Rick Francona: As for the claims by a defecting official that Qaddafi personally ordered the attack on Pan Am 103, I don’t buy it for a minute. I have always thought it was an Iranian-sponsored, PFLP-GC [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Gereral Command] -executed operation; the two Libyans were co-opted by Ahmad Jibril’s people and were not operating with Qaddafi’s sanction. If they had been authorized by Qaddafi, there is no chance that they would have been given up for trial. Countries do not offer up their intelligence officers for carrying out orders. If so, no officer would ever undertake these missions again. As I learned in the intelligence business years ago, defectors often tell you what they think you want to hear in hopes of getting favorable consideration. Qaddafi is guilty of a lot of things, but I doubt the Lockerbie bombing is among them.
MJT: I have no opinion on this myself, but you aren’t the only former intelligence source who says this about Qaddafi and Lockerbie. Reza Kahlili, a former CIA agent who worked inside Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, also said Iran’s government is responsible in his book A Time to Betray.
Reza Kahlili wrote on his own blog
In an article posted by Jeff Stein on the Washington Post today, retired Special Agent Richard Marquise, who headed the FBI’s investigation into the Pan Am bombing, says that there is no credible evidence for my claim that Iran was involved in the Pan Am bombing.
After reading my book, Marquise goes on to say that my information came from a “guy” I met in London. He fails to mention that while I was working in Europe, I met with Iranian agents (not some “guy”— one of them a close associate of the supreme leader’s office) who were shopping for parts, which I accommodated as a double agent. They informed me that the order to carry out the Pan Am bombing was given by Hashemi Rafsanjani in retaliation for the downing of the Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy over the Persian Gulf. This agent also spoke of the Palestinian’s cooperation in the act, the radio transmitter, and the bomb, along with information on an investigation of a Palestinian individual in a specific European country. The Iranian agent justified the act as an “eye for an eye.”
The importance of that communication was that none of that information was publicly available at the time. The investigators had not even concluded the details of the bombing yet, let alone announcing it!
I fully understand that my communication with the Iranian agents would not have been considered evidence, but it could have been enough for further investigation into Iran’s involvement in the Pan Am bombing.
I also state in my book that after the Pan Am bombing, when Rafsanjani became the President of Iran and George H.W. Bush the President of America, there were serious contacts between the two to improve relations. This initiation had started during President Reagan’s administration when Rafsanjani, then the speaker of Iran’s parliament, had promised a normalization of relations once Ayatollah Khomeini was dead. President Bush picked up on that promise with the hope that Rafsanjani was sincere. I was even told by my handler to consider Rafsanjani the new king of Iran. Of course the U.S. administration was once again fooled by the Islamic leaders’ deceit and again, as I state in the book, a few years later my handlers asked me to find an Iranian who would testify that Iran was making a nuclear bomb. It became obvious the Bush administration realized they were led on by Rafsanjani.
However, as to the Pan Am bombing, why was it that the Scottish authorities had Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi drop his appeal in exchange for his release to Libya just when his legal team was to present the court with documents from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) implicating Iran? Also documents that say some of the witnesses had been paid millions to testify and evidence on the timer used to detonate the bomb, which were withheld from the courts by certain intelligence agencies.
This is all backed up by former CIA agent Robert Baer's memoir
FEW THINGS HAVE LEFT ME feeling more frustrated than the Pan Am investigation. All the early
signs suggested that the bombing was the work of a group based in Lebanon, acting on Iran's behalf. If I
had still been in Beirut, I would have had my agents all over the case, running down leads, checking
facts, looking for new sources. But I was in an office overlooking the Place de la Concorde, and while
Paris had a few Arab agents, they were on the periphery of terrorism at best.
The theory that Iran was behind Pan Am 103 was based on a piece of information that surfaced in early
July 1988. A few days after the U.S.S. Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus in the Gulf, a Pasdaran intelligence officer flew to Lebanon to meet two officials of the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine/General Command, Muhammad Hafiz Dalqamuni and someone we knew only as
Nabil.The meeting took place at the Damur refugee camp in southern Lebanon. The Iranian's
instructions to Dalqamuni and Nabil were crystal clear: Blow up an American airplane — in the air, in
order to kill as many people as possible. Iran had decided to take revenge for the Airbus.
