Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:21 pm

TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS: FROM BEIRUT TO LOCKERBIE -- INSIDE THE DIA
by Donald Goddard with Lester K. Coleman
© 2003 by Lester Coleman
© 1993 by Lester Coleman and Donald Goddard

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.



Image

In Memory of Donald Goddard

Table of Contents:

Foreword
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Epilogue
Appendix

Exhibits
Exhibit 1
Exhibit 2
Exhibit 3
Exhibit 4
Exhibit 5
Exhibit 6

Index

Jacket Cover
Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:23 pm

Author’s Foreword To the First U.S. Edition

Twelve and half years ago, on September 3rd, 1996, I found myself in Federal custody in Atlanta, Georgia in dismal conditions. My cell reeked with the stench of urine. Lying on a filthy plastic cot, my body ached with the pain of a beating I’d received two weeks before. Now and again a crack-inspired wail echoed off the bare walls and racketed around the confines of my weary brain. As I retraced the events of the past twenty-four hours, my eyelids sagged with exhaustion. My efforts at sleep were poisoned by memories of the eight-hour trans-Atlantic flight from Madrid with my wife and three children.

When we’d touched down in Atlanta, FBI agents had boarded the plane, stormed into Economy Class, and shoved me into a wheel-chair. There was little time for family good-byes. After exchanging anguished hugs and kisses, I watched helplessly as my wife, children in tow, disappeared down a corridor. Their downtrodden looks haunted me.

Assuring me that I’d only be in for a few days, the agents booked me into the old Atlanta City Jail, full of wacked-out hustlers and gang-bangers. I hadn’t lived in the States for the last six years, and had a hard time understanding them at first. By the time I appeared before a Federal Magistrate a few days later, their sing-song patois had begun to make some sense. But little else would.

The Magistrate was there to arraign me on charges of making a false statement in a civil affidavit. The felony indictment had become public knowledge three years earlier, a few days before the first edition of Trail of The Octopus was about to be released by Bloomsbury, a publishing house in the United Kingdom. The indictment had been a cause for laughter among my European friends, but the smoldering grey men hunkered down in an obscure building in Langley, Virginia weren’t laughing when they targeted me for prosecution. By the time I realized that they planned to bury me alive, it was too late – I had delivered myself into their hands, black with deceit.

My long-time friend Ernie Fitzgerald got the ACLU to represent me. The acknowledged dean of government whistle-blowers, Ernie had shared my three-year ordeal from his Pentagon office, one of the few who understood what I was going through. During the Nixon years he had exposed millions in cost overruns on the Lockheed C-5A cargo plane contract, and his book The High Priest of Waste, had introduced Washington Post readers to three-hundred dollar toilet seats and other examples of Pentagon-funded graft and waste. Ernie and his growing list of supporters followed every step of our flight into exile, knowing first-hand what most Americans cannot accept – that all governments lie, and the United States government lies more than most.

The true story of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988 has been enshrouded in government-created lies. The American government claimed that two Libyan agents, acting alone, placed the bomb aboard an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where it was transferred to a London-bound 727, and then transferred again to the 747 Jumbo Jet at Heathrow Airport, destined for New York, the ill-fated flight 103. I knew better. I had spent the past four years gathering strategic intelligence on narco-terrorist cells in Lebanon as an agent for two Federal agencies -- the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s spy unit, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Two days after the bombing, appearing on the NBC Nightly News, I told Tom Brokaw and his television audience, “We should take a close look at Libya -- renegade CIA operative Edwin Wilson sold Leader Muhammar Gadaffi 20 tons of plastique explosives and has trained the Libyans to make bombs.” I didn’t know then, but subsequently learned, that Wilson was no renegade. He had recruited Gadaffi at the behest of his CIA bosses, who then turned on him, arresting Wilson in 1977 and prosecuting him for doing what he had been ordered to do. While Wilson fought his battle against the CIA’s campaign of character assassination from a prison cell, Wilson’s partner Frank Terpil continued training Libyans in bomb-making and terror tactics. When Pan Am 103 was destroyed in mid-air in 1988, Gadaffi had been perfectly positioned to serve as the CIA’s scapegoat. Because Wilson knew the truth, the CIA’s campaign to discredit and silence him continued until 2003, when Judge Lynn Hughes ordered him released from Federal prison, declaring that the CIA’s story was “nothing but lies.”

I might have entirely escaped prosecution had I limited myself to a few indiscreet remarks on prime time television, but the truth haunted me, and when Pan Am sued the federal government, I signed an affidavit stating what I knew about the bombing. It was that affidavit – true then and true now – that provided the pretext for my own prosecution and imprisonment at the hands of my own government. Although I ultimately was awarded a substantial settlement in a tort claim action against the government for abuse and illegal incarceration for 154 days in federal custody, the bitterness remains.

When former New York Times Editor Donald Goddard and I wrote the book you hold in your hands, I thought if I could get it published, it would eliminate the motivation to silence me. But due to legal pressure, Trail of the Octopus could not find a publisher in the United States, and shortly after it was published in the UK, Micheal T. Hurley, a disgruntled federal agent, filed a lawsuit that the British publisher settled by agreeing to withdraw all copies from the market. Now, at last, I have found a publisher willing to print and distribute in the United States and worldwide. Although Donald is no longer alive to share this happy event with me, the book is imbued with his dedicated and compassionate spirit. The Trail of the Octopus has made a long and difficult journey to reach you, and as you read it I ask that you remember only one thing – every word reflects a sincere effort to reveal the truth.

________________________________________

Daniel Goddard's Foreword To the First U.K. Edition

Spies are not encouraged to keep diaries, send memos or make carbon copies of reports. If they attract suspicion, 'deniability' is their only hope.

But if a spy is cut off by his own country, deniability works like a hangman's noose. With no written record to call on and no access to official files, he must rely for the most part on memory to defend himself, so that, in the end, it usually comes down to his word against his government's.

This can give rise to questions of credibility -- a troublesome factor in intelligence work at the best of times. At the worst of times, it can kill. With most people disposed to give those in authority the benefit of the doubt, why should anybody believe him? If spies are trained to lie, deceive and dissemble, they may argue, how can we accept what he says without proof?

No one in modern times has suffered more from this presumption of guilt than Lester Knox Coleman III, until recently a secret agent of the United States' Defense Intelligence Agency.

His crime was to find himself in possession of information of such acute embarrassment to the American government and, to a lesser extent, the governments of Britain and Germany, that officials in Washington were unwilling to rely solely on his discretion. Though he had given them no cause to question his loyalty, the stakes were so high they felt they needed insurance, and so sought to muzzle him by means of a trumped-up criminal charge, to be suspended in exchange for his silence. This procedure had always worked well in similar cases, particularly when combined with other forms of intimidation, like death threats against the agent and his family.

But when Coleman failed to cave in as expected and instead escaped to Sweden with his wife and children, he presented his government with an awkward problem. No longer in a position to enforce his silence, and unwilling to risk a public extradition hearing in a neutral court, Washington decided instead to try to defuse the explosive potential of what he knew by destroying his character and reputation. If it could not stop him talking, it could at least try to stop people believing what he said.

In this, it was more successful, although the irony is that, if the American government had trusted its own security vetting system in the first place, the problem would probably not have arisen. Coleman would have revealed nothing of what he knew; this book would not have been written, and America would have avoided the embarrassment that is now inescapable. By misjudging its own man, Washington brought about the very situation it was most anxious to avoid.

After more than two years on the run from America's state security apparatus, the 'octopus', Coleman believes that the lives and safety of his young family now depend on 'going public', on telling his story to the only jury left that can save him.

I hope he is right.

This is the first time that a fully-fledged Western intelligence agent has come in from the field and publicly debriefed himself, right down to the nuts and bolts of his various missions. That would be interesting enough in itself, but in Coleman's case, his testimony is also sharply at variance with the official version of events leading up to the Lockerbie disaster, with official accounts of Anglo-American attempts to secure the release of Western hostages in Beirut, with the official line on Lt. Colonel Oliver North and Irangate, and, in general, with the official gloss on Western policy in the Middle East since 1985.

As this is a personal story, Coleman is naturally the primary source for it. Such documents as he does possess, and others that have come to light, not only support his version of events, but also reflect a paranoid determination on Washington's part to destroy him that may, in itself, be a measure of his truthfulness. Certainly no one, in or out of government, has cared to attack the substance of what he has had to say, other than with flat denials; nor have I, or has anyone else, so far identified in his story more than a few minor discrepancies of the kind that must inevitably occur in anybody's mostly unaided recollection of a complicated life, and whose absence would tend to undermine its credibility rather than reinforce it.

In any disputed account of events, the test is always, who benefits?

In this case, not Lester Coleman. Sticking to his story has him a penniless fugitive whose life probably depends on establishing the truth.

Corroboration there has been in plenty. Besides the sources identified in the text, I should also like to thank those many others, mostly in law enforcement and government service on both sides of the Atlantic, who would not thank me if I broke my promise of anonymity. These are difficult times for bureaucrats still attached to the idea of accountable government.

I am also obliged to Pan Am's attorneys for declining to help me with my researches, thereby -- I hope -- denying room to those government supporters who might otherwise wish to accuse me, as they did Time magazine, of conspiring with the airline to pervert the course of justice.

More positively, in the matter of research, I am indebted to Katarina Shelley for her diligence and enterprise; to Carol, for making the book possible anyway, and, for his unshakable faith in the enterprise; to Mark Lucas, of Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, who had to work harder than either of us had bargained for to bring Lester Coleman in from the cold.

D.G.

August 1993
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:45 pm

Chapter 1

All governments lie, some more than others. To protect themselves or 'the national interest', American governments lie more than most.

The story of Washington's blackest lie in modern times began, typically, with a bureaucratic blunder. In the spring of 1988, Special Agent Micheal T. Hurley, the Drug Enforcement Administration's attache to the American Embassy in Cyprus, was given a clear warning by an American intelligence agent that security had been breached in a 'sting' operation the DEA had mounted against Lebanese drug traffickers running heroin into the United States via Nicosia, Frankfurt and London.

Seven months later, on 21 December 1988, a bomb exploded in the cargo hold of Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to New York, killing all 259 passengers and crew. Eleven more people died on the ground as the wreckage of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, Maid of the Seas, rained down on the Scottish border town of Lockerbie.

Among the victims were at least two, possibly five or more, American intelligence agents, who had disregarded standing orders by choosing to fly home from Beirut on an American-flag airline, and a DEA Lebanese-American courier who had previously carried out at least three controlled deliveries of heroin to Detroit as part of the 'sting'.

Those involved in this operation, along with those who had authorized, condoned or used it for other purposes, recognized at once that their neglect of the warning in May had cost 270 lives, that terrorists had slipped through the reported breach in security and converted a controlled delivery of heroin into the controlled delivery of a bomb -- probably in revenge for the 290 lives lost in July when the US cruiser Vincennes had shot down an Iranian Airbus 'by mistake'.

The US government would lie about that catastrophic blunder, too, but the more immediate problem was the Lockerbie disaster. Like a woodlouse sensing danger, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rolled up in an armour-plated ball to protect its bureaucratic arse.

This worked, more or less, for two years, but the problem refused to go away. When the DEA's obduracy began to attract as many embarrassing questions as it deflected, the agency started to lie, with the grudging connivance of the intelligence community and the ungrudging assistance of the Bush administration.

It lied to the media and the public, of course, but it also lied to Congress. And the more it lied, the harder it got to keep the story straight.

For one thing, there was the problem of the intelligence agent who had warned Hurley about the disaster waiting to happen months before the downing of Flight 103. Like most of his colleagues in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lester Knox Coleman III had found little to admire in the work of the DEA overseas.

And for another thing, there was the problem of Pan Am and its insurers, who had commissioned their own investigation into the disaster. The more they picked up about the DEA connection, the less they felt inclined to pick up what was beginning to look like a $7-billion tab.

For those watching the situation from Washington, a recurring nightmare was that these two problems might come together like match and tinder; that Coleman would meet up with Pan Am's attorneys and tell them what he knew. Because if that happened, they might between them start a fire that would blacken the reputation, not just of the DEA, but of the United States itself. If the truth came out, it would not only undermine America's role as moral and political exemplar to the world, but inflict intolerable damage on its policy objectives in the Middle East.

The risk was simply not acceptable. The 'national interest' now required the DEA sting never to have happened, and Lester Knox Coleman III not to exist -- at least as a credible witness.

It was a job for what Coleman had come to think of as 'the octopus' -- America's state security apparatus.

***

Nothing feels right at four in the morning.

He frowned at the ceiling, trying to recall what had woken him. Careful not to disturb Mary-Claude, he slipped out of bed to look at the babies.

They were sound asleep -- the seven-month-old twins, Joshua and Chad, sprawled in their crib like abandoned dolls, so quiet he bent over them suddenly to make sure they were breathing, and Sarah, curled up like a tiny blonde edition of her mother. He watched until she stirred and sighed, threatening to wake, and tiptoed away.

