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Iran, Syria, A Secret US-Iran War

Lockerbie: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

By —— Bio and Archives--February 5, 2008

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Governments lie. They do it all the time. And, much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the US government is no exception. There were times when we may have believed otherwise. But after Vietnam and Watergate, we know better.—The USS Vincennes: Public War, Secret War, July 1 1992, ABC News, Ted Koppel.

In some sense, the true and enduring mystery of the Lockerbie bombing is why so few people died. If one is willing to accept the official version of the tragedy, is it not indeed a miracle that an airliner flying from London to New York at Christmas time was actually half booked?

“270 people died when Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. [1] It was the worst-ever act of airline terrorism against the United States. It’s also been called the world’s biggest unsolved murder,” wrote John Biewen and Ian Ferguson in their brilliant piece “Shadow over Lockerbie”. [2] Nearly 20 years later, the crime remains unsolved.

Indeed, many observers believe that the lone Libyan man who was convicted of the bombing will be acquitted in the upcoming extraordinary second appeal granted to him by a special commission last June on the basis that his conviction may have been unsafe. (See: Lockerbie Verdict Declared ‘Not Reasonable’).

“I feel the days of the verdict against Megrahi are numbered, though I suspect the politicians will arrange for his transfer to Libya without having to face a full confrontation in court over the verdict,” Dr Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the tragedy, told me earlier this month. (Libya Foreign Medics Swapped for Lockerbie Convict).

“I simply wish to record my continuing conviction that the evidence led at the Lockerbie trial was insufficient to establish the guilt of Megrahi; that evidence that pointed in a different direction was suppressed and was not passed on to the defense; and that as a result of the forthcoming appeal necessitated by the (three-year long) investigation and findings of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, the un-justifiability of Megrahi’s conviction will be clearly demonstrated,” wrote Pr. Black, also known as the architect of the Lockerbie trial, on his website in a reply to a critique by R. Marquise who led the FBI investigation. [3].

From the two trails of debris left by the obliteration of the airliner, it appeared at once that the plane had disintegrated in the air and not upon impacting the ground. It took no more than a few days to determine that Pan Am 103 had been destroyed by an explosive of some sort. Further forensic work determined the nature, amount and location of the explosive. These facts were not disputed during the trial and are almost universally accepted. [4]

An analysis of the soot deposited on strips of metal from a luggage container revealed the occurrence of a chemical blast, most likely produced by a few hundred grams of Semtex-H. [5]

According to the indictment, the explosive had been hidden in a Toshiba radio, surrounded by clothes bought in Malta a few weeks before the bombing, and placed in an unaccompanied brown Samsonite piece of luggage that began its journey in Malta, was transferred a first time in Frankfurt and transferred again in London on Pan Am 103. (SeeVerdict).

If few observers have disputed that the plane was destroyed by a bomb, many have wondered what prompted so many people to cancel their flight on Pan Am 103 at the last moment. On its ultimate journey, Pan Am 103 counted no less than 165 empty seats. [6]

Pan Am has always refused to reveal how this compares with other transatlantic flights over Christmas in the preceding years, claiming that the number of people on their flights was a commercial secret.

The identity of groups and individuals who missed the flight has fuelled suspicions since the start of the investigation. The President Commission found out that eighty per cent of the staff of the American embassy in Moscow, who had reserved seats on Pan Am flights from Frankfurt, cancelled their bookings on the ill-fated flight 103.

The entire diplomatic delegation of South Africa did the same just hours before boarding. The list of those individuals known to have cancelled reservations on PA103 includes former South African foreign minister Pik Botha, who was traveling to UN headquarters to sign the New York Accords which granted independence to Namibia. [7]

John McCarthy, then US Ambassador to Lebanon, Chris Revell, the son of Oliver “Buck” Revell, then executive assistant director of the FBI, and Steven Greene, assistant administrator in the Office of Intelligence of the US Drug Enforcement Administration also cancelled their reservation on Pan Am 103.

The controversy over Chris Revell was immediate and never really vanished. Oliver “Buck” Revell published an autobiography, A G-Man’s Journal, in which he explained how lucky his son had been. If Revell managed to convince some of his In-Laws, he failed to persuade many of his critics.

“I’d like to set the record straight about the rebooking of Chris Revell’s flight and the speculation that his Father saved his life and not others. Chris Revell’s flight plans were changed at least two weeks prior to Thanksgiving that year in early or mid-November. Chris had more leave-time than he had first thought and asked me to get him a direct flight from Frankfurt to Washington D.C. so he could spend more time at home. We had been apart since the beginning of August and I can assure you it wasn’t anticipated terrorism that was motivating him to return early. My In-Laws were in Australia at the time and my Father-in-Law was in no way involved in our decision to change Chris’ flight. Sorry, but the situation just wasn’t as sinister as some would like it to be.” [8]

The reader will not fail to observe that this is the third version of the event told by the Revell family. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Revel stated that his son had changed his flight two weeks before the tragedy. In his book, he wrote that the cancellation was made one week earlier. For pointing out the discrepancy, Hart Lidov, who lost his fiancee in the bombing of Pan Am 103, was sued by Revell. [9]

“According to Seymour Hersh, Revell can be a very political bureaucratic, for sure, and has been. Revell’s exchanges with Bruce Porter, comments on Louis Freeh, and on Sessions shows Revell is as political as you can get. The handling of Lockerbie was just doing the company’s bidding. If he used the inside information to save his kid along with the Embassy people, he was only being human ...but if so it proves that on December 5-7, 1988 Revell did not think it [The Helsinki warning] was a hoax,” wrote an anonymous critic of the book. [10]

July 3: The USS Vincennes “Accident”

On July 3, 1988, the navy cruiser USS Vincennes, also known as “Robocruiser”, shot down an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf. The civilian Airliner was carrying mostly Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca. 290 died, most Iranians.

