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

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 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.”

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.

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.]

Sunday 11 December 2022

Lockerbie bombing suspect in US custody

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

A Libyan man accused of making the bomb which destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie 34 years ago is in United States custody, Scottish authorities have said.

The US announced charges against Abu Agila Masud two years ago, alleging that he played a key role in the bombing on 21 December, 1988.

The blast on board the Boeing 747 left 270 people dead.

It is the deadliest terrorist incident to have taken place on British soil. (...)

Last month it was reported that Masud had been kidnapped by a militia group in Libya, leading to speculation that he was going to be handed over to the American authorities to stand trial.

In 2001 Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of bombing Pan Am 103 after standing trial at a specially-convened Scottish court in the Netherlands.

He was the only man to be convicted over the attack.

Megrahi was jailed for life but was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer.

He died in Libya in 2012. (...)

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: "The families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told that the suspect Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi ("Mas'ud" or "Masoud") is in US custody.

"Scottish prosecutors and police, working with UK government and US colleagues, will continue to pursue this investigation, with the sole aim of bringing those who acted along with Al Megrahi to justice."

[What follows is excerpted from a report just published on the website of The New York Times:]

The arrest of the operative, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud, was the culmination of a decades-long effort by the Justice Department to prosecute him. In 2020, Attorney General William P Barr announced criminal charges against Mr Mas’ud, accusing him of building the explosive device used in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans.

Mr Mas’ud faces two criminal counts, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death. He was being held at a Libyan prison for unrelated crimes when the Justice Department unsealed the charges against him two years ago. It is unclear how the US government negotiated the extradition of Mr Mas’ud.

Mr Mas’ud’s suspected role in the Lockerbie bombing received new scrutiny in a three-part documentary on “Frontline” on PBS in 2015. The series was written and produced by Ken Dornstein, whose brother was killed in the attack. Mr Dornstein learned that Mr Mas’ud was being held in a Libyan prison and even obtained pictures of him as part of his investigation. [RB: A critical commentary by John Ashton on the Dornstein documentary can be read here.] 

“If there’s one person still alive who could tell the story of the bombing of Flight 103, and put to rest decades of unanswered questions about how exactly it was carried out — and why — it’s Mr Mas’ud,” Mr Dornstein wrote in an email after learning Mr Mas’ud would finally be prosecuted in the United States. “The question, I guess, is whether he’s finally prepared to speak.”

After Col Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s leader, was ousted from power, Mr Mas’ud confessed to the bombing in 2012, telling a Libyan law enforcement official that he was behind the attack. Once investigators learned about the confession in 2017, they interviewed the Libyan official who had elicited it, leading to charges.

Even though extradition would allow Mr Mas’ud to stand trial, legal experts have expressed doubts about whether his confession, obtained in prison in war-torn Libya, would be admissible as evidence.

Mr Mas’ud, who was born in Tunisia but has Libyan citizenship, was the third person charged in the bombing. Two others, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were charged in 1991, but American efforts to prosecute them ran aground when Libya declined to send them to the United States or Britain to stand trial.

Instead, the Libyan government agreed to a trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law. Mr Fhimah was acquitted and Mr. al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. (...)

Prosecutors say that Mr Mas’ud played a key role in the bombing, traveling to Malta and delivering the suitcase that contained the bomb used in the attack. In Malta, Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah instructed Mr Mas’ud to set the timer on the device so it would blow up while the plane was in the air the next day, prosecutors said.

On the morning of Dec 21, 1988, Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah met Mr Mas’ud at the airport in Malta, where he turned over the suitcase. Prosecutors said Mr Fhimah put the suitcase on a conveyor belt, ultimately ending up on Pan Am Flight 103.

Mr Mas’ud’s name surfaced twice in 1988, even before the bombing took place. In October, a Libyan defector told the CIA he had seen Mr Mas’ud at the Malta airport with Mr Megrahi, saying the pair had passed through on a terrorist operation. Malta served as a primary launching point for Libya to initiate such attacks, the informant told the agency. That December, the day before the Pan Am bombing, the informant told the CIA that the pair had again passed through Malta. Nearly another year passed before the agency asked the informant about the bombing.