Still restless, he pulled on a T-shirt and shorts and went downstairs to the refrigerator. It was probably nothing -- just the usual uneasiness in the final days before a mission. And worse this time, for he had been out of it for two years, since May 1988, when Control had called him home after Tony Asmar's murder in Beirut and the row with Hurley.

After a two-year lay-off, the adrenalin had naturally started to surge again at the prospect of reentering the bloody arena of Lebanese politics, particularly as Operation Shakespeare was probably the most sensitive assignment the DIA had yet given him. Also, he was still not comfortable with the idea of using his alias on the first leg of the journey.

He had never done that before. It was a sensible precaution if the intention was not to alert the Israelis or if the general sloppiness of the DEA in Cyprus had set him up as a target, like Asmar, but it still bothered him. It was one thing to return to the Middle East as Lester Coleman, award-winning TV and radio newsman, and quite another to arrive without antecedents or connections as Thomas Leavy, American businessman.

And anyway, why couldn't Control just have given him a passport in the name of Thomas Leavy instead of getting him to apply for a real one, using his phony papers? The agency had always been good with documents.

Needing air, he opened the casement doors to the balcony. Except for a vulgar canopy of stars and the faint fuzz of phosphorescence along the beach where the waters of the Gulf lapped ashore, the night was velvet black, and so still his ears sang in the silence.

He loved this place, out of season. While waiting for a lull in the fighting in Beirut, he had decided to take the family away on holiday, renting the last in a row of beach-house condominiums at the edge of Fort Morgan National Seashore Park, a beautiful stretch of the Alabama coast, near the Florida state line. As it was only 2 May, there was no one else around, apart from a nice enough young fellow just down the street, holidaying there on his own.

He had wondered about that, too.

Disinclined to go back to bed, Coleman stretched out on the couch and reached for the file he had put together on General Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian commander of the Lebanese Army and the country's acting President. Having persuaded Aoun to receive him and Peter Arnett in the shell-shattered ruins of the presidential palace at Baabda, he needed to be on top of every nuance in Lebanon's murderous factionalism if he was to stay on afterwards and begin to explore Aoun's constituency in the maelstrom of Beirut, the support he was getting from the Israelis, and in particular, his military alliance with Saddam Hussein against the Syrian army of occupation. Control had received reports that the Iraqi forces were getting ready to pull out, and wanted to know why.

He woke again, with a start, around seven. Somebody was hammering on the front door. It was light now, and he went through to the kitchen, which overlooked the street, to see who it was. As he looked out, a young man in a blue FBI windbreaker glanced up from below, hand on holster, and tried to hide behind a telephone pole.

Coleman pulled back from the sliding glass door, and tried to think. What now? What possible reason could there be for an early-morning visit from the FBI? Some inter-agency training gimmick to pep him up after a two-year lay-off? Some far-out psychological game, maybe to test the solidity of his cover story before the mission got started?

The hammering began again, and that made him angry. If they kept this up, they would wake the children. Whatever was going on, Control had no right to bother his family. Ignoring the commotion, he went upstairs and gently shook Mary-Claude awake. Brought up in East Beirut during the civil war, she had learned to sleep through almost anything, even artillery bombardments.

'Oh, God,' she groaned, shaking him off. 'What's the matter?'

'I don't know,' he said. 'There's somebody downstairs trying to get in.'

It was a moment before this registered. 'Oh, my God,' She sat up, wide-eyed with alarm, 'Have you called the police?'

'No, no,' He shook his head. 'I don't know what they want, but I think it's the FBI.'

'The FBI?' She was bewildered. He had never told her he worked for the American government, and like a good Lebanese wife she had never questioned him, but she had always known he was a spy. 'Why are they here? Have you done something wrong?'

Before he could think of anything reassuring to say, the hammering at the door began again.

'Oh, my God.'

'No, don't worry,' he said. 'It's a mistake. They probably came to the wrong house. I'll take care of it.'

'We have to open up, right? I mean, maybe they'll go away.'

'No.' He pulled himself together. 'Get dressed. See to the children. I'll go find out what this is all about.'

He returned to the kitchen, dragged open the sliding glass door and stepped out on the balcony. The agent he had seen before was no longer hiding behind the pole, but before Coleman could challenge him, a woman in an FBI windbreaker emerged from the carport under the house and looked up at him, also hand on holster.

'Are you Lester Knox Coleman?' she asked.

'Yes.'

'This is the FBI. We have a warrant for your arrest.'

'Oh, really?' He took a deep breath to steady himself. 'Is this a joke? What for?'

'If you'll open the door, Mr. Coleman,' she said, 'we'll be glad to talk to you about it. Do you mind opening the door?'

'No, no,' he said. 'I'll be happy to open the door. Just wait a minute.'

He went inside again, fumbled with the locks and stood back, bracing himself as a third agent, older than the other two, flung open the door and grabbed him. Offering no resistance, Coleman allowed himself to be spun around, jammed up against the wall and patted down. His arms were then pulled out behind him and handcuffed together.

'You're under arrest,' announced the agent.

'Yes,' he said. 'So I see. Now would somebody mind telling me why?'

Joined at this point by his colleagues, the agent turned him around to face them.

'I'm Special Agent Lesley Behrens,' the woman said, 'I have a warrant here, issued in Chicago. You're charged with making a false statement on a passport application.'

He frowned, trying to cope with a sudden inkling of what the onset of madness might be like.

Thinking about it afterwards, in a filthy cell in Mobile City Jail, he could recall very little of what passed between them after that. They seated him on a stool at the bar. They asked him routine questions, to which he presumably responded with routine answers, but nothing registered.

Unable to withstand more than a split-second glimpse of such fathomless duplicity, all he seemed able to do was shake his head. The sudden collapse of every certainty in life was too much to grasp all at once. Each time he braced himself to consider his position, his mind simply tripped its overload switch.

It got going again when Mary-Claude appeared on the stairs with Sarah, who had started to cry. Trapped by her Lebanese upbringing between loyalty to the family and respect for authority, his wife smiled down on them uncertainly.

'Hi,' she said.

Then she saw the handcuffs, and all softness of manner disappeared. 'What is this?' she demanded, looking about her as though for a weapon. 'What's the problem here? What are you doing to my husband?'

'No problem,' he said easily, knowing how headstrong she could be. 'It's a mistake, that's all. Somebody's made a mistake.'

'Mistake?' She advanced down the stairs, Sarah clutching her hand and now crying in earnest. 'Why are you treating him like this? This is my journalist husband that I'm so proud of. What has he done?'

Mary-Claude's English -- her third language, after Arabic and French -- sometimes fractured under stress, but her outrage was plain enough. They all began to talk at once, except for the older agent, who gave Sarah a smile, trying to coax one from her in return.

Still passionately demanding an explanation from Special Agent Behrens, Mary-Claude suddenly noticed that in her hurry to get dressed she had left the front of her shorts undone, and stopped in mid-flight.

'I'm sorry,' she muttered, turning away to zip them up.

Her sudden embarrassment gave Agent Behrens a chance to resume command. She ordered Mary-Claude to go back to the bedroom to look for her husband's papers -- all she could find -- and bring them downstairs.

Mary-Claude hesitated, unable to catch Coleman's eye as Behrens was standing between them, then did as she was told, rather than risk making matters worse for him out of mere stubbornness.

He watched her go. Though still in free fall, he had already begun to doubt that Control had played any part in this. After months of painstaking preparation for a mission of obvious importance, that made no sense at all. Therefore, it had to be the DIA. No other agency, apart from his own, even knew of his other identity. Except the CIA, of course, which had always worked in lockstep with the DEA in Cyprus and had actually supplied him with his Thomas Leavy birth certificate in the first place.

'Oh, my God,' he said, losing his way again.

It was no use talking to Behrens and her partners. They obviously knew nothing, and he could certainly tell them nothing. It was up to Control to straighten this out. Somebody at Arlington Hall or the Pentagon had to pick up the phone and have a quiet word with the director of the FBI and that would be the end of it. Although there wasn't much time. He was due to leave in two days. If they tangled him up with all the formalities of arrest and arraignment and insisted on shipping him back to Chicago, they could blow the whole operation.

'Look,' he said, in case there was just an outside chance he could fix this himself. 'Maybe there's something I can help you with here. I mean, I can't tell you much except that something is seriously wrong and somebody is going to get into a helluva lot of trouble, but I think you might be interested in that stuff.'

He nodded toward the videotape cassette on the table, next to his file on Aoun, his passport and his wallet containing the Thomas Leavy birth certificate. He had spliced the tape together as a record of his tour of duty on secondment to the DEA in Cyprus. There was some interesting footage on Lebanese dope trafficking, some narcotic reports he had compiled, media clips on the subject, and, at the end, an audio recording of his last telephone conversation with Hurley before coming home, a conversation that not only warned him about 'the disaster waiting to happen', but clearly indicated that he worked for another government agency.

'Why don't we take that along with us?' he suggested.

'We'll take anything you want to give us,' said Behrens.

And that was interesting, too. He was getting a better grip on this now. So far, they had made no attempt to search the house, although with an arrest warrant they were legally entitled to do so, and no one had escorted Mary-Claude upstairs to make sure she didn't dispose of incriminating evidence. So what kind of charade was this anyway? They hadn't even read him his rights. Was it a DIA game after all? To see if he'd crack under pressure?

Mary-Claude reappeared on the stairs.

'I'm sorry,' she said defiantly. 'I can't find his papers. I can't find anything.'

He smiled at her, and nodded his approval.

'Are you sure?' asked Agent Behrens coldly. She advanced to the foot of the stairs. 'They're not down here. There must be something. What about his pockets? Have you looked in his pockets?'

Mary-Claude retreated a pace, afraid they would come up and search the bedroom themselves. 'All right,' she said. The twins were awake now, and screaming for attention. 'All right, I'll look again.'

'Okay.' Behrens turned back to the others. 'Take him out to the car,' she said. 'I'll be with you in a minute.'

Coleman offered no resistance as they took him by the arms. Whatever this was -- a training set-up, a DEA set-up or a bureaucratic foul-up -- the game had to be played to a finish. If the operation was cancelled or delayed, it wouldn't be his fault.

'I'll be back shortly, Mary-Claude,' he called out after her. 'Don't worry. Call the lawyer. Call Boohaker. He'll know what to do.'

Mary-Claude closed the bedroom door behind her and tried to pacify the twins, but they were hungry and cried all the harder.

'Why am I so nervous?' she asked them, getting mad. 'I am a citizen. I have my rights. This is my house. I don't have to give her anything. I must calm down and go tell her to get the hell out of here. Then I'll come back and get your bottles ready.'

She marched downstairs, pointedly ignoring Special Agent Behrens, and picked up the phone.

'Who are you calling?' Behrens asked.

'I'm not going to give you anything,' said Mary-Claude. 'And I'm not going to answer any of your questions. I'm calling my lawyer. I don't know what's right, what's wrong, and I want my lawyer's suggestion. '

'Okay.' Behrens considered her for a moment. 'Okay, don't bother. I'm going now.'

As the door closed behind her, Mary-Claude put down the phone. She could not think straight, what with the shock, the twins bawling for food and Sarah pulling at her shorts, asking 'Where did Poppy go?' In an unfamiliar house, in a country she hardly knew, thousands of miles from her family, with her husband suddenly taken away, and three babies to care for, she had never felt more lonely and frightened in her life.

She was so rattled she used the wrong measuring cup for the twins' formula and had to mix it all over again. Then, after each had finished his bottle, she paced up and down, waiting for them to settle before she called Boohaker, who was shocked to hear what had happened. He promised to do the best he could and to call her back when he had some news.

Rather than sit around watching the telephone, she got the children dressed and put them in the car, with the idea of going to the market to buy a few things they needed. She was about to drive off when, as an afterthought, she went back into the house for Coleman's papers, in case the FBI decided to break in and get them while she was away.

By the time Mary-Claude returned from the market, about an hour later, the idea of keeping his papers from prying eyes had become an obsession. If the FBI was so eager to have them, it could only mean they would do her husband harm if the agents got hold of them. She put her now sleepy children to bed and, except for Coleman's clothes, carried everything of his she could find into the bathroom.

With no way of knowing what was harmful and what was not, she tore all his papers into shreds, including his Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadcast engineer's license, and chopped his ID cards into pieces, hurting her hand with the scissors. Not sure what to do next, she then made a heap of everything in the bathtub and set light to it.

Watching the smoke rise, she felt that even the war in Lebanon had been easier to live through than this. In a war, you knew that anything could happen at any time, but you also knew there was nothing you could do about it. Now, for all she knew, her husband's fate might rest with her. She wrung her hands and was still trying to decide if there was anything else she ought to do when the smoke set off the fire alarm.

'Oh, my God, what is this?'

She rocked back and forth in despair until she realized what she had done. Jumping up to shut off the alarm before its noise woke the children, she turned on the shower to put out the flames, and in a tearful fury flung the sodden remains into the toilet and flushed them away. Only then did she notice the marks that the fire had left in the bathtub. As she scrubbed away at them hopelessly, that seemed like the saddest thing of all somehow.