The US Government insisted it was a mistake. Next, US officials inflicted further humiliation upon the Iranians by trying to avoid paying compensation for the “accident.” And to make sure Tehran got the point, the US Government bestowed a medal on the ship’s commander, Captain Will Rodgers.

“The Commander of the Vincennes did not go unpunished. In April 1990, George Bush conferred upon him the Legion of Merit award, along with the officer in charge of anti-air warfare, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service and for the calm and professional atmosphere under his command during the period when airliner was shot down. The tragedy isn’t mentioned in the texts of the citations. The media kept a dutiful silence, at home, that is. In the less disciplined Third World, the facts were reported in reviews of US terrorism,” Chomsky wrote. [11]

George Bush, then running for presidency, was asked to comment on the shooting down theory.  “I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are,” Bush declared. [12]

US officials repeated the claims of Captain Rogers that the airliner was outside the commercial path, flying down towards his ship.

Iran took the case to the UN International Court for Justice, stating that “the naval vessel that shot it down breached its stated neutrality in the region, and in violating Iran’s sovereignty, committed an international crime.” [13]

Washington was forced to admit that the plane, shot down in broad daylight, was well within the commercial path, climbing and moving away from the USS Vincennes.

The US Naval Institute Journal published an article by Commander David Carlson, who witnessed the event.

“They saw this Iranian commercial airliner coming up right in international airspace, and the USS Vincennes focused its high tech radar system on it and was moving forward to shoot it down,” wrote Carlson, adding that he couldn’t understand it.

A Secret US-Iran War

“In the wake of the Iranian airbus disaster, the culmination of Washington’s diplomatic, military and economic campaign in support of Saddam Hussein, Iran faced reality and effectively capitulated to Baghdad and Washington, which had coordinated their military operations against Teheran,” wrote Dilip Hiro. [14]

Roger Charles, a retired US Marines Lieutenant Colonel, agrees. Charles has suggested that the US could not admit what really happened with the Vincennes because the truth would have revealed a secret war. Charles told ABC that the United States was an active military participant on the side of the Iraqis, fighting the Iranians. [15]

Certainly, there is no doubt as to how the Iranian establishment felt about the incident. It is abundantly clear that Iranian officials never accepted the thesis of an accident. One may indeed wonder why Iranian officials would have accepted a ceasefire, the terms of which were clearly disadvantageous to their interests, in spite of the fact that their Army had the upper hand and was about to invade, many feared successfully, the Ramallah oilfields in Southern Iraq.

A written correspondence between the late Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini and the then commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Mohsen Reza’i, has given some insight into why Iran accepted a ceasefire with Iraq in 1988.

“In order to defeat the Iraqis, we need to [...] evict the Americans from the Persian Gulf, which of course we cannot,” Reza’i wrote. [16]

On July 19, Iranian military chief Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said the shooting down of the Airbus had prompted a major review of Iran’s war policy. Just weeks later, the Iranian government would accept a U.N. ceasefire call in its war with Iraq. [17]

Certainly, Tehran had learned a lesson from the International Community and especially from Washington. The reader will surely appreciate that Iran began its active collaboration with the A.Q. Khan nuclear mafia just after these events.

In 1989, Iran received its first P-1 centrifuge assemblies that Khan no longer had use for in Pakistan. Through 1995, Khan shipped over 2,000 components and sub-assemblies for P-1, and later P-2, centrifuges to Iran. [18] There is also some evidence that Iranian nuclear scientists received technologically more advanced centrifuges.

July 4: Iran Issues Official Statement

“If ye punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith ye were afflicted. But if ye endure patiently, verily it is better for the patient.” (An-Nahl: 126)

From this verse, it would appear that vengeance is by no mean an Islamic obligation. Although tolerated, the Koran certainly imposes the respect of the principle of proportionality. [19]

Frank Vogel, a Harvard expert on Islamic law, has said that such blood revenge, an “eye for an eye” is part of tribal custom, not proper Islamic law, but that “such tribal revenge is nevertheless very real and obligatory.

David Halevy, an Israeli journalist and the author of a well regarded study of the PLO and Middle East terrorism, is quoted to have said that an Islamic country would feel obligated to obtain “blood revenge” for the Airbus killings. Havely finds it unimaginable that the US State Department Middle East experts were not well aware of this. [20]

“Everybody in US intelligence knew about Iran’s intention to bomb an American airliner in response to the downing of one of its own only months earlier. We knew that,” former CIA operative Robert Baer told Jeff Stein, the national security editor of the Congressional Quarterly Web site, CQ Politics. [21]

The few who still pay attention to what is happening at the United Nations did not need contacts inside the Intelligence community to know what Tehran was up to.

“You will remember that for many years, Iraqi used chemical warfare against Iranians. And we never retaliated. Because we abide by our Islamic principles,” stated Mohammad Jaafar Mahallati, Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, on the day following the shooting down of the Iranian airliner.

“And this is a principle that we always abide by. We act upon our own Islamic principles, which to some extent covered international regulations. ”

“We will use any legitimate means to exercise our right for self-defense. And therefore, acting in self-defense, we will use all legitimate means and ways in order to punish this act of terrorism. Not merely to punish. Punish for punishment. But [we will resort to] punishment to prevent further occurrence or recurrence of such unfortunate incidents.” [22]

The Skies Will “Rain Blood”

In Tehran, the mood was no less bellicose. Islamic fundamentalist leaders promised to “retaliate to the maximum,” and to “avenge the blood of our martyrs.”

According to former intelligence officials, such Vincent Cannistraro the CIA’s chief of counter-terrorism at the time, top figures in the Iranian government held a series of meetings in Beirut with leaders of Ahmed Jibril’s terror group, the PFLP-GC.

