Taking the Blame
A review of:
Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to LockerbieInside the
DIA by Donald Goddard with Lester Coleman. Bloomsbury, 325 pp.,
£16.99, 27 September 1993, 0 7475 1562 X
The Media and Disasters: Pan-Am 103 by Joan Deppa with Maria
Russell, Dona Hayes and Elizabeth Lynne Flocke. Fulton, 346 pp.,
£14.99, 28 October 1993, 1 85346 225X
The American investigative columnist Jack Anderson has had
some scoops in his time but none more significant than his revelation
- in January 1990that in mid-March 1989, three months after
Lockerbie, George Bush rang Margaret Thatcher to warn her to 'cool
it' on the subject. On what seems to have been the very same day,
perhaps a few hours earlier, Thatcher's Secretary of State for
Transport, Paul Channon, was the guest of five prominent political
correspondents at a lunch at the Garrick Club. It was agreed that
anything said at the lunch was 'on strict lobby terms'that
is, for the journalists only, not their readers. Channon then
announced that the Dumfries and Galloway Policethe smallest
police force in Britain- had concluded a brilliant criminal investigation
into the Lockerbie crash. They had found who was responsible and
arrests were expected before long. The Minister could not conceal
his delight at the speed and efficiency of the PC McPlods from
Dumfries, and was unstinting in his praise of the European intelligence.
So sensational was the revelation that at least one of the
five journalists broke ranks; and the news that the Lockerbie
villains would soon be behind bars in Scotland was divulged to
the public. Channon, still playing the lobby game, promptly denied
that he was the source of the story. Denounced by the Daily Mirror's
front page as a 'liar', he did not sue or complain. A few months
later he was quietly sacked. Thatcher, of course, could not blame
her loyal minister for his indiscretion, which coincided so unluckily
with her instructions from the White House.
Channon had been right, however, about the confidence of the
Dumfries and Galloway Police. They did reckon they knew who had
done the bombing. Indeed, they had discovered almost at once that
a terrorist bombing of an American airliner, probably owned by
PanAm, had been widely signaled and even expected by the authorities
in different European countries. The point was, as German police
and intelligence rather shamefacedly admitted, that a gang of
suspected terrorists had been rumbled in Germany in the months
before the bombing. They were members of a faction of the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by Ahmed Jibril. The
aim of the gang was to bomb an American airliner in revenge for
the shooting down by an American warship of an Iranian civil airliner
in the Gulf earlier in the year. On 26 October 1988, less than
two months before the bombing, two of the suspectsHafez Dalkomini
and Marwan Abdel Khreesatwere arrested in their car outside
a flat at Neuss near Frankfurt. In the car was a bomb, moulded
into the workings of a black Toshiba cassette recorder. In the
ensuing weeks other raids were carried out on alleged terrorist
hideaways in Germany, and 16 suspects arrested. One of them was
Mohammad Abu Talb, another member of the PFLP, who was almost
instantly released. Even more curious was the equally prompt release
of Khreesat, who was suspected of making the bomb found in Dalkomini's
The finding of the bomb led to a flurry of intelligence activity.
It was discovered that the bomb had been specifically made to
blow up an aircraft; and that the gang had made at least five
bombs, four of which had not been found. At once, a warning went
out on the European intelligence network to watch out for bombs
masked in radio cassette recorders, especially at airports. There
were more specific warnings. On 5 December 1988 the US Embassy
in Helsinki got a telephone warning that 'within the next few
weeks' an attempt would be made to bomb a Pan-Am flight from Frankfurt
to New York. On 8 December, Israeli forces attacked a PFLP base
in the Lebanon and found papers about a planned attack on a Pan-Am
flight from Frankfurt. This information, too, was passed on. On
18 December the German police got another warning about a bomb
plot against a Pan-American flight. This message was passed to
American embassies, including the embassy in Moscow, and as a
result of it 80 per cent of the Americans in Moscow who had booked
to fly home for Christmas on Pan-Am flights canceled their reservations.
This was probably why there were relatively few passengers on
Pan-Am 103 as it took off from Heathrow half an hour late on the
evening of 21 December. No one has explained why a warning thought
proper for US citizens in Moscow never reached the 259 people
who boarded the plane without the slightest idea that there was
Though the German police dragged their feet and were singularly
reluctant to disclose any documents, the facts about the Jibril
gang were known to the Scottish police by March 1989. All the
ingredients of a solution were in place. The motive was clear:
revenge for a similar atrocity. The Lockerbie bomb, forensic experts
discovered, had been concealed in a black Toshiba cassette recorder
exactly like the one found in Dalkomini's car two months earlier.
The German connection was impossible to ignore: the flight had
started in Frankfurt. The identity of the bombers seemed certain,
and surely it was only a matter of time before they could be charged.
But, like Channon, the police were unaware of the telephone conversation
between Bush and Thatcher. When Thatcher sacked Channon a few
decent months later, she appointed Cecil Parkinson in his place.