But investigators never pursued Mr Mas’ud in earnest until Mr Megrahi’s trial years later, only for the Libyans to insist that Mr Mas’ud did not exist. Mr. Megrahi also claimed he did not know Mr Mas’ud.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Still far too many questions surrounding the Lockerbie bombing

[What follows is excerpted from an article published today on the Stratfor website by Fred Burton, the company’s vice president of intelligence:]

Gadhafi never admitted to giving the order to take down Pan Am 103, although the Libyan government did take official responsibility and in 2003 paid out a total of $1.8 billion to the victims' families. What those families did not get was a sense of resolution. There are still far too many questions surrounding the Lockerbie bombing, still far too keen a sense that those at fault have gone unpunished.

PBS Frontline recently released the first segment of a new documentary called My Brother's Bomber, by Ken Dornstein, whose brother was killed in the Lockerbie bombing. Like all of us who lost friends or family in the attack, Dornstein is frustrated by the lack of resolution to the investigation, even 20 years later. In the film he documents his effort to track down the perpetrators on his own.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Lockerbie: the alternate theories

[This is the headline over a long article by Katie Worth that was published yesterday evening on the PBS website to accompany Ken Dornstein's films. It reads as follows:]

The only person ever convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland was Libyan. And although the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, never accepted personal blame for the attack, in 2003 his government took responsibility “for the actions of its officials” and agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to families of the bombing’s 270 victims.
But the case against Libya has never been universally accepted. Nearly 30 years since the attack, some victims’ family members, journalists, and investigators dispute the prosecution’s version of events. Among those who have found fault with the case include a United Nations observer to the Lockerbie trial, the trial’s legal architect and an independent review commission established by the Scottish government.
Over the years, alternative theories have proliferated, as have books and documentaries that purport to present the “real story” of what was one of the worst terrorist attacks against Americans before 9/11.


Two men were originally indicted for the Lockerbie attack: Abdel Basset al Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001, and a second Libyan, Lhamen Fhimah, who was acquitted. Over the course of their months-long trial, prosecutors alleged that Megrahi, a man U.S. investigators identified as a member of Libyan intelligence, and Fhimah, a station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines, were responsible for getting the suitcase believed to have carried the bomb onto Flight 103. The bomb was built into a Toshiba cassette recorder, and tucked inside a brown Samsonite suitcase with clothes that Megrahi was said to have purchased.
The court accepted the prosecution’s arguments against Megrahi and sentenced him to life in prison, but it acquitted Fhimah, stating that there was “insufficient corroboration” of the evidence against him.
This outcome was emphatically criticized by the United Nations observer to Megrahi’s trial, Hans Kochler, who in 2001 stated in his official report that the court’s decision was “exclusively based on circumstantial evidence and on a series of highly problematic inferences,” and that the guilty verdict “appears to be arbitrary, even irrational.”
The outcome was similarly decried by the man credited with creating the unique legal framework of the trial — a non-jury trial under Scots Law held in the neutral country of Netherlands — Edinburgh University emeritus law professor Robert Black. He has spent years blogging about his disagreement with Megrahi’s conviction, which he says was unwarranted considering the evidence, and would not have been replicated in a jury trial.
In 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, after more than three years of investigating, validated several of these misgivings, concluding that “some of what we have discovered may imply innocence” and referred Megrahi’s case to an appeal court in the interests of avoiding “a miscarriage of justice.”
The commission rejected several points of contention raised by critics, saying they found no signs that evidence had been tampered with, that the Libyans had been framed, or that there had been “unofficial CIA involvement” in the investigation. But other points were worrying enough that the case merited an appeal.
One point of concern for the commission involved a key witness for the prosecution — a shopkeeper from Malta named Tony Gauci, who testified that Megrahi had purchased the clothes that accompanied the bomb from his shop.
However, the commission found Gauci’s testimony problematic. He said it was raining the day Megrahi went shopping, but weather reports show it was likely not raining when Megrahi was in Malta. And Gauci said that Christmas lights on his streets were not yet on, when there is evidence that they were.
Gauci also identified Megrahi from a lineup as the man who came into his shop — but only after being shown a picture of him in a magazine. The commission said this detail “undermines the reliability of his identification” of Megrahi.
Megrahi’s defenders say there is still more to consider. In an interview with FRONTLINE filmmaker Ken Dornstein, John Ashton, who worked as a defense investigator during Megrahi’s first appeal and has written three books arguing that Megrahi was innocent, said the origin of the timer used in the bomb is questionable. According to metallurgists hired by the defense in 2009, the timer’s circuit board was a different color and coated in a different substance than those designed by MEBO, the Swiss company that the timer was linked back to and that had a relationship with the Libyans. This discrepancy “breaks the link with those timers, breaks the link with Libya, breaks the link with Megrahi,” said Ashton.
Ashton has also dismissed the prosecution’s allegation that the suitcase originated from Malta and travelled through Frankfurt, writing in a recent opinion piece that a researcher “has effectively proved that the bomb originated from Heathrow.” This theory hangs on evidence of a security breach at Heathrow Airport in London — where Pan Am Flight 103 originated — 18 hours prior to the attack. However, an appeals panel rejected this argument as grounds for a retrial. [RB: Dr Morag Kerr’s evidence establishing that the bomb suitcase was in luggage container AVE4041 before the baggage ever arrived on the feeder flight from Frankfurt is in no way linked to, or dependent upon, the break-in at Terminal 3.]
Many of these points have never seen their day in court, because Megrahi abandoned his second appeal right before he was released from Scottish prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds due to ill health.
“The appeal, had it gone forward, would have dragged the Scottish criminal justice through the mud,” Ashton said. “I believe they wanted this buried.”