“There was a conclusion made in the intelligence community that the Iranians were intending to sponsor the PFLP-GC’s operations to attack American targets as part of a revenge operation,” Cannistraro said. [23]

Ali Akbar Mostashemi, the then Iranian Minister of the Interior, swore that there should be a “rain of blood” in revenge. Mostashemi had been the Iranian ambassador in Damascus from 1982 to 1985. He is widely believed to have helped to found Hezbollah in Lebanon and had close connections with the terrorist groups of Beirut and the Bekaa valley.

NSA intercepted and decoded a communication of Mohtashemi linking Iran to the bombing of Pan Am 103. One intelligence summary, prepared by the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, was requested by lawyers for the bankrupt Pan American Airlines through the Freedom of Information Act.

“Mohtashemi is closely connected with the Al Abas and Abu Nidal terrorist groups. He is actually a long-time friend of Abu Nidal. He was recently paid $10 million in cash and gold to these two organizations to carry out terrorist activities and was the one who paid the same amount to bomb Pan Am Flight 103 in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus.” [24] Mohtashemi decided to codename the operation “INTEKAM”, which means revenge.

Richard Marquise, who led the FBI investigation, told me that this intercept should be ignored and does not in any way tie the crime to Tehran.

“I have just read your article regarding the NSA-Crypto AG Sting and think it is well done except I think you, and many others including some lawyers, put too much faith in information gathered by intelligence agencies, whatever the method. I am, familiar with the allegation you quote in your story—that somehow NSA had decoded the information that tied Iran to the attack. I can assure you there was no smoking gun there. The information contained in the document was allegedly from a source of “unknown reliability” meaning the person or method had not been used before and the submitting agency had no way to verify the veracity of the information.”

If Marquise is correct, we must then face the fact that US Intelligence distributed to the entire “Desert Storm” coalition unverified information.

Wherever lies the truth, the conviction at the Zeist trial of a single Libyan intelligence officer has certainly failed to erase the early suspicions that Iran and Palestinian terror groups had a hand in this case.

“There is some fairly hard evidence suggesting that there is involvement of Iranian-sponsored Palestinian groups, possibly the Abu Nidal organization and other Palestinian groups operating out of Germany,” said David Claridge, an analyst at London-based security advisory firm Rubicon International, in June 2000. “Some believe that Iran ordered the destruction of Pan Am 103 in retaliation for the US Navy’s accidental shooting of an Iranian Airbus in July 1988 over the Persian Gulf.” [25]

October 26: Operation “Herbstlaub”

Cannistraro has stated that, following the meetings between Iranian officials and the PFLP-GC, Jibril set up a bomb-making operation centered in the West German town of Neuss. However, the Mossad had tipped the BKA and the cell activities were watched around the clock.

On October 26, 1988, the German federal police launched what they called Operation Herbstlaub, i.e. Operation Autumn Leaves. They raided more than a dozen homes and businesses. They rounded up seventeen men, including Dalkamoni, a trusted lieutenant of Jibril. [26]

In Dalkamoni’s car, police found a bomb built into a Toshiba radio-cassette player. The trigger was coupled to a barometric gauge, specifically designed to blow up an aircraft about 30 minutes after it reached a certain altitude.

They also found Semtex plastic explosive. West German police documents revealed that the gang bomb-maker had been seen carrying a brown Samsonite suitcase, identical to the one in which the Lockerbie bomb was hidden.

German authorities issued warnings concerning the IED recovered and passed the information to US and UK officials. Then, in a move that surprised most observers, a judge ordered all but two arrested to be released.


The senior bomb maker of the PFLP-GC was identified as a Jordanian explosives expert, by the name of Marwan Khreesat.

The West German magazine Stern quoted two high-ranking security officials as saying that Khreesat, “the man who made radio bombs for attacks on planes”, was a Western Intelligence asset. American officials confirmed that Khreesat worked indeed for West German intelligence. [27]

The Fifth Element

Marwan Khreesat turned up in Amman, Jordan, where he was eventually questioned by the FBI. Khreesat told FBI investigators that while in Germany he had built five identical bombs.

In November 1989, FBI agent Marshman was sent to Jordan where he interviewed Khreesat. Jordanian intelligence chiefs adamantly refused to release Khreesat for the Lockerbie trial. As a result, Marshman was summoned to the Zeist court to disclose what Khreesat told him.

On October 24, Khreesat, having been working for five hours on the bombs, decided to take a break and enjoy a shower. Dalkamoni told him that he was leaving for Frankfurt. When Khreesat returned to his work, one of the five bombs was missing. The next day, he informed his controlling officer in Jordanian intelligence that one of the five bombs he had made had been passed on to Abu Elias. [28]

On March 29, 1991, the Dumfries and Galloway police issued a report entitled Bombing of Pan Am 103: “Interview of Marwan Abdel Razzaq Mufit Khreesat as a suspect.” “There can be little doubt that Khreesat is the bomb-maker for the PFLPGC and there is a possibility that he prepared the explosive device which destroyed PA-103. As such he should not be at liberty,” the Scottish police’s report concluded.

In the spring of 1989, West German police went back to Neuss to search for the four remaining bombs. At the apartment of a fruit merchant, and relative of Dalkamoni, they found three. One of these four devices would eventually kill a police technician. According to the official version of these events, the fifth bomb was never recovered and German police simply stopped looking for it.

“The immediate feeling was: we’ve missed someone. That someone in that [PFLP-GC] cell had escaped with one of the explosive devices and succeeded in planting it on Pan Am 103,” Cannistraro, then head of the CIA’s Lockerbie investigation, said. Actually, at least three members escaped the raid.

“Khreesat advised that he does not think he built the device responsible for Pan Am 103, as he only built the four devices in Germany which are described herein,” Marshman’s official note of the interview concluded. “But this is nonsense. Described herein were not four, but five devices, and the missing one was disguised as a Toshiba,” Marshman argued.

In George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Winston Smith wonders if the State might declare “two plus two makes five” as a fact. If everybody believes in it, does that make it true? “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows,” concludes Smith. It would seem that so much freedom was not granted to the accused at the Zeist trial.

