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

Monday 22 October 2018

Pik's Lockerbie mystery

[This is the headline over an article published on 20 October 2018 in South Africa's Saturday Star newspaper by retired Kwazulu-Natal High Court judge Chris Nicholson. The following are excerpts:]

On January 11, 1989 [South African foreign minister Pik] Botha travelled to Stockholm in Sweden with other foreign dignitaries – including UN Secretary-general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar – for the funeral of the UN’S Commissioner for South-west Africa, Bernt Carlsson. Botha was interviewed by Sue Macgregor on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and alleged that he and a 22-strong South African delegation, who were booked to fly from London to New York on December 21, 1988, had been targeted by the ANC. However, having been alerted to these ANC plans to kill him, Botha said he managed to outsmart them by taking the earlier Pan Am Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK Airport, New York.

Despite having the knowledge, the question remains why he did not tell the airline security and alert the other passengers that their deaths were going to follow in a few minutes. Is there any other conclusion but that Botha was happy for them to go to their deaths?

The notion that Botha was warned is bolstered by statements made by Oswald Le Winter, who worked for the CIA from 1968 to 1985, and Tiny Rowland in the 1994 film The Maltese Double Cross. This film was made by Allan Francovich, who later died under suspicious circumstances.

In the film Le Winter quotes Rowland as disclosing that Botha had told him he and 22 South African delegates were going to New York for the Namibian Independence Ratification Ceremony and were all booked on the Pan Am Flight 103. They were given a warning from a source which could not be ignored and changed flights. The source revealed by Le Winter is the SA Bureau for State Security (BOSS), which he claims had close contacts with Israeli intelligence and the CIA.

The grave misgivings of the public about this tragedy persuaded a relative of a victim to write to retired South African MP Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party, asking him to make enquiries on the South African side. On June 5, 1996, Eglin asked Justice Minister Dullah Omar in Parliament if Pik Botha and his entourage “had any plans to travel on this flight (Pan Am Flight 103) or had reservations for this flight; if so, why were the plans changed?” In reply on June 12, 1996, Omar stated he had been informed by Botha that shortly before finalising their booking arrangements for travel from Heathrow to New York, they learnt of an earlier flight from London to New York, namely, Pan Am Flight 101. They were booked and travelled on this flight to New York.

Eglin wrote back on July 18, 1996, and added: “Since then I have done some more informal prodding. This has led me to the person who made the reservations on behalf of the South African foreign minister Pik Botha and his entourage. This person assures me that he and no one else was responsible for the reservations, and the reservation made in South Africa for the South African group was originally made on PA 101, departing London at 11:00 on 21 December 1988. It was never made on PA 103 and consequently was never changed. He made the reservation on PA 101 because it was the most convenient flight connecting with South African Airways Flight SA 234 arriving at Heathrow at 07:20 on 21 December 1988.”

Eglin gave the victim’s family the assurance that he had “every reason to trust the person referred to” as he had been given a copy of “rough working notes and extracts from his personal diary of those days”. In his letter Eglin wrote: “In the circumstances, I have to accept that an assertion that the reservations of the South African group were either made or changed as a result of warnings that might have been received is not correct.”

Could the “rough working notes” and the “personal diary of those days” have been fabricated to save Pik Botha’s skin from a most embarrassing and possibly criminal act? Two years before Eglin asked the questions in Parliament, Botha was contacted by the press and his replies were reported on a Reuters Textline of November 12, 1994, under the heading “South African Minister denies knowing of Lockerbie Bomb”.

The article said: “Former foreign minister Pik Botha denied on Saturday he had been aware in advance of a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. The minister confirmed through his spokesman that he and his party had been booked on the ill-fated airliner but switched flights after arriving early in London from Johannesburg.”

There is further confirmation of the fabrication from other sources. On November 12, 1994, Botha’s spokesperson, Gerrit Pretorius, told Reuters that Botha and 22 South African negotiators, including Defence Minister Magnus Malan and Foreign Affairs director Neil van Heerden, had been booked on Pan Am Flight 103. He said “the flight from Johannesburg arrived early in London and the embassy got us on to an earlier flight. Had we been on Pan Am Flight 103 the impact on South Africa and the region would have been massive. It happened on the eve of the signing of the tripartite agreements,” said Pretorius, referring to pacts signed at the UN headquarters on December 22, 1988, which ended South African and Cuban involvement in Angola, and which led to Namibian independence.