Meanwhile, Coleman was still grappling with bewilderment in the back of the car. Within days of leaving on a mission of national importance, an operation that might well affect the whole course of US strategy in the Middle East, he was riding into Mobile between two FBI agents to answer a trumped-up passport charge? It was crazy.

'You want to share the joke with us?' Behrens asked.

'No, I don't think so. It's only funny if you know the whole story.'

'Then why don't you tell us about it? You got a passport already. Why in the world would you want another one? In another name?'

'Hell, I don't know. I'm a journalist, right? Maybe I was researching a story about how easy it is to get false identification.'

'Well, now you know it's not that easy,' she said. 'If that's true, you should have got authorization first.'

'Yeah. And you should have read me my rights first.'

The older agent sighed. 'Okay,' he said tiredly. 'Read him his rights.'

'Fine, but why don't we all get more comfortable?'

Coleman handed them the handcuffs. For an amateur magician of his calibre, it was a simple enough escape trick. You just had to flex your wrists in a certain way as they were fastened on.

The government was not amused. Its agents put the handcuffs back on. Tighter.

'Oh, come on,' said Coleman. 'You know this is bullshit. What's it all about?'
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:46 pm

Chapter 2

The agents couldn't tell him because they didn't know, but it was about the terrorist attack that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

Given a limited capacity for moral outrage and a steady diet of sanitized brutality in the media, people can show an alarming tolerance for atrocities that do not affect them directly. More die every day from 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans or from genocide in Iraq or starvation in the Horn of Africa than the 270 who died on 21 December 1988, when Flight 103 went down, but there was something so utterly desolating about that particular mass murder that almost everyone in the Western world felt they were affected. Just as the whole Muslim world had felt affected earlier in July when 290 pilgrims on an Iranian Airbus died in the twinkling of a SAM from the USS Vincennes.

Perhaps it was because the victims were so completely unprepared. It was just before Christmas -- a season, if not always of goodwill, then at least of less ill will. A sentimental time, with people more open, more vulnerable. Traditionally, a time for families to reunite and celebrate their children and remind themselves of what life is all about -- not for families to be savagely torn apart and the bodies of their children strewn across the ground.

The young people who boarded Flight 103 were in high spirits. Thirty-five of them were students of Syracuse University looking forward to getting home for Christmas, and the mood was infectious. Even before Captain James MacQuarrie lifted the 747 off from Heathrow's runway 27L at 18:25 hours, they had a party going. The holidays had begun.

Half an hour into the flight, just north of Manchester, the Maid of the Seas leveled off at 31,000 feet, preparing to swing out over the Atlantic on the long great circle route across the ocean. Drinks were being served. Passengers moved about in the cabin, although when seated they had been advised to keep their seatbelts on because of some light turbulence. Mothers settled their babies. People eased off their shoes, making themselves more comfortable. When would dinner be served? What was the movie? Warm and enclosed against the night, no one could have known their last minutes were draining away. No one was ready.

The bomb went off in the cargo hold a few seconds before 19:03.

Everybody would have heard it. Though only a small bomb, it punched a hole in the fuselage and put out the lights. Then they would have known -- just a fraction before the shock waves, the explosive decompression and an airspeed of 500 miles per hour wrenched the aircraft to pieces.

All alone in the dark, as a shrieking, roaring wind stripped the cabin bare, then they would have known, those who were still alive. Whirled out into the frozen void, lungs bursting, then they would have known.

Six miles up and falling through space, the actual stuff of nightmare, then they would have known, those still aware. It would be two to three minutes yet before the earth received them ...

It was a terrible way to die.

The victims on the ground were even less prepared. Far below in Lockerbie, the streets were quiet, spangled with colored lights from Christmas trees in front-room windows. Families were sitting down to an evening meal or watching television, relaxing after the day ...

Scything out of the night sky, the wings of the aircraft, loaded with a hundred tons of fuel, exploded on impact at the end of Sherwood Crescent, cremating 11 people in an awesome orange fireball that rose slowly to a thousand feet.

Death had never been more arbitrary, nor any crime more wicked.

The truth about Flight 103 will probably never be known in all its particulars. Too many people have tampered with the evidence. Too many people have lied about it or stayed silent. Too much remains hidden behind the cloak of national security and legal privilege. Even the facts that are not in dispute have been used to support theories at total variance from one another, according to the degree of culpability to be concealed or the political requirements of the governments concerned.

But if the whole truth is never likely to he known, enough of it has emerged from the fog of lies and evasion to point a finger at those responsible. And there may still be other witnesses who, like Lester Coleman at the time of his arrest, have yet to realize that they hold a piece of the evidence, pinning the guilt down more precisely.

It is now widely accepted that the sequence of events leading to the Lockerbie disaster began on 3 July 1988, in the Persian Gulf. While sailing in Iranian territorial waters, the US Aegis-class cruiser Vincennes somehow mistook a commercial Iranian Airbus that had just taken off from Bandar Abbas airport for an Iranian F14 fighter closing in to attack and shot it down, killing all 290 passengers on board, most of them pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

Predictably, the United States government not only sought to excuse this blunder but lied to Congress about it, lied in its official investigation of the incident, and handed out a Commendation Medal to the ship's air-warfare coordinator for his 'heroic achievement'. (Although he earned nothing but notoriety for the kill, the cruiser's commander, Capt. Will Rogers III, still insists that the Vincennes was in international waters at the time, and that he made the proper decision. After being beached in San Diego for a decent interval, he was allowed to retire honorably in August 1991.)

The Iranians were incensed. Paying the US Navy the compliment of believing that it knew what it was doing, they chose to construe America's evasive response to their complaint before the UN Security Council as a cover-up for a deliberate act of aggression rather than as an attempt to hide its embarrassment. (They were already smarting from what they perceived to be America's failure to honor its secret arms-for-hostages deal.)

To reaffirm the power of Islam, and in retribution for the injury, the Ayatollah Khomeini himself is said to have ordered the destruction of not one, but four American-flag airliners. But discreetly. Not even the most implacable defender of an unforgiving faith could afford to provoke an open war with 'the Great Satan', particularly at a time when he was obliged to look to the West for technology and trade to rebuild an Iranian economy all but shattered by the long war with Iraq.

His minister of the interior, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, was placed in charge of planning Iran's revenge. At a meeting in Tehran on 9 July 1988, he awarded the contract to Ahmed Jibril, a former Syrian army officer and head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), based in Damascus. Although Jibril later denied his complicity in the bombing, he was reported to have bragged privately that the fee for the job was $10 million. Unnamed US government sources let it be known that the CIA had traced wire transfers of the money to Jibril's secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Spain.)

Certainly, his terrorist credentials were not in dispute.

In 1970, the PFLP-GC had blown up a Swissair flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv, killing 47 passengers and crew, and had only narrowly failed to destroy an Austrian Airlines flight on the same day. The bomb malfunctioned.

Two years later, in August 1972, the pilot of an El Al flght from Rome to Tel Aviv managed to make an emergency landing after a PFLP-GC bomb exploded in the cabin at 14,000 feet, injuring several passengers. And later on, Jibril's terrorist cell in West Germany succeeded in exploding bombs aboard two American military trains.

The group was known for the sophistication of its explosive devices. Bombs designed to destroy an aircraft in flight often featured a barometric switch that could be used, with or without a timer, to detonate a charge at a predetermined altitude -- and two such devices were seized by the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the German Federal police, on 26 October 1988, eight weeks before the fatal flight of Pan Am 103 left Frankfurt, en route to London, New York and Detroit.

Jibril had chosen Frankfurt as the target airport for several reasons. It was an important hub for American carriers, connecting with feeder airlines from all over Europe and the Middle East; the PFLP-GC's recently reinforced European section was already based in Germany, under cover of that country's sizeable Middle Eastern community, and Jibril knew he could count on the cooperation of local Islamic fundamentalists in Frankfurt, not least among the Turkish baggage handlers employed at the airport. Their skill in evading its security system had already proved very useful in promoting Syria's heroin exports.

After several more meetings with Iranian officials in Beirut and Teheran, Jibril sent a senior lieutenant, Hafez Kassem Dalkamoni, to Germany to team up with Abdel Fattah Ghadanfar, who, since the beginning of the year, had been stockpiling arms and explosives in a Frankfurt apartment. Dalkamoni himself moved in with his wife's sister and brother-in-law, who lived in the nearby city of Neuss, where they ran a greengrocery business.

On 13 October 1988, he was joined there by Marwan Abdel Khreesat and his wife from Jordan. A television repairman by trade, Khreesat was the PFLP-GC's leading explosive's expert and bomb-maker.

As Khreesat also appears to have been an undercover informant for the German or Jordanian authorities, or both, it is not known if he told the BKA about Dalkamoni, but the Mossad, Israel's security agency, and the CIA certainly did so. Documents seized by Israeli forces in a raid on a PFLP-GC camp in south Lebanon pointed clearly to a new terrorist offensive in Europe, led by Dalkamoni, and a general warning to that effect had been circulated to all European security forces by the end of September.

Acting on this intelligence, a BKA surveillance team was watching when Dalkamoni greeted Khreesat on his arrival from the airport and helped carry his bags into the Neuss apartment.

The German police were also watching when the two men went shopping for electronic components on 22 October; when Dalkamoni arrived at the apartment on 24 October with a number of foil-wrapped packages delivered from Frankfurt by Ghadanfar; while Khreesat remained indoors on 24 and 25 October assembling four (possibly five) bombs in two Toshiba radio-cassette players, two hi-fi radio tuners and a video screen, and on 26 October, when Dalkamoni and Khreesat left the apartment, as though for good, carrying their luggage.

At this, the BKA moved in, arresting both men on the street, and over the next 24 hours raided apartments and houses in five other German cities, rounding up a total of 16 terrorist suspects. Two others, one of them Mobdi Goben -- another PFLP-GC bomb-builder more commonly known as 'the Professor', and the probable source of the Semtex explosive delivered to Dalkamoni by Ghadanfar -- were unfortunately out of the country.

Even more unfortunate, when the Neuss apartment was searched, three (possibly four) of Khreesat's bombs were no longer there. Nor was the brown Samsonite suitcase he had brought with him from Jordan. The BKA had to be content with the bomb it found in Dalkamoni's Ford Taunus -- 312 grams of Semtex-H moulded into the case of a black Toshiba Bombeat 453 radio-cassette recorder fitted with a barometric switch and time delay.

It had been assembled for just one purpose, to destroy an aircraft in flight. An urgent warning was accordingly issued to airline security chiefs throughout the world to be on the lookout for Khreesat's three (or four) missing bombs and possibly other explosive devices hidden in Toshiba radios. (Months later, in April 1989, two of Khreesat's missing bombs were found in the basement of the greengrocery business run by Dalkamoni's brother-in-law in Neuss. As if this were not embarrassment enough for the BKA, one of the bombs exploded while it was being disarmed, killing a technician. The other was then deliberately destroyed 'for safety reasons', thus denying the Lockerbie investigators possibly vital forensic evidence.)

The BKA had better luck at Ghadanfar's apartment in Frankfurt. Among lesser weapons, its search party found an anti-tank grenade launcher, mortars, hand grenades, submachine guns, rifles and another five kilos of Semtex. On the strength of this and the bomb found in the Ford Taunus, Dalkamoni and Ghadanfar were held on terrorist charges. Khreesat and the others, however, were released 'for lack of evidence' and promptly disappeared.

Still committed to Frankfurt as the best airport from which to attack an American passenger aircraft, Ahmed Jibril turned for logistical support to Libya, the PFLP-GC's principal supplier of Semtex. Dalkamoni and Mohammed Abu Talb, another key member of the European group, had already conferred at least twice with Gaddafi's agents in Malta, but they had yet to target a particular American airline.

The mechanics of getting a bomb aboard a trans-Atlantic flight were straightforward enough, given Jibril's connections in Frankfurt, but he faced a serious conflict of interest with the Syrian heroin cartel based in Lebanon. The PFLP-GC had no wish to offend Rifat Assad, brother of Syria's dictator, President Hafez Assad, and his associate, Monzer al-Kassar, who between them controlled the flow of drugs along the 'pipeline' from the Bekaa Valley to the United States via Frankfurt and London.

Al-Kassar was an arms dealer, armourer-in-chief to Palestinian extremist groups in the Middle East, including the PFLP-GC, and also, through Lt-Colonel Oliver North and former Air Force General Richard Secord, to the Contras in Nicaragua. In this latter capacity, he enjoyed the protected status of a CIA 'asset', and had intrigued his American sponsors hugely by acting as a middle man in the ransom paid by the French government in 1986 to secure the release of two French hostages held in Beirut.

Under intense pressure from the Reagan White House to do something similar to free the American hostages, the CIA, like the French, sought to persuade him to use his influence with Syria and the Syrian-backed terrorist factions in Lebanon, but al-Kassar was a businessman. In the business of selling heroin as well as arms. He would do what he could, but ...

The CIA understood him perfectly.

So did Ahmed Jibril, who derived a large part of the PFLP-GC's funding from the profits of Syrian drug trafficking.

