Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The PFLP-GC chimera: Part One

This article was originally posted yesterday (22 February). Without intervention from me, it disappeared overnight. I have therefore posted it again. It had attracted a comment from Aku which pointed out that the Goben Memorandum is in fact available online at https://panam103.wordpress.com/documents/.

[In this article Kevin Bannon poses some pertinent questions about the PFLP-GC and its often-suggested rôle in the Lockerbie bombing. Part One appears today; Part Two will appear tomorrow.]

In November 1988, after an intensive surveillance lasting some weeks (the ‘Autumn Leaves’ or Herbstlaub operation) the West German Federal Police (the Bundeskriminalamt or BKA) made a number of arrests of Middle Eastern individuals in and around Frankfurt, suspected of making explosive devices for terrorist purposes. None of the suspects were charged but two of the arrestees, named Dalkamoni and Ghadanfar were eventually jailed for a separate bombing attempt on a military train several months earlier. The Frankfurt plotters escaped conviction despite apparently strong evidence against them. 

After the Lockerbie bombing which happened just weeks later, there were perceived circumstantial resonances between it the Frankfurt plot. Like the Lockerbie bomb, the Frankfurt explosive devices had been housed in Toshiba brand radio-cassette decks and Frankfurt airport happened to be the departure point for the first leg of the Pan Am flight. Suspicions were enhanced with poorly substantiated stories, firstly that one of the bombs from the Frankfurt cache had gone missing, and then there were two separate eyewitness reports of dark brown Samsonite suitcases – like that which contained the Lockerbie bomb – seen in the possession of Frankfurt suspects. 

None of the documents presented at Camp Zeist concerning the BKA’s surveillance of the West German IED factory, nor testimony from BKA officers and other German security personnel, established a Frankfurt link with the Lockerbie bombing beyond rumour or notion. In any event the Lockerbie investigators eventually decided to run with an even wilder plot, which had the Lockerbie bomb beginning its journey in Malta. This strange overlap between a bomb factory in Frankfurt and a completely separate bomb from another conspiracy entirely - transiting through Frankfurt airport between Malta and Heathrow - dogged and obfuscated both the Lockerbie investigation and the trial. 

If this wasn’t perplexing enough, a third phantom entered into the frame: the ‘PFLP-GC.’ At the Camp Zeist trial, the defence sought to suggest that this Middle Eastern terrorist group was associated with the Frankfurt plot and somehow involved in the Lockerbie conspiracy. 

This formed part of a pathetic attempt by the Camp Zeist defence to propose alternative culprits for the bombing - in my view a very weak defence strategy prima facie – all the more so because there was no proof of the existence of the PFLP-GC per se. The PFLP-GC was mentioned up to 200 times at trial, never introduced by witnesses, but led by both prosecution and defence advocates. The deputy chief forensic investigator, Allan Feraday was asked if the Pan Am 103 bomb had come from “the PFLP-GC in Germany?” Feraday vaguely referred to “...hearsay and things going on in the background about groups.” He added “...I'm sure at some stage I knew that there was a suspect about that, but it played no parts in my thoughts at all.” [CZ transcript p3365]. The German investigators at Camp Zeist did not refer to any PFLP-GC-centred aspect of their enquiries; Rainer Holder, a BKA officer in 1988 was involved in Autumn Leaves “right from the very outset” but when asked about the allegations of PFLP-GC involvement with the Frankfurt bomb makers, he only said “That was what we assumed.” [CZ transcript p8673]. Gerwin Friedrich, a German federal government anti-terrorism investigator was asked “...was the Autumn Leaves operation itself an operation into the activities of a group of people suspected to belong to an organisation called the PFLP-GC?.” Friedrich replied “I am not fully aware of that at this moment in time...” [CZ  transcript p8687]. Former BKA officer Anton Van Treek agreed that the Autumn Leaves investigation had targeted a cell that was merely “suspected of belonging to an organisation known as the PFLP-GC”. [CZ  transcript p8705].

The only supposed ‘evidence’ of the PFLP-GC’s existence appeared in the testimony of a BKA officer who referred to an Arabic-language booklet recovered from a Frankfurt apartment ‘The Political Programme of the PFLG-GC’ - apparently misnamed [CZ p8647]. The BKA report on Operation Herbstlaub produced only one conclusion about the PFLP-GC at Camp Zeist, which was read out to the court: “On the basis of a statement by Ghadanfar, the GBA [?] envisaged a partial organisation of the PFLP-GC in the Federal Republic of Germany...” This vague and hardly intelligible item was based on the reported testimony of a terrorist in police custody. [CZ p8723].

A CIA cable cited at Camp Zeist noted a proposal to ask their agent in Malta, Majid Giaka if he had been ‘aware of any Libyan involvement with the activities of the PFLP-GC cell led by Dalkamoni in Frankfurt’ [CZ p6742] – implying that the CIA knew no more than the German investigators. This is the only CIA mention of the PFLP-GC presented at Camp Zeist. If the CIA, with its vast intelligence resources,  has ever had evidence of the PFLP-GC’s existence, then its secret has remained safe with them and they apparently did not want to reveal it to anyone at the Lockerbie trial or to any police force anywhere, either before or since. Therefore the various and substantial criminal investigations based in Germany, the UK and the USA, featuring their combined police, security and intelligence resources, failed to establish PFLP-GC connections to either Lockerbie or to reality. 