The Libyans weren’t initially on investigators’ radar, according to a 1991 fact sheetreleased by the U.S. State Department: “The dominant hypothesis of the early stages of the Pan Am 103 investigation focused on indications that the bombing was the outcome of joint planning by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLC-GC).”
This theory stemmed from what the fact sheet described as “reliable intelligence” that indicated those groups were planning to attack a U.S. target in retaliation for an incident in which American warship USS Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus in July 1988, five months before Lockerbie.
Further, the bomb that exploded on Pan Am 103 was strikingly similar to one found in the car of a PFLC-GC militant during a raid in Frankfurt, Germany less than two months earlier. Both were concealed in a Toshiba radio and consisted of similar explosives. The PFLC-GC was also reportedly in possession of flight schedules. And the Frankfurt connection — the Pan Am 103 flight came from Frankfurt before landing in Heathrow and then departing for New York — seemed unlikely to be coincidental, some have said.
But investigators eventually turned away from this theory. Per the State Department, the Toshiba radios were different in appearance and used different bomb technology.  The PFLC-GC’s bomb used an altimeter for activation, while the bomb on Pan Am 103 used a sophisticated timer. And even though the origin of the suitcase that is believed to have carried the bomb onto Flight 103 would later raise questions, investigators said that it was most likely transferred from Malta to Frankfurt. This, the State Department memo said, pointed investigators’ attention to the Libyans, who had been traveling in and out of Malta.
Though investigators say they never found hard evidence of an Iranian-Palestinian conspiracy, last year, an Iranian defector to Germany gave the theory new life when he claimed the attack was ordered by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomheini “to copy exactly what happened to the Iranian Airbus” that had been shot down by the U.S. warship.
This theory has proved durable and, for many, convincing. In its 800-page review of the Lockerbie evidence, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission said the evidence found in the Frankfurt raid shortly before the Lockerbie bombing — including the Toshiba bomb and the flight timetable — led it to determine that “there was some evidence that could support an inference of involvement by” Palestinian terrorists.
Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter was one of the 270 victims of Flight 103, is among those who believe Megrahi was innocent. Swire has repeatedly told reporters that he believes Iran was primarily responsible for the attack, and that the U.S. did not pursue this angle because officials wanted  “to blame somebody, anybody, rather than Iran.”
Investigating the Iran link, says Swire, would have caused diplomatic problems at a time when Americans were negotiating over hostages in Lebanon.
“It seems to me that by far the most likely explanation for the blaming of Libya was to secure the release of Terry Waite and other hostages from Beirut,” Swire told The Telegraph in 2013.