Another statement by Pretorius was in appallingly bad taste: “The minister is flattered by the allegation of near-omniscience.” Pretorius goes on to explain again how the change had come about. “But we… got to London an hour early and the embassy got us on an earlier flight. When we got to JFK (airport) a contemporary of mine said, ‘Thank God you weren’t on 103. It crashed over Lockerbie’.”

There is further confirmation of the change of flight from another spokesperson for Pik Botha. “Had he known of the bomb, no force on Earth would have stopped him from seeing to it that Flight 103 with its deadly cargo would not have left the airport,” his spokesperson Roland Darroll told Reuters after consulting the minister.

Theresa Papenfus has written a hagiography of Botha and his times, which gives a further version of the events of that fateful night. Papenfus says: “A former member of staff related that there had been a hitch in the travel arrangements. The SAA flight took off from Johannesburg for London on 20 December 1988… I was concerned with the travel arrangements to New York. Because Pik preferred Frankfurt Airport to Heathrow, the party was booked on (Pan Am) Flight 103 from Frankfurt via London to New York.”

This conflicts diametrically with the statement that there never was a booking on Flight 103. Papenfus goes on to say: “It was the third scheduled daily transatlantic flight from London to John F Kennedy Airport in New York. But this schedule would have interfered with affairs of the heart. The official had a fiancée in London and he simply had to see her. He arranged for the delegation to take an earlier flight, from Johannesburg to London and then from London to New York.”

The official who changed the bookings was clearly with Botha. Papenfus says: “Once they arrived at New York the official had to attend to the usual administrative duties of ministerial staff. While the ministers were being whisked away from the airport in cars their baggage had to be collected and their passports stamped. Through the glass panels he could see people showing signs of hysteria. Some were crying, others screaming and a few were lying on the ground. ‘Americans!’ he muttered to himself. Then he was told by a member of the secret service that the Boeing on Pan Am Flight 103 had crashed. This was the flight on which the South African delegation had originally been booked.”

Papenfus admits a further intriguing detail: “In response to enquiries the Department of Foreign Affairs initially officially denied that seats had ever been booked for the ministerial party on Pan Am Flight 103. They said that the bookings had been on Flight 101 right from the beginning.” Papenfus concludes: “The tragedy claimed the life of the UN’S Commissioner for South West Africa, Mr Bernt Carlsson of Sweden. He was supposed to have been present at the signing of the agreements.”

The question remains whether he was not the real target of those who put the bomb on Pan Am 103.

[RB: Further treatment on this blog of the Pik Botha story can be found here.] 

Saturday 12 November 2016

South Africa minister denies knowing of Lockerbie bomb

[This is the headline over a Reuters news agency report that was issued on this date in 1994. It reads as follows:]
Former South African foreign minister Pik Botha denied on Saturday he had been aware in advance of a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 killing 270 people.
The minister confirmed through his spokesman that he and his party had been booked on the ill-fated airliner but switched flights after arriving early in London from Johannesburg.
He was travelling with South African officials to negotiate peace in Namibia and Angola.
Botha was reacting to a report in The Scotsman newspaper on Saturday which said a documentary film The Maltese Double Cross alleged Botha, now South Africa's energy minister, and security chiefs were warned of the bomb and did not travel.
"Had he known of the bomb, no force on earth would have stopped him from seeing to it that flight 103, with its deadly cargo, would not have left the airport," Botha's spokesman Roland Carroll told Reuters after consulting the minister. "The minister is flattered by the allegation of near omniscience."
Gerrit Pretorius, at the time Botha's private secretary, said the then foreign minister and 22 South African negotiators, including defence minister Magnus Malan and foreign affairs director Neil van Heerden, had been booked on flight 103. "But to London an hour early and the embassy got us on to an earlier flight. When we got to JFK airport in New York a contemporary of mine said 'Thank God you weren't on 103. It crashed over Lockerbie'", Pretorius told Reuters.
Darroll said that South African diplomats in the United States were convinced at the time that Botha and his team were on flight 103. He said the flight from Johannesburg arrived early in London after a Frankfurt stopover was cut out. "Had we been on 103 the impact on South Africa and the region would have been massive. It happened on the eve of the signing of the tripartite agreements," said Pretorius, referring to pacts which ended South African and Cuban involvement in Angola and which led to Namibian independence.
British legislator Tam Dalyell said on Saturday he was going to screen the documentary on the bombing at the House of Commons after it was pulled out of a film festival for legal reasons.
The film by American Allan Francovich challenges the official British and US view that two Libyan agents alone planted a radio cassette bomb that killed everyone aboard the jumbo jet and 11 people in the small Scottish town. The Scotsman said the film claims the United States intelligence service CIA allowed Pan Am flights to be used for regular drug runs to gain leverage with Middle East guerrilla groups.
It said a former CIA agent says in the film he was asked to set up a 'dirty tricks' operation to implicate Libya in drug running. The paper said the bomb was unwittingly carried onto the flight from London to New York by suspected drug runner Khaled Jaafar, one of the 270 victims.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Of Mandela, Shamuyarira and the Lockerbie affair

