Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Why MI6 disastrously spurned Mossad’s Heathrow alert

[This is the headline over an article by barrister David Wolchover that was published on the Jewish News website on 16 May 2016. It reads as follows:]

In my recent article on the part played by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, I stated that Israeli intelligence had warned MI6 that Heathrow was the likely target for planting a bomb on a passenger aircraft but the warning was ignored because of a major rift between British and Israeli intelligence services. A number of readers have expressed curiosity about the episode.

During tensions in the Gulf earlier that year the US Navy had negligently shot down a packed Iranian Airbus. Israel and American intelligence soon learnt that for a multi-million dollar bounty Ahmed Jibril’s Syrian-based “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command” – experts in planting bombs on passenger planes – had been contracted by Iran to destroy an American airliner in revenge. Infiltrated Israeli agents also learnt that Heathrow was the prime target for the planting of a bomb on a US plane and British intelligence was duly alerted.
The significance of that warning was its prescience. Detailed scrutiny of the totality of the Lockerbie evidence proves conclusively that, contrary to the official story, the suitcase containing the bomb was placed by a terrorist in a portable luggage bin in Heathrow’s “interline” shed before the bin was taken out to the doomed Jumbo Jet. But Iran was not merely the paymaster. As reported in my earlier article, an Israeli intelligence source has confirmed that Iran in fact provided key logistical support. The bomb was flown into Heathrow on board an IranAir cargo jet which docked 200 yards from the Interline shed and was taken across to the shed by a PFLP-GC terrorist, named by my source as Jibril’s nephew, Marwad Bushnaq.
To learn why MI6 spurned the warning we must go back to the summer of 1988 when MI5 and Special Branch officers arrested a suspected member of the Palestinian Fatah Force 17 faction. But their captive turned out to be a Mossad double agent and in the light of other intelligence about Mossad’s activities in the UK the British Government concluded that the Israelis had been running an extensive network of operatives throughout the realm, engaging in the infiltration of various Fatah and PFLP cells. Since it was accepted that a number of Palestinian activist groups were cultivating close links with Irish republican terrorist bands it might have been supposed that British intelligence would have relished the chance to pool resources with their Israel counterparts. But other considerations prevailed. Whitehall was bound to show its outrage that Mossad had unilaterally made the UK Israel’s own private intelligence fiefdom.
Older readers may recall the dramatic outcome. On 17 June 1988 Mossad’s London station chief Arieh Regev and four other agents with diplomatic cover were sensationally expelled.
According to the late Samuel Katz’s 1993 book Israel Versus Jibril (Paragon, p205) Mossad alerted MI6 in late November 1988 that a Middle Eastern terrorist gang, probably one of the Syrian-sponsored anti-Arafat groups, would try to sabotage an airliner departing from Europe in the run-up to the Christmas holidays. Katz noted that the British dismissed the warning as no “hot tip” but a purely self-serving sham by which Mossad supposed they could worm their way back into MI6’s good books. He gave no further details of the warning and simply referenced an article by Yisrael Rosenblat in Ma’ariv Sofshavu’a (the Israeli newspaper’s weekend magazine) for November 22, 1991.
In fact my source confirmed that the warning was much more specific than that described in Rosenblat’s report. MI6 were very definitely told that because of the appalling shambles in Heathrow’s security (with airside passes easily obtained under the counter, hundreds having gone missing during the rebuilding of Terminal 3) the airport was Number One target to get a bomb into the hold of a wide-bodied plane operated by one of the premier American carriers.
Whitehall’s hostile attitude was conveyed back to Israel by an exasperated British intermediary and Mossad washed its hands of the whole business. The catastrophic aftermath may explain the desperate efforts to show that the bomb was not infiltrated at Heathrow. Doubtless the response of the joint intelligence chiefs to this revelation will be silence rather than denial but it is enough to hope that these days our security services are more pragmatic and less Israel-averse.


