innocent.

    Sometimes I despair of the entire boiling of them. I mean, how hard is it to look at the provenance of the case Bedford saw, ask how that was ruled out of contention, and find out that it never was save by the assertion that it was on the floor of the container and Allen Feraday was "adamant" that the exploding case hadn't been the one on the floor? At that point, do you have to be any sort of genius to wonder why the prosecution seem to be conceding the very vital point that the Bedford case hadn't been moved from that position, without firing a shot? I'd have said not, really.

    Never mind the evidence that was withheld, look at the evidence that was in the public domain. That includes the fact that Sidhu was adamant that he didn't move that suitcase, and that this point was absolutely central to the thinking of the investigators throughout the entire period of the inquiry. If there had been any serious suggestion that he had moved that case, it could never have been excluded in the way it was.

    So why was the prosecution prepared to concede that point in 2000, without a fight? Why did they decline to call Sidhu, and decline to adduce any evidence suggesting the case hadn't been moved? Why were they completely relaxed about Hayes's creative reinterpretation of his garbled notes to suggest the case had been moved?

    To me, this sticks out like a sore thumb. The defence simply saw the opportunity to capitalise on the opportunity to declare that if the Bedford case had been moved then it might have been the bomb. Which was OK as far as it went, but did nobody ask themselves why the prosecution had handed them this free gift on a plate?

    Hypothesis. The prosecution have realised that if the Bedford case wasn't moved, and you have all the rest of the information about baggage transfers and identification and so on, then it reconciles as the bomb suitcase, end of story. Testing the hypothesis demonstrates that it is correct.

    Baer, Hungarian banks, Abu Talb.... God give me strength.