[This is the headline over a report published today on the website of the Zimbabwean newspaper The Herald.  It reads in part:]

Tributes to veteran nationalist, journalist and politician Nathan Shamuyarira who died on June 4 at the age of 85 underlined his diplomatic and political achievements at local, regional and international levels.

As tributes poured in, Shamuyarira was described as a remarkable and admirable politician who contributed immensely to the shaping and development of Zimbabwe’s media and foreign policy. (...)

In April, 1999, Nelson Mandela refused to take full credit for the Lockerbie breakthrough which resulted in Libya handing over two suspects of the PanAm bombing over Lockerbie in 1988 in which 270 people were killed.

Speaking to businessmen in Midrand, the anti-apartheid struggle leader said there were other people who played an important role in the negotiations, singling out former Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs Minister Nathan Shamuyarira.

“He is the person who came to me and said let’s talk and settle this issue,” Mandela was quoted as saying, adding that he then spoke to former American President George Bush and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahed.

“Without these two (Shamuyarira and King Fahed) I don’t think there would have been a breakthrough,” he said.

Mandela was not puffed up by the huge praise he got internationally for his role in the Lockerbie diplomatic effort.

He repeatedly shrugged off the praise.

Shamuyarira too, shrugged off the praise, only demonstrating his distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination to have the Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing tried in a neutral country.

In an interview in April 1999, Shamuyarira said there were a number of inconsistencies in the case that pointed to a political victimisation of Libya and if brought to court, such evidence would exonerate Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al–Amin Khalifa Fahima.

“I have evidence that convinced me and Presidents Mugabe and Nelson Mandela and other world leaders that the Libyans were not involved.

“It was on the basis of these inconsistencies that I asked the two presidents to seek a fair trial for the two men,” Shamuyarira was quoted saying then.

According to a news agency report, one of the factors Shamuyarira felt would work for the Libyans when their trial starts in the Netherlands was that some people scheduled to fly on the Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to New York on December 20 1988 were apparently warned that the flight was doomed and should change.

The plane blew up over Lockerbie in Scotland and killed 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground.

“One of these people is then South African foreign affairs minister Pik Botha who was scheduled to take that flight to New York. He and others were tipped off and changed flights.

“Whoever tipped them had prior knowledge of the bomb and if it were the Libyans, surely, the last person they would tip was Botha given the animosity between Libya and South Africa the,” said Shamuyarira who served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1985 and 1995.

This earned Shamuyarira who initiated talks that the Libyan suspects be tried in a neutral country, wide acclaim and made him to become a true giant of Zimbabwean and African foreign policy. (...)

Late veteran politician Dr Stan Mudenge who was Foreign Affairs Minister in 1999 described the breakthough as an African Union triumph over western bullying.

“When you look back at the whole issue, one can rightly say Africa as a whole won a major battle over western bullying. Each one of us as Africans did their bit and we won,” Dr Mudenge said back then.

With the Lockerbie case, Shamuyarira showed that he was a formidable force of Pan African  diplomacy – an indefatigable champion in the cause of peace, who worked tirelessly for a better world through peaceful conflict resolution mechanism.

His energies devoted to finding a peaceful way forward for the Libyan case led to the suspension of the embargoes that had been put in place to force Tripoli to surrender the two men charged with blowing up Pan Am Flight 103.

Shamuyarira, who has been credited as the first person to initiate talks on the possibility of having the Libyans tried in a neutral country.

To some great measure, Shamuyarira’s pre-eminent role in the Lockerbie affair, forced Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, who died on 20 October 2011, to ‘demote’ Pan Arabism as a plank of Libya’s foreign policy.