Shaken by the grief of the Lockerbie victims' families, Parkinson
promised them a full public inquiry. Alas, when he put the idea
to the Prime Minister she slapped him down at once. There was
no judicial or public inquiry with full powersjust a very limited
fatal accident inquiry, which found that the disaster could have
been prevented by security precautions which are still not in
All through the rest of 1989 the Scottish police beavered
away. In May they found more clues. A group of Palestinian terrorists
were arrested in Sweden, among them Abu Talb. Talb's German flat
was raided. It was full of clothing bought in Malta. The forensic
evidence showed that the Lockerbie cassette-bomb had been wrapped,
inside its suitcase, in clothes with Maltese tags. Talb was known
to have visited Malta some weeks before the bombing. Off flew
the Scottish police to: Malta, where a boutique-owner remembered
selling a suspicious-looking man some clothes ;- similar to those
found in the fatal suitcase. Closely questioned by FBI video-fit
(or identikit) experts, the boutique-owner's answers produced
a picture which looked very like Abu Talb. When a computer print-out
of baggage on the fatal airliner appeared to show an unaccompanied
suitcase transferred to PanAm 103 from a flight from Malta, the
jigsaw seemed complete. Jibril had agreed to bomb an airliner,
probably in exchange for a huge reward from the Iranian Government.
The task was taken on by a PFLP team in Germany, led by Dalkomini.
It was joined by Khreesat, who made several bombs, only three
of which were ever discovered. One of the other two found its
way, probably via Talb, to the hold of the airliner. The culprits
were obvious. But the authorities still dragged their feet. The
initial determination to identify the conspirators and bring them
to justice seemed to have waned. The Scottish police were exasperated.
They made more and more of the information available. Much of
it appeared in the Sunday Times in a series of articles leading
up to the first anniversary of the bombing. No one who read them
could doubt that the bombers were Syrians and Palestinians. The
series, mainly written by David Leppard, who worked closely with
the Scottish police team, ended with a scoop: white plastic residue
found at Lockerbie was traced back to alarm clocks bought by the
Dalkomini gang. There seemed no more room for argument. 'The Sunday
Times understands,' Leppard wrote, 'that officers heading the
investigationdespite a cautious attitude in publichave told
their counterparts abroad that under Scottish law "charges
are now possible against certain persons."'
There were no charges, howevernot for a long time. The
President of the United States ordered a commission of inquiry,
which reported (without mentioning Jibril, Palestinians or Syrians)
in May 1990. By that time the politics of the Middle East were
changing rapidly. In August, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The
supply of cheap oil to the United States was suddenly threatened.
War was necessary to clear the invading dictator out of Kuwait
and restore to his throne the resident dictator, the Emir, who
had always been much more appreciative of the United States' dependence
on cheap fuel. No war could be fought against Saddam, however,
which might antagonist other Arab rulers. The main problem was
Syria. How would the dictator of Damascus, Hafez Assad, react
to what he might see as an imperialist war against his fellow
Arab dictator in Baghdad?
Very well indeed, as it turned out. Assad became an enthusiastic
ally of the US in the Gulf War. He sent front-line troops to fight
in the phoney war, and seemed happy to support the most ludicrous
claims coming from the White House. In other words, as Donald
Goddard puts it, from the moment of Saddam's invasion 'nothing
more was heard from official sources on either side of the Atlantic
about Syrian complicity in the Flight 103 bombing.' From now on
the official view of the disaster was that Syria had, in Bush's
typically elegant phrase, 'taken a bum rap on this'; and that
the people responsible for Lockerbie came from the one Arab state
which had denounced the US role in the Gulf War: Libya. Others
have noticed this astonishing somersault, but nowhere else has
it been more carefully documented. Goddard shows how the whole
finely-woven case against Jibril and the Syrians was half-twisted,
half-forgotten until it came to seem 'logical' to accuse quite
different suspects. For example, the identikit picture of Abu
Talb drawn up by the Maltese boutique owner now apparently identifies
a Libyan airline official. And it is this official, together with
a colleague, who is now 'wanted' for the bombing. Libya faces
international economic sanctions if the two are not delivered
to the authorities in Edinburgh. Goddard takes the view that the
Jibril gang probably was responsible for the bombing and that
the bomb probably was put on the plane at Frankfurt.
If this were the only purpose of Goddard's book, it would
be a fascinating expose of cover-up and hypocrisy. But it still
wouldn't answer the outstanding questions: why did the cover-up
start so early? Why, in March 1989, long before the invasion of
Kuwait, when both the British and the American Governments regarded
Saddam as an ally, and were arming the Iraqi dictator to the hilt,
did Bush and Thatcher decide to 'cool it' on Lockerbie? Why for
that matter were the warnings of a bomb on a PanAm plane not more
widely broadcast? Why was there so much American intelligence
activity on the ground at Lockerbie after the crash? Why was the
courageous work of Dr David Fieldhouse, who drove from Bradford
to Lockerbie as soon as he heard the news of the crash and spent
the whole night inspecting and tagging the remains of bodies,
ignored by the authorities, and the tagging done all over again?
Why, for that matter, was Dr Fieldhouse so shamefully accused
of being a busybody at the Scottish fatal accident inquiryan
insult for which the police and the Government had eventually
to apologise? What happened to the suitcase, almost certainly
full of 5 heroin, which was swiped from a farmer's field near
Lockerbie and never seen again?
One answer to all these questions is to be found in the story
of Lester Coleman, told in detail here for the first time. Coleman
claims that he was recruited in 1984 by the Defence Intelligence
Agency, the combined intelligence of the US Army, Navy and Air
Force, which employs 57,000 people on a budget five times that
of the CIA. One of his jobs was to spy on another US government
agency, the Drugs Enforcement Administration, which had an important
office in Nicosia. Coleman alleges that the DEA tolerated and
supervised a regular drugs run from Lebanon to the United States.