The main competing theories of who was behind the attack — Libyans or a cohort of Iranian and/or Palestinian extremists — are not mutually exclusive for some of those who’ve looked into the case. After all, Libya, Iran and Palestinian terrorist groups had close ties, and had worked together in previous attacks.
Two years before Lockerbie, the State Department reported that Qaddafi had provided “safe haven, money and arms” to the PFLP-GC and had also announced a “strategic alliance” with Iran, which he hoped to “use as a foundation for joint operational planning for terrorist attacks against various regional foes.”
Nor did he express qualms about using these links to attack American targets. During a speech in 1985, Qaddafi remarked that “we have the right to fight America, and we have the right to export terrorism to them.”
Syria may have also been involved, according to some theories. Libya, Iran and Palestinian extremists all had links in Syria, and according to the State Department’s fact sheet, Syria was the primary political sponsor of PFLP-GC, and “was at least broadly aware” of the group’s alliances and operations.
So did the leaders Libya, Iran, Syria and a Palestinian extremist group collaborate to bring down Pan Am 103? The State Department did not dismiss the possibility in its 1991 memo.
“We cannot rule out a broader conspiracy between Libya and other governments or terrorist organizations,” the fact sheet stated. “Despite these links, we lack information indicating direct collaboration.”
Today, nearly 30 years after the attack, many such questions around Lockerbie have yet to be definitively answered. For some at least, that means the bombing will remain a mystery.

Monday 21 September 2015

The Avenger

A long article entitled The Avenger has been published today on the website of The New Yorker, to accompany Ken Dornstein’s forthcoming three-part PBS Frontline series My Brother’s Bomber. The article in The New Yorker has the subheading After three decades, has the brother of a victim of the Lockerbie bombing solved the case? I regret to say that the answer to that question must be “No”. Mr Dornstein accepts the Malta ingestion scenario and concludes that Megrahi was guilty. However, he fails to address, amongst other things, (a) the incontrovertible evidence produced by Dr Morag Kerr demonstrating that Heathrow was the point of ingestion (see Adequately Explained by Stupidity?: Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies); and (b) the metallurgical evidence that establishes that the fragment PT35b was not from one of the MST-13 timers supplied by MEBO to Libya.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

"The coverage of the film is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals"

[What follows is the text of an article by John Ashton headlined The Lockerbie Case published in today’s edition of the Scottish Review:]

Lockerbie is back in the news. On 15 October the Crown Office announced that the lord advocate and the US attorney general have agreed that two Libyan men should be treated as suspects. They have been named as Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker whose identity was until now a mystery, and Abdullah Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both men are currently in prison in Libya.

The announcement was prompted by the recent broadcast by the American PBS channel’s 'Frontline' series of a three-part documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, made by Ken Dornstein, who lost his brother David in the attack. Trailed by a long feature in The New Yorker, it suggests that the Libyan man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was guilty and that he acted with Masud.

The film has provided the much-derided Crown case against Megrahi with the only significant boost it has had since he was convicted almost 15 years ago. That case, accepted by the three Scottish law lords who tried him, went as follows. Two weeks before the bombing, on 7 December 1988, he bought a selection of clothes from a shop in Malta called Mary’s House. On 21 December 1988, while travelling on a false passport he placed an unaccompanied brown Samsonite suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt.

The suitcase contained the clothes and a bomb, and was labelled for New York on PA103. At Frankfurt it transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to London Heathrow, and at Heathrow to PA103. The bomb was allegedly built in to a Toshiba BomBeat brand RT-SF16 radio cassette player. A large percentage of the global total of this model had been imported by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Megrahi’s friend and relative Said Rashid, who was a senior figure in Libyan intelligence service, the JSO. More importantly, it was said to have been detonated by a timing device known as an MST-13, which had been designed and built to order for the JSO by a small Swiss company called Mebo, whose Zurich offices were shared by a Libyan company called ABH, in which Megrahi was a partner.

Before I go further, I should declare an interest. I worked for three years as a researcher for Megrahi, helping his lawyers prepare for his appeal against conviction, and following his return to Libya, at his request, I wrote his biography Megrahi: You are my Jury. I was also a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production in which capacity I was interviewed on camera (although the interview doesn’t appear in the film) and provided Ken with numerous documents. Although he and I hold very different views about the case, I like and respect him.