[I reproduce this because it pays tribute to an African politician who played a not insignificant part in resolving the Lockerbie impasse that existed in the late 1990s, not because it is in all respects accurate about the factual and political background, which it clearly is not. For example, the story about Pik Botha being warned off Pan Am 103 has been discredited. And the all-too common assumption that Gaddafi had the power to compel the two accused to surrender for trial whether they wanted to or not, is just simply false.  I was involved at the time in Lockerbie dealings with both the Libyan Government and the Libyan defence team headed by Dr Ibrahim Legwell. If the Libyan Government had had the power to deliver Megrahi and Fhimah to Zeist against their will, the pair would have been there long before April 1999. The Gaddafi regime had the power to prevent the suspects from voluntarily surrendering themselves for trial (eg by preventing them from leaving Libya). But that was as far as the regime’s power went. It had no power to compel them to stand trial at Zeist if they chose not to.  What impeded a resolution of the Lockerbie standoff for years was not the Libyan Government nor the Libyan defence team, but the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States. It was on these governments that Mandela, Shamuyarira and others had to exert diplomatic and moral pressure to accept the solution that had long before been accepted by the Libyan authorities and the Libyan defence team. All this is explained here, for those interested in the true position.]

Monday 7 December 2009

Dr Swire on "Pan Am 103: what really happened?"

[What follows is a response by Dr Jim Swire to some of the comments made by readers on the Pan Am 103: what really happened? thread.]

I must congratulate 'Rolfe' and Patrick Haseldine on the interesting set of comments re Pik Botha, Carlsson and Pan Am 103. At the same time I hope they will forgive me for pointing out that to us the relatives, this all falls into the category of 'speculation'.

That is so due to the flat refusal of successive UK governments despite our lobbying of every single Prime Minister since 1988 to allow any meaningful inquiry into the events leading up to the disaster. Had they fulfilled their legal obligation to provide such an inquiry, then hopefully much of this speculation would have reached at least the level of confidence given to those aspects of the disaster which were the subject of the Zeist court and inquiries.

Personally I entered the Zeist courtroom expecting to see the murderers of my daughter condemned and punished. The effect was the opposite, the evidence and the way in which it was derived and used, convinced me that neither Megrahi nor Fhimah were guilty as charged. But I was left with some relatively reliable information, compared with that derived from the best efforts of those people, may of them so well meaning, who previously had had no access whatever to any means of penetrating the official wall of silence, being obliged to speculate as a result of their (and our) exclusion.

As 'Rolfe' says, if it is true that Botha's party had reached London early, enabling the embassy 'on the spur of the moment' to book them on the earlier PA101, I see nothing suspicious in that, but as 'Rolfe' points out, if it is true that they were rebooked onto PA101 at the last minute, 'but some of their retinue could not get seats on that flight and thereupon returned to South Africa' that would be very, very interesting.

The logical speculation from that point would be that they must have known that PA103 was unsafe, for PA103 was only 2/3 full that night. 'Rolfe''s conclusion that such a development would constitute support for knowledge of a much more specific warning than those provided in the 'Helsinki' warning and other warnings already known to have been received would be valid. Patrick correctly confirms that not a single member of the Botha team was on PA103.

Why was PA103 only 2/3 full just before Christmas?

Is 'Rolfe' able to provide chapter and verse for his comment that 'instead of taking up their existing bookings on PA103 [they] just turned round and went home'?

The Zeist court had little to say about any regime's involvement, nor about those who might have been involved in the run up to the massacre itself. The nearest it came to that, for me, was the detailed account provided by the Germans of the PFLP-GC's technology, and of their known workshop on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria's capital city. They were making IEDs which however long they had lain about in an airport before being put aboard an aircraft, were still obligated to explode around 40 minutes following take off, without anyone in the relevant airport having to touch them, or even to open any container which they might be hidden in. An irrefutable fact is that my daughter's death occurred 38 minutes after her plane had left the Heathrow tarmac, just as would have been inevitable had one of these IEDs been used.

The court did not in my view exclude the use of this technology, far from it, it believed the prosecution's speculation - for that was all it was - that Megrahi (whose identification as 'the clothes buyer' was blatantly inadequate) had somehow while passing through Luqa airport penetrated security there (not supported by any evidence), to enable a profoundly unwise route of attack through 2 changes of aircraft, using a digital timer perfectly capable of being set to explode over mid-Atlantic.

Their Lordships were however operating under a severe Handicap, due to the suppression of vitally significant evidence (see below under DC Crawford).

Possible motivation was covered in terms of the past experiences of both Libya and Iran, at the hands of US military forces, but motivation for the assassination of Botha, Carlsson or the US McKee intelligence team was not established. The court's (the defence's actually) interest in Syria was snubbed by that country, leading to the inexplicable abandonment of their 'defence of incrimination' by the Megrahi defence team.