The Iranian hypothesis fit in with what we knew about the regime in Tehran. The Iranian hardliners,
who controlled the government, never accepted that the Airbus was shot down accidentally. Revenge,
for them, was a simple act of justice: an eye for an eye. And Iran's turning to the General Command for
help made sense, too. Iran had developed a taste for letting surrogates do its dirty work, and the General
Command was one of the best terrorist groups in the world when it came to blowing things up. Its
expertise was in sophisticated mechanisms like barometric switches. The General Command made its air
debut on February 21, 1970, when it blew up an Austrian Swissair flight. Two years later, on
August 16,1972, the Front exploded a bomb in an El Al plane, injuring four. In the years since, it had
only gotten better.
Dalqamuni, too, was the ideal emissary for Iran's interests. As late as the mid-1980s, he had been living
in Europe, where he would sit for long stretches in the local McDonald's, depressed that his fellow
Palestinians were dying in the intifadah. Then one day he turned to Islam, joining a small group of
Islamic fundamentalists in the General Command who looked to Iran for inspiration. Iran vetted
Dalqamuni and determined he was a true believer who could be counted on to keep his mouth shut if
caught. Still, he needed testing. At Iran's direction, Dalqamuni organized two separate attacks on U.S.
military trains in West Germany, one on August 31,1987, and the other on April 26,1988. No one was
killed, but Dalqamuni had shown he was prepared to take risks and follow orders.
Dalqumuni appeared to have an airtight alibi for Pan Am 103. He had been arrested along with most of
his German cell on October 26, 1988, and was still in custody when the plane exploded two months
later, killing all 259 aboard and eleven more on the ground. But that didn't exclude the possibility that
the operation had been handed off to one of the cell members who got away, and as the weeks went on,
an avalanche of information began to point in that direction.
On December 23, two days after the bombing, an $11 million transfer showed up in a General Command
bank account in Lausanne, Switzerland. It moved from there to another General Command account at
the Banque Nationale de Paris, and then to yet another at the Hungarian Trade Development Bank. The
Paris account number was found in Dalqamuni's possession upon arrest. What's more,Muhammad Abu
Talib, one of Dalqamuni's associates suspected of having a role in the bombing, received a payment of
$500,000 on April 25,1989. Did that and the other payments originate in Iran? Were they success fees
for Pan Am 103? Certainly, none of those are illogical conclusions.
Abu Talib appeared to have visited Malta on October 3 through 18 and again from October 19 to 26,
1988—a significant tidbit, since clothes bought in Malta were found amid the wreckage in the suitcase
the explosive device was hidden in. Did Abu Talib buy the clothes, or did one of the two Libyans who
were eventually tried in Zeist, the Netherlands, for the bombing? We also knew that Abu Talib was
traveling in and out of Libya. Was he coordinating with the Libyans for Dalqamuni ? Again, the logic
seemed to fit.
FOR OUR PART, the CIA was able to identify with a fair amount of certainty that the mysterious Nabil who attended the Biqa' meeting in July 1988 was a General Command official named Nabil Makhzumi
(Abu Abid),who at the time was serving as Dalqamuni's assistant. Perhaps because he spoke Farsi,
Makhzumi was the GC's main contact to the Pasdaran. His Iranian case officer, we knew, was a senior
Pasdaran official named Feridoun Mehdi-Nezhad. Had Makhzumi traveled to Germany? Was he the one
who took the handoff from Dalqamuni? The Germans had no idea. We also found out Mehdi-Nezhad
had visited Frankfurt in July 1988. But the Germans again had no idea what he had done there or whom
he might have met. Mehdi-Nezhad had visited Libya in early 1988. If he had met with Dalqamuni a few
months later, it would have provided further evidence that the Pan Am bombing resulted from a broad
conspiracy by Iran, Libya, and the General Command. No one could dismiss the possibility, although the
Germans seemed to come close.
Baer is not too far off, and he had more to say about it, as researcher Ludwig De Braeckeleer noted
On May 24 2000, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) issued a press release claiming that Brigadier General Ahmad Beladi Behbahani had defected to Turkey. The NCR called upon the government of Turkey to put him under immediate arrest.
According to the NCR press release, Behbahani had been "President Rafsanjani's liaison with the Intelligence Ministry." The NCR alleged that Behbahani had first hand information about Tehran sponsored terrorism dating as far back as 1986.
Several Western observers grasped at once the importance of the defection. "If this man is Behbahani, then obviously he was a crucial figure in the intelligence set-up in Iran and his information would be extremely important," said Lord Avebury who had co-authored a 1996 report on Behbahani.