The drugs money was crucial to the Syrian-controlled part of Lebanon,
and to the economy of Syria itself, while supervision of the trade
ensured that the American intelligence agencies could keep tight
hold of their agents in Beirut. Coleman's story is that he was
sent to Nicosia by the DIA, and while pretending to be a journalist
and TV producer, at the same time worked for the DEA and 'kept
an eye' on it for his real masters. His work in Nicosia brought
him into contact with the drug-runners and smugglers who, he says,
operated mainly through Frankfurt airport. A group of baggage-handlers
there, Turkishbom and sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalism, regularly
switched luggage so that the smugglers' baggage was put on flights
between Frankfurt and the US in place of bags which had already
been checked in. A similar racket was operated at the US airports.
Coleman left the DEA in Cyprus in 1988 and was not engaged
by the DIA again until 1990. He was not told what his new assignment
was. He was ordered to apply for a passport in a bogus name -
a name he had been given as a false identity many years before
when working in a minor capacity for the CIA. In May 1990, as
he prepared for his unknown job, he was arrested and charged with
applying for at false passport. At first he felt there was some
mistake which a phone call would clear up. No one would come to
his assistance, however. Jailed and baited, he trawled through
journalistic contacts to find out why he was being victimised.
One of these, Sheila Hershow, had just been fired as an investigator
from the sub-committee looking into the Lockerbie disaster. Her
sacking followed her demands for more US government information
about security at Frankfurt airport. Hershaw sent Coleman a photo
of a young man he immediately identified as one of the drug couriers
from Nicosia. She told him the young man had died at Lockerbie.
This information persuaded Coleman that he was being victimised
because he might know too much about the prelude to the disaster.
When his lawyers were told that documents from the CIA about his
false identity and his instructions to apply for a false passport
from the DIA were 'classified' and could not be obtained in any
court, he realised that he was on a hiding to nothing.
He decided to come out in the open, and approached Pan-Am,
who were fighting a losing battle against having to take full
responsibility for the Lockerbie crash. He gave them a long statement
in which he alleged that the drugs operation supervised by the
DEA had been infiltrated by the terrorist gang who were out to
bomb an airliner, and that the existing baggage-switch operation
in Frankfurt could well have been used to plant the fatal bomb
on Pan-Am 103. After telling his story Coleman went into hiding.
A journalist, Danny Casorolo, tracked him down and tried to follow
up his story. He sought out the man who recruited Coleman to the
DIA. Nine days after his first phone call to Coleman, Casorolo
was knifed to death in a hotel room in West Virginia. His body
was embalmed before a post-mortem could be carried out.
Reading this story I was reminded of Colin Wallace, a former
army information officer in Northern Ireland, who had the guts
to stand up to and break with the more ludicrous conspiracies
of his intelligence controllers. Wallace was sacked from the Army,
and convicted on the slenderest, most contradictory evidence of
killing his best friend. Wallace served six years for this crime
which he passionately denies. He was then given a low-paid job
in airport management, which he carried out perfectly honourably
until he was contemptuously sacked by a new, government-supporting
British Airports Authority management.
Through all his ordeal, Wallace has had to contend with cynical
and servile media which peddle the Government's story about him.
Lester Coleman, apparently, has the same problem. His story is
powerful enough to be taken extremely seriously. It explains many
of the hypocrisies and cover-ups which have confused and infuriated
the families of the victims of Pan-Am 103. The sensitive study
of the media and the disaster by Joan Deppa and her colleagues
from Syracuse University, 35 of whose students died at Lockerbie,
shows how many of the families have changed 'from victim to advocate'
and have come to expect that journalists will give them answers
to the questions which are still ignored by governments. Lester
Coleman has something crucial to say to all these families, and
they have a right to expect his story to be sympathetically checked
and analysed. Yet most of the media continue to dismiss him as
a 'Walter Mitty' (a term used again and again about Colin Wallace)
and a conman. He has been trashed in particular by the once-prestigious
US current affairs TV show, Sixty Minutes, and by New York Magazine,
whose reporter Christopher Byron accuses those who take Coleman
seriously of 'chipping away at America's faith in her institutions'.
David Leppard, who has never explained the contradictions between
the articles he published in 1989 and his 1991 book on the subject,
wrote recently in the Sunday Times attacking Bloomsbury for daring
to publish this book when Coleman faces perjury charges for his
sworn affidavit to Pan-Am. Any investigative journalist should
consider the perjury charges a reason to publish, not to keep
There is a lot wrong with Goddard's book. Again and again
he launches into assertions before he proves them. He 'reports'
conversations verbatim, in direct speech, when neither he nor
Coleman nor anyone else can have any proof of what was actually
said. He makes far too much use of flashbacks. On balance, however,
he wins the argument. And if he and Coleman are telling even half
the truth, they have lifted the edge of the veil on one of the
nastiest and most deceitful political corruptions of modern times.
Reply by Donald Goddard
It was a pity that Paul Foot fell at the final fence in his
otherwise impeccable canter over the course of the Lockerbie scandal,
as set out in Trail of the Octopus, the book I wrote with Lester
Coleman (LRB, 6 January). In the last paragraph of his review,
I am accused of making assertions before I prove them, of inventing
conversations to which neither Lester Coleman nor I could have
been privy (that's the serious one) and of making too much use
In controversial matters, I usually follow standard advocate's
procedure by first stating my position and then supporting it
with the available evidence. In a case bedevilled by five years'
worth of political manipulation, lies, special pleading and confused
media coverage, I felt readers were entitled to know unequivocally
where I stood and then to judge for themselves to what extent
that position was justified by the facts.