“Seven years ago today (January 31), the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist convicted Abdel Baset al-Megrahi of the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie disaster. The unjustness of the conviction has been demonstrated. It is to be hoped that this miscarriage of justice will have been rectified before the eighth anniversary. But this is, at least in part, dependent upon the willingness of the Criminal Appeal Court in the new appeal to frustrate the delaying and obstructionist tactics that the Crown has so far been resorting to in its approach to the proceedings,” Professor Black wrote on his blog a few hours ago.

November 2: FAA Alert

On November 2, the FAA alerted the airlines with a warning, similar to one already issued by the Germans, about the Toshiba radio-cassette bomb found in Dalkamoni’s car.

November 17: Another FAA Alert

On November 17, another bulletin reiterated the danger. The document described the bomb in details and urged all airlines to be extra vigilant.

November 18: The FAA Warning

On November 18, 1988, Pan Am was specifically advised by an FAA Security Bulletin that a Middle Eastern terrorist group had been found in Germany with a bomb concealed within a Toshiba radio.

The alert called upon Pan Am to activate extra vigilance and a rigorous adherence to their regulations for baggage reconciliation. Pan Am was warned of the difficulty of relying on X-rays which would not detect such bombs.

November 22: BDT Alert

On November 22, the British Department of Transport issued its own warning, which provided a further detailed description of the bomb built by Khreesat.

December 1

Shaughnessy, an American Lawyer defending Pan Am, was given access to key documents, included a series of DIA Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summaries (DITSUMs) issued in the aftermath of the USS Vincennes “accident” in the Persian Gulf.

These documents warned against “renewed threats of attack on US interests, particularly as a consequence of the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus in July.”

On December 1, a DIA DITSUM stated that “reports of surveillance, targeting and planning of actions against US persons and facilities are continuous.”

December 2: Clear and Present Danger

According to a US Intelligence document dated December 2, 1988, US officials were expecting a revenge bombing for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner. [29]

“Team of Palestinians not associated with the PLO plans to attack American targets in Europe. Targets specified are Pan Am and US military bases,” the report warned. In that particular context, the reader may safely assume that “Team of Palestinians not associated with the PLO” would mean Ahmed Jibril and Abu Nidal organizations, that both opposed Yasser Arafat for his willingness to work with the US and to accept a two-State solution.

Upon learning the existence of this document, UK Families Flight 103, which represents most of the British relatives of the Lockerbie dead, wrote to John Major with a series of urgent questions about this warning on July 31, 1995.

Eight weeks later, on September 22, a reply from Edward Oakden, Major’s private secretary, finally arrived.
Q: Was this warning passed to the British intelligence services at the time? NO REPLY.

Q: If so, was this information passed to government departments, civil servants and/or ministers? NO REPLY.

Q: Was the warning given to the US Federal Aviation Authority and/or Pan Am by US or British intelligence? NO REPLY.

Q: What if any, steps were taken by the intelligence services or government departments as a result of the warning? NO REPLY.

Q: Finally, in the light of the release of this information, do you still stand by your comment in a letter earlier this year to John Mosey [whose daughter Helga died on Pan Am 103] that ‘no specific warnings were received before the Lockerbie disaster’?

REPLY: ‘The analyst [of the report] assessed the threat as circular reporting, possibly versions of two earlier Counter Intelligence Daily Summaries. ‘These earlier summaries remain classified, but the US authorities have assured us that neither made mention of Pan Am, nor of any other specific suspected target, but rather referred to a threat to US suspected targets generally. It appears that some with whom the original non-specific intelligence reports were shared jumped to conclusions about possible specific targets based on their own conjecture and that the December 2 report recycled this feedback. The US document was thus not the specific warning that it might first appear. I’m afraid that it adds nothing new of substance.’
“Oakden claims that an intelligence officer, reading previous reports that US targets generally were in danger from terrorist bombing, took it on himself, without any information or intelligence, to make a random guess that a target might be a specific airline, namely Pan Am, a guess which he coolly passed on in an official intelligence report. The guess miraculously turned out to be completely accurate,” wrote Paul Foot in the London Magazine Private Eye.

As noted by Chomsky, “the brazen arrogance of the powerful passes far beyond the imagination of ordinary mortals.”

“The plain truth is that the December 2 warning, which after a four-year delay has been wrenched from the US Government under the Freedom of Information Act (and was certainly not passed on to Pan Am at the time), is the plainest proof that in the weeks before Lockerbie the authorities were issuing warnings that Pan Am was a terrorist target. Those warnings were effectively ignored; and now there is no limit to the cover-up by the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic,” concluded Foot. [30]

December 5: The Helsinki Warning

On December 5, 1988, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a security bulletin.

The document states that on that day a man with an Arabic accent had telephoned the US Embassy in Helsinki, Finland. The informant had told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next two weeks by someone associated with the Abu Nidal Organization.

“An anonymous caller told a US diplomatic facility in Europe on December 5 that a bombing attempt would be made against a Pan American aircraft flying from Frankfurt, West Germany to the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration was notified of the threat and security for Pan Am flights out of Frankfurt was enhanced.” [31]

The State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. The FAA sent it to all US carriers. Pan Am charged each of the passengers a five-dollar security surcharge, in order to enforce a “program that will screen passengers, employees, airport facilities, baggage and aircraft with unrelenting thoroughness” [32]

December 7: Pan Am Warning

Pan Am was issued a Security Bulletin advising that the United States Embassy in Helsinki, Finland has just received a warning that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be the target of a bomb.

The notice became known as the “Helsinki Warning.” It referred to and reiterated the FAA’s earlier warning of a Toshiba radio bomb. The warning emphasized the difficulty of detecting this type of bomb by X-ray.

December 8 to 9: Israeli Raid

Israeli commandos raided the Lebanese headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) near Damour, killing 20 and wounding dozens more. [33]

Allegedly, Israeli forces captured documents relating to a planned attack on a Pan Am flight out of Frankfurt later that month. This information was passed to the governments of the United States and Germany.