He knew that neither Rifat Assad, a CIA 'asset' himself, nor al-Kassar, would wish to see their drug pipeline through Frankfurt compromised by a terrorist attack that would inevitably draw attention to the gaps they had so profitably exploited in airport security. On the other hand, he also knew that they could not refuse to cooperate without seeming to lack zeal in the cause of Islam. That would seriously displease not only Iran, but the powerful, Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon, who were hell-bent on revenge for the downing of the Iranian Airbus.

Towards the end of October 1988, around the time of the BKA's raids on the PFLP-GC in Germany, Mossad agents observed Jibril and al-Kassar dining alone at a Lebanese restaurant in Paris in an attempt to resolve the dilemma.

Neither could afford to be entirely frank with the other. Jibril was unaware of just how much protection al-Kassar enjoyed from the Americans and the BKA, and al-Kassar could only guess at the strength of what was left of Jibril's underground network in Europe. Unwilling to help but unable to refuse it, al-Kassar eventually promised to use his connections to get a bomb aboard an as yet unspecified American passenger flight from Frankfurt.

But the position was more complicated even than that. Besides the revolving-door loyalties of Assad and al-Kassar, another variable in this delicate equation of interests was the octopus factor. With the CIA's permission, playing one target group off against another in the hope of crippling both was standard practice for the US Drug Enforcement Administration in Cyprus, which otherwise had no scope to manoeuvre in the charnel-house of Lebanese politics.

Although the Syrian Army's occupation of eastern Lebanon had brought the region's drug trafficking under the supervision of Rifat Assad, the Syrian presence was deeply resented by the well-armed and ferocious Lebanese clans of the Bekaa Valley who had previously run their family enclaves like independent principalities. The Jafaar clan, for one, had been shipping hash and heroin to the United States for almost half a century, since the days when Lucky Luciano held a near-monopoly on supplies from the Middle East.

With family members settled in and around Detroit as American citizens, and traveling regularly back and forth between Lebanon and the United States, the Jafaars saw no reason why they should have to pay Syrian interlopers for 'protection', even if Assad and his partner, Monzer al-Kassar, had proved adept at negotiating with the Colombian cartels to expand the Bekaa's interests into cocaine and other drugs.

Unable to risk its agents in a war zone split between hostile Syrians, xenophobic Islamic fundamentalists and disgruntled Lebanese drug barons, the DEA could only exploit the friction between them as a means of slowing down the export of illegal narcotics that, in value, had come to represent about 50 per cent of Lebanon's economic activity. But even here the DEA was handicapped, for the drug-smuggling route that ran from the Bekaa to Nicosia, the administrative centre for the traffic, then on to the United States via Frankfurt and London, had a political significance of often higher priority than narcotics law enforcement.

To the CIA, the Assad/al-Kassar pipeline was both a bargaining chip in seeking the release of American hostages and an important link in its Middle East intelligence-gathering network. And to the US State Department, the narcotics industry was virtually the sole means of economic support for the pro-Western Christian factions in Lebanon, without whom the whole country would collapse into the hands of Islamic extremists.

Caught between the demands of police work and these other, political considerations, and often required to share his informants and facilities with the CIA, Micheal T. Hurley, the DEA attache in Nicosia, was obliged to confer almost daily with 'the spooks' upstairs in the embassy to see what he was free to do before sorting out the practical details with local officials of the BKA and H.M. Customs and Excise, who naturally needed to know what the Americans were up to if Frankfurt and London were involved.

Narcotics law enforcement in Cyprus tended to proceed, therefore, on the basis of ad hoc agreements between an assortment of government agents with different agendas, reflecting local priorities, and, for political reasons, was aimed more at breaking up drug distribution rings in the United States than at knocking out their suppliers in Lebanon.

Virtually all Hurley was free to do, apart from compiling narcotics intelligence reports, was to organize 'controlled deliveries' of heroin to Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles with a view to having his DEA colleagues in those cities arrest the traffickers who claimed them. And the most reliable couriers he could find for that dangerous job were Lebanese or Lebanese-American informants who either faced 30 years in jail for dope offences if they refused to cooperate or who, like the Jafaars, hated the Bekaa Valley's Syrian overlords so much that they would do anything to get them off their backs.

These, then, were the arrangements -- validated as necessary by the DEA, the CIA, the Cypriot National Police, the German BKA and H.M. Customs -- that al-Kassar reluctantly made available to Ahmed Jibril.

On 5 December 1988, the US Embassy in Helsinki received a telephone warning that 'within the next two weeks' an attempt would be made to place a bomb aboard a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to New York.

On the night of 8 December 1988, Israeli forces raided a PFLP-GC camp near Damour, Lebanon, and 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.

At around the same time and continuing until a final call on 20 December, American intelligence agents monitoring the telephones of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut heard an informant named David Lovejoy brief the Iranian charge d'affaires about the movements of a five-man CIA/DIA team which had arrived in Lebanon to work on the release of American hostages and which planned to fly home from Frankfurt on Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December.

On 18 December, 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. (The tip possibly originated with confederates of al-Kassar in a last-ditch attempt to divert Jibril away from Frankfurt, or at least away from Pan Am, by promoting tighter security checks and a higher police profile at the airport.)

On 20 December, the Mossad passed on a similar warning, this time relating specifically to Flight 103 next day.

At 15:12 on 21 December, airport staff began loading passenger baggage aboard the Boeing 727 that was to fly the first leg of Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Heathrow. About an hour before its departure at 16:53, a BKA agent was said to have reported 'suspicious behaviour' in the baggage-handling area, but no action was taken.

With 128 passengers and an estimated 135 pieces of luggage, the 727 arrived at Heathrow on time. Forty-nine passengers, most of them American, then boarded the Maid of the Seas for the trans-Atlantic leg of the flight, their bags being stowed on the port side of the forward cargo hold. A further 210 passengers with baggage, beginning their journey in London, now joined the flight, but after the State Department's warnings to embassy staffs, the aircraft was hardly more than two-thirds full when it took off at 18:25, 25 minutes late.

At 19:03, when the bomb exploded in the forward cargo hold on the port side, the 747 broke up into five main pieces that plunged down on Lockerbie, scattering bodies, baggage and wreckage over an area of 845 square miles.

It was four days before Christmas -- and perhaps only a coincidence that the Iranian Airbus had been blown out of the sky by the USS Vincennes four days before the feast day of Id al-Adha, the high point of the Muslim year. Had flight 103 left Heathrow on time, it would simply have vanished far out over the Atlantic, leaving little more than that coincidence to color speculation about who and what might have been responsible.

The day after the disaster, Lester Coleman was interviewed by Tom Brokaw on the NBC network's 'Nightly News' as an expert on Middle East terrorism. Although it had yet to be shown that Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb, the media had assumed from the start that a Palestinian terrorist group was responsible, and Coleman shared that opinion.

The Libyans probably had a role in it, he told Brokaw, because they had a large cache of Semtex explosives and about 20,000 pounds of C4, its American equivalent, supplied by CIA renegade Edmund Wilson. They also had access to electronic timers and other components, and the necessary expertise to construct a sophisticated explosive device. For some years, he said, the Libyans had acted as quartermasters for terrorist groups around the world.

Coleman went on to suggest that the Iranians had probably inspired the attack and commissioned Syrian-backed terrorists to carry it out, but that part of the interview was not aired.

If Brokaw had asked him how they had managed to get a bomb aboard Flight 103, Coleman would have had to pass, because he didn't know he knew.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:49 pm

Chapter 3

Five months later, he still did not know, and probably wouldn't have cared if he had.

After being photographed and fingerprinted in the Federal courthouse in Mobile, Coleman was handed over to the US Marshals and put in a holding cell pending his arraignment before a US Magistrate that afternoon. Apart from a telephone conversation with Joseph L. Boohaker, the Lebanese-American attorney he had befriended in Birmingham, Alabama, while setting up his latest mission to Beirut, he had not been allowed to make any calls. And although he couldn't mention it to anybody, as a matter of extreme urgency, he needed to confer with Control at Arlington Hall.

Later that morning, he was visited in his cell by a pre-trial services officer for a routine interview to determine his history and circumstances. As the officer explained, his job was to verify Coleman's personal details and prepare a report that would help the court to decide on such matters as eligibility for bail.

Coleman brightened a little. If he were bailed out quickly and could recover his passport, he might yet be able to save the mission. Though under standing orders never to reveal his DIA affiliation to anyone, he could certainly tell enough of the truth about himself to satisfy the court as to his reliability and standing in the community.

It certainly proved enough to satisfy the pre-trial services officer, whose report forms part of the court record in US vs. Lester Knox Coleman.

The subject is a white male who stands 5' 8" tall and weighs 175 pounds [he wrote]. He has blue eyes and brown hair, mixed with gray. He is presently wearing a beard and mustache, both of which are also graying.

Although Mr. Coleman's employment history sounds quite improbable [the report went on], information he gave to the Pretrial Services Officer has proven to be true. Coleman is a freelance journalist, specializing in the Middle East, who has also worked as an undercover investigator for the Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States. NBC News Foreign Correspondent Brian Ross contacted this office on May 3, 1990, to verify Coleman's relationship with NBC News. He also indicated that Coleman has worked for other news agencies as well. Ross indicated Coleman has contributed stories regarding Middle East terrorism and drug trafficking to NBC News numerous times throughout the 1980s. They have interviewed him on air, on NBC Nightly News, as an expert in terrorism and drug production in the Middle East. Ross also verified that Coleman has testified before Senate committees on these same subjects.

Ray Tripiccio, an agent with DEA in Washington, D.C., verifies that Coleman has formerly worked in a relationship with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The only information he could give on this secret activity is that Coleman was deactivated as a contract consultant as of 6-24-88.

Coleman indicates that he is currently working on a book, and that he was attempting to make arrangements to return to the Middle East in order to do more research. (It is noted that Coleman has gone to Jefferson County Probate Court in Birmingham to have his name legally changed to Thomas Leavy. Joseph Boohaker, the subject's attorney, verifies that this was accomplished sometime in April. The present charge from Chicago apparently predates the legal name change.) Coleman states that he needed a passport in a different name because his name is known to drug traffickers in the Middle East.


The name change had allowed Coleman to take out some life insurance as Thomas Leavy in case anything happened to him while he was traveling under that name. He had no wish to leave Mary-Claude and the children destitute while she tried to claim on his existing life insurance in the name of Coleman.

'I have no indication that Mr. Coleman owns any property that would be available for posting bond,' the report concluded, 'and it appears that he is presently somewhat low on funds.'

That was putting it mildly. Since being reactivated six months earlier for Operation Shakespeare, his monthly salary of $5000 had been paid into Barclays Bank, Gibraltar -- scheduled as his first stop on the way to Beirut.

By the end of the interview, if it had been up to the pre-trial services officer, Coleman would probably have been released on the spot, but the Justice Department had other ideas. After his arraignment before US Magistrate William H. Steele, Coleman was consigned to the squalor of the city jail along with the pimps, pushers, muggers, drunks and assorted criminal riff-raff swept off the streets every night by the Mobile police.

For the next three days, he shared a cell with three drug traffickers awaiting trial on Federal charges, watching every word in case he fatally let slip his former connection with the DEA.

As Special Agent Lesley Behrens explained when she called to see him with her clipboard and a new form to fill out, he was there because the county jail and the cells in the Federal building were all full. With that, she produced three sticks of fake dynamite, wired to an old-fashioned alarm clock, which the agents had found under the seat of his Mazda van.

'Would you mind telling me what this is?' she asked.

Coleman laughed. 'That's my Beirut alarm clock,' he said. 'Scared the shit out of you, right?'

'Where did you get it?'

'A buddy of mine gave it to me in Lebanon.' His smile faded. 'It's a joke, okay? A practical joke?'

'You mean you brought it back on an airplane?'

'Oh, God,' he said.

That was Tuesday.

On Friday, they put him in leg-irons and handcuffs and delivered him back to the Federal courthouse for a bail hearing before Magistrate Steele, who had the pre-trial services officer's report in front of him. After conferring briefly with Boohaker, who had driven five-and-a-half hours from Birmingham to be present, Coleman went on the witness stand and testified that he had indeed worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

'And what did you do for them?' Boohaker asked.

'I was a contract consultant involved in narcotics intelligence gathering and analysis in the Middle East,' he replied.

The young Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) representing the government winced, and looked around at the FBI agents at the back of the courtroom.

'And what were you doing at the time of your arrest?' Boohaker went on.

'I was preparing to go back to the Middle East,' said Coleman.

'For the US government?'

He hesitated. If he couldn't break the rules, he felt entitled to bend them a little.

'I'm not at liberty to answer that,' he said.

When Boohaker had finished, the AUSA was plainly in a quandary, but he still opposed bail, on the grounds that Coleman, with his overseas experience and connections, was an obvious flight risk.

In reply, Boohaker argued that, besides being a citizen of repute with no criminal record, Coleman was a resident of Alabama, held an Alabama driver's license, and that his family lived there. In those circumstances, and as the charge could be tried as readily in Alabama as in Illinois, Boohaker could see no reasonable grounds why his client should be sent back to Chicago or why bail should be refused.