He has a profound need for clear answers about who killed his brother. He always believed that Megrahi was guilty and that he had acted on behalf of the Libyan state. He used the opportunity opened by the Libyan revolution to pursue the other alleged state players.

He accepts that the evidence suggesting Megrahi was the clothes purchaser was flawed. Not only was he very much younger, smaller and lighter-skinned than the man described by the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, but the evidence also suggested that the purchase date was not, as the crown alleged, 7 December 1988, but two weeks earlier, when Megrahi was not in Malta. Ken considers that these weaknesses in the Crown case are relatively insignificant when set again the other evidence that he has unearthed, the most important of which concerns Abu Agila Masud.

We have always known that on the morning of the bombing Masud was on the same flight as Megrahi from Malta to Tripoli and that they had been on other flights together in the previous weeks. Megrahi denied knowing him, as did the Libyans interviewed by Lockerbie investigators prior to Megrahi’s trial. The film reveals that, according to a German court judgment, Masud was the technical mastermind behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack prompted US air strikes on Libya, which in turn, according to the official Lockerbie narrative, prompted Libya to bomb Pan Am 103. Furthermore, the film suggests, Masud was in the car that greeted Megrahi at the airport on his return to Libya in 2009. Then, earlier this year, a Libyan court convicted him of making booby-trapped car bombs during the 2011 revolution.

The film also focuses on another alleged plotter, Said Rashid, who greeted Megrahi on the steps of the aircraft on his arrival home. Ken got access to Rashid’s abandoned house, where he found diaries in which he had described Malta as a launch pad for terrorism against the west. Malta, of course, was where the Libyans allegedly launched the Lockerbie bomb.

Megrahi was always open about his close relationship with Rashid and other notorious senior security figures, including the newly named suspect Abdallah Senussi, who, like Rashid, was a relation. Megrahi: You are my Jury made clear that both Rashid and Senussi were allegedly involved in terrorism – in Rashid’s case the La Belle bombing.

The evidence that Ken has assembled is substantial and I do not dismiss it out of hand, but, for reasons set out below, I believe the conclusions he has built upon it are unsustainable.

His film has prompted an avalanche of media coverage, almost all of it uncritical. The Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader, Times columnist Magnus Linklater, has even declared that '[it] is time to extinguish the last embers of controversy that have heated the Lockerbie case for so long'. 

Anything that places Lockerbie back in the spotlight is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, however, the coverage of the film is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals.

The first significant omission is a consideration of the evidence from Libya and of Megrahi’s behaviour. At the start of the Libyan revolution four years ago, the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil claimed to have proof that Colonel Gaddafi ordered the bombing. Since then nothing has emerged publicly from the country’s security archives to implicate the Gaddafi regime and Megrahi in the bombing. Jalil later claimed he had been misquoted and the best he could offer by the way of evidence was the fact that the regime had paid Megrahi’s legal bills. Said Rashid’s papers implicated Rashid in terrorism, but there was nothing new and substantial to demonstrate that he had a role in Lockerbie.

The only genuine document to emerge from the ruins of the old regime that speaks directly to the suspects’ private views on the case is a letter by Megrahi to Senussi, reported on by The Wall Street Journal, in which he protested his innocence. (The WSJ speculated that he might have expected the prison staff to check his mail, but that didn’t happen, as he was free to hand over correspondence to the Libyan consulate staff who frequently visited him.)

Megrahi continued to plead his innocence following his return to Libya in 2009. By then there was nothing for him to lose in admitting his guilt, yet he wouldn’t and he spent much of his remaining time cooperating with me in writing his biography – hardly the actions of a guilty man. The Gaddafi regime also had nothing to lose. In 2004 it made a formal admission of responsibility and paid compensation for the bombing, but only because it was obliged to do so in order to free itself of crippling UN sanctions, which had been imposed under US and UK sponsored Security Council resolutions passed in the early 90s. It never made an unambiguous admission of guilt.

