Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Dornstein. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Dornstein. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday 10 November 2015

A response to the Dornstein documentary

[What follows is a commentary by Dr Kevin Bannon on Ken Dornstein’s documentary as broadcast on BBC Channel 4:]


I am loath to disparage an investigation by anyone who lost immediate family in such an atrocity as the bombing of Pan Am103. However, notwithstanding his otherwise pertinent observations, I think that John Ashton (in his recent blog) has been remarkably genteel in his response to Ken Dorntein’s pseudo-investigative documentary Lockerbie: My Brother’s Bomber. Dornstein’s faith in the conviction of al-Megrahi appears unshakeable as does his implicit belief that the co-accused, Fhimah was freed on a technicality.


To summarise his film, its recurring focus is the video of al-Megrahi’s return to Tripoli airport, over which Dornstein seethes, while he identifies several more potential Lockerbie suspects among the welcoming party. One of these is Abu Agela whose name also turns up in files found in Tripoli and in former East Berlin archives. Agela is also listed travelling twice on the same plane flights as al-Megrahi. These circumstances are backed by hearsay which identifies Agela as an explosives expert and then link him to the 1986 bombing of Berlin’s La Belle nightclub. To this, I can only add that Ken Dornstein is entitled to his suspicions.


I found more interesting what Musbah Eter had to say, because since his conviction 14 years ago for the La Belle bombing, there had been no apparent comment from him or his 3 accomplices about their convictions. Ken Dornstein gives him ample camera time to explain himself and Eter is shown looking around his old office - not at camera, and not exactly confessing, but thinking aloud, apparently regretting but simultaneously justifying his past:


“...here we conducted state terrorism, surveillance of enemies...and from here we launched the bombing of the Berlin nightclub, from the second floor...carrying with it the destruction and murder of the innocent...  What we did was wrong and I admit it. If I could go back in time I wouldn’t have done it. But the pressure from the state...and the direct orders from the security services...were [sic] the reason why so many Libyan youths were caught up in it.”


Years previously Eter had both admitted and denied having a role in the La Belle bombing as well as implicating his co-accused in court - then denying that too. His cynical mea culpa in the film does little justice to a premeditated act of violence which killed three and maimed and injured many more. Eter offers no explanation or proof of his role and in Ken Dornstein’s film he is not questioned at all on any such details. John Ashton’s recent blog notes Eter’s former CIA associations – it certainly puts the La Belle bomber’s meanders into a kind of perspective.


The film shows the investigating prosecutor in the La Belle case, Detlev Mehlis musing how he had difficulty spelling the name ‘Abugela’ (Abu Agela) “...sorry...I have no idea how to spell Abugela...I would probably spell it like ‘jelly’ or something...” Eter had written down the name for him ‘ABUGELA’ and next to it ‘NEGER’ which Mehlis pronounces “neeger” adding “...but here in German it doesn’t have that negative meaning as in the US.” Mehlis might not find this word negative, but he should know that since the seventies this has been regarded as a derogatory word among most educated Germans.


The Le Belle club specialised in soul music and had been particularly popular with Afro-American servicemen, two of whom were killed along with a Turkish woman - improbable targets by Libya seeking revenge on Washington. A bomb had exploded a week earlier outside Berlin’s German-Arab Friendship offices, (the DAFG), injuring several Arabs. Three Middle Eastern men who had been arrested as the initial suspects in the La Belle bombing were subsequently blamed for this attack; it was said that the motive had been antipathy towards the PLO which they apparently believed the DAFG had represented. However Ahmed Hasi (or Hazi) who placed the DAFG bomb, had no history a political zealot but rather a police record for abusing his wife and drug dealing.


In September 1980, Germany’s deadliest bombing attack on civilians since World War II killed 13 people at the ‘Oktoberfest’– a popular family festival held annually. The device had exploded prematurely, killing the bomber, Gundolf K√∂hler - a member of a Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann - a banned neo-Nazi party. Had this bomb plant gone according to plan, one wonders who might have been blamed for the attack – targeting ordinary families and Bavarian provincial traditions – obviously not the far-right.