Magistrate Steele could hardly disagree. But he set bail at $25,000, plus a $75,000 surety, and ordered that Coleman's passport be withheld.

It was a relief to get the leg-irons off -- but a $100,000 bond for a passport violation? They were definitely out to get him. But why?

Mary-Claude and the children were waiting outside the courthouse. Through Boohaker, Coleman had arranged for a Lebanese-American friend to collect his family from the beach-house and drive them to Mobile, where they stayed in a hotel the first night and then, when his bail hearing was postponed until Friday, at their friend's house for the second night.

The separation had been an ordeal for them both. Knowing how terrified Mary-Claude had been by his arrest -- inevitably a prelude to something far worse in her own country -- and how vulnerable she must have felt with three babies to look after, Coleman had worried so much about her that he had scarcely had time to consider his own position.

The same was true for Mary-Claude. After three days of sleepless anxiety about him, she had almost reconciled herself to the idea of never seeing him again -- although she had remembered to bring along a change of clothes. Untangling themselves from each other, they went off to an oyster bar for his first decent meal since the previous Monday night.

He then tried his DIA contact number, and was not much surprised to get a disconnected signal. At heart, he had known all along that as soon as the agency found out what had happened -- assuming it had not had a hand in setting him up in the first place -- he would cease to exist as far as the DIA was concerned.

He had no hard feelings about that. It had been understood from the day he signed on that if he were ever discovered, or if his activities as a spy ever threatened to embarrass the DIA, then Arlington Hall would disown him. Those were standard conditions of employment for any intelligence agent anywhere. It was just hard to accept that the rules applied at home as well as overseas, and to deliberate sabotage by an agency of his own government.

Not sure what to do next, he drove the family up to Birmingham to stay with his mother. And in a final request for guidance, particularly as he still had the DIA's video camera and other equipment that he was supposed to have taken with him to Beirut, he encoded a written message to Control and sent it off to his DIA Post Office mail drop in Oxenhill, Maryland.

Two months later, a letter was delivered to his mother's house, postmarked San Antonio, Texas, 16 July, and franked United States Air Force, Official Business. The address was in his own handwriting. Written as the return address on the envelope of his original coded message to Control, it had been cut out and pasted on the envelope.

Inside was a slip of paper with two sets of handwritten numbers: 332-22476 and 121-31323. Nothing else. And nothing else was necessary. Decoded, the message read: DEA-Cairo.

Coleman's suspicions had been confirmed. On being seconded to the DEA in Cyprus, he had been told to give Micheal Hurley copies of his alternative identity papers, including a copy of his CIA/Thomas Leavy birth certificate. If the DIA message meant anything, it meant that the DEA had used those papers, without consultation or authorization, as a cover identity for one of its people in Egypt. If a passport had already been issued in the name of Thomas Leavy, then his own application for a passport in the same name, with the same particulars, would presumably have triggered an investigation leading to his arrest.

The only remaining question was whether this had been done deliberately or was just the consequence of another ill-considered act by Hurley's cowboy operation in Nicosia.

Not that it made much difference. Either way, he was on his own. And after two months of brooding about it, making due allowance for the paranoia inseparable from intelligence work, he seriously doubted if there was anything unplanned in what had happened. Every time he visited his new pre-trial services officer in Birmingham and saw the puzzlement in his face; every time Boohaker expressed astonishment at the bail conditions and the government's conduct of the case; every time he woke up at night with the sure conviction that Hurley had him in his sights, the more he raked back over the past for some inkling of why they were out to get him.

He had begun to understand what Kafka was all about.

Schooled from childhood in the exotic intrigues of Beirut, Mary-Claude knew already.

'We were so sure there was more trouble coming,' she recalls, 'that we took turns sleeping, me and him and my mother-in-law. When we went to the market, we were sure someone was following us. At night, one of us would keep watch for any cars going around the house. Something was going to happen -- to hurt us, to take my husband away, to ruin our lives. Every night, we would not sleep until four or five in the morning, and smoke two or three packs of cigarettes.

Rather than sit home, waiting for trouble to arrive, Coleman decided to meet it half way. He called his old friend in New York, Bernie Gavzer, formerly of NBC News and now a contributing editor of Parade magazine.

'Hey, Les? Howaya? Howya doin'? You're supposed to be in Beirut. Why aren't you in Beirut?'

'I got arrested, Bernie, that's why.'

'Yeah? Well, it's about time. What they get you for? White slaving?'

'No. The FBI busted me. For making a false statement on a passport application,'

There was a brief silence at the other end.

'No kidding,' said Gavzer. Coleman had never told him about his DIA connection but Gavzer was aware of his undercover work for the Drug Enforcement Administration. 'Anything I can do?'

'I don't know. Maybe. I need a lawyer.'

'Hell, that's easy. I know a shitload of lawyers.'

'Yeah, but how about one with Washington connections? Plugged into the Pentagon, maybe? Because that's what I need. Somebody who can get an inside track on all this.'

'Okay, Sure. I'll ask around. See what I can do.'

What Gavzer did was to line up a call from Marshall Lee Miller, former counsel to the Defense Intelligence Agency, or so Miller told Coleman during a high-powered telephone conversation in which he offered to get William Colby, former director of the CIA, to testify for him if necessary.

'Only it won't come to that,' he said. 'Don't worry about it. We'll get to the bottom of this and clear the whole thing up so we don't have to go to trial. So it never even sees the light of day.'

'Well, that'd be great. But how do you know you can do that?'

'Because I'm connected in the right places, Les -- that's how I know. I got all kinds of contacts here. So just sit tight. I'll get back to you.'

Coleman had a good night's sleep for the first time in weeks. This was obviously the DIA's way of baling him out without having to show its hand. In the best Hollywood tradition, the US Cavalry had ridden to the rescue in the nick of time.

True to his word, Miller had William Colby talk to Coleman on the telephone to explain the strings he could pull. If it turned out that things had gone too far for them simply to wipe the slate clean, then they would have the case moved to Washington. 'They don't know how to deal with these things in Chicago,' he said.

Cheered by their confidence, Coleman decided to test his theory that it was Hurley and the DEA who had wrecked his career. He presented himself at the DEA's field office in Birmingham and asked to see the agent from whom he had picked up his airline tickets and expense money before flying out to Cyprus to join Hurley's operation two years earlier.

The agent recognized him at once and seemed astonished to hear what had happened.

'Oh, this is crazy,' he said. 'Somebody's fucked up as usual. I'll send a wire to Washington. Find out what the hell's going on.'

'Yeah, okay,' said Coleman. 'Only I think it's something to do with DEA Cyprus, and the guys out there probably don't even know what's happened -- about the FBI and the passport charge and everything. So if you tell Mike Hurley about it, maybe he can help straighten this thing out.'

'Sure. I'll put it on the wire tonight. Just leave it with me, okay? I'll call you as soon as I hear something.'

What the agent heard in response to his telex surprised him rather more than it surprised Coleman.

'Hey, Les, I don't know what's going on here,' he said, when Coleman called next day. 'I got this message back that you're a real bad egg and we're not supposed to have anything to do with you.' He laughed uncomfortably. 'I don't know what you did, Les, but they say to tell you, don't try to get the DEA involved in your case.'

'Listen, I'm trying to get the DEA off my case, all right? But thanks anyway.'

Now he knew who, if not why. And it was some comfort to know that Arlington Hall had played no part in setting him up. Except in the first shock of his arrest, he had never seriously believed that anyway. With the profound contempt of the military for a civilian agency, the DIA would never have connived with the DEA to destroy one of its own agents. This had to be a combined DEA/FBI set-up, based on the DEA's unauthorized use of his alternative identity papers.

But Coleman was still no closer to understanding why Hurley had chosen to move against him now, more than a year after the row between them. Marshall Lee Miller seemed unable to account for it either, although he continued to convey the impression that he knew more about the case than he cared to admit. Coleman was astounded, for instance, when the court in Chicago denied their motion for the case to be moved to Washington, but Miller, in spite of what he had said in the beginning, passed on the news as though he had known all along what the outcome would be.

The Colemans' cigarette consumption began to go up again. The same eerie feeling was coming back that they were caught in an unseen web, that their future was being decided for them, somewhere else, without their knowledge. Valiantly trying to retain some sense of control over his own life, Coleman started to call all his old friends in the media, particularly those with Washington connections, in the hope that he might just stumble on something that would help make sense of the nightmare, that would offer some clue as to what was happening, and why,

Among those he called was Charlie Thompson, a friend at CBS who put him on to Sheila Hershow of ABC's 'Prime Time'. Coleman already knew her as they had worked together on the 'Jack Anderson Show' in 1983.

In April 1989, Hershow had been chief investigator for the House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Government Activities and Transportation. Some two weeks before the sub-committee was due to start hearings into the Flight 103 disaster, Ms. Hershow had been unceremoniously fired, it was said because of a personality conflict with sub-committee chairman Cardis Collins, but some believed because of her tenacity in pressing, not only Pan Am, but the federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the airport authorities at Frankfurt and Heathrow with awkward questions about security.

She refused to be drawn on the subject when Coleman spoke to her, but, more than a year later, she had certainly not lost her interest in the Lockerbie disaster. There was some connection she had not been able to track down, she said, between the bombing and the DEA in Cyprus.

'You were out there around that time, weren't you?' she asked. 'I remember Brian Ross, over at NBC, saying he met you in Nicosia.'

'Well, yes, that's right. They were doing a story on the Lebanese connection -- about heroin from the Bekaa Valley, you know? And as I was out there doing some academic research on narcotics trafficking and Lebanese politics, we got together and compared a few notes. But that was a while before the bombing.'

'Uh-huh. He said you did some work for the DEA as well.'

'Well, yes,' he said cautiously. 'Intelligence analysis -- that kind of thing. Desk work. Nothing operational.'

'No, but intelligence analysis -- that must have given you a pretty good insight into what they were doing out there, right?'

'Well, yeah. Pretty good.' It went against the professional grain to admit even that, but he owed the DEA nothing. And besides, he was curious. 'It's a small office. I was in and out all the time. Not a lot went on there I didn't know about.'

'Okay,' she said. 'I'm going to send you a picture. And I want you to tell me if you know who it is. If you ever saw him before. Will you do that for me?'

'Sure. Why not? Is it somebody I knew out there?'

'I don't know. You tell me.'

The picture was faxed to him two days later. It was of a young man, an Arab, about 20 years old, and, after penciling in a moustache, Coleman recognized him at once.

'That's Khalid Nazir Jafaar,' he told Hershow. 'Nice kid. We used to call him Nazzie.'

'Well, well,' she said. 'That's interesting. You mind telling me how you know him?'

'Nazzie was one of the boys, one of Hurley's people. The DEA had a front operation in Nicosia, down the street from the embassy. The Eurame Trading Company. That's where I worked. And that's where I met Nazzie. Saw him there several times.'

'Well, well,' she said again. There was a funny note in her voice. 'The Jafaars -- they're into heroin, right?'

'Biggest in the Bekaa. Or they were until the Syrians moved in. The Jafaars were Lucky Luciano's heroin connection. They go back a long way in the dope business.'

'This kid, Nazzie -- are you saying he worked for the DEA?'

'Oh, sure. And probably for the CIA as well. Seemed like the whole damn family were CIA assets.'

'But why? I mean, why would they want to work for the US government?'

'Why? Hell, the Jafaars'll work for anybody against the Syrians -- they hate 'em so bad. They'd do anything to get Assad off their backs.'

'Okay. So what did he do?'

'Nazzie? Well, he was under age to be an informant, so he was probably on the DEA books as a subsource. I know for a fact he ran two or three controlled deliveries of heroin into Detroit.'

'You mean he was a DEA courier?'

'Among other things. But how come you're interested in Nazzie?'

'You don't know?'

'No, I kind of lost touch with those people when I got back here, you know how it is. I've no idea what he's doing now.'

'He's dead,' she said.

'Yeah? Oh. Well, I'm sorry to hear that. Like I say, he was a nice kid. But I'm not surprised. It's a tough business.'

'Yeah. He was on Flight 103 when it went down.'

Coleman chewed that over.

'No shit,' he said.

That probably explained everything.

And when she went on to say that at least two intelligence agents had also died with Nazzie Jafaar, having switched to Flight 103 through RA Travel Masters of Nicosia, the DEA's travel agents on Cyprus, he knew without a doubt that his life was in danger.

The octopus already had its coils around him.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:51 pm

Chapter 4

The first Lester Knox Coleman was a Navy man.

A native of Moffat, Texas, he had signed on in 1917 to escape his family's dirt-poor existence in the Texas dust bowl. Liking the look of it no better when he came back from the war, he re-enlisted in the peacetime Navy, and, in 1924, was assigned to the USS, Shenandoah, the Daughter of the Stars, one of two Navy airships developed from the German Zeppelins that, for many, seemed to point the way to the future of aviation.

He was on board when, in 1925, the Shenandoah cast off from her mooring mast at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, and headed out on a barnstorming tour of the Midwest to drum up public support for the Navy's lighter-than-air programme. Two days later, a violent storm broke her back over the cornfields of Ohio, littering the ground with the bodies of her crew.