Megrahi didn't act like a terrorist when he was in Malta. Although he travelled on a coded passport under a false name, he went to visit his co-accused Lamin Fhimah’s Maltese business partner, whom he had never met before, and introduced himself under his real name. He then stayed the night at the Holiday Inn, rather than at one of the island’s Libyan-owned hotels, despite having stayed there for two nights only a fortnight earlier under his own name. He kept the passport for 11 years until he went to The Netherlands to stand trial and handed it over to the prosecution; again, not what one would expect of a terrorist.

Megrahi told a number of lies, not least, it seems, about his relationship with Masud, but lies do not prove guilt. Truth telling is a luxury of liberal democracies. In countries like Gaddafi’s Libya it can be fatal.

A second omission is the strong evidence that points away from Megrahi and Libya. Unlike the Libyans, the original suspects in the bombing, the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), had a track record of bombing aircraft. Moreover, they made bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players, the same brand – although a different model – that was used to destroy Pan Am 103. According to their bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat, who was arrested in Germany with other members of the group two months before Lockerbie in an operation code-named Autumn Leaves, his fellow arrestee Hafez Dalkamoni had come to Germany to coordinate an attack on a western airline and had shown a particular interest in Pan Am. 

The German cell also had a link to Malta through the Swedish-based terrorist Mohamed Abu Talb, some of whose associates had visited Dalkamoni and Khreesat’s German apartment two weeks before the Autumn Leaves raids, and who himself visited Malta around the same time. 

There have been suggestions that the PFLP-GC and the Libyans somehow joined forces and that the Libyans were responsible for the plot’s final execution. This would make sense if the Autumn Leaves arrests had halted the PFLP-GC’s operation. However, other evidence suggests that it continued. Khreesat told the German police that other members of the group had evaded arrest, including one called Abu Elias, who, Khreesat gleaned, was to have an important role in the planned attack. Another PFLP-GC member called Mobdi Goben, who led the group's Yugoslavian cell and was visited by members of the German cell shortly before their arrest, later claimed that the bombing had been coordinated by Abu Elias. 

Further evidence that the PFLP-GC’s plot remained active after the Autumn Leaves raids came in a warning circulated by the US State Department's bureau of diplomatic security three weeks before Lockerbie (and a few days before the better known and allegedly hoax Helsinki warning). It stated that a group of radical Palestinians in Europe was planning to target Pan Am, adding 'Timeframe is present'. 

A number of declassified US intelligence documents have stated as fact that the bombing was commissioned from the PFLP-GC by Iran in revenge for the accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 by US battlecruiser the USS Vincennes six months earlier. Former CIA agent Robert Baer revealed specific details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC attack, which he said came from a number of reliable sources. Another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials who were close to PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril that the group was behind the bombing. 

None of this rules out Libyan involvement in the attack: Libya backed the PFLP-GC and may well have provided logistical and material support to the bombers. This scenario was one that neither the Lockerbie prosecutors nor the Libyans themselves would wish explored. 

A third omission is the evidence suggesting that the La Belle bombing was not a straightforward act of Libyan terrorism. Three of the four people convicted of the bombing worked at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin: Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa and Libyan Musbah Eter. Eter confessed to his role in the bombing in 1996 and became the key prosecution witness (Chanaa also confessed but his evidence was not relied upon by the prosecution). Also central to the case were files from the former East Germany security service, the Stasi, which documented information provided by its network of informers within Berlin’s Arab community.

The files appeared to corroborate Eter’s claim that Masud was a bomb technician and indicated that he was in Berlin around the time of the bombing. The Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case all denied knowledge of Masud. Also important to the case were intercepts of incriminatory messages supposedly sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Said Rashid was identified as the main voice behind the instructions from Tripoli. Ostensibly, all this was convincing evidence of Masud’s and Libya’s guilt. But other evidence suggests the bombing had some very murky undercurrents.