A NCR spokesperson stated that Behbahani knew the truth about the Lockerbie bombing. On December 21 1988, a bomb blew up Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, causing the deaths of all 259 passengers and another 11 Scottish villagers on the ground.
The bombing was blamed on two Libyans; Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta. On January 31 2001, Fhimah was acquitted. Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison.
Back in 2000, the NCR enjoyed little visibility in the U.S. and American media paid virtually no attention to these extraordinary allegations. Two years later, the NCR gained much credibility as the organization exposed two Iran secret nuclear facilities located at Natanz and Istaphan.
Only one America television news program decided to follow the NCR story. "60 Minutes" sent a team to eastern Turkey. CBS reporter Leslie Stahl was accompanied by Robert Baer, a former CIA officer, and Iranian-born associate CBS producer Roya Hakakian.
"If his story can be confirmed, and American intelligence is trying to do that right now, it would not only disrupt the trial of the two Libyans charged with that bombing, it could interfere with the Clinton administration's efforts at relaxing and improving relations with Iran," warned CBS on June 4, 2000.
Baer had prepared "control questions", that is questions that he felt an imposter would not be able to answer correctly.
Turkish officials categorically refused to allow the CBS team to enter the guarded camp for Iranian refugees. Nevertheless, Hakakian, who had traveled with the team to serve as translator, managed to get inside the camp surreptitiously.
Moreover, Hakakian was able to speak to Behbahani. Their long conversation convinced her that he was a genuine defector. "I traced the tone of someone who was extremely bitter, and was willing to go to any lengths in order to get revenge. He had fallen out of favor with the Iranian officials, with the government of Iran, and he just wanted to get back at them, at any cost."
What is more, the asylum seeker answered correctly the controlled questions prepared by the former CIA operative. "I am satisfied with the answers," Baer said.
"He's the only person that has tied Libya and Iran into Pan Am 103, into the Lockerbie bombing. This is the first authoritative source that I've ever heard that connected the two countries together. It was always a mystery," stated Baer, who worked on the initial phase of the CIA's Lockerbie inquiry.
Despite all the evidence against Iran, it is undeniable that Libya was involved. Ronald Kessler gave a concise yet conclusive review of the available proof against Libya in his 1993 book "The FBI"
Of all the FBI's investigations, none has been both so massive and so wide- ranging as the case of Pan Am 103. Radiating from an international response squad in the Washington metropolitan field office, the investigation took three years, required agents to criss-cross the globe, and involved extensive work by the FBI lab, including detonation of test explosive devices. On the night of the crash, Darrell Mills dispatched Tim Dorch, an assistant legat, to fly to the scene on an Air Force jet with the American ambassador, Charles Price II. Smooth and cerebral, Mills was friends with the head of every British and Scottish police and security service. When jurisdictional battles occasionally arose—hiccups, he called them—Mills knew just the right person to call to untangle them. In the beginning, Sessions called him several times a day to keep abreast of developments and make sure he was getting the help he needed. The morning after the crash, Neil Gallagher, head of the counterterrorism section at headquarters came to work in shock. "Slowly we realized it was everybody who had been annihilated plus people on the ground," Gallagher said.
Because the crash occurred four days before Christmas, the FBI held off a few days on interviewing families of victims. "We hesitated because there were these families with Christmas presents under the trees for many people who were not coming home," Gallagher said. "We felt they didn't need an FBI agent coming up and asking a lot of factual questions." Technical agents flew to Scotland and set up communications in Lockerbie so that the FBI could transmit by satellite pictures of survivors and their fingerprints. Laboratory agents led by James T. (Tom) Thurman, a re- nowned FBI bomb expert, worked with local authorities to organize the search for evidence. "This was a crime scene that covered 845 square miles," Gallagher said. "The police recovered well over 90 percent of the plane with Scottish police and military lining up and going on their hands and knees. If debris fell on a farm, hey [the farmers] would call the police. They wouldn' t touch it." Two days after arriving, one of the agents called FBI headquarters and said, "We saw what we came to see."
Gallagher knew that meant the agents had seen the evidence they needed to determine if an explosive device was involved. The experts had found a piece of metal from the plane with pitting and cratering that indicated it had been subjected to high-intensity explosive devices. "You would look at it, and it would look black and charred as if there had been a fire," Gallagher said. "But to them, it meant there had been a bomb." Investigators subsequently found a plate riveted to the inside of the baggage compartment listing the name of Boeing, the manufacturer. The pattern of pitting and cratering on the plate told the bomb experts that the device had been inside the baggage area, not in the commercial cargo area. That was a break. With twenty-one tons of commercial cargo, determining the origin of each shipment would have been even more time consuming than investigating the plane's baggage.