Lester Knox Coleman survived, as no one who knew him would have doubted.

Lester Knox Coleman Jr., an engineer by profession, was another survivor. The day after Pearl Harbor, he quit his job with the Gulf Power Company in Pensacola, Florida, and, like his father before him in 1917, signed up for the Navy. His infant son was 18 months old before he even laid eyes on him.

Lester Knox Coleman III was born in the USNAS/Navy Point Hospital on 25 September 1943, while the other two were overseas, fighting their country's war against the Japanese, one in South America, the other in the South Pacific.

Like them, he was brought up to believe in America, to honor its principles, to be suspicious of foreigners and to distrust politicians, who, as far as the Colemans were concerned, had about as much common sense as a bucket of warm spit. There was nothing in his small-town Southern background, his traditional American middle-class home or his average educational achievement to raise as much as an eyebrow among the team of military investigators who later vetted him back to his diapers to determine his suitability for secret government service with the Defense Intelligence Agency.

When Coleman was five, the Gulf Power Company transferred his father from Pensacola to Panama City, a two-hour ride down the Florida panhandle on Highway 98. And for the next eight years nothing much else happened as far as Coleman can remember, except for the stroke that disabled his grandfather. He dawdled through Cove Elementary and Jinks Junior High to Eighth grade, showing no great aptitude for academic study, failed Ninth grade when his father moved the family north to New Jersey for a year, and did hardly better in Tenth grade at Pensacola High when the Colemans returned to Florida.

Indeed, the high point in his education until then was the discovery of progressive jazz. Under the tutelage of his friend Connor Shaw, ace drummer of the Pensacola High 'Tiger' Band, he was introduced to the music of Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Thelonius Monk, and to other, more tangible pleasures of the Beat Generation.

Older than Coleman, and with a driver's license, Shaw would pick up his protege in his '51 black Chevy coupe as soon as the Friday afternoon bell rang and together they would set off for a night out in the French Quarter of New Orleans, three hours away along the Gulf shore highway. Nearing sixteen, Coleman read Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and took to wearing a hip pair of shades with his dirty sweatshirts and sneakers.

Then, one day, everything changed. His father came home and said, in his usual, unadorned fashion, 'We're moving to Iran.'

'Yeah? What part of Florida is that in, Dad?'

'I-R-A-N.'

'You mean, Iran like in Persia? Shit!'

The pain of withdrawal from his local bohemia was soon offset by Coleman's growing excitement at the prospect of traveling to faraway, romantic places of the sort his father and grandfather had so often talked about. But, as it turned out, the family was bound for the oil company settlement of Golestan, a suburb of Ahwaz, about two hours overland by land Rover from the city and oil terminal of Abadan. With its neat, yellow-brick homes set in plots of real grass, its own supermarket, school and country club, Golestan might as well have been in Arizona as in the ancient kingdom of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

Continuing his teenage rebellion, Coleman decided to become an Arab.

He set himself to learn colloquial Arabic by hanging out with the company drivers and laborers who spent a good part of every work day sitting around charcoal stoves sipping glasses of hot tea through cubes of sugar. It was a conscious decision. Rather than learn Farsi, spoken only in Iran, he chose Arabic as it was the language of many nations, from the Shatt-al-Arab waterway clear across the northern reaches of Africa to the Atlantic Ocean.

As Coleman's proficiency improved, and the Arabs, treated like dogs by the Iranians, lost their suspicion of the 'young Satan', so they allowed him deeper into their society. His new friend Ahziz, who lived in Laskarabad, took him to visit his uncle's village to drink tea and eat sheep's eyes and rice with the old sheik as they lounged on Persian carpets and watched the belly dancers.

Coleman practiced his Arabic around camp fires at Refresabad, in the wilderness near Isfahan, and while riding third-class trains to Antimeshk. He grew accustomed to eating by the light of burning donkey dung with people who lived in huts or tents and bathed and urinated in open jubs as they had for a thousand years.

To placate his family and their Iranian friends, Coleman also learned a little Farsi, but as he approached his eighteenth birthday, both he and his father were only too conscious that his school credits were barely worthy of a high-school junior. If he was ever to amount to anything more than an Arabic-speaking bum, he needed to catch up with his formal education.

In the autumn of 1961, he was sent home to boarding school in Orlando, Florida -- and contrived to get himself expelled in three weeks. He then went to stay with his uncle in Birmingham, Alabama, while he attended Shades Valley High School.

'On Friday and Saturday nights,' Coleman remembers, 'my friend Walton Kimbrough and me went cruising in his '53 Mercury, parking at Pig Trail Inn, elbows out the window, listening to Dave Roddy on the radio, sipping cherry Cokes and eating Bar-B-Cues. We'd cruise up Red Mountain, beneath the bare bottom of Vulcan Statue, past WYDE radio and into five points south, giving the royal digit salute to every blue Ramsey High jacket we saw. Then shoot down main-drag 20th Street, all the way to 10th Avenue North, pull into Ed Salem's Drive Inn, elbows still out the window, watching lake-plugged hot-rods peel rubber, driven by boys from Ensley and Hueytown with names like Billy-Joe and Leroy and Bobby.'

It couldn't last. For one thing, he no longer had much in common with his contemporaries. When he told them he lived in Iran, they would mostly look him up and down, shake their heads, and with doubt shading through scorn to open hostility ask him 'Where's that?' And when he told them where it was, they would shake their heads again and dismiss what he said as 'a sack of porkey-pine shit'. He had never noticed before how parochial and ignorant of the world American kids were.

'It struck me about this time,' Coleman says, 'that they seemed to lie more than kids from other places. They didn't do it with purposed deceit -- it was just part of America's fast-hustle, three-card-monte morality. When a person tells the truth, other people, looking at themselves in the mirror and seeing a liar, assume that the truth-teller is a liar, too. You see America differently after you've been away for a while. All us expatriate kids had the same experience. When we got home and tried to communicate with our peers who had never left the United States, they'd look at us like we'd just landed from Mars.'

To the relief of his parents, and to re-establish his roots, Lester Knox Coleman III, with his friend Walton Kimbrough, applied for admittance to The Marion Military Institute (MMI), in Marion, Alabama. Founded in 1842, and alma mater to a distinguished roster of generals and heroes in every American war since then, the MMI was both a cradle and shrine to the United States Army, and a cadetship among the highest honors the military establishment could bestow on a young American of the right calibre.

Having somehow passed the written examination, Coleman reported for duty at the start of the winter term and managed to curb his rebellious streak sufficiently, not only to make his grades and the Dean's List, but to put up five stripes as a Sergeant First Class Platoon Sergeant in his senior year. Coleman Senior pretended to take this for granted when his son rejoined the family in Iran that summer, but, for the first time in his life, Coleman sensed his father was proud of him.

He also re-entered the Arab world as if coming home. By the time he graduated from MMI with the Class of '63, his father had moved on to a job in Libya with Esso. When Coleman arrived out there, the limitless horizons of the Sahara and the brutal austerity of life among the nomadic tribes of the desert caught his imagination so completely that it was 1966 before the claims of higher education in the United States again outweighed those of the liberal education he was acquiring in Arabic and Middle Eastern affairs. As his father pointed out with increasing acerbity, he had a living to earn, and -- not counting a brief spell at the American University in Beirut -- nothing worth a damn to interest a prospective employer.

An aimless year at Jacksonville State University, Alabama, failed to remedy the deficiency, but it did at least point the way. Through a friend, Jim Sands, he was introduced to the trials, tribulations and occasional rewards of scrub broadcasting.

A big, round, jolly fellow, Sands supported himself, more or less, by working at one of the scores of marginally profitable, day-time radio stations that had sprouted their directional antenna arrays all over the South. Under Sands's benevolent auspices, Coleman tried his hand as disc jockey-cum-announcer-cum-newsman and realized at once that he had found his vocation. Nothing would do now but a career in broadcast journalism. As foreign correspondent for CBS in the Middle East, maybe. Or even for NBC, at a pinch.

But he had to start somewhere. And as the FCC required each station to have a licensed engineer on duty at all times, and as you were obviously more employable if you were both announcer and engineer, he dropped out of Jacksonville and enrolled at Elkins Electronics Institute in New Orleans to study for the FCC exams, which he passed with flying colors in 1967.

It was the first flush of a passion for advanced electronics that, with his other qualifications, was later to prove of special interest to the United States government. At the time, however, it was of more interest to one-horse radio stations in Pasagoula, Mississippi, and Bay Minet, Alabama, where the transmitter sat in the middle of a cow pasture and Coleman had to dodge the resident bull to get to work every morning.

Stripped to his shorts in the heat and confined to a toolshed studio that turned blue with static electricity during a thunderstorm, he spun records, recorded supermarket commercials, and, for a change of pace, did occasional remote broadcasts from remote places like the local John Deere tractor outlet. A year of this brought him to the comparative luxury of a Country and Western 5000-watt station in downtown Mobile, but there his new career stalled.

For one thing, he could see that he needed better academic credentials if he was ever to get back to the Middle East as a network TV correspondent, and for another thing, his best friend, Jim Sands, was now also his brother-in-law.

Sands had invited him over to his mother-in-law's place one Sunday and introduced him to his wife's sister, Jocelyn. Hitting it off on sight, Lester and Jocelyn were married soon after, but even in 1967, it was tough for a married couple to live on $90 a week. When their daughter Karen was born in February 1968, it proved impossible. The following September, Coleman left his job at 'Woonie Radio' and took his new family to Jacksonville, where he went back to university, as a mature student of 25 and rewrote the definition of working one's way through college.

While coping with the not inconsiderable load of his degree course, Coleman held down jobs in a photo lab, on a radio show from 6 p.m. until midnight, six days a week, and as a paid football announcer on Saturdays. For her part, his wife worked as private secretary to the football coach, as well as looking after their infant daughter, and together the Colemans managed a 110-unit apartment complex which provided them with rent-free accommodation.

Thus stretched, they somehow survived the three years it took Coleman to equip himself for the big time with a bachelor's degree in political science and economics. But by then it was 1971, in the middle of a recession, and despite his now glittering qualifications, CBS wasn't interested. Nor was NBC or even ABC. After fruitlessly trawling the job market, Coleman took his wife and child back to Mobile and rejoined 'Woonie Radio' as News Director at $125 a week. It felt like he had put himself and his family through some pretty exhausting changes for an extra $35 a week.

Working out of a converted broom closet, his one-man news department was expected to write and deliver eight newscasts a day, although, as he recalls:

... the major activity at Woonie Radio was still station manager Rocky Reich's running poker game. It was too rich for my blood, but I did manage to pick up an extra twenty-five dollars a week producing the Dot Moore Radio Show. That meant I had to push a shopping cart carrying a heavy Ampex 601 tape recorder around Bellas Hess department store while Dot interviewed local shoppers. I'd then take the tape back to the studio, dub in the commercial breaks and add the music. But I couldn't see it as my life's work somehow.'

'Mobile was not exactly a hot news town anyway. My hourly five-minute newscasts were filled with the usual Fuz'n Wuz from the police blotter, the Wuz being the corpses from shootings, house fires and traffic pile-ups. Once in a while a bit of political juice from City Hall would spice up my news day, usually about Lambert 'Lamby Pie' Mims, Mobile's Bible-thumping Mayor, whose gospel of civic trust finally landed him in a Federal penitentiary. After five months in the 'Home of the Woonie Bird', I was open to the first reasonable offer.'


It came from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which, as Coleman later discovered, served not only the nation's youth but also the military-industrial complex that had so exercised President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

Seated one day in his broom closet, writing copy and eating Krispy Kremes, Coleman took a call from Mark Clayton of the BSA National Public Relations Office. An Eagle Scout from Mobile had been selected to meet President Richard Nixon on the White House lawn, said Clayton. Was Woonie Radio interested in covering this event?

'Sure,' said Coleman. 'I'll take a tape feed of our Eagle Scout meeting the President of the United States. Great stuff. I'd like to ask him how it feels to get chosen out of four million Boy Scouts to shake his President by the hand. We'll do an interview, okay?'

Tongue intermittently in cheek, Coleman taped a few questions and answers and then, jokingly, asked Clayton if the Boy Scouts of America were looking for someone with a bit of broadcasting experience.

'Well,' said Clayton, surprised. 'Now that you mention it, yes. You mean you'd be interested in taking a job with us?'

Coleman looked around his broom closet newsroom, with its mops and pails and industrial-sized bottles of Mr. Clean, and sighed for his lost illusions.

'Sounds like an exciting opportunity to me,' he said.

Brought over from Britain in 1910 by Chicago newspaper publisher William D. Boyce with the idea of building character in his street-corner newsboys, Scouting had grown by 1972 into a nationwide movement, chartered by Congress, with a full-time professional staff of 4000 directed from BSA headquarters in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

After a preliminary meeting with Clayton in Mobile, Coleman was flown in for two days of interviews and put up in the Scout guesthouse, next door to a museum full of Norman Rockwell paintings, in the middle of a 30-acre game preserve criss-crossed with neatly tagged nature trails.