The Stasi files suggested that the staff of the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau were far from being a close band of Gaddafi loyalists. Most startlingly, they showed that Musbah Eter had a long-standing relationship with the CIA. A 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF alleged that, at the time of his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

Some of the Stasi’s Arab informants also had a relationship with the CIA. So too did a number of non-Libyans, whom the Stasi files implicated in the wider La Belle plot, but who escaped justice. One key informant, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, and his brother Mohamed, both of whom were both close to Chraidi, ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians. The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. In the months prior to the attack the cell lived in East Berlin and met the defendants almost daily. Hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. Their movements were monitored by both the Stasi and the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB, who concluded that they were working for Western intelligence. A declassified KGB document indicated that Jaber was suspected of being an agent provocateur, who was being used by the CIA to concoct a case against Libya. The KGB reported that, two days before the bombing, he told his CIA contacts that it would cost $30,000, rather than the previously quoted amount, $80,000. Another member of the group admitted to ZDF that he was a Mossad asset.

All this is important in the light of the widely reported and well documented fact that throughout the Reagan presidency the CIA ran a massive covert campaign against Libya. In the run up to the La Belle attack, the US navy conducted aggressive exercises off the coast of Libya, which were clearly designed to provoke a Libyan military response, although none came. The bombing gave the White House hawks the excuse they craved to strike. 

When the US released the incriminatory intercepts to the German authorities a decade after the attack they appeared to be genuine. However, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky the Americans were duped by a Mossad, who broadcast phony messages from Tripoli. Neither the La Belle prosecutor Detlev Mehlis nor the FBI bothered to interview Ostrovsky about his claims. 

To be clear, I do not claim that Libya, Said Rashid and Abouagela Masud were not involved in La Belle – I would not be surprised if they were – I merely caution against taking a black and white view of the case.

The fourth major omission in the recent media coverage is the evidence that demonstrates that the Lockerbie bomb did not originate in Malta. To remind you, Megrahi's conviction rested on the belief that he had managed to smuggle a bomb contained in an unaccompanied suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt and that this case had been transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to Heathrow, where it was transferred to PA103. The claim relied upon two documents from Frankfurt airport, which, according to the Crown, demonstrated that an unaccounted-for suitcase had been transferred from KM180 to PA103A.

However, that claim in turn relied upon a number of shaky inferences about the documents and the surrounding events at Frankfurt (which are documented in Megrahi: You are my Jury and, more exhaustively, in Dr Morag Kerr's book, Adequately Explained by Stupidity?).

Megrahi's conviction depended upon two still more unlikely assumptions. The first was that he had struck very lucky. Forensic evidence suggested that the bomb's position within luggage container AVE4041 was such that it was as close as it could be to the skin of the aircraft and that had it been any further away it would not have penetrated the skin and caused the plane to disintegrate. 

The second was that he had managed to circumvent Air Malta's baggage loading procedures. Unlike Pan Am's these were unusually strict; they required the head loader to physically count all the bags to make sure the total tallied with the number checked in. To ensure that he had done so, he was not told this number, but instead had to report the total to the flight's ramp dispatcher, who would check it against the checked-in total. KM180's records showed that the numbers had matched. The police investigation established that all these bags had made it onto the flight and been collected by their owners, which ruled out the possibility that Megrahi or an accomplice had managed to swap the bomb suitcase for a check-in bag prior to the head loader's count.

The only witness from any of the three airports investigated by the police who could recall seeing a brown Samsonite case of the type that contained the bomb was a Pan Am loader at Heathrow called John Bedford. On the day of the bombing he was based in the so-called interline shed, which processed bags transferred from other flights, but not those from PA103A from Frankfurt, which allegedly carried the suitcase from Malta.

When interviewed by the police he remembered clearly that it was lying flat in the luggage container AVE4041 in the approximate position that the explosion later took place. He said he noticed it when he returned from his tea break at around 16.45 and that a colleague, Sulkash Kamboj, had told him that he had placed it there. (Kamboj subsequently had no recollection of doing so and there is no suggestion that he was part of the bomb plot.) 

Crucially, Bedford went off duty before PA103A arrived from Frankfurt, so the suitcase he saw could not have originated from that flight and could therefore not have been a rogue suitcase from the Air Malta flight KM180. Equally crucially, he and the two other loaders who saw AVE4041 were sure that, by the time it was taken to PA103A to be topped up with baggage from Frankfurt, the base of the container was covered by a single layer of baggage, which consisted of at least five cases standing vertically along the back and two lying flat at the front.