Ken Dornstein chooses to include a short news clip from al-Megrahi’s deathbed, an interview in which al-Megrahi, in his intermediate English, says that his name had been ‘exaggerated’ - Al-Megrahi wouldn’t have been familiar the words ‘slandered’ or ‘besmirched’ but in October 2011, his comment went viral in the West’s media, who made the interpretation that al-Megrahi’s role in the bombing plot had been exaggerated – which would have been tantamount to an admission of guilt. Al-Megrahi’s fervent denials of any involvement in the Lockerbie bombing were numerous and un-ambiguous. This ‘exaggerated’ statement was grossly misleading in its original broadcasts but more so in Dornstein’s reiteration of it - especially as in his film, it is presented as al-Megrahi’s final word.


Dornstein is also shown equipping himself with a hidden micro-video camera, having ingratiated himself with Jim Swire in hope of filming al-Megrahi himself – and he toys with the idea of demanding a confession or denial from al-Megrahi. To see Jim Swire - totally oblivious to Dornstein’s ruse - warmly welcomed by al-Megrahi’s son at the front door, before introducing Dornstein (who had to wait in the hall) is galling and acutely dishonest. Jim Swire’s openness and magnanimity is well-known and I would expect he forgave Dornstein – as a fellow-in-grief - but I’m not ashamed to say I wouldn’t have. A conversation afterwards with Jim Swire shows Ken Dornstein nodding ‘sympathetically’ as he listens to Jim Swire’s poignant lament for al-Megrahi - this makes Ken Dornstein look, frankly, two-faced.


An investigation of any kind requires elements such as definition, corroboration, credible testimonials or some kind of logical chain-of-evidence – a testable hypothesis or one that is falsifiable as the late Karl Popper would have described it.


I have no idea who planted the bomb – my emphasis is on who didn’t - a narrower focus and a simpler research problem with a more finite evidence basis.


What follows is all factual:


A - The prime witness


Al-Megrahi was originally linked to the Lockerbie bombing plot based only on the evidence eyewitness Antony Gauci a shopkeeper in Malta. There were at least 10 separate features or conditions pertaining to his evidence about items he had sold to a customer; their total cost; the date of sale; the weather on that day; the appearance and age of the customer etc. Fundamental aspects of each and every one of these evidence items or their conditions changed between the initial statements and the latter ones - changes 100% favourable to the prosecution case. The original evidence thoroughly discounted al-Megrahi as the customer in every aspect.


Within the same general period that Tony Gauci modified his testimony he had ‘expressed an interest in receiving money’ and the police discussed on more than one occasion - not in his presence - the possibility of substantial or immediate cash payments being made to him as an inducement: Example from a police memo: "if a monetary offer was made to Gauci this may well change his view and allow him to consider a witness protection programme...”


After the conviction of al-Megrahi, it became apparent that Tony Gauci received ‘in excess of $2 million’ as a reward for helping with the Lockerbie investigation.


B - The circuit board fragment


A fragment of charred cloth was found near Lockerbie about three weeks after the bombing. The item later yielded a tiny fragment of circuit board which forensic investigators linked to timing devices sold to the Libyan defence forces. To this day it remains unclear what date the crucial piece of circuit board was discovered and who discovered it.


No evidence of explosive residue examination of this item – supposedly the only piece of the explosive device found – was produced at trial or shown to have taken place.


Soon after it was first logged, the label attached to this evidence describing its contents was falsified so that its original description ‘Cloth’ then read ‘Debris’ (falsified – not merely ‘overwritten’).


An existing metallurgy test on this circuit board fragment, establishing that it was constitutionally different from the batch sold to Libya, was not introduced in court. Several years later another more advanced metallurgy test confirmed this – corroborating the elimination of the Libyan link to the explosive device.


False testimony drew al-Megrahi into the Lockerbie bombing indictment and corrupt procedures pertaining to the circuit board fragment nailed his conviction. The only rational explanation for this is that al-Megrahi was fitted-up in a conspiracy by individuals associated with the Lockerbie investigation and/or the subsequent prosecution and trial. It is perhaps no wonder why the Scottish and UK authorities are reticent to have the matter delved into any further.