Four sources independently confirmed to Shaughnessy that on December 9, 1988, Israeli Defense Forces had captured documents in the raid on which disclosed plans to bomb Pan Am flight 103 out of Frankfurt in late December. All agreed that the Israelis had immediately warned the governments of the United States and West Germany.

December 9: FBI Tells Pan Am Not to Worry

Pan Am security official Jim Berwick goes to Helsinki and is told by a US intelligence agent that the warning is a hoax.

Martin Cadman, whose son Bill, was killed at Lockerbie, was a member of a delegation of relatives who visited Chris Harris at the Department of Transport in June 1989. Chris Harris was the head of aviation security.

Harris told the delegation that the warning had been a hoax. When asked when it was dismissed as a hoax, Harris replied that they couldn’t know that. He then added that the posting of the warning in the Moscow embassy had been a mistake.

“Are you really telling us that there may be some Americans alive today because someone in the embassy in Moscow made a mistake in issuing a warning? Are you saying that 259 passengers are dead because the British Government did not make the same mistake?

Harris evaded the question and mumbled something “about being wise after the event.”

December 13: US Staff in Moscow Are Warned

On December 13, the warning was posted on bulletin boards in the US Embassy in Moscow, and eventually distributed to the entire American community there, including journalists and businessmen. PA103 investigators subsequently said the telephone warning had been a hoax.

“There was a real push in the Embassy community to make sure that everybody was aware that there had been a terrorist threat made, and that people flying Western carriers going through such points as Frankfurt should change their tickets,” Assistant Karen Decker told investigative journalist Pierre Salinger.

In his memoir “P.S.”, Pierre Salinger describes how the UK authorities, at the request of the US, got ABC to agree turn over all of his interview material in relation to Lockerbie. Salinger believed that he had been betrayed by his young assistant, who allegedly worked as an asset for MI6. (See: Wikipedia and the Intelligence Agencies)

The Presidential Commission

On September 29, 1989, President Bush appointed Ann McLaughlin Korologos, former Secretary of Labor, as chair of the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (PCAST) to review and report on aviation security policy in the light of the sabotage of flight PA103.

The other members of PCAST were Alfonse D’Amato, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt, Representative James Oberstar, General Thomas Richards, deputy commander of US forces in West Germany, and Edward Hidalgo, former Secretary of the US Navy

The Commission concentrated on Pan Am’s security lapses in Frankfurt and London and on the shortcomings of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Raymond Smith, then deputy chief of the US mission to the Soviet Union, told the panel that 80 per cent of the reservations made by Moscow embassy staff on Pan Am flights during the 1988 Christmas holidays were cancelled after the so-called Helsinki warning.

“It named a carrier. It named a route. And it covered a time period when many Americans in Moscow would be going home for Christmas. Here, it seems to me, we have a moral obligation to let people know,” Smith said.

The PCAST members met a group of British PA103 relatives at the US embassy in London on February 12 1990. A PCAST member told Martin Cadman: “Your government and ours know exactly what happened. But they’re never going to tell.”

December 18: BKA Is Tipped Off

On December 18, the BKA was tipped off about a bomb plot against Pan Am 103 in the next two or three days. This information was passed to the American Embassy in Bonn, which advised the State Department, which in turn advised its other embassies of the warning.

December 20: Tehran Is Tipped Off

Major McKee was a senior army officer on secondment to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). McKee was on assignment in Beirut trying to locate the American hostages held at that time by Hezbollah. McKee is one of several American Intelligence officers who died in the bombing of Pan Am 103.

McKee was traveling with Matthew Gannon, the CIA’s deputy station chief in Beirut. Gannon was a Middle East expert. He married Susan Twetten, daughter of Tom Twetten who later became Deputy Director of Operations at CIA.

The day before the Lockerbie bombing McKee called his mother. “Meet me at the Pittsburgh airport tomorrow night,” McKee told his mother.

“This was the first time Chuck ever telephoned me from Beirut,” she says. “I was flabbergasted. It’s a surprise. Always before he would wait until he was back in Virginia to call and say he was coming home.” McKee’s mother says she is sure her son’s sudden decision to fly home was not known to his superiors in Virginia [34]

A Juicy Target

“An American agent known as David Lovejoy, who had struck bargains on weapons to the benefit of Iran,” passed information to the Iranian embassy in Beirut about the team’s travel plans, wrote Ali Nuri Zadeh in the Arabic newspaper Al-Dustur on May 22, 1989.

Reported to be a onetime State Department security officer, Lovejoy is alleged to have become a double agent with CIA connections in Libya. His CIA code name is said to have been “Nutcracker.”

An affidavit, filed by Lawyer Shaughnessy with the federal district court in Brooklyn, New York, confirmed the story.

The document asserts that in November and December 1988, the US government intercepted a series of telephone calls from Lovejoy to Hussein Niknam, the Iranian charge d’ affaires in Beirut.

Reportedly, these phone calls advised Niknam of the team’s movements. Lovejoy’s last call came on December 20, allegedly informing the Iranians that the team would be on Pan Am Flight 103 the following day. [35]

It is furthermore alleged that American intelligence agents were monitoring the telephones of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut and heard Lovejoy briefing the Iranian charge d’ affaires about the movements of the CIA/DIA team. These communications were also intercepted by the Mossad, as well as the phone call from Niknam to Mostasheni relating the news from Lovejoy.

“Twenty-four hours before the flight, Mossad tipped off the German BKA that there could be a plan to plant a bomb on flight 103. The BKA passed on their tip to the CIA team working out of Frankfurt who said they would take care of everything,” wrote Joel Bannerman, the publisher of an Israeli intelligence report, in 1994.

Revell was asked on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” about the assertions by Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens that there had been solid intelligence gathered about a planned terrorist attack on a Pan Am jet.