In all 320-odd pages of Trail of the Octopus, there is not
one word of manufactured dialogue. The use of direct speech in
the way Foot wrongly ascribes to me is, to my mind, as reprehensible
a practice as reviewing a book without reading it properly. I
report only one verbatim conversation in which Coleman did not
actually take part, and that was a brief exchange between his
mother and an FBI agent, relayed by her to Coleman in precisely
the terms set down. I feel entitled to a retraction on that one.
The quite groundless suggestion that I touched up the facts could
well taint a reader's response to the rest of the evidence set
out in the book. As for the use of flashbacks, for better or worse,
to provide the book with a narrative frame, I chose to interleave
chapters of Coleman's story, told chronologically, until the one
merged with the other;
But I have to say my disappointment was offset to some degree
by Foot's magisterial put-down of David Leppard who, without declaring
a personal interest, recently criticised Bloomsbury in the Sunday
Times for daring to publish Trail of the Octopus at all.
Donald Goddard London N1 .
Taking Libya to Trial
Letter to the Editor, International Herald Tribune, Jan 12,
It has been more than five years since the terrorist bombing
of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, an act of premeditated
murder that caused the deaths of 270 persons. But despite exhaustive
investigations we remain no closer to solving that crime than
we were in November 1991, when the United States and Britain announced
the indictment of two Libyan intelligence officers as the alleged
Libya continues to defy the United Nations Security Council
resolutions calling for it to hand over the agents. And even if
prosecution of the two Libyans in an American or British court
were possible, it would hardly provide an adequate finale to this
tragedy. Such a trial would not h likely to lead to indisputable
proof of Libyan complicity. Or the two could plead guilty and
avert a trial.
With no proof and no full accounting, sanctions against Libya
would be lifted and other state sponsors of terrorism would see
the small price they would pay for their acts.
Can anything be done to force Libya's hand, to ensure accountability
and the assumption of responsibility? The U.S. government seems
convinced that criminal punishment is the sole means of obtaining
justice. But there are other paths to justice, including civil
damages in a court of law. Indeed, civil damages, pursuant to
a civil trial on merits, appears to be the best way, if not a
perfect one, to achieve accountability.
A civil suit does not seek to replace the prospect of criminal
punishment but to recognize its limitations. Sovereign nations
cannot be punished as if they were individuals. They can, however,
be deterred from future acts of illegal conduct by being held
To ensure accountability through a civil suit two hurdles
must be overcome. Libya needs to be stripped of any vestige of
sovereign immunity that it has under U.S. law. In a ceremony at
Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 21, President Bill Clinton
stated that the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 was a deliberate attack
on the United States. As such, Libya deserves no protection from
a civil suit in a U.S. court. Yet,, in the past the U.S. government
has joined forces with offender states: to protect their right
to immunity from civil suit.
The U.S. government would also need to stop refusing to share
evidence implicating Libya on the ground that it would compromise
the use of such evidence in a criminal prosecution. Today, the
prospect of criminal prosecution seems increasingly remote.
Although the evidence presented in the U.S. criminal indictment
is said to be conclusive, it fails to name the government of Libya.
Only its two alleged agents are named as defendants. A civil trial
would remedy that by focusing attention on the government of Libya.
And, unlike a criminal trial, it only requires proof of a preponderance
of evidence, not the more exacting test of "beyond a reasonable
doubt" used in a criminal trial.
MARK S. ZAID. Washington.
On Dec. 15, the writers filed suit
Libya Still Only Suspect in Bombing, International Herald Tribune, Jan 13, 1994
LONDON (AP)"There is no evidence that any country other
than Libya was involved in the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over
Scotland in 1988, but the inquiry into the matter remains open,"
Prime Minister John Major said Wednesday.
Mr. Major was asked in the House of Commons about reports
suggesting that Syria and Iran might have been involved in the
bombing, which killed all 259 people on board the New York-bound
flight and 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.
Britain and the United States have named two Libyans as suspects
in the bombing, and the United Nations has imposed sanctions against
Libya because it has refused to extradite the suspects.
US Government Still on Ropes Over Lockerbie
By John Ashton
Originally Appeared in June 9, 1996 edition of
The Mail on SundayLondon
There are two very different theories about Lockerbie, the
first is black and white; the second is murky and gray. The black
and white version presents the bombing as a victory of terrorist
cunning over American innocence. The gray version suggests that
Uncle Sam has as much blood on his hands as the bombers. Not surprisingly,
it is the first version that the US and British governments came
The conflicting accounts are now the heart of an extraordinary
battle to prevent a book from being published in the US: Trail
Of The Octopus by Donald Goddard and Lester Coleman first appeared
in Britain in 1993, but no major American publisher would touch
it. "If the book's allegations prove to be correct,"
says Dr. Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora at Lockerbie,
"it will make Watergate look like vicar's tea party."
Like Spycatcher, it is a sensational whistleblower's account
of alleged excesses by the spooks. But whereas Spycatcher prompted
a government to launch a clumsy legal attempt at censorship, Trail
Of The Octopus is being resisted by a collection of private individuals.
This has made the current battle much more low-key; but it is
no less hard fought.