Embedded in the manufacturer's plate was a piece of tan plastic smaller than a fingernail. The experts recognized it as a fragment of a computer chip. They later determined that it was from a particular model Toshiba radio. That led back to the PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command). Some of their members had just been arrested with explosive devices concealed in Toshiba radios. For a time, the investigation focused on the PFLP-GC. But the bomb experts had recovered enough clues to lead the investigators in other directions as well. They knew, for example, that the terrorists had used a highly effective plastic explosive called Semtex. They knew from pieces found on the ground that the device had been in a packing crate inside a brown Samsonite suitcase. "We knew the bomb was inside its original packing crate with the instructions in Arabic inside the crate," Gallagher said. "We knew it was a particular make and model Samsonite. Some twenty-three hundred of them had been made. So we had a lot of information."
With British forensic experts, the FBI lab conducted tests in Maryland to determine the size of the explosive charge. The lab packed metal containers resembling the baggage area with suitcases, detonated a charge inside, and then examined the damage. The FBI concluded that the saboteurs had used ten to fourteen ounces of plastic explosive concealed inside the radio. The tests also pinpointed in which compartment in the baggage area the suitcase containing the radio was located. This narrowed the source of the luggage to certain baggage from other airlines. Even more important, because of differences in the blast damage, the examiners were able to differentiate between clothing that had been inside the suitcase con- taining the bomb and clothing that had not been in the suitcase.
Focusing on the clothing from the suitcase, the experts found a fingernail-size piece of a green circuit board embedded in a fragment of shirt. Thurman determined that the board had been part of a timing device. He matched the piece to devices seized in Senegal and in Togo. Each device had been used by terrorists connected with Libyan intelligence. To make the circuit boards, a photographic negative was produced. If there was a flaw in the negative, it would appear in all the circuit boards. Every board had the same flaw.
Examining the Togo board further, Thurman found that something had been scratched out on the back. The lab raised the lettering, which said MEBO. It stood for Meister Et Bolier, a Zurich firm. Company executives disclosed that the timing device was one of twenty delivered to a Libyan official in 1985 and 1986.
"The solution came down to a bombing expert finding remnants of the device which conclusively led to the people who commissioned the device to be built," said John W. Hicks, the assistant director over the lab. "The circuit board in the shirt was found by the British. They weren't able to identify its significance. It wasn't until it was made available to the FBI lab a year later that Tom Thurman was able to associate it in a matter of two weeks with some devices that had been recovered." Meanwhile, the FBI and Scottish police had traced the manufacturers of the clothing and the retail outlets where it might have been purchased. They wound up at a boutique in Malta called Mary's Shop. "When we showed them the clothing, the owner told us a phenomenal story," said Gallagher, who is over coun- terterrorism. "He said that in December 1988, a person he described as having a Libyan accent came in and bought clothing indiscriminately, not worrying about size, shape, or color. We wondered if he was telling us what he thought we wanted to hear. But he also said he sold him a black umbrella. We went back to the British and asked if they had a black umbrella. They went back and found the black umbrella they had. They had not noticed the blast damage on it. So we were on the money."
By interviewing the shopkeeper further, the FBI determined that the man with the Libyan accent most likely came in on December 8, 1988. From the shopkeeper's recollection, the lab drew a composite sketch of the man. Having already traced the timing device to Libyans, the FBI focused on Libyan intelligence officers. Eventually, the bureau narrowed the list of suspects and showed the shopkeeper photographs. He identified Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, as the man who had bought the clothing. The FBI found that he had arrived in Malta with Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, a former station manager of the Libyan Arab Airlines there, on December 20, 1988, at 5:30 PM Witnesses said they saw them arrive with a dark-colored Samsonite suitcase. Because he was the former station manager, Fhimah could place the luggage with the bomb ona flight without going through security checks. Basset left for Tripoli the next day at 10:26 am, half an hour after Air Malta Flight KM-l90 left Malta for Frankfurt. Through computer records, the FBI had already traced the bag that exploded over Lockerbie to the Malta flight, which connected in Frankfurt with Pam Am 103 bound for New York.
In November 1991, both Basset and Fhimah were indicted.
The only logical conclusion is that it was a joint Libyan-Iranian terrorist attack.