Saturday, 23 April 2016

Lockerbie: The question that has not been asked

[This is the headline over an article that appeared in The Herald on this date in 1994. It reads as follows:]
One of the bloodiest terrorist attacks ever, the explosion of the PanAm jumbo above Lockerbie in 1988, has never been solved. Two Libyans,according to the early version, allegedly carried out the crime alone. This report, by Der Spiegel journalists, following a trail that took them to Berlin, Budapest, Geneva, and Moscow, unearths new leads leading to Germany. The key figure, a Swiss businessman, turns out to have been in the pay of the East German security service for almost 20 years -- and possibly worked for the CIA as well. KGB officials say they knew of the connection -- and are astonished that the Americans have yet to ask them about it.
A colour photo, magnified 15 times, reveals only a scorched fragment of a chip of green synthetic resin smaller than a fingernail. Only magnification allows one to see the soldering typical of an electronic circuit board.
Nor does the picture of a two-part plastic housing reveal much at first glance. The upper and lower part are held together by a wire. Not visible from the outside are two dials mounted on the plastic. Electronics experts say the dials were used to set a timer, necessary for the precise detonation of a bomb.
Secretive men have been presenting such photos for months to investigators in Berlin. Swarms of secret agents from the intelligence services of all the world are here; it is as if the Cold War had never ended and Berlin was the spies' capital.
For German investigators, this is a ''home game''. Officials of the Federal Office for the Defence of the Constitution, colleagues from the State Security Service, investigators from the Federal Criminal Investigation Agency, and public prosecutors from Berlin and Frankfurt are trying to solve the toughest political crime puzzle of recent years: the history of the timer.
One question is: whose hands held the clock? Terrorists may have used such a timer to detonate the bomb that ripped apart the PanAm jumbo. All 259 aboard, most of them US citizens, were killed, along with 11 people on the ground.
Many people thought the case was officially closed. American and Scottish authorities claimed in November 1991 that two Libyan secret agents, Amin Khalifa Fuheima, then 35, and Abdel Bassit Ali el-Mikhrahi, then 39, were behind the Boeing 747 outrage. Once again, the hand of Libya's chief of state, Moammar Gaddafi, was seen lurking behind Arab terrorism.
The US Justice Department demanded the extradition of the two suspects -- in vain. The United Nations decreed an embargo of Libya as a result, and tightened it last November.
But new facts have emerged that cast serious doubt on the hypotheses pieced together so far. Investigators and agents speak of a ''German trail'' -- and it is hot.
Lockerbie, according to Scotland Yard, was ''the most expensive piece of detective work in criminal history''. Fifteen thousand witnesses were interviewed, 20,000 names checked, 35,000 photos analysed, 180,000 pieces of evidence evaluated.
One German trail was discovered almost from the beginning: in all likelihood, the deadly luggage came from Frankfurt. According to investigators, the suitcase bearing the bomb reached the German airport on the morning of December 21, 1988, on an Air Malta flight and was transferred to the PanAm jet as unaccompanied luggage. Around 1.07pm, a computer gave the bronze-coloured Samsonite suitcase the code number B-8849. Then, between 3.12 and 4.50, it was loaded, unchecked, on to flight 103 to London, a stopover on the transatlantic flight.
But there is a new German trail. It leads to East Berlin and the former Ministry for State Security, the Stasi. Prominent names from the ministry have recently been added to a list of witnesses to be interrogated. Not only former Politburo members but Egon Krenz, who succeeded East German leader Erich Honecker, have been named. Everything revolves around one question: when was the timer given to whom, and for what purpose?
No-one is saying that Lockerbie was the Stasi's direct work but it seems Stasi officers may have provided key assistance to an Arab state or terrorist group. It has been discovered that detonators of the Lockerbie type were in the possession of the ministry.
From the beginning, the key to the Lockerbie puzzle was a piece of the tape player that investigators found after an exhaustive search of the crash site. It was found burned into a shirt collar belonging to one victim, Karen Noonan.
In weeks of painstaking work, the Scottish specialist Thomas Hayes was able to identify the plastic fragment, production number PT 30, as part of the detonator. That indicated that the Lockerbie bomb was of the same type as one built two months earlier by a group of militant Palestinians in the German city of Neuss. The explosive used in both cases was Semtex H; in both cases, a lump of it was hidden in a Toshiba radio recorder.
The Palestinian group in Neuss used a barometric detonator, which would set off a bomb explosion after a change in air pressure -- for example, when an airplane had reached a certain altitude. As a result, the Neuss terrorists, operating under Syrian sponsorship, were long considered leading suspects in the Lockerbie attack.
However, when it became absolutely clear that the explosives on flight PanAm 103 were set off by a simple timer, the investigation took another direction.
CIA analysts led investigators to the Mebo AG firm in Zurich. It deals with electronic devices of all sorts. The timer was part of one it had produced -- Type MST-13 -- in 1985 for use by Libyans in desert warfare. It was both dust and water-tight.
According to the CIA, one of these timers was used in 1986 in a bomb attack on the American Embassy in Togo. In February 1988, two Libyans were arrested in Senegal in connection with that attack; they had 10 kilograms (22lbs) of plastic explosives and two MST-13 timers in their possession. Though the name of the manufacturer had been scratched off, lab technicians were able to make it out: Mebo.