Entirely un-mentioned in Ken Dornstein’s film is Moussa Koussa, former Libyan foreign minister, principal security adviser to Gaddafi himself, and subject of one of the greatest intelligence coups anywhere since 1945. Koussa, Gaddafi’s right-hand man, had been simultaneously a direct informant to the CIA and to MI6 since at least the 1990’s and almost certainly since the early 80s. In 1980 he had uttered, direct to a reporter of The Times in London, an open threat both to assist the IRA and to liquidate Libyan dissidents abroad – an incrimination of the Libyan regime from which it never recovered. This helps explain, better than anything else, the perception of Libya’s self-destructive international image during the 1980s.


On the 30 March 2011, at a decisive moment in the Libyan uprising, Koussa flew to the UK to be debriefed by MI6 and others – and was then allowed safe-passage to Saudi Arabia – into media silence and luxurious exclusion. This alone establishes that the contradictions surrounding Libya since 1980 are much more likely to lie with Western intelligence services rather than amidst Tripoli’s rubble.


When Ken Dornstein arrived in Tripoli the first time, the city had been shattered – the result of a Bay of Pigs--Contras-type CIA war led by Washington, dressed up, naturally as a popular revolt. This time the CIA had been ‘successful’ because they were backed by NATO air power and had the benefit of digital-age disinformation and news management – not to mention Moussa Koussa’s assistance at the outset. Even the overall casualty figures of this destruction-of-a-nation have been withheld – possibly not even enumerated at all. In either case this is in blatant contravention of universal law – because people, or military personnel, are supposed to know what they are doing and what they have done. The report of the UN Human Rights Council into the Libyan ‘rebellion’ was told by NATO that ‘aircraft flew a total 17,939 armed sorties with a “zero expectation” of death or injury to civilians’. The UN sampled 20 NATO airstrikes and counted 60 civilian deaths attributable to them – and left it at that; ‘Do the math’:  (17,939  ÷ 20)  x  60 = x


At least we know that there were ‘zero’ NATO casualties – “a new highpoint in technological warfare” as one Guardian letter-writer observed. We also know that - however shattered Tripoli was after the CIA and NATO had finished with it – conditions there subsequently worsened.


Lockerbie: My Brother’s Bomber is the second Libya-themed ‘documentary’ in the BBC’s appropriately named Storyville series. Its predecessor earlier this year Mad Dog: Gaddafi’s secret world featured a host of stomach-churning anecdotes - all uncorroborated. These included Gaddafi storing the bodies of his enemies in a fridge so he could gloat over them – in one instance 20 years later; a six year old girl having her lips cut off and bleeding to death for smiling inappropriately in Gaddafi’s presence; that Gaddafi was a rampant racist, and regarded dark-skinned Africans as an inferior people; a boy of about 14 filmed holding an ostensible human heart in his hands and promising to eat it; Gaddafi’s relentless appetite for seducing or raping school children, implicitly of both sexes. The narrative was artfully backed by a soundtrack like a horror film.


By contrast, a snuff-movie featuring the torture to death of Gaddafi himself is perfectly genuine. The Sun newspaper devoted a whole front-page to the image of his paraded corpse with the headline: “That’s for Lockerbie”.


It is profoundly disturbing that even the once ‘independent’ BBC broadcasts propagandist items such as Storyville as historical documentary. These will help authorise and sustain the successive armed interventions in the Middle East led by the United States under the false guises of ‘humanitarian assistance’ and ‘national security’.


Ken Dornstein’s film is not the core of the problem; it is the enormous international media backing the film has received. I suggest Ken Dornstein read Manufacturing Consent (Herman & Chomsky 1988) – just in case he has any delusions about why his narrative has received such extraordinary publicity.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Investigator whose brother died at Lockerbie has a prime suspect

[This is the headline over an article by Magnus Linklater published (behind the paywall) in today’s edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]

By any standards, Ken Dornstein’s investigation is remarkable. The death of his brother David in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 led to a lifetime obsession with discovering the identity of the perpetrators.

Just one man — Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi — has been convicted of the atrocity. But Mr Dornstein knew that there must have been others behind the attack, and that someone must have manufactured the bomb. He set about interviewing anybody and everybody who knew anything about the case.

He has travelled three times to Libya, interviewed the widow of one of the suspects, and accompanied Jim Swire, whose daughter was also killed, on a trip to see al-Megrahi.

