Friday, 14 July 2017

Trial told of security weakness

[This is the headline over a report that appeared on the BBC News website on this date in 2000. It reads in part:]

The Lockerbie trial has heard an airport supervisor admit it would have been possible for an unchecked bag to have been put on a flight from Malta which connected with Pan Am 103.

But Wilfred Borg, ground operations general manager at Malta's Luqa Airport, denied unidentified luggage records produced by the prosecution showed safety procedures were broken.

Prosecutors are trying to prove the two Libyans accused of bombing a New York-bound airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, planted the suitcase with the bomb on an Air Malta flight which later connected with the Pan Am flight.

Mr Borg was questioned for hours by prosecutor Alan Turnbull about safety operations at the airport. (...)

In particular, he pointed to a 21 December 1988 Air Malta flight to Cairo in which five bags left on the tarmac in a previous flight were cleared without any apparent record of their identification by passengers.

"Is the obvious inference not that baggage was on board without passengers?" he asked.

Mr Borg replied: "No."

"There must have at least have been a possibility," Mr Turnbull insisted.

"I cannot discount the possibility," the witness answered.

Mr Turnbull said 55 bags were checked and recorded as loaded onto KM 180 to Frankfurt, but noted that although the flight coupons belonging to a group of three passengers showed 16 bags, the check-in list only registered 14 bags.

Mr Borg rejected the prosecutor's suggestion that a decline in the average number of inconsistencies after February 1989 suggested security lapses were cleaned up after German police came to Malta to question airport employees in connection with the Lockerbie bombing.

At the end of the day, Turnbull asked Mr Borg to verify a photo badge that gave defendant Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, the Libyan airline's station manager, security clearance throughout the airport.

This was after the prosecutor had asked whether a person familiar with security operations and access to loading areas could "deliberately have circumvented the checks you had in place?"

Mr Borg replied: "Anything is possible. Whether it was probable is a different story."

[RB: What follows is excerpted from’s contemporaneous commentary on this evidence:]

Certain assumptions have been made regarding Malta's Luqa airport. It has been assumed by many that because Malta is a small country then it follows that their airport security would be lax.

The Crown will undoubtedly contend that all was not well with security at Luqa airport and this will assist their assertions that the suitcase containing the bomb was inserted at this point.

However our investigations have uncovered startling new facts which may counter this part of the Crown theory.

The arguments that may be used to counter this claim have come from a source which will surprise many. It comes directly from the US Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA.

In 1987, a year before the bombing of Pan Am 103, Pan Am made it known that they wished to operate a cargo service to and from Malta. In any instances, where an American flag carrier, such as Pan Am, makes it known that they wish to fly into an airport for the first time, the FAA is mandated to carry out inspections and assessments of the airport concerned.

Officials of the FAA carried out such an assessment of Luqa airport and their report will do nothing to further the Crown's case regarding lax security.

Sources from within the FAA, who spoke on condition of anonymity, have informed us that if they [the FAA] scored airports on a point system giving points out of ten, then their assessment of Luqa Airport would be 9 out of 10.

With the exception of some administrative recommendations, the FAA gave Luqa airport, Malta, a clean bill of health.

Hardly the picture of a small third world countries airport with poor security. Anyone familiar with Luqa airport during that period would know that armed soldiers from the Maltese armed forces carried out much of the security at the airport.

These revelations may have come to light earlier (we learned of this 3 months ago) had the FAA been more careful about their archived documentation.

Those same sources within the FAA confirmed to us that during 1993/1994, the FAA destroyed many assessments and inspections of European airports, covering the 1980s, including the report compiled on Luqa airport. Our source has stated that this destruction was done in error and not in any way to thwart the Lockerbie investigation. The Government of Malta was given a copy of the FAA report.

We make no assertions that the FAA, by destroying these reports, acted in any way maliciously and our sources within the FAA have spoken of the quality and level of co-operation extended to those involved in the legal preparations for this trial.

While the issues under examination today are specific to Air Malta and not to Luqa airport, there is undoubtedly a connection with regards to overall security procedures.

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