Fewer than two dozen of the timers were produced, all of them apparently for Gaddafi's people. Mebo officials told the CIA, as well as American and British Lockerbie investigators, that the timers were sold only to Tripoli and to the Libyan People's Bureau, or embassy, in East Berlin. The charges against the two Libyan suspects rest largely on this evidence.
Yet the Mebo version turned out to be a cover story. Edwin Bollier, 56, one of Mebo's top two executives, claims to have suddenly remembered six months ago that there was a second client: ''the Institute for Technical Research or something like that'' in East Berlin. In fact, that institute, ITU for short, served as a highly-specialised workshop for the Stasi, making specialist tools such as listening devices and miniature transmitters for its agents.
At first, investigators believed that the Libyans had bought off Bollier to exonerate themselves. Investigators also paid close attention to the fact that in January, during a Geneva meeting between US President Bill Clinton and the Syrian head of state, Hafez Assad, in the President Hotel, an intriguing group was in attendance: the so-called Libyan defence team, including London lawyer Stephen M. Mitchell and the American defence attorney Frank Rubino.
Even Bollier found his way to Geneva, where he recounted further details on the sale of Mebo timers to East Berlin. It is known that, in 1985, the Stasi acquired MST-13 timers. State prosecutors say Bollier sold as many as seven of them to the East Germans. This number comes from a copy of a bill Bollier suddenly ''found''.
Some former Stasi buyers have since admitted ordering MST-13-type timers. A former Stasi colonel, questioned by the Federal Criminal Investigation Agency in Munich, has said that his ministry played no direct role in the Lockerbie explosion but that it was entirely possible that it had passed along such a timer.
Meanwhile, the Stasi has been linked to other murderous attacks. Not long ago, its anti-terrorism specialist Helmut Voigt was sentenced to four years in prison for passing on the explosives used in the 1983 bombing of the Maison de France in Berlin (one dead, 22 injured). This all raises questions about the earlier theory that the Libyans acted alone.
Bollier may have worked for the East Germans as an unofficial collaborator of the Stasi, providing sensitive materials for decades. At Stasi headquarters, he was registered under file number 2550/70. Bollier tells Der Spiegel he had no idea he had been given a code name.
In the late 60s, the East Germans had enormous need for electronic spying devices. The Stasi created a special unit whose mission was to listen in on the West German telephone network. Its name: Department III.
Meeting in a Berlin hotel, the department's head, Horst Mannchen, quickly reached agreement with Bollier. The Swiss would provide the Stasi with special antennas, coders, police radios, and data terminals. Mannchen wanted radio equipment for 3000 spies.
The Stasi paid Bollier in cash, hard West German marks. ''Bollier,'' says one former Stasi official, ''did well over a million marks business with us.''
Bollier's firm also had surprising contacts within the Western services. Bollier was thus able to obtain a device that was then a closely guarded American secret: the ''Mark'' voice analyser. The device, which works like a lie detector, registers subtle changes in the voice. Stasi's top man, Markus Wolf, wanted it to test the loyalty of his agents.
However, the Stasi people became suspicious of the ease with which Bollier was able to obtain the machine. They decided to try to find out who he really worked for.
Bollier travelled so much and was so active that Stasi agents were unable to keep a tail on him, and never proved anything but the suspicion grew that Bollier was also working for a Western service, probably the CIA, according to one internal report.
Is it possible that a man in the service of the CIA was even indirectly responsible for the horrible disaster over Lockerbie? German prosecutors aren't ready to provide a final answer to that. However, one former Stasi man told investigators: ''A man like Bollier had hidden protectors in the West.'' When asked by Der Spiegel about CIA contacts, Bollier said simply: ''No comment.''
Mr Joachim Wenzel, a brilliant technician for Stasi, says Bollier delivered timers to him in 1987, in his offices on Ferdinand Schultze Street in East Berlin. The Stasi people there had close contacts to militant Arab groups and also to the Red Army Faction of West Germany.
The timers have since disappeared. It is not clear whether they were destroyed in the chaos surrounding the end of communist rule, or whether they found their way into the world of international terrorism. There were many possible takers. The Stasi's connections to Arab terrorist groups formed a web with many spiders. The Stasi, for example, delivered to the security division of the Palestine Liberation Organisation around 5000 hand grenades, explosives, and 1000 detonating devices in 1980 alone.
Many splinter groups of the Palestinian movement also found a new base in East Germany. The terrorist Carlos, sought around the world for his part in a series of murderous attacks, spent time in the Palast Hotel on East Berlin's Unter den Linden boulevard. The fighters of the infamous Abu Nidal took a three-month course at Stasi headquarters in 1985, including training with rocket and grenade launchers.
Only months later, the group killed 16 people in an attack on Rome airport and four in Vienna.
Abu Daoud, who was linked to the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, lived in Berlin in the 80s, at Prenzlauer Allee 178.
But who was behind the Lockerbie attack? Was it the Iranians, furious over the shooting down of an Airbus full of civilians by the destroyer Vincennes over the Strait of Hormuz in 1988? Did the Syrians help?
The KGB is not convinced by the theory that the Libyans acted alone and although the Russians are well-placed to have information on both the Arabs and the Stasi, they have not been contacted by American investigators. One former head of Soviet foreign intelligence said: ''They haven't asked us a single question.''

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