A firm of distributors has already pulled out of handling
the book. "I've known nothing like it for 20 years,"
says Warren Hinckle, head of its own small publisher Argonaut
Press. A veteran of many censorship battles, Hinckle is now planning
to do up the stakes. In doing so, he intends to expose a seven
year campaign by government agencies against those who have challenged
the official version of Lockerbie. If he is successful the repercussions
could be immense.
Some of the facts about Lockerbie are not disputed. The most
obvious is that on December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed
by a bomb built into Toshiba radio cassette player. All 259 people
on board were killed, along with 11 residents of the Scottish
Then there is the Iranian connection. In July 1988 the US
Navy battle cruiser Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian
Airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board.
Within days hard-liners within the Tehran government had commissioned
a Syria based group, the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine,
General Command (PFLP- GC), to carry out a revenge attack. Led
Ahmed Jibril, it had specialized in blowing up planes since 1970.
By mid-October 1988, Jibril had everything in place. His bomb-maker,
Marwan Khrecat, had been dispatched to Germany and had assembled
five bombs designed to detonate at altitude. However, the German
police were watching Kreesat's moves. On October 26, he and 14
other PFLP-GC suspects were rounded up in an operation code named
Autumn Leaves. One of the aircraft bombs was seized. It had been
built into a Toshiba radio-cassette player.
It is at this point that the two versions begin to diverge.
According to the first version, Autumn Leaves halted Jibril's
plan and opened a window of opportunity for the Libyan leader
Colonel Gadafy. Western intelligence sources maintain that he
was desperate to avenge 1986 American raids on his country. It
is claimed that the action suddenly shifted to Malta where two
Libyan agents, working undercover for Libyan Arab Airlines, are
alleged to have assembled a bomb in another Toshiba radio-cassette
player. They then managed to smuggle it on board a flight to Frankfurt,
in an unaccompanied suitcase labeled to New York. At Frankfurt
it evaded Pan Am's security and, still unaccompanied, was loaded
on a first leg of flight 103 to Heathrow, where it joined the
ill fated jumbo jet. This version became official in November
1991, when the British and American government issued indictments
against the two alleged agents: Abdel Basser Ali Al-Mergrahi and
Lamen Khalifa Phimah.
According to alternative versions, Autumn Leaves were a mere
hiccup in Jibril's plans. Four more airplane bombs were still
at large, and, within days, most of the suspects, including Kreesat
had been freed.
It is on the question of what happened over the next two months
and, in particular, how the bomb got on the flight 103, that the
alternative version becomes too controversial. Its supporters
allege that Jibril used an unwitting dupe; a young Lebanese-born
American Khalid Jafaar. The Jafaar clan was one of the major drug-producing
dynasties in the Syrian occupied Bekaa valley. It is claimed that
Jafaar walked aboard flight 103 believing himself to be carrying
heroin, but that he had been double-crossed by Jibril's men. Having
learned of the drug shipments through the treacherous world of
the Bekaa, Jibril realized that they provided an ideal means for
getting the bomb on the plane.
Under normal circumstances it might have been detected in
a routine security check, but, so the story goes, this was drug-trafficking
with a difference. It was part of a shady bargain struck between
elements within the CIA and the Syrian overlords of Lebanese narco-terrorism.
In return for the Syrian using their influence to free the remaining
American hostages, the CIA helped them to safely transport their
heroin on transatlantic flights. Jafaar had a foot in both camps;
as well as bring a mule for the drug barons, he was secretly an
asset of the CIA.
Coming as it did on the heels of Irangate (which also involved
shady deals over hostages), the CIA was desperate to keep the
operation secret. For this reason, it is claimed, it sought cover
behind the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). At this point
the Trail Of The Octopus comes in.
The book tells the story of its co-author Lester Coleman.
Originally a journalist, in the mid-Eighties he began to work
as a contract consultant for the DEA's Cyprus office. At that
time Cyprus was the nerve center of efforts to monitor drug production
in Lebanon. It was no ordinary assignment because Coleman was
simultaneously employed by the US Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA), the ultra-secretive military spooks. According to Coleman,
the DEA was desperate for information about Lebanon, but it also
wanted to keep a discreet eye on the DEA and CIA, both of which
it viewed with suspicion.
By the time Coleman arrived in Cyprus, the flow of drugs out
of Lebanon was so great that the best the DEA could hope for was
to monitor where it was going to in the US to catch the dealers
there. In order to do this, he claims, he relied on a technique
called controlled delivery. This involves an agent, or informant,
carrying a specially marked bag containing drugs. The shipment
is monitored by the DEA and, through cooperation with other countries,
is allowed to pass through security and customs unhindered.
Trail Of The Octopus claims that the controlled deliveries
provided the CIA with its fig leaf. Not only that, but the DEA
allowed its network of informants to double as the CIA's eyes
and ears in Lebanon. It was this mixing of roles, Coleman asserts,
that proved fatal. The informants were not trained agents; worse
still, he believes, some of them were reporting back to the Syrian
backed terrorists. Security, thus, was a sham. Coleman insists
that he tried to raise the issue with the head of the DEA Cyprus,
Michael Hurley, but was ignored. Tension between the two men grow
and Coleman eventually left the island in May 1988. Before departing,
he claims to have warned Hurley, in a taped telephone conversation
that the security situation was a disaster waiting to happen.
Hurley has accused Coleman of editing in the phrase, and says
that Coleman was sacked by the DEA for unsatisfactory behavior.