In the course of his inquiries, Mr Dornstein met Kathryn Geismar, who had dated his brother for two years. They fell in love and are now married.

In order to aid his investigation, he took a job at a detective agency. His career has been as an investigative reporter for the PBS television show Frontline, working on programmes about Iraq and Afghanistan. But his real obsession has been the Lockerbie story.

He travelled to Scotland, interviewed Scottish investigators and located the exact spot where David’s body had landed. In 2006 he published a book, The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky. The book explores his drive to investigate. “I had found a less painful way to miss my brother, by not missing him at all, just trying to document what happened to his body,” he says.

The New Yorker article that documents his search reports that one room of his house in Somerville, Massachusetts, is lined with books about espionage, aviation, terrorism and the Middle East. Another is papered with mugshots of Libyan suspects. Between the two rooms is a large map of Lockerbie, with hundreds of coloured pins indicating where the bodies had fallen.

He has examined all the “counter-theories” which maintain that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted and that Libya was not involved, but has found no hard evidence to support them. [RB: No hard evidence to support them? The metallurgy discrepancy between PT35b and the timers supplied to Libya? Dr Morag Kerr’s irrefutable demonstration that the bomb was already in luggage container AVE4041 before the transfer baggage arrived from Frankfurt?] Instead, he has focused on tracking down those in Libya who may still be able to cast light on the origins of the plot.

In the course of his inquiries he has made a friend of Mr Swire. He continues to maintain that al-Megrahi was inncocent, but respects Mr Dornstein’s determination to get at the truth, and does not rule out a Libyan connection. Scottish prosecutors gave Mr Dornstein a list of eight prime suspects.

Some of them are dead, some – like Abdullah al-Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s former head of intelligence – have been sentenced to execution.

That did not prevent the American from travelling three times to Libya. In the course of one visit he met the widow of Badri Hassan, one of the men on the suspect list, who had died of a heart attack. The New Yorker reports that over several meetings at her family home, she told Mr Dornstein of her long-standing suspicion that her husband had been involved in Lockerbie. She had asked him about it repeatedly, but he had never confessed. “I’m absolutely sure of it,” she said, adding, when she learnt that Mr Dornstein’s brother had been on the plane: “Badri left behind such suffering.”

Mr Dornstein’s prime suspect, Abu Agila Masud, is alive, and serving a ten- year sentence in prison. Libya today, however, is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Even an investigator as intrepid as Mr Dornstein does not feel that it is fair to himself or his family to travel there again and take that final risk.

[A further article by Mr Linklater in the same newspaper can be read here.]

Monday 30 November 2015

A fresh look at the bombing of Pan Am 103

This is the headline over an article by Trina Y Vargo that was published yesterday on Huffington Post. It reads as follows:]