Since Megrahi's second appeal was stopped, his defence team have started to put some very interesting material on the web at and this is where investigating policeman Harry Bell enters the scene. Harry recorded in a diary written while on the island of Malta, how US official(s) was/were suggesting the payment of '$10,000 up front' with' $2,000,000 to follow, to Tony Gauci plus a payment of $1,000,000 to Gauci's brother Paul.

It is not clear to me whether Bell passed this on to the Crown Office, nor what his response was to the US agent suggesting it.

The astoundingly amateurish attitude attributed to DC Crawford, as to the significance of Carlsson in all this supports my worst fears as to the competence of the police force involved to cope with so great a disaster and investigation. If DC Crawford or his force really was prepared to write off the possible significance of Carlsson on the hearsay evidence of a single librarian, that says a great deal about the confidence we should have in other aspects of the investigation. The agreement to this decision by Stuart Henderson does little to reassure either, for Henderson has publicly claimed in front of a crowd of US relatives that he 'would like to wring the neck of anyone who disagreed with the police findings.' Do not these sound rather like the words of someone trying to defend something he knows to be indefensible?

Nowhere are doubts about the calibre of the investigating police more worrying than in the case of the Heathrow break-in. That occurred in the very early morning of 21/12/88 through the appropriate sector of Heathrow security to give access to where the PanAm containers were being loaded that evening. It was known to Heathrow through the night security file records on the morning of 21/12/88, and to the Met's special branch, who interviewed Manley, the night security guard in January 1989.

Yet the information about this break-in 'disappeared' for 12 years, till after the Zeist court had convicted Megrahi.

I wrote to the Crown Office to ask them if they had known about the break-in during these 12 years, and they denied knowing. They then made the disingenuous comment that the break-in didn't matter because the first appeal did know but did not overturn the verdict.

Think about their Lordships in the trial who said that the absence of evidence as to how Megrahi penetrated security at Luqa was 'a difficulty for the Crown', and compare that with what they were denied knowing - a fully documented break-in appropriate in time and position to the spot from which the fatal aircraft was actually loaded with its cargo. It seems pretty obvious to me that had they known they would have had to have found Megrahi not guilty, since Heathrow was strongly supported by evidence, whereas Luqa was not.

But glossing over the Crown's outrageous misrepresentation of the likely effect of the missing evidence upon the court's verdict, and assuming that they really didn't know during those 12 years, then it looks most likely that since the Met would surely have told the investigating Scots about it, the Scottish police probably failed to pass it on to the Crown Office.

What would be their motive for that? Well again we speculate, but the Heathrow evidence was desperately dangerous to the hypothesis that the device had come from Malta, simply because the clothing had. The annals of police investigations are full of instances where the driving hypothesis has destroyed the objectivity of the investigating force, and caused a tunnel vision where only matters that fit that hypothesis are considered.

Owing to the refusal to launch a properly empowered inquiry, it has been impossible thus far to probe the work of the Dumfries and Galloway police, nor indeed the Thatcher government's decision to put them in charge rather than the more experienced teams available in London.

In speculating about how much was known beforehand about the impending disaster, and by whom, we are discussing the worst fear that we have about this cruel business, the real possibility that our families were allowed to march on board an aircraft known by some of those who should have protected it to be doomed. To resolve that issue really would be a huge help in advancing our recovery from the loss of those we loved. Even if it turned out to be true, we would rather know the truth than be left any longer in such doubt, through the absence of a properly endowed inquiry.

Lest there be any doubt about it by the way our Fatal Accident Inquiry, though also denied knowledge of the Heathrow break-in, concluded that the disaster was preventable and that the aircraft was under the 'Host State Protection of the United Kingdom'.

I am a signatory to the appeal put out by JFM (Justice for Megrahi) to the UN for a UN based inquiry. The silence from them thus far is as dense as that from Whitehall has been for 21 years. The issues about which we speculate here appear more appropriate for a UN inquiry than simply a UK one, but the latter at least is obligatory under UK law.

Fortunately current ECHR legislation in this country entitles us as next of kin of the dead, to a suitably empowered inquiry.

Absent a fully supportive reply from Gordon Brown to our request for such an inquiry, for which we are still waiting, we shall have to see what Gareth Peirce and the UK justice system can do for us.

Thursday 30 October 2008

The South African connexion

[I am grateful to Patrick Haseldine for the following, written in response to various recent press contentions that a high-powered South African delegation was "hauled off" Pan Am flight 103.]