“To my knowledge, we know everything they know,” Revell said, referring to Israeli officials. “We have nothing that would indicate that.”

A Supported Allegation

The theory that Jibril targeted Flight 103 in order to kill the hostage- rescue team is supported by two independent intelligence experts.

Gene Wheaton, a retired US military-intelligence officer with 17 years’ duty in the Middle East, has served as investigator for the families of the victims of the suspicious DC-8 crash in Gander, Newfoundland, which killed 248 American soldiers in 1985.

“A couple of my old black ops buddies in the Pentagon believe the Pan Am bombers were gunning for McKee’s hostage-rescue team,” Wheaton said. “But they were told to shift the focus of their investigation because it revealed an embarrassing breakdown in security.” The FBI found no evidence to support the theory that McKee’s team was targeted.

Victor Marchetti, former executive assistant to the CIA’s deputy director and co-author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, believes that the presence of the CIA/DIA team on Pan Am 103 is a clue that should not be ignored. “It’s like the loose thread of a sweater,” he says. “Pull on it, and the whole thing may unravel.”

“The Mossad knew about it and didn’t give proper warning. The CIA knew about it and screwed up,” Marchettti stated, arguing that the bombing of Flight 103 could have been avoided.

Beulah McKee lost hope to find out if the bombers were after her son. Twice she questioned Susan Gannon. Like her husband, who died in the tragedy, and her father, Susan Gannon worked for the CIA. “The last time, I was accused of opening my mouth too much,” says Beulah McKee.

“I have always had a feeling that if Chuck had not been on that plane, It would not have been bombed. I know that is not what our President wants me to say.”

The Intifadah Conference

During December 1988, The Iranian embassy in Beirut hosted a conference titled: International Conference in support of the Palestinian Intifadah, at the Carlton hotel. According to the list of the participants, the conference looks like a Summit of the Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

The American agents in Beirut identified prominent faces such as Ahmad Jibril, Abu Musa, Abu Fadi, Ibrahim al Amin, Abu Muhammad al Najafi, Ahmad Hassan Mehna, Said Shaban and Ali Ammar.

A declassified document, obtained through the FOIA, states that “the concluding statement contained a subtle reference to the approaching of the ordained revenge on America for its crime against the Iranian civilian airliner.”

December 21: One Hour Before Boarding

No attempt is made to match baggage with passengers. Nevertheless, investigators established that the X-ray machine operator had been instructed to pull out any bag that appeared to contain a radio. According to his testimony, none of the bags contained anything resembling a Toshiba radio.

CIA: We Take Care of Everything!

In the light of the above, I have little choice but to conclude that the luggage containing the bomb must have entered the plane from an unusual path, such perhaps the one used by the DEA to run controlled deliveries of heroin from the Beeka valley, in Lebanon, to Detroit and known to transit trough Frankfurt and to have used Pan Am as carrier.

According to the report of a private investigator contracted by Pan Am, on December 21, 1988, a BKA surveillance agent watching the Pan Am flight’s loading noticed that the “drug” suitcase substituted was different in make, shape, material and color from that used for all previous drug shipments.

This one was a brown Samsonite case. The BKA reported this to the CIA team in Wiesbaden. The CIA unit reported to its control. According to the report, the text reads: “DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, DON’T STOP IT, LET IT GO.”

Edward Luttwak wrote in the March 22 2006 Times Literary Supplement, that “there have been only two kinds of CIA secret operations: the ones that are widely known to have failed, usually because of almost unbelievably crude errors, and the ones that are not yet widely known to have failed.” The Lockerbie affair may very well one day top the CIA long undistinguished list of failed operations.

December 21 : 38 Minutes After Take Off

Just 38 minutes after take off, Pan Am 103 exploded. Herr Gobel, a German witness at the Lockerbie trial, explained in detail how Kreesat made the bombs. German investigators found that the barometric-switch took about 7 minutes from take off, if in the fuselage of a 747 flying a normal passenger flight profile, to switch to the ‘on’ condition.

The pressure inside a 747 fuselage is auto-regulated to about the equivalent of 8,000 ft above sea level. The baggage hold and passenger compartments are always at the same pressure as each other. The explosive device, being inside the fuselage, was exposed only to the regulated pressure inside the hull.

Gobel told the court that the range of timings available among the ‘ice-cube’ timers they had recovered was such that the bomb would go off more or less 37 minutes after departure.

December 21: One Hour 25 Minutes After the Explosion

“I need not go into the rest of the story and the explosion, except to say that some of us believe that, within hours, the Americans had guessed, at a very high level, what had gone wrong. It is a matter of fact that the American helicopters were on site within an hour and 25 minutes,” has said Tom Dalyell.

“It began back in December 1988, New Year’s Eve to be precise, when a police officer, a constituent and friend, came to me and said that he was very worried about so many Americans, on the awful site of Lockerbie, searching and rummaging through the wreckage, and possibly destroying important evidence.” [36]

“I knew that the identification of McKee was absolutely correct because of the clothing which correlated closely with the other reports and statements, and the computers that were linked up to Washington,” stated Dr. David Fieldhouse, the local police surgeon, who identified Major McKee.

If indeed, McKee was returning unannounced, one is left wondering how the computers in Washington had information concerning the clothes he was wearing on December 21.

December 23: Israeli Intercepts

Two days after the downing of Pan Am 103, Israeli intelligence intercepted a phone call from Mohtashemi, the Interior Ministry in Teheran, to the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

During the conversation, the ambassador was congratulated for the “successful operation” and was told to hand over to the PFLP-GC the remaining funds. [37]

Israel never accepted the view of the US concerning the authors of the Lockerbie bombing. A few days after the indictment of the two Libyans, a senior Israeli official said that his government had informed US officials that Israel remains convinced that the bombing had been conducted by Jibril’s organization.