Photos of the debris of a Russian airliner scattered across the Sinai reminded many of another plane that also came apart at 31,000 feet, more than a quarter of a century ago.
On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in midair, killing 259 people on board and 11 residents in the town of Lockerbie, Scotland below. Several victims were Massachusetts' residents. Many questions about that bombing remain unanswered, but new clues suggest this cold case should get a fresh look.
In 2001 a Libyan, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was convicted in a special court in the Netherlands for planning the bombing. After serving only 8 years in a Scottish prison (about 11 days per victim), the Scots released him on "compassionate grounds" in August 2009. It was reported that he was about to die from prostate cancer. He didn't die until nearly 3 years later and I was not alone in believing that his release had more to do with oil than compassion. Within days, he was meeting with Muammar Qadaffi, who, according to The Guardian, "heaped praise on Scotland, his 'friend Gordon Brown', the Queen and Prince Andrew, saying all of them had contributed" to the release of al-Megrahi.
Among the 189 Americans on Pan Am 103 was a 25 year-old named David Dornstein. Ken Dornstein was 21 years old when his brother was killed. In an excellent three-part series on PBS's Frontline, Ken, a documentary-maker who has been investigating the bombing, makes a compelling case that bomb-maker Abu Agila Mas'ud should be added to the list of suspects.
It was reported last month that the Scots and the US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch have asked the Libyans for help in tracking down two suspects, presumably because of what Dornstein uncovered. While the suspects have not been named, the Libyans shouldn't have to look far to find Mas'ud or Qadaffi's former intelligence officer, Abdullah al-Senussi, as both are currently serving time in Libya after being convicted in the same trial. (The upheaval in Libya in the years that followed the 2011 killing of Qadaffi meant that his loyalists had to flea or try to hide and survive in a chaotic Libya where there is no love lost for the former regime.)
Dornstein's investigative work is impressive. One thing it should hopefully do is put to rest any suggestion that al-Megrahi was innocent. One of the most compelling things Dornstein presents is Libyan television footage of al-Megrahi's return to Libya, which shows some of the worst characters in the Qadaffi regime greeting him like a brother. If al-Megrahi was innocent, why was he warmly embracing al-Senussi and Al-Masud (who are identified in the video for the first time by Dornstein)?
This new information will also hopefully lead to a fresh look for evidence that may reach beyond Libya. At the time of the bombing, I was a foreign policy adviser to Senator Edward M Kennedy. In addition to supporting the bringing to trial of al-Megrahi and another Libyan who was ultimately acquitted, we encouraged the Clinton Administration to continue to investigate the many questions regarding possible Syrian and Iranian involvement in the bombing, questions that date back to the Reagan Administration.
The most widely held theory is that Iran, seeking revenge for the July 1988 downing of an Iranian Airbus by the USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf, sponsored Ahmed Jibril, the Syrian-based leader of the PFLP-GC to carry out the bombing. Jibril's plans were disrupted in the fall of 1988, when German agents raided his terrorist cells in Germany in an operation known as "Autumn Leaves." It was believed that Jibril then handed off the plans to Qadaffi who was all too happy to carry out the bombing because he hated President Ronald Reagan who had bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for the 1986 Libyan bombing of a discotheque in Berlin which killed 2 American soldiers and injured 79 others.
Several investigators at the time told us that only the two Libyans could be tried because they were the only two for whom prosecutors could make a case. With so much upheaval in the region, opportunities may now exist to obtain more leads and answers. The Obama Administration should make it a priority to quickly interview al-Senussi and Al-Masud. They might unlock answers to Qadaffi's personal involvement and perhaps answer questions about Iran and Syria. The US should also investigate other fresh evidence Dornstein has uncovered. And what of the Syria and Iran? Where is Ahmed Jibril? A 2012 New York Times reference to the Bashar al-Assad supporter suggests that he is either still in Syria, or perhaps Iran. And why did Scotland really let al-Megrahi go?
There are many questions that deserve a new look. The FBI might want to hire Ken Dornstein to give them a hand.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Visceral resistance to challenges to the Lockerbie narrative

[Lockerbie’s long shadow is the headline over a column by Dr Neil Berry published today on the Arab News website.  It reads as follows:]

The explosion of the Russian airbus over the Sinai desert had sombre echoes of Lockerbie, the destruction in 1988 above the Scottish town of that name of Pan Am Flight 103 by a terrorist bomb.

Lockerbie can be seen as a portent of the present dark moment. The fresh Paris atrocities are the latest chapter of a conflict in which non-Muslims increasingly perceive the Islamic world as a reservoir of motiveless malignity.

The issue of Lockerbie has been revived by a film recently broadcast by the PBS television network in the US and in the UK by BBC4. Hugely emotive, My Brother’s Bomber is the work of the American journalist, Ken Dornstein, who lost his older brother at Lockerbie and who has spent years investigating the attack. Dornstein takes for granted that the Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbasset Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of murdering 243 (mostly American) people at Lockerbie, was guilty as charged. But his film points an accusing finger at two possible accomplices, Abdullah Senussi, the late Libyan leader Col Qaddafi’s security chief, and Abu Agila Masud, the alleged bomb-maker. It conveys that the latter was also behind the 1986 attack on the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, popular with US servicemen, which led to the US bombing of Libya, for which Lockerbie was presumed vengeance. Currently imprisoned in Libya, the two men are now being treated as Lockerbie suspects by Scotland’s prosecuting authority.