  1. Robert 'Iran cargo jet parked 200 yards from the inter airline shed'The air cargo aircraft stands where numbered as far i remember where from 301 to about 325? on the south side of the London Heathrow airport no where near the central stands of Heathrow airport as unloading&loading of the cargo airliners is not possible in the central as the cargo sheds are on the south side of Heathrow airport.

  2. If that's true (and I reserve judgement pending some actual evidence) it suggests that the infamous midnight break-in had nothing to do with the atrocity and was purely coincidental. Which was always a possibility, something I repeatedly had to explain to Magnus Linklater.

    There's definitely a certain logic to it. If you want to get an item of luggage airside at an airport, and you have the means to do it, simply flying it in on a plane is the obvious way.

    Jibril, the PFLP-GC and Abu Elias (Bushnaq) might not necessarily have had that capability themselves, but if they were carrying out a commission for Iran, Iran surely did.

    It's as I keep saying. We can't know exactly how it was done or by whom until the actual modus operandi and the actual scene of the crime are properly investigated by competent and honest professionals. The murder of Lesley Moleseed was solved thirty years after the events and more than a decade after Stefan Kiszko was released after spending 18 years or so in jail for a crime he didn't commit. In that case, as with Lockerbie, the evidence that proved Kiszko's innocence was in the hands of the police all along, but an incompetent defence failed to spot it.

    That case shows the criminal justice system can sort things like this out, given the will and the resources. They can do it with Lockerbie if the powers that be finally come to their senses.

  3. Rolfe I used to work airside at the airport the reason why the cargo air lines are loaded/unloaded on the south side of the airport is the stands are a lot bigger owing to the 'NOSE OPENING' of the Boeing 747 well away from the central aircraft stands if you google Heathrow airport maps you will see that the cargo stands are south of the airport.

  4. The difficulty we have is that we have no idea of the basis for David Wolchover's claims. He is being fed information by an informant who wants it out there but I certainly can't judge whether that's because it's true and well-evidenced, or whether it's someone flying their own personal conspiracy theory kite.

    There could be a detailed explanation that covers the inconsistencies in where planes would be parked and so on. Or not. Who knows?

    At worst this could be deliberate misinformation from someone who wants to paint the Heathrow introduction narrative as a mad conspiracy theory. I really don't have a scooby.

  5. Like more than a few Lockerbie researchers, I reckon, on the balance of probabilities, the IED Bag was brought in on another flight. At that time, there were scheduled arrivals from Iran(Iran Air IR) and Syria (Syrian Arab Airlines RB)to mention just two of the more likely. Like Alan, I too worked at Heathrow. In my case it was in the 70s and the layout of the airport was constantly changing, but I disagree that an iran Air cargo plane would necessarily have been over on the South Side. David Wolchover does not say (so far as I know) that the plane in question was a 747. There are many types of plane used for cargo and some are easily small enough to be docked nearer to the old terminal 3 and the former internline shed. In any case, it would not be too difficult to get a suitcase from the cargo area to the interline shed. In those days (and I believe things were much the same in 1988) there was no close security at Heathrow airside, there were airside passes lying around all over the place and some temporary airside passes didn't even have a photo on them. I can remember finding suitcaes lying on the apron after they had dropped off loading/unloading trucks or trolleys; I would read the tag, and if it wasn't too far, carry the case to the interline or baggage build-up area and drop it into a container or onto a reclaim belt. On at least one occasion I founda stray bag and took it out to the plane for which it had been tagged. Nobody would bat an eyelid. I wasn't wearing uniform - just normal clothes and my airside pass which no-one ever asked to see. Rolfe, I'm sure is right, we won't know until someone spills the beans or there is an honest and thorough investigation.