The job opening he had stumbled upon was in the public relations department, which already had a staff of 20 writers and photographers -- many of them former military public information officers -- under the general direction of Ron Phillippo, a cigar-smoking outdoorsman in a three-piece suit, whose secretary, Marcia Schwartz, and right-hand man, Russ Butkins, USN (retd) between them ran the place. Being all 'print people', with no practical experience of radio or television, they needed somebody who could get the Scout story 'on the air' for $12,000 a year.

Satisfied he was made of the right stuff, BSA offered Coleman the job, and in March 1972, a big cross-country moving van delivered the family's worldly goods to their new home in Heightstown, near Princeton, New Jersey, about 20 minutes by Toyota south of New Brunswick on Route 130. If not quite as he had imagined. Coleman had made the big time as the BSA's National Event Public Relations Executive.

A former Cub Scout with a school troop at eight, he soon discovered there was more to modern Scouting than rubbing damp sticks together in the wilderness. It was a franchise operation. With a network of regional offices, heavily staffed with former military personnel, to oversee 'the product', the BSA sold franchises to Local Councils in cities and towns across the nation. These councils, in turn, employed full-time professional staff to recruit volunteers and sponsors to run and finance Scout troops at neighborhood levels.

In overall charge of the operation was a Chief Scout, a full-time salaried executive of BSA, Inc., and a volunteer counterpart with the title of National President. In 1972, they were, respectively, Alden Barber, a polished, smooth-talking businessman who could have stepped out of any corporate boardroom, and Robert W. Sarnoff, chief executive officer of the Radio Corporation of America.

Coleman's connection with the big time was through the National Public Relations Committee, a volunteer group he was encouraged to cultivate for help and support. One of its members was Walter Cronkite, of CBS News.

'Can you imagine?'

Twenty years on, Coleman still remembers the excitement of hopping on a train to New York, taking a cab uptown from Penn station to the corner of 57th Street and 10th Avenue and walking in to tell the guard he was there to see Walter Cronkite.

'And then actually getting in to see him. Escorted down one narrow hallway after another, past Xerox machines, past dark studios with the ghosts of John Cameron Swazy and Edward R. Murrow, then into the CBS newsroom, into Cronkite's glass fishbowl of an office, and there he is -- thinner and younger-looking in person, wearing a khaki suit, loafers kicked off, feet on the desk, talking to me about the next Explorer Scout Olympics in Fort Collins, Colorado.'

Most of the national events Coleman worked on were organized by the BSA's Explorer Division, the then-new co-ed Scout 'product' for young people between fourteen and twenty, offering hands-on experience in the career fields that interested them.

It was the Explorer programme that finally married the Boy Scouts of America to the military-industrial complex. The military saw Scouting as a training ground for leaders who were also good team-players, disciplined, respectful of authority and imbued with ideals of service to God and country, while the business community saw it as a politically neutral means of indoctrinating youth in the principles of free enterprise capitalism and the American way.

Nobody had a bad word for Scouting. It was the perfect public relations vehicle for acquiring civic virtue on the cheap while continuing the ruthless pursuit of corporate self-interest in government and the market place. In government, all the way up to Federal level, sponsorship of Career-Interest Explorer Posts proved so popular among image-sensitive agencies such as the police that a special unit was set up at BSA headquarters to administer 'Law-Enforcement Exploring' and to work alongside existing departments responsible for Congressional Relations, Military Relations, Mormon Relations (the Boy Scouts of America is the official youth movement of the Mormon Church), Corporate Relations and so on.

As Coleman would discover at first hand, it was not so much that Scouting was controlled by the octopus as simply incapable of denying it a favor. When a two-star general in Washington called a retired colonel in North Brunswick to ask if the BSA could find a job for one of 'our people' from overseas, the only possible answer was, 'Yes, sir.'

In his two years at headquarters, Coleman came across several 'spooks' cooling off in executive niches of the Boy Scout Movement, and later became one himself. He also came to appreciate the mutual benefit of having a Boy Scout troop on every significant US military base around the world. It not only helped with the BSA's numbers game but served as a benevolent advertisement for the American way of life, as well as a convenient cloak for low-level intelligence gathering.

As with any franchise operation, growth was the bottom line. In 1972, the BSA's national advertising slogan claimed that 'Scouting today is a lot more than you think', but in fact it was a lot less. Under pressure from head office to meet ever higher 'sales' targets, Local Council staffs had begun to create imaginary Scout troops, in much the same way as Teamster union officials had once created 'paper' Locals, and to pad the rolls of existing troops with phantom members.

By 1974, the BSA had 6.5 million Scouts on its books, of which two million existed only in the minds of hard-pressed District Executives. It was too many. When somebody at last blew the whistle, not even the National Public Relations Office could explain away so great a discrepancy. The Scouting hierarchy collapsed from top to bottom, sending Chief Scout Alden Barber into the decent obscurity of Santa Barbara, California.

In 1972, however, still untarnished by scandal, the BSA plugged Coleman into the military-industrial complex through Tom Geohagen, Department of Public Affairs, US Steel, Washington, D.C. A short, white-haired man with big ears and a booming radio announcer's voice -- he had worked for years at NBC News -- Geohagen was chairman of a high-powered committee of media experts put together to publicize the National Explorer Presidents' Congress, an annual meeting in Washington of Explorer Post leaders from all over America. The event was Coleman's first assignment, and Geohagen liked his style. Appointing himself Coleman's mentor, he was soon urging him to 'use this Scout business' as a stepping stone to higher things, perhaps in government service, where he could make the most of his command of Arabic and his background in the Middle East.

'Wherever we went in Washington, Tom introduced me to his contacts [Coleman recalls]. We would go for lunch down the street from his office to the Army-Navy Club, and he knew everybody. You'd get these grey men in grey suits, sitting around smoking cigars in red leather armchairs under portraits of Nimitz and Patton, and they'd all say hello and pass the time of day. One, I remember, was General Danny Graham, an old spook buddy of Tom's, who had been sent over from the Pentagon to clean house at the CIA.

'Now there's a guy you ought to talk to,' Tom said afterwards. 'You'll like him, and I know he'd be real interested in your background. Tell you what -- why don't I set up a meeting?'

'No, Tom,' I said. 'Thanks all the same. I still want to see how far I can go with journalism.'


But Geohagen kept on trying, determined his protege should make the most of himself. His next manoeuvre on Coleman's behalf was to secure a staff position for him with the US Olympic Team at the 20th Olympiad in Munich that September. This was exciting but also embarrassing, for Mark Clayton, who had got him his job in the first place, had to be bumped out of the slot to make way for him.

'It was Clayton's assignment, Tom, and he's my boss,' Coleman protested. Half-heartedly. 'And why me? I've only been here six months.'

'Well, let's just say you have special talents that your committee feels would be better suited to this assignment,' said Geohagen. 'Let's just say there are people who want to see how you make out, how you handle yourself under fire, so to speak. So let's show 'em, okay?'

Of course it was okay. It was damned okay. To be in Munich with the US team at the Olympic Games was about as far as you could get from a broom closet in Mobile.

Geohagen's wish to see how Coleman handled himself 'under fire' turned out to be curiously prophetic, for the 1972 Olympiad was to be remembered, not for Mark Spitz's seven gold medals or Cathy Rigby's bare-bottom picture in Sports Illustrated, but for the slaughter of Israeli athletes by hooded assassins from Black September.

It was Coleman's first direct experience of Arab terrorism. Although he saw no more of the siege and carnage than anyone else in the Olympic Village, he had earlier taken the fullest advantage of his staff pass to explore the compound and to fraternize with athletes and officials from other countries, particularly those from the Middle East for the chance it gave him to practice his Arabic.

Although there were armed guards everywhere, security was a joke. Photo-ID badges were rarely checked, and no attempt at all was made to confine badge-holders to the specific areas of the Village for which they had security clearance. In theory, only someone with a press pass could gain access to the Olympic Press Centre, for example, but Coleman came and went as he pleased, in and out three or four times a day, every day, without ever being challenged.

Before the attack, he enjoyed the same freedom of movement to meet and drink coffee with his new Arab friends in their Olympic quarters -- and also with Andrei, one of the Soviet team's 'trainers', who spent a lot of time in their company, drinking beer and picking away at salt fish wrapped in brown paper. After the attack, Coleman saw no cause to wonder how Black September had managed to smuggle explosives and automatic weapons into the compound, but he wondered long and hard about Andrei, who had mysteriously disappeared when the terrorists struck, and about the not-so-mysterious defection of the Arab teams, who now melted away for fear of Israeli reprisals.

Like everyone else, Coleman watched the drama build up to its bloody denouement on television, still misusing his pass to keep abreast of the latest developments via the Press Centre's battery of monitors.

Under the critical weight of world attention, Munich's beleaguered police chief, Manfred Schreiber, was now at pains to lock the barn door after the terrorist horse had bolted. His officers were ordered to question everybody they could trace who had set foot in the Arab camp in the course of the Games, including Lester Coleman, public relations assistant with the US Olympic Team, on loan from the Boy Scouts of America.

In what turned out to be a curious link with the future, Coleman struck up a friendship with Hartmut Mayer, a local police officer whom he would meet again 15 years later in Cyprus, when Mayer was resident agent on the island for the BKA, and like Coleman, concerned with a DEA operation where sloppy security opened the way to an even bloodier atrocity than at Munich -- the destruction of Flight 103.

For Coleman, there would be other curious links, too, between Munich and Lockerbie. In 1987, after renewing his acquaintance with Mayer, he was to work on the same poorly managed DEA operation with a Lebanese-American named Ibrahim El-Jorr, a key informant who claimed to have been one of the US Army support group sent into Munich after Black September took over the village.

In the troubled aftermath of Lockerbie, Coleman would also meet up with Juval Aviv, a private investigator hired by Pan Am, who was said to have been a member of the Mossad hit team turned loose after the Munich massacre by Israel's Golda Meir to track down and kill every member of the Black September squad responsible.

But the strongest link for Coleman was the continuing fascination of the American intelligence community with Arab terrorism.

On his first day back in the office after flying home with the Olympic team, he was called down to Washington by his sponsor.

'There's some people would like to hear about your experiences,' Geohagen said, on their way out to Georgetown to have lunch at the Sheraton Park Hotel. 'Some of Danny Graham's boys. I told 'em you wouldn't mind. You can probably give 'em some useful insights, just from being there in Munich.'

'Think so?' Coleman shrugged. 'I'll be glad to talk to them, Tom, but there were a lot of people a lot closer to what happened than me. Are you saying they didn't have any of their own people in the Village? They must have done. I heard the KGB was all over the place.'

'Well, I expect they did. But I guess they didn't have anybody out there who spoke Arabic. Or spent much time talking to the Arab teams.

It was only when somebody stopped by their table in the Sheraton's bar to say they were expected upstairs after lunch that Coleman began to wonder how Geohagen knew how he had spent his off-duty time in Munich, and it rather took the edge off his appetite.

After the meal, they adjourned for coffee to a suite on the third floor, where Geohagen introduced him to three men, who identified themselves as Bob, Nat and Herb, and then excused himself, saying he would see Coleman back in his office after they had finished. Nervous at first, but soon relaxing in their warmth and friendliness, Coleman told them about Andrei and tentatively identified him from a grainy ten by eight print that Herb produced from a file folder on his lap.

'You know who he is?' asked Coleman eagerly. 'Is he KGB?'

'It's not important,' Bob said. 'We keep tabs on all kinds of people. Can you tell us what you talked about?'

'Oh, Olympic-type things. You know, how it's good for East and West to get together, for people to exchange ideas, one to one, leaving politics out of it for a change. That sort of stuff.'

'You didn't talk politics? Not at all?'

'Well, depends what you mean by politics. Not cold war politics anyway. He asked me a lot of questions about what was going on here. Said he couldn't understand how people could be out of work or homeless or without proper medical attention and still be loyal Americans. He seemed to know a lot about black militant groups. Our 'dissidents' is what he called them.'

'Uh-huh. And how do you feel about 'em?'

'Me?'

Coleman spent 15 minutes defending his own political views before Bob finally turned to the subject of the Arabs he had talked to in Munich. And the same thing happened. After covering the ground, the three seemed to be at least as interested in examining Coleman's views on the Arab-Israeli question as the views expressed by the people he had met.

'Did you form any opinion about where the terrorists were from?' asked Nat, pouring him another cup of coffee.

'Well, I only know what I heard and saw on television,' Coleman said. 'But one of them sounded Libyan to me.'

'Libyan? Black September is a Palestinian group.'

'Yeah, I know. But King Idris took in hundreds of refugees from Palestine in the Fifties -- the guy could still have been a member of the PLO. Seemed to me I recognized the accent. I worked with two Palestinians in Libya when my father was out there.'

They appeared to know about that, too, and after a lengthy discussion of Middle East politics, went on to ask him about what he had told Hartmut Mayer, of the Munich police, and how he felt generally about the Germans, their security arrangements and their attitude towards the Israelis.

The questioning went on for more than two hours, and ended with another round of warm handshakes as they ushered him into a taxi for the ride back to Geohagen's office on K Street, North West.