The striking thing about Dornstein’s film is the one-eyed fixity of its gaze. Those unfamiliar with the tangled Lockerbie story could hardly grasp from it the disquiet about Megrahi’s conviction felt by British people of conscience, among them Dr Jim Swire, who, notwithstanding the loss of his daughter at Lockerbie became Megrahi’s friend, and the authors, John Ashton and Morag Kerr. They believe that the three Scottish judges who convicted Megrahi at a special court in the Netherlands perpetrated a gross miscarriage of justice. They question the credibility of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who testified that Megrahi bought clothes from him that were wrapped round the Lockerbie bomb; they insist that the claim that the bomb originated in Malta has to be set against strong indications that it was planted in London; and they point out that the timer attached to the bomb, a key piece of evidence in the prosecution of Megrahi, proved not to belong to a batch of timers sold to Libya by a Swiss firm.

Swire and his fellow skeptics believe that Megrahi’s conviction would not have survived the appeal he was preparing when, in 2009, diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was released by Scotland’s devolved government to return to Libya to die. Public outrage at his release was matched by that of the political establishments of London and Washington. Yet one may wonder if this official fury was not in some measure theatrical. An appeal might well have unveiled politically embarrassing matters: the lavish efforts made by the US to look after Tony Gauci; the CIA’s black propaganda war against Libya; the grounds for suspecting that the Lockerbie attack was orchestrated by Iran.

Swire figures fleetingly in My Brother’s Bomber. The film shows him going to pay his last respects to the Megrahi in Tripoli, with Dornstein in attendance. Kitted out with concealed recording equipment, Dornstein hoped to accompany Swire into the dying man’s home but was politely refused entry and ended up writhing with frustration outside.

My Brother’s Bomber plays to the familiar stark binary narrative of terrorized West versus demonic Arab world. It may be felt that Dornstein shares with the US media and public opinion a visceral resistance to challenges to this narrative. In truth, there has never been much chance of the mainstream western media lending credence to alternative versions of the Lockerbie story. Now, in the poisonous, furiously polarized aftermath of the Paris massacre, the freedom of people like Jim Swire to question the official story could become more circumscribed than ever.

Monday 3 August 2015

Forthcoming PBS Frontline programme on Lockerbie

The United States PBS Frontline current affairs programme has just announced on Twitter that its new series will start on 29 September 2015 with My Brother’s Bomber, a 3-part serial on Lockerbie. It states that a trailer will soon be available at www.pbs.org/frontline. The Twitter hashtag is #MyBrothersBomber.

Other tweets about the programme read:

@raneyaronson is joined on stage by #MyBrothersBomber producer Ken Dornstein + fmr FBI special agent on Lockerbie Richard Marquise

Only one person was ever convicted for the crime. In #MyBrothersBomber, Dornstein sets out to find who else was involved.

A report in Variety reads as follows:

PBS’ venerable documentary franchise “Frontline” is expanding into multi-part investigative series, exec producer Raney Aronson told reporters Sunday during PBS’ portion of the Television Critics Assn press tour.

“Frontline” has a three-part series, “My Brother’s Bomber,” bowing Sept 29. The series revisits the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland by following Ken Dornstein, the brother of victim David Dornstein, on a five-year trek through the Middle East in search of details and clues about the bombing that killed 270 passengers. The hunt was sparked after the only person convicted of the crime, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was released from a Scottish jail in 2009. (He died three years later in Libya.)

Aronson, who took the reins of “Frontline” from founding exec producer David Fanning in May, said the Boston-based operation has several large-scale investigations in the works that will be presented as multi-part series in the coming years. She said it was impossible to ignore the recent of deeply reported docu-serials such as public radio’s “Serial” and HBO’s “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”

“Frontline” is looking at options for “telling new stories in different ways,” Aronson told Variety. She would not elaborate on the nature of the investigative reports that are brewing.

In “My Brother’s Bomber,” Dornstein pursued new leads and some information was passed on to US law enforcement. Among those interviewed for the series is former Lockerbie investigator Richard Marquise, a retired FBI Special Agent. But the series “has been a work of journalism,” said Dornstein, a writer and filmmaker who previously worked for “Frontline.”

Monday 28 September 2015

IRA supplier named as ‘Lockerbie mastermind’

[This is the headline over a report published (behind the paywall) in today’s edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

A Libyan intelligence officer who helped supply the IRA with explosives in the 1980s is suspected of being the mastermind of the Lockerbie bomb plot.