Transparently, the objective of the BKA’s Herbstlaub operation was the investigation and apprehension of individuals involved in making explosive devices for a terrorist purpose. It was never established that information about the PFLP-GC was either relevant or useful to this objective. There is no evidence that the PFLP-GC was a focus of such investigations, nor that the mooted references to the PFLP-GC had any bearing on, or were of any benefit to the progress of the BKA investigations into terrorist activity or bombing plots. Throughout the Camp Zeist trial, as during the BKA investigation, the PFLP-GC was not established as anything more than an insignia mentioned in hearsay, and this was based on testimony primarily from terrorist/criminal sources and Western-supported Middle Eastern intelligence agencies. 

The PFLP-GC was not cited in the Camp Zeist indictment and whether it existed or not, it did not impinge on the investigation or trial of those accused of the Lockerbie bombing. The BKA investigation unearthed many incriminating items, including Eastern European hand weapons, terrorist literature, airline timetables, labelled explosives, phone numbers of terrorists and their foreign controllers. Whether it was an evidence trail left by bungling anarchists or one designed by more sophisticated agencies, precisely so that it would be discovered is anyone’s guess. While accrediting the PFLP-GC plot as genuine, the defence at Camp Zeist appeared to be indifferent to the fact that Marwan Khreesat, designer of the cassette-recorder bombs and chief engineer/foreman of the Frankfurt bomb factory, was himself a Western intelligence agent and was the principal informant about the entire Frankfurt bomb-making project and its PFLP-GC associations. 

On 5 November 1988 Marwan Khreesat – aka Omar Marwar - was permitted by his German custodians to make a lengthy phone call to Amman, Jordan during which he spoke with someone of apparently high authority. The BND (the Bundesnachrichtendienst; Germany’s foreign intelligence service) appeared to be fully aware that Khreesat’s detention had been only temporary [John Ashton, 2012, pp33-34]. When he appeared before a Federal High Court judge facing the BKA’s request for a renewal of his arrest warrant the judge freed him; Khreesat obviously knew the right people! Khreesat, had been incriminated in plausible testimony from two accomplices; had all but admitted to involvement in the preparation of bombs and had been monitored coming from an apartment containing improvised, disguised explosive devices and he was apprehended in a car containing such a device. 

It was subsequently revealed at the Camp Zeist trial that Khreesat had throughout been an undercover agent for Jordanian intelligence service, the GID [CZ transcript, pp9271-9277]. John Ashton notes that Jordanian Intelligence is historically ‘very close’ to the CIA and that Khreesat had been ‘reporting back’ to the BND, who officially thanked him for his assistance with their investigations [Ashton 2012 p34]. The Jordanian Intelligence Service had been set up with CIA assistance, and insider Western intelligence sources would later describe Khreesat as having been ‘an asset’ to the CIA, to the German BND and to the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad. This explains why he was released and returned immediately to Jordan - he was on our side! (sic).

Despite such distractions, the reiterated, uncorroborated references in court to the PFLP-GC were oddly taken seriously by the Camp Zeist judges:

‘…it was clear from other evidence that we heard, in particular from officers of the German police force, the BKA, that a cell of the PFLP-GC was operating in what was then West Germany at least up until October 1988.’ [Opinion of the Court, para 73].

Their lordships view that the PFLP-GC operation ‘was clear from…evidence’ was a complete delusion on their part and not relevant anyway to the destruction of Pan Am 103, even by their Lordships liberal interpretations of what constituted ‘evidence’.

If the CIA had sought to create the Jordanian GID in its own likeness, they did an excellent job. At Camp Zeist, FBI Special Agent Ed Marshman testified that Khreesat’s status had been confirmed by the GID Director General Samih Battikhi. In 2003 General Battikhi was jailed for 8 years for ‘forgery…and abuse of office’ [The Economist, July 17, 2003]. One of Battikhi’s successors, Mohammed al-Dahabi was similarly convicted for embezzlement and abuse of office [‘Ex-intelligence chief jailed for corruption’ The Guardian, 12 November 2012, p 24]. Chips off the old block! – except that the CIA failed to instruct their protégés how to wriggle out of legal sanction: Former CIA Director Richard Helms received a suspended sentence for perjury in 1977 for misleading a Senate committee by denying CIA funding for the overthrow of Chile’s Allende government. He avoided sanction for previously destroying documents and tape recordings of probable value to the Watergate investigation [‘Richard Helms, Ex-CIA Chief, Dies at 89’ NY Times October 24, 2002]. Helms’s successor William Colby had formerly overseen operation ‘Phoenix’ in which 20,000 Vietnamese non-combatants, mostly community leaders, were murdered to intimidate the people against sympathising with the communists [‘William E. Colby, Head of CIA, a Time of Upheaval’ NY Times May 7, 1996]. 

These are the kind of people which the Scottish police and judiciary were dealing with in preparation for their indictment and prosecution of al-Megrahi. 

Khreesat was too shy to appear at Camp Zeist to explain himself and his phantoms in more detail. Other players in the charade faded away; his obscure assistant Ramzi Diab – AKA Salah Kewkes - scuttled back to Syria (we are told) where Jibril (it was said) had him killed – for obscure reasons. The unseen ‘mastermind’ Abu Elias – if he ever existed – was never seen again. Then there was the enigmatic and almost certainly non-existent ‘Goben memorandum’ believed to be in the possession of the PFLP-GC and the Syrian government, to whom a letter of request had been sent by the Defence at Camp Zeist [CZ p8978]. This document supposedly held ‘a great deal of information’ about the inner workings of the PFLP-GC [CZ p8991]. At Camp Zeist the memorandum was talked-up to the status of a Rosetta Stone which promised to crack the whole case for the defence. The Goben memorandum has never appeared to this day.

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