    1. Aku Iran's Air Cargo Shed where they used to build the cargo on to pmc aircraft plates was located between stand 301/305 it makes no sense to place a fully loaded cargo aircraft in the center of Heathrow unless it was a Boeing 747/100/200 Combi but it i remember rightly Iran Air had the 747SP/100s on the LHR/Iran route not the Boeing 747/200 combi.(COMBI)Is halve pass/cargo on the same level but after the cargo on a SAA flight caught fire and crashed into the of the coast of Africa that airlines stopped using the combi.

  6. This is why I get so cross with Magnus Linklater. He constantly tells his journo friends that the fundamental basis of the Heathrow introduction theory is the report of the midnight break-in. It isn't. The break-in is an interesting feature but it might or might not be related to the bombing. If the break-in had never happened we certainly wouldn't be scratching our heads wondering how on earth the bomb suitcase could possibly have been taken airside.

  7. There are three possible ways the bomb suitcase could have found its way into that container. One is that one of the terrorists personally placed it in the container in the position where Bedford saw it. I myself think this is the most likely way, on the basis not just of the careful outboard positioning, but because of the packing of the suitcase. The case was packed asymmetrically with the intention that the side with the bomb in it should be placed outboard, as far as I can see. The case wasn't just in the perfect position, it was the right way round. If the terrorists didn't anticipate having control over the positioning of the case in the container, there would be no reason to pack it in that non-intuitive, asymmetrical arrangement. Indeed, quite the contrary, as the asymmetrical packing would give a 50% chance that the business end would be placed away from the skin of the plane.

    However, it's not wholly impossible that Kamboj or Parmar (probably Kamboj) picked the case up from the carousel in the shed and put it in the container while Bedford was away. He might have been unwilling to fess up to that for fear of being accused of putting the bomb suitcase in the container. In that case, the suitcase could have been put on the belt outside the shed (to be carried into the carousel) by the terrorist. This would be such an obvious thing to do, that it's only Kamboj's evidence and the conundrum of the packing of the case that makes me think it's not what happened.

    Alternatively, what didn't happen at Frankfurt could have happened at Heathrow. An unaccompanied rogue suitcase tagged for PA103 could have been smuggled on to just about any flight arriving at Heathrow during the afternoon, and transferred through the baggage system in the normal manner. I think this is the least likely explanation, but I don't think we can rule it out completely. If that's what happened, we're screwed. Nobody will ever find out how it was done.

    That's why, when I'm being really pedantic, I don't say that we know for certain the bomb suitcase was introduced at Heathrow. I say we know it was already in the container at Heathrow an hour before the feeder flight landed, and so it absolutely definitely wasn't transferred to the feeder flight from KM180 as alleged by the prosecution.

  8. Two posible explanations of the anticipated warning from Mossad, if realy it has existed:
    1. It Is true than they have had an agent that infiltrated Jibril group and has known that an attack by them would happen; or 2. Is a lie and is part of campaign of Israelis to blaming to Iran.
    From my experiencie as investigador of the two bombing in Buenos Aires, in Israel Embassy in 1992 and in AMIA building 1994 and taking in account the Mossad motto quoted in his Shield: “By way of deception, thou shalt do war”, I think that de second option is the most probable.

  9. Dear Sir,

    Would you consider talking to me?