A TV documentary to be aired this week in the US claims that Nasser Ali Ashour, who was the link between the IRA and the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, led the group responsible for the attack. He is among eight suspects sought by Scottish prosecutors, of whom only three are believed to be alive.

Last week, The Times reported that one, Abu Agila Mas’ud, believed to have manufactured the bomb, was being held in a Libyan prison, accused of unrelated charges. Another, Abdullah al-Senussi, Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, has been sentenced to death in Libya.

The documentary, part of the PBS TV programme Frontline, is the work of Ken Dornstein, whose brother David died when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988.

Ashour’s name has long been known to British intelligence. When a cargo ship, the Eksund, was captured by French customs in 1987, and found to be carrying Semtex explosives and weapons bound for Ireland, its captain named Ashour as the Libyan operative who had supervised the loading of the cargo in Tripoli.

Later he emerged as the senior intelligence officer who supervised the return to Libya of members of the Libyan embassy after the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in London in 1984.

Mr Dornstein has uncovered evidence that allegedly ties Ashour to the plot. The CIA also had him in their sights. He was interviewed by investigators after the bombing and although he denied any involvement, he was revealed in CIA cables to have travelled to Malta before the bomb was loaded on to a flight that linked to PanAm 103. [RB: But as Dr Morag Kerr has conclusively demonstrated in Adequately Explained by Stupidity?: Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies, the bomb suitcase was already in the Heathrow luggage container AVE4041 before any luggage from the relevant Malta flight could have arrived from Frankfurt.]

Ashour was accompanying the only man convicted of the bombing, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi.

A letter passed to the CIA by Edwin Bollier, a Swiss businessman who supplied the bomb timer to the Libyans and was a witness at al-Megrahi’s trial, includes Ashour’s telephone number.

Ashour was named in the Lockerbie judgment as head of operations in the Jamahiriya Security Organisation, the Libyan secret service under Colonel Gaddafi. He was said to have bought the timers from Bollier. One was later found at the Lockerbie site.

“Ashour is the most significant person who got away,” said Mr Dornstein.

“He has a history of supplying Semtex explosives. Edwin Bollier in his FBI statement in 1991 said that if he had to name the person who he thought was the prime suspect in the [Lockerbie] bombing, it would be Nasser Ashour.”

Ashour, whose whereabouts are unknown, was also a close colleague of another senior Libyan intelligence officer, Said Rashid, who died of a heart attack before he could be questioned. Rashid’s widow, who spoke to Mr Dornstein, said that she had always suspected that he had been involved in the bomb plot. (...)

A spokesman for the Lord Advocate said: “The Crown Office is aware of this individual. Evidence in relation to him featured at the original trial of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi at Camp Zeist.”

[RB: Ken Dornstein's revelations are not new. They have been circulating since the US State Department distributed in April 1992 its notorious (and now deleted) Briefing Note on Lockerbie. Details can be found on this blog here and here.

A further article by Mr Linklater in the same newspaper is headed One man's mission to find Lockerbie bombers.]

Friday 18 December 2020

“Is this an American attempt to influence the judges?"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Tom Peterkin in today's edition of The Press and Journal:]

The FBI agent who led the original Lockerbie investigation has revealed the atrocity’s latest suspect was on his “radar” 30 years ago but there was a struggle to prove the case against him.

Richard Marquise said it was strongly suspected Abu Agila Mohammad Masud was the “technician” responsible for the bomb that killed 270 people in the worst terrorist outrage committed on UK territory.

Mr Marquise was reacting to reports suggesting that US prosecutors will seek the extradition of Mr Masud and he will be charged in a matter of days, to stand trial in America.

As the man who led the US side of the inquiry into the bombing, Mr Marquise welcomed reports that Mr Masud could face justice, claiming any progress would be appreciated by the families who lost loved ones on Pan Am Flight 103.

“If there is going to be another trial, I’m sure the families will be… I’m not going to use the word thrilled…. because it doesn’t bring a loved one back. But I am sure they will be grateful,” Mr Marquise said. (...)