Both Magnus Linklater in the The Times ("Lockerbie questions demand an answer") and David Maddox in The Scotsman ("Was Lockerbie suspect working for the US?") are making the same mistake. They refer to senior South African figures being "hauled off" the plane, which is demonstrably untrue.

Following the first screening of Allan Francovich's film The Maltese Double Cross, which first revealed a South African connection to Lockerbie, a Reuters news agency report of 12 November 1994 ( clarified what actually happened. A 23-strong South African delegation - including Foreign Minister Pik Botha, Defence Minister Magnus Malan and Military Intelligence Chief C J Van Tonder - were travelling by South African Airways from Johannesburg. Their inbound flight inexplicably cut out a stopover at Frankfurt, which was SAA's European hub, and arrived early at Heathrow. The London embassy booked Botha and five of the party on Pan Am Flight 101 to New York for the signing of the Namibia Independence Agreement at UN headquarters on 22 December 1988. The remaining 17 members of the party returned from Heathrow on the SAA aircraft to Johannesburg.

UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, had been booked to travel by Sabena from Brussels (where he had addressed a Committee of the European Parliament) to New York for the same signing ceremony. However, Carlsson was persuaded by the South Africans to stopover at Heathrow and became the most high profile of the 270 Lockerbie victims.

Apartheid South Africa is thus intimately involved and might even have planned and executed the bombing without the involvement of any other country. This scenario neatly explains why Botha & Co did not need any forewarning by the CIA, and destroys the myth that they were "hauled off" the flight.

While it might be judicially and politically convenient now to shift the blame from the ailing Abdelbaset Megrahi to the dead terrorist Abu Nidal, we would be no nearer to the truth about the Lockerbie bombing. I continue to believe that, to get to the truth, a United Nations Inquiry into the death of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing ( is required. Let us hope that when the new US president takes office next January we will finally get this UN Inquiry.

Sunday 24 April 2016

The hidden scandal of Lockerbie

[What follows is the text of a review by Steve James of John Ashton and Ian Ferguson’s Cover-up of Convenience—the Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie that was published on the website on this date in 2002:]