The conclusion, reached by Israel’s secret services, is heavily based on the same information used by American investigators, the senior official added. [38]

December 24: Transfer of Money

“The Scottish commission reviewing evidence in the case was able to confirm that Iran and Syria paid the PFLP-GC to carry out the bombing,” former CIA operative Robert Baer told Jeff Stein. [39]

I understand that Baer told the SCCRC that an $11 million payment was received by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) on or about December 23, 1988.

The transaction is evidenced by a credit to a bank in Lausanne, Switzerland, and that the payment was moved from there to another PFLP-GC account at the Banque Nationale de Paris, and thence to the Hungarian development bank.

When Dalkamoni was arrested during Operation Autumn Leaves, the Paris account number was found in his possession.

December 29

On December 29, Michael F. Jones, of Pan Am Corporate Security in London, received a telephone call from Phillip Connelly, assistant chief investigation officer for H.M. Customs and Excise. “Have you considered a bag switch at Frankfurt due to the large amount of Turkish workers,” Connelly asked Jones?

Connelly went on to explain that, before the disaster, he had attended a meeting in Frankfurt with the other agencies concerned to discuss deliveries of heroin through Frankfurt airport involving the substitution of bags by Turkish baggage-handlers.

December 31

On December 31, The Times of London reported that the team investigating the Lockerbie air disaster had told the Scottish police that the bomb had definitely been placed on board in Frankfurt.

No More “Accidents,” No More Bombings

“The US Justice Department ... contends that these were two separate independent operations both targeted against an American airliner but independent of each other and not known to each other - two separate tracks if you will,” Cannistraro said.

“That’s always seemed a bit difficult to accept, that two major terrorist groups were targeting the same airliner out of the same location, Frankfurt, Germany, at the same time.”

Indeed, a bit difficult to accept. And ask yourself another obvious question. Why would Jibril stop after one cell had been busted? They had prepared more than a dozen of IEDs, specifically designed to destroy airliners in flight. They were ready to attack US airliners in dozen of airports around the world. It certainly appears as if Tehran was ready to retaliate for any recurrence of “accidental” downing of their civilian airliners. It would also appear that Washington understood that Iranian officials meant business.

Few Convinced, Many Skeptics

The Defense Intelligence Agency has always thought the Iranians paid the PFLP-GC to bomb Pan Am flight 103.

Patrick Lang, chief of the DIA’s Middle East section at the time, has stated that he “signed off” on the DIA’s conclusion. “The bombing of the Pan Am flight was conceived, authorized and financed by Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, the former Iranian minister of Interior.”

“The operation was contracted to Ahmad Jibril for $1 million,” said a September 24, 1989 memo. “The remainder was to be paid after successful completion of the mission.” “I still agree with that. We felt quite sure that this was a PFLP thing,” Lang said.

“Among those I have talked to over the past years, I have found none who believed that Libya alone paid for, planned and carried out the crime, exactly none,” wrote A.M. Rosenthal, a New York Time columnist, in March 1992.

Rosenthal denounced George Bush for avoiding “the proven Syrian-Palestinian involvement” [40]. But Rosenthal also felt that too many people had taken part in the investigation for the truth to remain hidden forever.

Ockam’s Razor

Not everything that is more difficult is more meritorious.—St. Thomas Aquinas
The 14th century English friar and logician William of Ockham is credited to have been the first to suggest the principle according to which the simplest explanation that fits all known facts is usually the right one. Allow me to review the facts.

Following the Vincennes attack, the Iranian Ambassador at the UN told the world in no ambiguous terms that Iran will seek revenge. In Tehran, Mostashemi, the Iranian Minister of the Interior, promised that the skies will rain blood.

Mostashemi, and top other Iranian officials, held a series of meetings in Beirut with several members of a well known organization, the PFLP-GC, led by Ahmed Jibril. Iran has colluded with the PFLP-GC before and after the Lockerbie bombing.

The PFLP-GC was the logical choice for several reasons. The Palestinian group operated in Lebanon under Syrian protection and enjoyed a special relation with Mostashemi who had been the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon in the 80s.

The organization had the know-how to manufacture timing devices involving an air-pressure switch for bombs to detonate aboard airplanes. Jibril had operating cells in Europe, including in Germany and Sweden. Last, but not least, Syrian drug Barron al Kasaar, and former associate of Oliver North, could easily bypass the security of Frankfurt airport, thanks to several baggage handlers working for his organization.

In September, Jibril sent Dalkamoni, his most trusted lieutenant, to Germany in order to organize a cell which, with the collaboration of another PFLP-GC cell from Sweden, had for mission to construct a bomb specifically designed to destroy airliners. A few weeks later, Jibril ordered Khreesat, one of his two senior bomb-makers, to join Dalkamoni in Germany.

In late October, the German authorities arrested most members of both cells. They found four devices built into domestic objects, such as radios and televisions, as well as Pan Am timetables. Several members of the terrorist organization escaped the raid, including Abu Ellias and Abu Talb. A CIA-BKA asset told the FBI that Dalkamoni had passed one bomb to Ellias. Two PFLP-GC members, Goben and Tunayb, have revealed that Ellias planted the bomb in Jafaar luggage.

Jafaar met Talb in Sweden and then Jibril in Germany, in mid-December. It seems that Jibril convinced Jafaar to carry heroin to the US. A witness described Jafaar as suspiciously agitated as he was waiting to board on Pan Am 103.

The Germans tested one of these bombs by taking it up in a 747. They established that a bomb detonated by these timers would go off between 32 and 42 minutes after take-off. Flight 103 was in the air for 38 minutes before it blew up, right in the middle of the time frame.

Last October, former CIA operative Robert Baer told David Horovitz that the bomb that exploded on Pan Am 103 was one of Dalkamoni devices. [41]

A high ranking Iranian defector testified that Iranian agents planted the bomb parts in Frankfurt, and that the bomb was assembled in London. (See Confession of an Iranian Terror Czar) Jibril and Kasaar were seen having diner alone in a Paris restaurant just weeks before the bombing. The BKA concluded that the bomb started its journey in Frankfurt.