Despite his avowed prophecy, Coleman says that it was not
until months after Lockerbie that he realised the disaster might
be connected to drug-trafficking. He claims the realization was
triggered by the discovery that Khalid Jafaar was among the victims.
"The kid was one of those I saw coming through the office
in Cyprus," he says, "I knew from the conversations
around me in 1988 that he was involved in controlled deliveries
--- there's no doubt in my mind about that at all." The DEA
denies any connection with Jafaar.
Coleman was not the first to hint at the alternative version.
In the days after the disaster rumors were rife that Jafaar had
been duped into carrying the bomb. The rumors were fueled by the
fact that large quantities of heroin were found among the debris.
These finds were later denied by the British and American authorities.
In 1990 the ceiling fell in on Coleman's world. He was arrested
by the FBI and charged with passport fraud. Although he admitted
applying for a passport under the name Thomas Leavy, he maintains
that he was acting under orders from the DIA, which he says, had
just reactivated him for an undercover assignment. When he tried
to call his DIA contact numbers, he says, the numbers were dead.
Then the anonymous death threats started. Rather then waiting
around for a trial, he decided to flee to Sweden. On arrival,
he became the first American citizen to apply for political asylum
since the Vietnam war.
Coleman presents himself as a latter-day version of the man
who knew to much, but to his detractors the passport charges show
that he is a trickster and a con man. They point out that he has
yet to produce the hard evidence to prove his claims. Chief among
his enemies, predictably, is old DEA boss Michael Hurley. In May
1994 Hurley issued a libel writ against the book's British publisher,
Bloomsbury. The case has still to come to court.
Coleman counters his critics by pointing out that they too
have yet to make public proof of their allegations. He is adamant
that he could proof his case in an instant, if the US Government
allowed him access to documents relating to him and to the DEA's
controlled delivery operations. In 1990 he requested under the
US Freedom of Information Act. The application was refused on
the grounds of "National Security'; a curious response from
a government which claims it has nothing to hide.
What Coleman does have, in spades, is evidence that the American
authors have played dirty. In 1992 the FBI applied to the Swedish
government to have him extradited. Among the papers it submitted
was an "investigative summary" concerning the passport
case. It claimed the FBI had been alerted to the fraud by the
public records office in the town of New London, Connecticut.
Suspicions had been raised, the report stated, when someone identifying
himself as Thomas Leavy had requested a copy of his birth certificate.
He listed his date of birth as July 4, 1948. According to the
FBI, when the records office ran a computer check, they discovered
"that the real Thomas Leavy had died in New London, Connecticut,
two days after his 1948 birth." The impostor, the FBI suggested,
The FBI was lying through its teeth. In January 1995 Coleman's
lawyers obtained a sworn statement from the registrar of public
records in New London. It stated that "after a diligent search
of the records...neither a birth record on or about July 6, 1948,
nor a death record, on or about July 6, 1948, of one Thomas Leavy
On September 21, 1993, the US government issued another indictment
against Coleman this time for perjury. The alleged offenses were
contained in an affidavit he had sworn for Pan Am's lawyers in
1991. To those wondering why the government would wait two years
before acting, Coleman points out that the charges came just days
before Trail Of The Octopus was published in Britain. "It
was a blatant spoiling operation," says his co-author Donald
Goddard. "They even announced the charges in a press release."
The indictment once again showed the government to have been careless.
Its first count alleges that Coleman lied about his ability to
speak Arabic. In fact, he speaks three dialects of the language
quite competently. "If the American government is prepared
to lie about Coleman," says Jim Swire, spokesman for the
British Lockerbie relatives, "then who is to say the official
version of Lockerbie is not also a lie?'
In 1993 I began to investigate Lockerbie for a TV documentary
called, "The Maltese Double Cross", made by an internationally
renowned film- maker, Allan Francovich. The project attracted
controversy because it was initially funded by Lonrho plc, which
had business ties with the Libyan government, and later by the
company's former chief executive, Tiny Rowland. Francovich, only
agreed to be involved on condition that there was no interference
from Rowland or Libya. The condition was met.
Before long we came across alarming evidence that Coleman
was not the only one whom the authorities had tried to silence.
I made it a priority to find policemen and volunteers who had
the grim task of scouring the Scottish hillsides for debris. Five
years on, it was hard to get people to talk. Most reticent were
those who had searched the area around Tundergarth, where the
nose section of the plane had landed, and the heroin was found.
The day after the crash, the area was swarming with plan-clothed
Americans, Searchers told me, off the record, that the agents
seemed desperate to find something. Although the search effort
was supposed to follow the strict rules of evidence gathering,
they seemed to have been given carte blanche to do their own thing.
In the meantime junior police officers and volunteers were warned
that, under the Official Secrets Act, they must never reveal what
they had seen.
The film eventually concluded that the alternative version
of Lockerbie was correct. Despite all the new evidence we uncovered,
we were never approached by the Scottish police, or FBI, to help
with their inquires. It was due to be premiered at the 1994 London
Film Festival, but, for the first time in its 38 year history,
the festival pulled out at the last minute owing to fears of legal
action. Following the decision, a number of screenings were organized
by an anti-censorship center in Birmingham called the Angle Gallery.
The day after the first screening both the gallery and the home
of the organizer were burgled. Nothing of value was taken, but
office files had been rifled. A few weeks later, the gallery organized
a further screening. This time it suffered an arson attack.