John Ashton’s and Ian Ferguson’s work on the circumstances surrounding the destruction on December 21, 1988, of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland is worthy of careful study. It raises serious doubts, not only regarding the recent conviction of the Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, now incarcerated in Barlinnie jail, Glasgow, but over the entire official presentation of events before and after the crash, from 1988 to the present day. They give indicators as to how the full facts regarding the atrocity which killed 270, perhaps 271, people might be uncovered and conclude with a series of searching questions which any genuinely independent inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster should direct toward various governments, intelligence services, and individuals.
Ashton and Ferguson have followed Lockerbie for years. Ashton worked as the deputy to the late British film maker Allan Francovich, whose film The Maltese Double-Cross, examined various alternative scenarios that have been advanced as an explanation for the Lockerbie disaster, favouring that the bombing was a consequence of a CIA controlled drug running operation utilised to spy on Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian armed political groupings and factions.
Ferguson is a journalist, who has written many articles on Lockerbie, and along with Scottish lawyer Robert Black, architect of the Camp Zeist trial, maintains the website.
Writing in the immediate aftermath of the special Criminal Court verdict at Camp Zeist convicting al-Megrahi, Ashton and Ferguson have drawn together the fruits of long research and interviews with a large number of people involved in the disaster, including a number of current and former spies.
The authors do not proclaim that al-Megrahi is innocent. Rather, they review a large body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that responsibility for Lockerbie may lie primarily with the intelligence services of several Western governments, particularly the United States. They are highly critical of the role played by the media in parroting the twists and turns of the official line and note that no major British or US newspaper, radio, or TV channel has had the journalistic independence to undertake a sustained investigation of this most murky aspect of the disaster.
Ashton and Ferguson note that there were many general indications of a possible attack on an American flight in late 1988. After the 1988 American attack by the USS Vincennes on an Iranian Airbus, in which 255 pilgrims were murdered, Iranian broadcasts warned that the skies would “rain blood” in consequence. A Syrian backed Palestinian group with a history of attacks on passenger aircraft was known to be operating in Germany. Many staff at the US Embassy in Moscow altered flight plans to avoid Pan Am over the Christmas period.
More specifically, the authors suggest there may have been prior warnings of an attack on flight PA103. They imply that both the US ambassador to Lebanon, John McCarthy, and the South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha had their travel plans altered at the last minute in order to avoid PA103.
Others, including Charles McKee, a US Army Special Forces Major, and Matthew Gannon, the CIA’s Beirut deputy station chief, uniquely amongst US officials, allegedly changed their plans at the last minute to fly on PA103. McKee had been leading a hostage rescue team in Beirut. One suggestion, and it is no more than that, is that these individuals were the target of a successful assassination attempt in which intelligence agencies themselves played a role.
According to the authors, from as little as two hours after the crash, US intelligence officers were at the southern Scottish site. Over the next days many more arrived. They were not looking for survivors or explanations as to the cause of the crash. They did not cooperate with local rescue services. Instead, they were searching for particular pieces of debris, luggage and particular corpses. Ashton and Ferguson cite finds of large quantities of cash, cannabis and heroin on the flight, as well as intelligence papers owned by McKee, whose luggage was removed and replaced. A report noting the location of hostages held in Beirut was apparently found on the ground. There were reports of helicopter-borne armed groups guarding and then removing a large box, and an unidentified body.
A police surgeon from Bradford, David Fieldhouse, insists that one body was moved, after it had been tagged and its location noted, while another disappeared entirely. Fieldhouse was subsequently victimised. Other concerns were raised by local police officers, some of which phoned Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who then began to take an active interest in the case.
Ashton and Ferguson detail the main alternative theory—that the bombing was carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PLFP-GC). This was also largely the official position until 1991. Ahmed Jibril formed the PFLP-GC in 1968, when he broke away from the PFLP. The authors assert, on the basis of discussions with a number of spies, that the PFLP-GC were recruited by the Iraqi, Iranian, or Syrian governments to attack a US plane. When considering the motivation for such a terror operation, whether on the part of the PFLP-GC or any of their possible sponsors, the book is at its weakest. It gives very little insight into the politics of these governments or of the PFLP-GC, other than to make such observations as support for the PFLP-GC allowing the regime of Hafez Al Assad in Syria to appear to be supporting the Palestinian struggle against Israel.
The authors instead draw attention to the bombing by the PFLP-GC 18 years earlier, in 1970, of two aircraft destined for Israel—one survived with a two foot hole in the fuselage, the other, Swissair 330 to Zurich crashed killing 147 people—and another bombing 16 years earlier, in 1972. The PFLP-GC in 1988 certainly appears to have had a European operation based in Nuess in the Ruhr, Germany, intent on attacking US and Israeli targets. The group eventually blew up some railway lines used by US troop trains, planned an attack on an Israeli sports team, and became the target of a huge surveillance operation by German state security, the BKA. Their operation was hopelessly compromised. Raids by the BKA eventually discovered timers, guns, along with various electrical goods altered to contain explosives. Two PFLP-GC members were eventually jailed in 1991 for the train attacks.
Astonishingly, however, bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat was released on a legal technicality and left Germany. According to Ashton and Ferguson, Khreesat, who built the bombs used in the attacks during the 1970s, had by this time become a Jordanian spy in the PFLP-GC. Jordanian intelligence apparently has a close relationship with the Israeli Mossad and the CIA. Khreesat is still living in Amman, the Jordanian capital, under protection.