These details were important because two police memos uncovered during preparations for Megrahi's second appeal showed that only six legitimate interline bags would have been loaded into AVE4041, none of which matched that described by Bedford. Clearly then, the Bedford suitcase was rogue and, to the best of his recollection, it matched the one that contained the bomb.

Further evidence that the bomb was planted at Heathrow has been unearthed and compiled in an exhaustive investigation by researcher Dr Morag Kerr in her book Adequately Explained by Stupidity?. Taken together, the Heathrow evidence is far more convincing evidence of the bomb's origin than the fact that Megrahi and Abouagela Masud left Malta together on the morning of the bombing.

The final important omission is the evidence that destroys the Crown’s central claim that the Lockerbie bomb contained an MST-13 timer from a batch supplied by the Swiss company Mebo to Libya. The claim relied upon a fragment of circuit board known as PT/35(b), which was found within the Lockerbie debris.

According to the Crown, it matched the boards used in the Libyan batch, which had been made for Mebo by another Swiss company, Thüring. However, there was a crucial difference, which was not revealed to the trial court: PT/35(b)’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards in the timers supplied to Libya were plated with a tin-lead alloy. In 2008 Thüring’s production director confirmed to Megrahi’s lawyers that the company had only every used tin-lead alloy plating. It meant that the fragment could not have been from one of the MST-13s supplied to Libya. 

As well as omitting such vital evidence, the media coverage surrounding 'My Brother’s Bomber' has swerved an urgent question: given that Abu Agila Masud apparently linked the La Belle attack and Lockerbie, why did the Lockerbie investigators never make anything of the fact? It's clear from the statements of Scottish police officers that Masud was a prime suspect from 1991 onwards. In 1997 he was named in the indictment against the La Belle accused. Had the Lockerbie prosecutors known of the link, they should have used it to bolster the weak circumstantial case that they had assembled against Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamin Fhimah. The fact that they did not looks like a major cock up, which the announcement of the pursuit of the two new suspects has effectively concealed. The Crown Office claims that there is now a 'proper basis' in Scots law to treat the two men as suspects, implying that there wasn’t previously. In fact, such a basis has existed since 1991.

The initiative has already descended into farce. The Crown Office has discussed getting access to the suspects with the internationally recognised government in Tobruk, which is powerless to help, because they are being held by the rival government in Tripoli. That government is willing to allow the Crown Office to interview the suspects, but has heard nothing from them. As leading Libya observer Jason Pack has observed, given the very delicate political situation in the country, which the UN is attempting to resolve by brokering the formation of a national unity government, the Crown Office’s announcement seems 'particularly ill-timed and naïve'.

I can believe that the police and FBI failed to be sufficiently curious about La Belle, but find it hard to believe that the CIA missed the Masud link with Lockerbie. In the official narrative, the two bombings were umbilically linked. The CIA of all people should therefore have been alert to the possibility that there were common players between the two attacks. They could not have been unaware that Masud had been implicated in La Belle if the man who implicated him, Musbah Eter, was one of their own.

Why, then, was it not until 19 years after Eter named Masud, and 18 years after he was named in the La Belle indictment, that the Lockerbie connection was made? And why did it fall to one of the Lockerbie victims' relatives to make the connection? Clearly the Libyans kept silent about Masud because they knew that the La Belle connection, whether genuine or not, would damage Megrahi and Fhimah's prospects at trial, but why the apparent silence from the CIA?

We are unlikely to get answers to these and the many other questions that cloud Lockerbie. We should applaud Ken Dornstein for adding some pieces to the jigsaw. He has seen a picture that he finds convincing, but when I look at the other pieces, I am equally sure he is wrong and that, if we ever get to see the complete picture, the part he has illuminated may prove to be peripheral.

We must nevertheless hope that Masud and Senussi are handed over to the Scottish authorities, unlikely as that prospect may currently seem. The case urgently needs reopening and a trial of the two men may be the best way of achieving it. Should there be one, the prosecution would have to re-run most of the discredited case that convicted Megrahi, and the defence would be armed with vital exculpatory evidence that the Crown previously withheld. The result, I predict, would be a deepening rather than an answering of Lockerbie’s mysteries.