Channel 4 eventually agreed to show the film on May 11 last
year. The day before the broadcast the British and American governments
launched an extraordinary assault. Simultaneously, the Scottish
Crown Office and the US Embassy in London sent every national
and Scottish newspaper a press pack. It consisted of a series
of unsubstantiated smears against four of the film's interviewers.
Among them, inevitably, was Lester Coleman. Great play was made
of the fact that he was a fugitive from justice but the FBI's
blatant lies were ignored.
Also targeted was a New York based investigator called Juval
Aviv. In 1989, at the recommendation of a number of prestigious
law firms, he was hired to investigate the bombing by Pan Am.
After three months he delivered a report based on anonymous intelligence
sources, which was the first detailed incarnation of the alternative
version. A few weeks later it was leaked to the media. Some of
the lawyers representing the Lockerbie relatives played hell,
accusing Aviv and Pan Am of cooking up a story that would exonerate
the airline's faulty security.
Ever since that time, Aviv claims, he has been a marked man.
He alleges a series of break-ins at his Madison Avenue offices.
"They rarely took anything, but they left signs of their
presence. It was like they were saying, "Don't step out of
line again,"" he says. He also claims his clients have
been approached by FBI agents and advised to sever contact with
him. This may sound like the stuff of paranoid fantasy, but he
points to the fact that, since the report was leaked, all his
contacts with government agencies have dried up.
Within days of The Maltese Double Cross being broadcast, Aviv
was indicted on fraud charges. The alleged offense had occurred---you've
guessed it---years earlier. He is adamant that it was trumped
up to help the governments spoiling operation against the film
(indeed it was trailed in the press pack). His lawyer, Gerald
Shargel, applied for the case to be dismissed on the grounds of
selective prosecution. In an affidavit submitted last September,
he wrote; "In all my (25) years of practice, I have never
seen the resources of the FBI and the US Attorney's Office devoted
to such an insignificant, inconsequential, isolated, four-year-old
matter." The judge turned down the application last month,
but not before condemning some of the prosecution's arguments
"pathetic" and "dishonest'.
Despite the legal set back, there is now dramatic evidence
of the government's vendetta against Aviv. It is contained in
a report produced by Martin Kenney, a New York based international
lawyer who specializes in serious financial crime. Earlier this
year he, Aviv, and one other partner, set up an asset search and
recovery company in Bermuda called Interclaim Ltd. The plan was
to utilize Kenney's legal skills and Aviv's investigative know-how.
They lined up a handful of distinguished legal and commercial
figures from Britain and the US to become both investors and members
of the company's board of directors. The also approached an investment
banking firm from the City of London and three major accountancy
firms. All were enthusiastic about Interclaim. Aviv was completely
open with Kenney about the outstanding charges. Kenney conducted
his own investigation into the allegations and into Aviv's background.
He concluded, "I found the incongruity between the fact of
the indictment, and the quality and content of Mr. Aviv's professional
background, standing and professional and client references to
Suddenly, last month, Kenney regretfully asked Aviv to step
down from the company. According to Kenney's report, the bankers,
accountants, and at least one of the directors, had suddenly got
cold feet and there was a danger that they would abandon the venture.
The reason, Kenney claims, is that most of them had been warned
by unnamed US government officials that Aviv was a man not to
The US government's dirty tricks may just be about to unravel.
The catalyst could be the remarkable battle currently being waged
over Trail Of The Octopus. Warren Hinckle agreed to publish it
last year and by February of this year it was at the printers.
Then the barrage began. His distributor, Publishers Group West
Inc.(PGW), was bombarded by faxes demanding the company pull out
of the deal.
They were mostly from Michael Hurley, who warned that the
book "is highly defamatory of myself and many other US citizens
and is currently the subject of libel proceedings in the UK'.
Legal threats were also made by Ron Martz, a journalist on the
Atlanta Constitution newspaper, who was referred to in the book.
Joining in the assault were Daniel and Susan Cohen from New
Jersey, who lost their daughter Theodora on flight 103. Their
fax warned: "If this book appears in the US we can assure
you that we will not sit by quietly. We will energetically denounce
not only the book and its scum- bag author, but all those who
seek to make money on our daughter's death."
This is not the first time the Cohen's had used such tactics.
When Channel 4 first showed interest in The Maltese Double Cross,
it was besieged by faxes and phone calls from them, which variously
accused us of being "scum', "bastards" and of "whoring
for Gadafy'. Jim Swire used to be on friendly terms with the couple,
but they have ostracized him ever since he announced he was keeping
an open mind about the book and the film. "In effect they
wanted to impose censorship," he says. "To my mind that's
wrong because the public should have a chance to see and read
for themselves, and make their minds up on the bases of that.'
Another opponent of the film to become embroiled in the current
controversy is ex-CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro.
As the head of CIA's Lockerbie investigation until October
1990, Cannistraro had helped provide the intelligence that pointed
the finger away from drug-running and towards Libya. Previously
he had worked alongside Colonel Oliver North in a secret program
designed to destabilize the Gadafy, regime.
Nevertheless, the campaign to halt the publication of Trail
Of The Octopus appeared to be working. On March 11, PGW told Hinckle
that it would not be distributing the book. The company had published
many controversial books in the past, but it had never faced such
an onslaught. A few days later, British publisher Bloomsbury attempted
to revoke its license agreement with Hinckle.