During the first appeal, in 2002, it was revealed that there had been a break-in at Heathrow the night before the bombing. The Iranian Air facility was immediately adjacent to the baggage assembly area where transit luggage for Flight 103 was loaded.

The chief baggage handler, John Bedford, testified that, when he returned from a coffee break, he saw two additional suitcases had been loaded into the relevant container for Flight 103.

The crash investigators established that the explosion occurred precisely where those cases had been placed, above a single layer of baggage that Bedford had already packed into the container.

The day prior to the bombing, various Intelligence Agencies intercepted communications informing Iranian Officials of the whereabouts of McKee and his rescue team.

Two days after the bombing, communication intercepts indicate that Tehran ordered their Ambassador in Beirut to pay Jibril Organization for the successful operation. The transfer of the money is recorded and Dalkamoni was in possession of the Paris bank account number when he was arrested.

Dalkamoni was rewarded for his services to the “Islamic revolutionary struggle against the West.” The Iranian citation praises Dalkamoni for achieving the greatest-ever strike against the West.

Moreover, $500,000 was transferred on April 25, 1989 to the Degussa bank of Frankfurt and deposited on the account of Mohammed Abu Talb. In his agenda, Talb had circled, the date of the Lockerbie bombing. In his apartment, police found clothes bought in Malta. Talb had met with Dalkamoni in Cyprus during October.

Talb was in Malta on November 23 when clothes surrounding the bomb are believed to have been bought. The owner of the shop had initially identified him. He confessed his participation in the Lockerbie bombing and then retracted his confession without any explanation. His wife was heard telling in a phone conversation to Palestinian friends “to get rid of the clothes.”

Incidentally, Abu Talb likes his friends to call him by his nom de guerre, namely Abu Intekam, Father of Revenge, the very codename given by Mostashemi to the Lockerbie bombing operation.

Si non e vero, e bene trovato.

Ludwig De Braeckeleer has a Ph.D. in nuclear sciences. He teaches physics and international humanitarian law. He blogs on the “GaiaPost” and can be contacted at Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Chronicle of a Death Foretold (original Spanish title: Cronica de una muerte anunciada) is a novel by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Published in 1981, it tells, in the form of a pseudo-journalistic reconstruction, the story of a 27 year-old murder. The marvelously crafted story reveals, little by little, that although many knew the fate of the victim, none warned him because each had something to gain from his death.

1. The victims are the 16 crew members, 243 passengers and 11 residents from Lockerbie. The list is available here:

2. Shadow over Lockerbie

3. The Congressional Quarterly Article

4. See however the Parkes report which disputes that the plane was destroyed by a bomb.

5. Piecing together the murder jigsaw, The Scotsman, June 26 2007. Semtex is a high-performance explosive manufactured in the village of Semtin, in the Czech Republic.

6. Pan Am 103 had 408 passenger seats, namely 21 in First Class, 14 in the Upper Deck Clipper Class, 30 in the Clipper Class, 110 in the Wing Section, 96 in the Mid Section and 137 in the Back Section. A map of the seats can be found here

7. See Patrick Haseldine on Lockerbie

8. See the Amazon webpage of the book

9. Hart Lidov and Oliver ‘Buck’ Revell, How low can we go?

10. See the Amazon webpage of the book

11. Reflection on propaganda, Chomsky

12. Newsweek, August 15, 1989

13. Aerial Incident of July 3, 1988 (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America)

14. Dilip Hiro, The Longest War, Routledge 1991, 211f., 239f.

15. The USS Vincennes: Public War, Secret War, July 1 1992, ABC News, Ted Koppel

16. The Khomeini letter: Is Rafsanjani warning the hardliners? October 13, 2006

17. Reuter NICOSIA, July 29, 1988

18. Gaurav Kampani, “Proliferation Unbound: Nuclear Tales from Pakistan,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, February 23, 2004. .

A.Q. Khan Nuclear Chronology

19. Islam and international law, Sheikh Wahbeh al-Zuhili


21. Libya May Escape Final Judgment in Pan-Am 103 Case, December 20 2007

22. Mohammad Ja-Afar Mahallati , The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,
July 4, 1988, Transcript #3206 (Public Broadcasting Corporation)

23. Shadow over Lockerbie

24. Department of the Air Force—Air Intelligence Agency intelligence summary report, March 4, 1991, released under a FOIA request made by lawyers for Pan Am. Reports of the intercept appeared in the press long before the above document was released: New York Times, Sept. 27, 1989; October 31, 1989; Sunday Times, October 29, 1989. In January 1995, the exact text became widely publicized and caused a storm in the UK, although ignored in the US. The document can be read here on pages 7 and 8.

25. Global Security February 12, 2001, Volume 4, Number 6.

26. Comment to my readers. Operation Autumn Leaves will be the subject of my next piece on Lockerbie. Help from Germany and Sweden is welcome!

27. NYT May 23, 1989

28. Lockerbie: The Khreesat Connection, Private Eye, January 2001

29. The Guardian, July 29, 1995

30. Lockerbie: Another Warning, Another Denial. Private Eye, October 6, 1995

31. The document can be consulted here

32. The Independent, March 29, 1990

33. History of Lebanon

34. TIME Pan Am 103. Why did they die? April 27, 1992

35. Lockerbie—A Parallel

36. Tam Dalyell, 1997: ‘Nothing has been done.’ Guardian July 23, 1997

37. The Times, London, September 20, 1989

38. New York Times, November 21, 1991

39. Libya May Escape Final Judgment in Pan-Am 103 Case

40. NYT, November 22, 1991

41. Jerusalem Post, October 11, 2007


Dr. Ludwig de Braeckeleer -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Ludwig De Braeckeleer has a Ph.D. in nuclear sciences. Ludwig teaches physics and international humanitarian law. He blogs on “The GaiaPost.”

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