“He’s been on my radar for around 30 years,” Mr Marquise said. “He was someone we were very interested in, but we never quite found out who he was. The Libyans disavowed any knowledge of him. We knew he existed but he was never really identified.

“Back in 1991, we knew his name. We knew what he looked like and we knew what he allegedly was responsible for. He was the technician.”

The retired FBI agent added: “In my mind I always felt he was connected to it somehow But we didn’t have the clues to prove it.”

Kenny MacAskill, the former Justice Secretary who controversially released Megrahi on compassionate grounds, agreed.

“He was the one with the skills. He was on the original indictment, I’m led to believe. So he was always a wanted man,” Mr MacAskill said. “The idea that Megrahi did this on his own was absurd.”

Reports from the other side of the Atlantic suggest Mr Masud had been in custody in Libya on unrelated charges but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Since Mr Marquise’s official involvement in the investigation, there have been some developments. At the forefront of these have been the work of Ken Dornstein, a journalist whose brother David was on the London to New York flight.

In 2015 Mr Dornstein produced a investigative documentary, Lockerbie: My Brother’s Bomber, which linked Mr Masud to the bombing of Berlin’s La Belle nightclub in 1986.

Mr Dornstein interviewed a Libyan intelligence officer who said Mr Masud was involved in the bombing before the unification of Germany, which killed two US servicemen.

The same source alleged Mr Masud, by then in jail in Tripoli, was involved in the Lockerbie bombing and said he was still alive.

Mr Dornstein also claimed Mr Masud met Megrahi after the latter was freed from a Scottish jail in 2009 and given a hero’s welcome when he landed back in Libya. (...)

Mr MacAskill has already made it plain that he believes that people other than Megrahi should be held to account for the bombing.

“Question arise as to why, if they are going for Masud, aren’t they going for Senussi?” asked the former Justice Secretary. 

Mr MacAskill was referring to Abdullah Al Senussi, the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and former spy chief who has long been associated with the crime. (...)

“I heard over recent years the view of the Libyans was they don’t like Senussi and they don’t like Masud, but giving them up to the Americans is a step too far,” Mr MacAskill said.

“I think this is probably the juncture for Britain and America to be a bit more open in information they do have and produce it, as opposed to hiding it.”

What can be read into the timing of Masud’s extradition?

That is an interesting question, according to Professor Robert Black, an the Edinburgh University legal academic who has been a keen student of the Lockerbie case.

Professor Black is regarded as the architect of the Scottish court that was set up in Camp Zeist, Netherlands, to try Megrahi and his co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who was found not guilty.

“I wonder…. why now?” asked Professor Black. “Masud’s name has featured in the Lockerbie case since the very beginning, when charges were brought against Megrahi and Fhimah in 1991.”

“I think the answer to that is William Barr, the US Attorney General, is wanting to go out with a bang.”

This week it was announced that Mr Barr, who has been one of Donald Trump’s staunchest allies, is to step down as head of the US’s Justice Department.

Professor Black pointed out that Mr Barr was actually acting Attorney General way back in 1991 and was the one to announce that Megrahi and Fhimah were being charged.

“Now that he’s about to leave the scene, I think he wants to go out and his name to be remembered: Lockerbie at the beginning and Lockerbie at the end,” Professor Black said. (...)

Professor Black, who has long argued that Megrahi should not have been convicted on the evidence brought before Camp Zeist, suggested cynics might view attempts to extradite Musad as an attempt to make an impact on the appeal process.

“The other possibility is that it is a blatant attempt to influence the Scottish judges because they have got the latest Megrahi appeal before them and we await their judgement,” Professor Black said.

The argument would be that the existence of another high-profile Libyan suspect, alongside Megrahi, would back up the case for Libyan involvement in the crime.

“Is this an American attempt to influence the judges to uphold the Megrahi conviction? That’s a very, very cynical view.”

But cynicism was how the development was greeted by Megrahi family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar.

“It’s difficult not to be cynical about the motivation of the Americans, that on the eve of the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing as well as the appeal decision, the US now wish to indict an individual, 32 years after the bombing, what exactly have they been doing up until now?” said Mr Anwar

“Why would the Attorney General William Barr wait until just as he is about to step down from the Justice Department, considering that he was involved with this case since 1991.”