If the book's opponents think they have won the battle, they
should think again, they have chosen to tangle with the wrong
man. As editor of the investigative magazine Ramparts in the Sixties,
Hinckle was frequently involved in similar scrapes. Now he's taking
the gloves off again. He intends to press ahead with publication
come what may. The counter-offensive is being taken to Washington.
Two constitutional rights groups have shown an interest in the
legal action and the renowned American lawyer Alan Dershowitz
is reported to be looking into the case. With their help, Hinckle
hopes to use the case to investigate whether the campaign against
the book has been encouraged in any way by the government.
And that's not all. Hinckle plans to force a Congressional
inquiry into government smear tactics against Coleman, Juval Aviv
and others. He has already made a formal approach to the Senate
Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to monitor the spooks.
He believes that, once the pattern of dirty tricks is made clear,
members of Congress will go after the perpetrators with a vengeance.
"Someone, somewhere in the dark recesses of government has
been coordinating all of this," he says, "I intend to
see these bastards forced onto the witness stand and made to sweat."
Once the American public is treated to such a spectacle, its faith
in the official version of Lockerbie may well crumble.
Hinckle plans to team up with yet another victim of the US
government's underhand tactics. Until four years ago Dr. Bill
Chasey was one of Washington DC's most successful political lobbyists.
After 22 years in the game he had many influential contacts in
government and his clients included some of America's largest
corporations. A conservative Republican by instinct, he had earlier
spent nine years as a US Marine Corps officer. In short, he was
the ultimate Establishment figure.
In 1992 he took on what, for him, was a slightly unusual contract,
with an American company called International Communications Management
(ICM). It had been hired by the government of Libya to help normalize
relations with the US, in the wake of the Lockerbie indictments
and the resulting UN sanctions. When he was first approached about
the assignment, Chasey felt uneasy, As a loyal citizen, he had
no reason to doubt his government's account of the bombing. However,
on reflection, he figured that the assignment was not necessarily
unpatriotic. Normalizing relations need not involve acceptance
of Libya's innocence. In any case, the US did business with plenty
of the world's more unsavory regimes.
Chasey agreed, on condition that everything be played by the
book. Under US law, anyone representing a foreign government in
this way must register as a foreign agent. If the assignment was
in breach of the UN sanctions, he assumed that the Department
of Justice would deny his registration. It did not, and he became
registered as Foreign Agent number 4221.
Over the coming weeks, Chasey met with representatives of
the Libyan regime, who assured him that the US government had
deliberately covered up the truth about Lockerbie. He didn't believe
them but became convinced that they deserved a fair hearing on
Capitol Hill. Before he was able to make any headway, his world
On December 3, 1992, the US government's Office of Foreign
Assets Control(OFAC) Issued him with a formal order to stop work
on the contract. He was told it was in breach of UN sanctions
and that he would be liable to criminal charges. Chasey was bemused;
if the contract was illegal, why had he been allowed to register
as a foreign agent? Nevertheless, he agreed to cooperate with
OFAC and felt sure everything could be sorted out amicably.
Two weeks later as he was about to leave on a Christmas skiing
vacation, his wife Virginia phoned, in panic, to tell him that
their bank account had been frozen. He immediately called OFAC
to find out what they were playing at. An agent explained that
it was because he had breached sanctions by accepting Libyan money.
Chasey again pointed out that the money had come from an American
company, ICM, but to no avail. OFAC refused to budge and the account
remains frozen today.
Chasey believes while all this unfolded, he was being closely
monitored. "Whenever I arrived in Washington, the FBI would
greet me at the airport. How could they have known my travel plans
without monitoring my calls?" He also claims to have received
anonymous phone calls, in which a man with an Arab accent warned
him: "There are a lot of people who don't want this case
reopened. If you want to stay alive, stay away from Pan Am 103.'
Eventually, in May 1994, OFAC fined him &50,000. He was
never allowed a hearing to put his case. By that time his lobbying
business had been badly hit. As with Juval Aviv, a number of clients
were approached by the FBI and told that he was under investigation
for fraud. Last year he finally wound down the company and got
out of Washington. He lost his homes there and in California,
and, at 55 years old, was forced to rebuild his life from scratch.
With hindsight, Chasey believes his story demonstrates that
the Libyans were right all along. "They went after me because
they were worried that I might stumble upon this almighty cover-up
and tell my friends in congress about it." Four years ago
he would have viewed someone like Warren Hinckle with distaste,
but now the publisher is a valuable ally.
Like Lester Coleman, Chasey was moved to write a book about
his experiences. Called Foreign Agent 4221: The Lockerbie Cover-Up,
it was launched in Washington on April 22 last year. As he entered
the city's airport to return home to California, there was another
encounter with the FBI. An agent served him with a Grand Jury
subpoena for all his business records dating back to 1989. He
also questioned Chasey about the Oklahoma bombing three days earlier.
He asked if Chasey had any contacts with the Libyans and warned
that if he did not report any future contact with them, he would
America took little notice of the book and it sold just a
few thousand copies on the fringe conspiracy market. Now he's
updated it and renamed it Pan Am 103: The Lockerbie Cover-Up.
It is about to be published for the first time in the UK. It begins
with a quote which sums up his experiences "I love my country,
but I fear my government." The sentiment will be shared by
all those who have probed the dark secrets of flight 103.
International Herald Tribune September 13, 1997
A former U.S. government informant pleaded guilty to perjury,
admitting that he concocted a story that a government drug agent
allowed a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over
Scotland in 1988. The informant faces up to five years in prison
and a $1.25 million fine. (Reuters)