    Regards, Dr Ludwig De Braeckeleer

  10. As regards the very interesting contributions above from Allan Croft and Aku, it's worth pointing out that David Wolchover deals in more detail in his monograph Culprits of Lockerbie with the position of the relevant Iran Air cargo aircraft relative to the interline shed: chrome-extension://bpmcpldpdmajfigpchkicefoigmkfalc/views/app.html
    Here is what he says:
    The present author had recently been contemplating the assumption, often repeated (including by himself), that IranAir maintained a docking and loading facility at Heathrow neighbouring Pan Am’s facility. This led him to inquire of John Ashton if he could clear up the issue. Ashton wrote back (email, 5 November, 2013) that by an odd coincidence he had just been looking into the self-same issue as a result of an inquiry from a German broadcaster with whom he had been co-operating on a documentary. The assumption had proved to be quite incorrect. There was no such IranAir facility at Heathrow. The source of the error, he wrote, appeared to have been the fatal accident inquiry in which one of the loaders, Gill, stated that Pan Am’s baggage build-up area was shared with other airlines including IranAir. In fact Pan Am’s loading services facility was underneath pier 7 at Terminal 3, Pan Am 103 having left from gate 14 on pier 7. Pier 7 was located to the south west of Terminal 3, aligned parallel to Pier 5 shown in Figure 12. The two piers were connected by a walkway.
    An intriguing visit The question is, then, were there any IranAir flights into Heathrow on the 21 December and, if so, where did they dock? Ashton informed the author that in pursuance of the inquiry from his German broadcasting collaborator he had unearthed departure and landing records for 21 December, 1988, and discovered that IranAir cargo flight number IRA4703 from Teheran had arrived at Heathrow at 12.51 and departed for Teheran as IRA4702 at 16.59, the airline’s only flights in and out of Heathrow that day. Although there is no record as to which gate the aircraft docked Ashton possesses a statement from IranAir’s Heathrow air cargo supervisor Peter Holliday in which he reports that he was working on pier 5 that day, strongly suggesting that the aircraft docked at one of the gates on that pier. Figure 9 shows part of the Heathrow Central area plan in 1988, depicting Pier 5 and the interline shed, the building slightly to the right of centre at the top. Applying the scale from the full area plan but not shown on Figure 9, the distance from pier 5 across the tarmac to the interline shed is no more than about 200 yards.

    1. Culprits of Lockerbie can be accessed here:

    2. If the aircraft was worked on on pier 5 it must have been the boeing 747/200 combi that Iran air did have one on there fleet at the time but i don't think that the government of Iran risk placing a primed I.E.D on there own aircraft and blow there own aircraft out of the sky as the F.B.I report stated that owing to a repair on K 1 circuit board(The togo timer that the C.I.A had in there hands)and stated by the MEBO that the circuit board had been repaired it could have gone off at anytime/on time/ or not at all.

    3. There is a very good reason why the cargo jet was worked on pier 5.
      If a air line have a landing slot at L.H.R and do not use it they lose it a few years ago they was a report in the papers that airlines where landing at LHR with no persons on board going to the gate that was booked waiting 30mins then departing with no persons as the slot was worth millions to airlines i hope this clears up the cargo aircraft on pier 5.

  11. That coincides with my admittedly weak recollection of the pier layout at Terminal 3.

  12. I just wonder sometimes how much information actually exists, in the hands of the police or the Crown Office or indeed those connected with the various defence teams, that if its significance was properly understood, would reveal what actually happened.

    I was simply astounded to realise that the statements of the baggage handlers and the photographs of the damaged luggage etc. showed clearly that the bomb suitcase had been on the bottom layer of the container and was indeed the case Bedford described. It's extraordinary. What else is lurking in these dusty old files that points to more, equally significant revelations?

  13. I'm assuming that the source for John Ashton's discovery of flights arriving and departing Heathrow on 21.12.88 were the Mayfly sheets. These are the daily forecasts of lfights in and out and, as I recall, are produced very early each morning and contain for all flights in and out: allotted arrival time, flight number, arecraft type, origin/destination and allotted arrival/departur stand. The Mayfly sheets included both passenger and cargo planes. They would not always include all private planes' arrival and departure but would give a very good record what came in and out on any particulr day.

  14. John Ashton told me once that there was a fairly substantial investigation into Heathrow by the Met's anti-terrorism branch. He told me the name of the officer who headed it. None of that was presented at the trial and I don't know what aspects of Heathrow they actually investigated. I'm not sure if John knows either.

    They obviously didn't try to establish the provenance of the suitcase Bedford saw. I wonder if there's information in these files that would shed light on how the suitcase got airside and who put it in the container?

  15. If I remember rightly when I loaded a aircraft the last container is the transfer baggage container not the first to loaded as it was in a different part of the shed away from the main conver belt.