Ashton and Ferguson note an interview with Khreesat by the FBI, which was cited at the Camp Zeist trial but never reported in the world’s press, in which Khreesat alleges that one of his bombs went missing after the BKA raid. On this basis, the authors speculate as to whether the CIA had, with the cooperation of other intelligence agencies, played a more active role in allowing the destruction of the plane. They restate the suggestion that this might have been to prevent exposure of the CIA’s drug running operations from the Bekaa Valley, or for other reasons associated with US policy in the Middle East, particularly the aftermath of the Iran-Contra machinations. They suggest that a CIA approved suitcase, loaded with heroin from the Bekaa Valley, might have been swapped for one loaded instead with a bomb intended to kill McKee.
McKee and others had reportedly developed serious reservations about the drug-running operation; it having recently endangered their own lives through an aborted hostage rescue operation. The authors note that PA103 was brought down shortly after the election of ex-CIA chief George Bush, father of the current US president, when exposure of CIA drug running would have been highly embarrassing.
Those who have made allegations of possible CIA involvement include an ex-Mossad spy, Juval Aviv, hired by Pan Am to investigate the destruction of its aircraft, an erratic ex-US spy Lester Coleman, who at one point sought political asylum in Sweden, William Chasey, a Washington DC lobbyist, and Time journalist Roy Rowan.
Ashton and Ferguson trace the development of the official position of blaming Libya for the bombing. Bush called Margaret Thatcher in early 1989 asking for the inquiry to be “toned down”, at a time when Syria and the PFLP-GC were favoured suspects. Just over two years later, on November 14, 1991, simultaneous indictments were brought by the Scottish Crown Office and the US State Department against Libyan airline staff al-Megrahi and Lamen Fhimah. Days later, Bush announced that Syria, which had acquiesced in the 1991 US attack on Iraq, had taken a “bum rap”. The State Department put out a fact sheet to justify the change of position, claiming that previous pointers to the PFLP-GC and Syria had been cunning ruses by the Libyan government. UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that no other countries besides Libya were targets for investigation. Four days later, the last Western hostages, including the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy, Terry Waite, were released from Beirut.
The authors thereafter recount the official line that the bomb, equipped with an MST-13 timer from MeBo of Zurich, was loaded in a Samsonite suitcase packed with clothes, which was inserted by Libyan agents onto flight KM180 from Luqa airport in Malta, transferred at Frankfurt to a feeder flight for PA103, and then shuttled to Heathrow, where it was loaded on the fated Boeing 747. This was the case presented in the Camp Zeist trial.
Ashton and Ferguson carefully summarise the numerous problematic aspects of all the prosecution evidence at the trial; the dubious visual identification of al-Megrahi by Maltese shop owner Tony Gauci; the contradictory and bizarre ramblings of CIA spy Abdul Majid Giacka, the so-called “star witness” at Luqa airport whose evidence collapsed in court; the contested luggage records at Frankfurt airport; and the claim by MeBo owner Edwin Bollier that he had been approached by the CIA and encouraged to frame Libya, and that the CIA had had an MST-13 type timer in their possession before 1988.
At Camp Zeist, the trial was in danger of disintegrating. By November 2000 few observers, including the book’s authors, expected anything other than an acquittal, or a not proven verdict which is available under Scottish law. But the verdict delivered on January 2001, which admitted that the prosecution case was full of holes and based on circumstantial inferences, nevertheless found al-Megrahi guilty, while his only alleged accomplice Fhimah, was acquitted.
Ashton and Ferguson by no means completely exonerate Libya or al-Megrahi. They note that his refusal to account for his activities on 20 December 1988 and his visit to Malta using a false passport cannot be dismissed. Trial evidence suggests that al-Megrahi indeed worked for Libyan intelligence and he has, so far, offered no explanation as to why he chose not to take the stand to defend himself. Many aspects of the whole business remain to be uncovered.
What the authors do is to cite 25 questions to which any genuinely independent inquiry must seek answers. These include:
* the circumstances of the warnings given prior to the disaster.
* the circumstances of the booking changes for Pik Botha’s entourage, and McKee and Gannon.
* the drug and cash finds at Lockerbie.
* the possibility of an extra body, the circumstances under which bodies were moved, and the circumstances of wrong police evidence given against David Fieldhouse at the 1989 Fatal Accident Inquiry.
* why Transport Secretary Paul Channon was able to announce that arrests were imminent and why Margaret Thatcher blocked a full judicial enquiry?
* the relationship of the British MI6 to the Iran Contra deals and why was the Foreign office official in charge of liaising with the US on Iran-Contra, Andrew Green, was put in charge of the Lockerbie investigation.
* the role of the CIA and MI6 in hostage deals made after the exposure of Iran Contra in 1986 and 1991.
* why Juval Aviv and others were never interviewed by the investigation authorities about the bombing. What were the circumstances of legal cases brought against Aviv and others?
* why did it take a year for the MeBo circuit board to be discovered, what were the circumstances of its discovery, and what were the connections between MeBo’s Edwin Bollier and the CIA?
* why did the CIA and the Scottish Lord Advocate seek to block access to CIA cables that were helpful to the defence?
Under conditions where the US government is refusing to investigate its own intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 terror attacks, any exposure of a possible CIA role in aircraft terrorism clearly assumes great significance. Earlier this year, al-Megrahi’s appeal against his conviction was thrown out, despite defence evidence that made a strong circumstantial case for the bomb having been loaded at Heathrow airport in London.
Following Tam Dalyell’s question in parliament, on March 26, there is a suggestion that police evidence relating to Lockerbie is being destroyed, and that yet another suitcase owned by another Special Forces member, Joseph Patrick Murphy, was at one point early in the investigation thought to contain the bomb.
Without making wild or unsustainable accusations, and despite serious political limitations, Ashton and Ferguson have provided an essential reference for anyone seeking to understand why a Boeing 747 should explode in mid-air killing hundreds of ordinary air travellers, and yet, more than 13 years later, there is still no generally accepted explanation of why it happened and who was responsible.