'It had all been very friendly,' Coleman recalls, 'but I left feeling drained, as if I'd just sat through a really testing examination. But I also felt relieved from telling everything I knew to people I thought could do something about it, who could stop another Munich from happening. I guess I was still naive enough, going on twenty-nine, to believe in the fatherly image of the American government, as somehow all-protecting, all-knowing, and capable of fixing anything.'

By the time Coleman reached K Street, Geohagen had already heard from the octopus.

'They were very impressed,' he said. 'You know, Les, you really ought to consider working for those guys. You could have a big future there.'

'Well, thanks, Tom,' said Coleman. 'I'm flattered by their interest and I'm glad if I've been of help. But, like I say, I really am hooked on broadcasting. I want to see how far I can go.'

'Yeah, well, I told them that. But if you ever change your mind, Danny Graham says you're to go see him about it. Anytime.'
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:52 pm

Chapter 5

After his appearance with Tom Brokaw on NBC's 'Nightly News', Coleman went back to his cover job with the Boy Scouts of America, and in the following months the fate of Flight 103 slipped from his mind. Although he read about the case in the Chicago newspapers from time to time, he made no serious attempt to keep up with it, for he was still unaware of his connection with the disaster.

As is rarely true in murder inquiries, the identity of the killers, their motives, the method and approximate details of the weapon employed were known to agents of several governments from the start, but for various reasons, some political, some self-serving, this knowledge was not fully shared with the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary. Even so, such intelligence information as was made available ensured that within 72 hours, the Scottish police officers investigating by far the biggest mass murder in British history knew more or less who had done it and roughly how. From the start, the entire thrust of their efforts was to prove what they knew.

But odd things were happening at Lockerbie. Although the collection of forensic evidence was of paramount importance, it was hampered for two days while CIA agents, some dressed in Pan Am overalls, combed the countryside for the luggage of the dead American intelligence agents and a suitcase full of heroin. After a 48-hour search, assisted by units of the British Army, whatever they had found was flown out by helicopter, and in due course, one suitcase, emptied of its contents, was returned so that it could be 'found' again officially.

It belonged to Major Charles 'Tiny' McKee, an agent of the US Defense Intelligence Agency. It was severely damaged, possibly by an explosive device of the type sometimes fitted in luggage used by intelligence agents to destroy the contents before they fall into the wrong hands. As the search continued, documents relating to the American hostages held in Beirut were recovered, along with over $500,000 in cash and traveller's cheques.

When the CIA's presence was reported on Radio Forth by David Johnston, who later published Lockerbie: The Real Story, he was interviewed at length next day by police officers who finally threatened him with legal sanctions unless he identified his sources. This Johnston refused to do and, oddly, that was the end of the matter. No further action was taken, and he heard no more about it, perhaps because to have carried out the threat would have drawn more attention to his story than was actually shown at the time, in the chaotic aftermath of the disaster.

Odder still, and more serious, it was later reported that 59 bodies which had been found, tagged and certified dead by a police surgeon on 22 December, were left lying where they had fallen in open country around Lockerbie until 24 December, when they were retagged, removed and recertified dead. But by then, according to the police count, there were only 58 bodies. Somebody had either miscounted or one had gone missing. Also puzzling, the name-tag observed by a local farmer on a suitcase full of heroin before that, too, went missing did not correspond with any of the names on the passenger list.

Another witness involved in the search within hours of the crash has spoken of finding handguns on six of the bodies, presumably those of the agents on board. He also saw Americans throwing tarpaulins over bodies and suitcases so that they could examine them in private, and warning searchers to keep clear of certain sectors, his own team included.

With the Americans scrambling to cover their tracks, the Germans also made sure they were not left holding the bag. Although the BKA, like H.M. Customs and Excise, had collaborated fully with their American colleagues in supervising the leaky DEA/CIA pipeline through Frankfurt and London to the United States, a spokesman for the German Ministry of the Interior calmly stated on 29 December that there were no indications that the bomb had been put aboard Flight 103 in Frankfurt -- a position the BKA would maintain for almost a year, until finally persuaded it would not be saddled with the blame.

No one in the Anglo-American camp was ready to buy that. On the same day, 29 December, 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, who wanted to know if Jones had 'considered a bag switch at Frankfurt due to the large amount of Turkish workers'.

Asked to expand on this, Connelly said 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.

The next day, spokesmen for the British and American authorities followed up this thought by briefing the press in exactly opposite terms to those employed by the German authorities. On 31 December, The Times 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.

'The hunt for those responsible,' the story went on, 'is now centred in the West German city, where a Palestinian terrorist cell is known to have been operating for more than 18 months ... The Frankfurt terrorist cell is known to be part of Ahmed Jibril's hardline Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and to have carried out two bombing attacks on US military trains.'

The Times report added that Scottish police officers had flown to Frankfurt on 30 December in the hope of interviewing Dalkamoni and Ghadanfar, the two PFLP-GC members still in custody after the BKA raids on 26 October. They had been caught in possession of an explosive device 'similar to the one being blamed for the Lockerbie disaster'.

In the United States, a spokesman for the FBI went further and named Khalid Nazir Jafaar, a 21-year-old Lebanese-American citizen, as the possibly unwitting accomplice of the PFLP-GC.

His father, Nadir Jafaar, who owned a garage and other business interests in Detroit, said that his son had been visiting his grandfather in the Bekaa Valley and was on his way home for Christmas after spending a few days with Lebanese friends in Frankfurt. He feared that the terrorists might have used his son as a dupe and planted a bomb in his luggage. In any case, he intended to sue Pan Am for $50 million.

Commenting on the possibility that Jafaar's friends in Frankfurt might have tampered with or switched one of his bags, Neil Gallagher, of the FBI's counter-terrorist section, said: 'This is the type of relationship we are analysing as we look at the passenger manifest.'

If Lester Coleman in Chicago had heard or read about the FBl's suspicions then, ten days after Flight 103 had gone down, before the investigators stopped contradicting one another, and before politics intruded to distort or suppress their findings, the course of events might have taken a different turn.

Had he known that Khalid Jafaar, a DEA courier, had been aboard, and put two and two together, the Defense Intelligence Agency might well have reactivated him to take a hand in the game, as it had in the past when the DIA found itself embarrassed by the activities of TV evangelist Pat Robertson and Lt-Colonel Oliver North. In that event, Coleman might have had a role in cleaning up after the DEA rather than, in the end, being compelled to act as a witness against it. Even so, ten days after the disaster, the essential questions about the fate of Flight 103 had been answered; what remained was the burden of proof and the issue of contributory negligence.

The search for forensic evidence had gone well. On Christmas Eve, a foot-long piece of aluminum luggage pallet, scorch-marked by the explosion, was recovered, showing clear traces of the chemical constituents of Semtex-H plastic explosive. Further tests at the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) at Fort Halstead in Kent also established, from fragments of polystyrene and tiny pieces of circuit board trapped in the wreckage of the luggage container, that the explosive device had been housed in a black Toshiba radio-cassette recorder, a two-speaker version of the Toshiba Bombeat bomb found by the German BKA in Dalkamoni's car. Tests at RARDE on pieces of blast-damaged luggage also proved that the device had been packed in a copper-coloured Samsonite suitcase.

This was a remarkable piece of scientific detection, considering there were an estimated four million pieces of wreckage from Flight 103 strewn clear across the Scottish Lowlands into northern England, but it was virtually the end of that line of inquiry. Bits of the bomb, bits of the clothing that had been packed around it, and bits of the suitcase the bombers had used were the only hard evidence the searchers would ever find at the scene of the crime. And it would probably have been enough, other things being equal, but German suspicions that the Americans, aided by the British, were still trying to duck the responsibility for the DEA/CIA operation that had gone so terribly wrong, filtered down to the Scottish police at ground level as plain bloody-minded obstructionism.

On 28 March 1989, Detective Chief Superintendent John Orr took the Germans to task about it at a conference in the Lockerbie Incident Control Centre. The minutes of the meeting show that he reviewed the evidence pointing to Frankfurt as the airport where the bomb was placed aboard and went on to detail the 'evidential connections' between the disaster and the activities of the PFLP-GC in West Germany, demanding that the BKA release their full files on the October raids and arrests.

'There was, he suggested, a strong circumstantial link, and it was essential to find out all possible information. He stressed that he was not saying conclusively that these people did commit murder, but there is strong circumstantial evidence.'

Orr also reported progress in matching passengers with their baggage. 'However, if a "rogue" suitcase had been introduced into the system, and if the suitcase containing the bomb did not belong to a passenger, then further close examination of baggage-handlers and others would be carried out.'

Circumstantial or not, the evidence against Dalkamoni, Ghadanfar and other members of the PFLP-GC cell in Germany had been strong enough to lead Britain's transport minister, Paul Channon, to tell five prominent political journalists over lunch at the Garrick Club two weeks earlier that arrests were imminent. They were the result, he said, of 'the most brilliant piece of detective work in history'. As their conversation was off the record, the information was attributed in media reports next day to 'senior government sources' -- and was immediately attacked as prejudicial by all concerned.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, who, as Lord Advocate of Scotland, was in charge of the investigation, observed in the House of Lords that it was not likely to be assisted by such 'wild, irresponsible speculation'.

More directly to the point, 'Getting the bastards that did this is more important than taking credit for finding out who they are,' said an anonymous American 'intelligence source' quoted in The Sunday Times. 'It wasn't the Brits that found that out anyway,' he added, hinting at the inter-agency tensions that had bedevilled the inquiry from the start.

It was left to Pierre Salinger, chief foreign correspondent for the American ABC Network, to identify Channon as the background briefer. Trapped by then in a web of denials, the transport minister resigned shortly afterwards, but not, as it turned out, solely on account of his lunchtime indiscretions. He was probably also a casualty of an 'understanding' reached around this time between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President George Bush, although both subsequently denied any such agreement.

According to Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta in the Washington Post, 11 January 1990, the two leaders decided on the telephone in mid-March, 1989, to soft-pedal the Lockerbie investigation for several reasons.

One was so as not to prejudice negotiations aimed at securing the release of Western hostages in Beirut by arousing further animosity among the Syrian-backed or Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups who were holding them captive.

Another was that the shifting sands of Middle East politics now required the West to find some counterbalance in the region to the monster it had created in Saddam Hussein of Iraq -- and the best available candidate for the job was Hussein's sworn enemy, President Hafez Assad of Syria.

While it was unfortunate that Assad permitted Ahmed Jibril's PFLP-GC to operate openly from Damascus and although it was clear that he controlled events in eastern Lebanon, where the hostages were held, in the joint State Department/Foreign Office view, the West now had little choice but to treat Syria as an object for diplomacy rather than of police work.

A third reason, no doubt, for not pressing the inquiry too rigorously was to shield Anglo-American intelligence operations in the Middle East from further embarrassment. The Scottish police were getting uncomfortably close to uncovering evidence of the DEA/CIA pipeline and the 'controlled' deliveries of Syrian heroin to Detroit -- Monzer al-Kassar's price for using his influence with the Syrian leadership to help with the hostage problem.

Around the time of the Bush Thatcher telephone call, Pan Am's investigators picked up the trail of the Lockerbie heroin and followed it to Cyprus. On making inquiries of the DEA in Nicosia, they were bluntly warned off on grounds of national security, a cry heard with increasing frequency as the airline tried to prepare its defence against the liability suits.

Sheila Hershow's interest in the same drugs lead may also have played a part in her unpublicized suspension a week later from the job of chief investigator to the House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Government Activities and Transportation. Two weeks after that, on 6 April 1989, she was fired for being 'uncontrollable' and 'dangerous'.

Further indications that the politicians had taken over were provided later in the year by Cecil Parkinson, Channon's successor as transport minister. In September, in response to misgivings expressed by the families of the Flight 103 victims about the apparent lack of progress in the investigation, he promised to arrange for an independent judicial inquiry at which sensitive intelligence information could be taken in camera, provided no word of his promise leaked out to the news media. Three months later, the minister (now Lord Parkinson) was obliged to tell them that he had been unable to convince his colleagues that such an inquiry was necessary and that the government had decided against it.

As the magazine Private Eye observed:

'If, after a major tragedy, a secretary of state recommends a judicial inquiry into something which is his departmental responsibility, he is almost certain to get it. The exception would be if the colleague who resisted it was the prime minister.'

But why would she block an inquiry? The only possible answer is that she was advised against it by MI5. Can it be that senior officers there, like their counterparts in the US and West Germany, are anxious to draw a veil over the Lockerbie incident? None of them wants anyone to know how a bomb, of a type which the security services already knew about, came to be placed in a suitcase which, if the current theory is to be believed, traveled from Malta to Frankfurt, where it changed planes, and then from Frankfurt to Heathrow, where it changed planes again, without being identified.


It was a fair point. Added to the Thatcher-Bush accord on a low-key pursuit of the bombers and the consequent need for all the agencies concerned to meet on common ground, it serves to explain why the Lockerbie investigation stalled in mid-1989 and never really got going again, leaving John Orr and the Scottish police to spin their wheels in frustration. After the Thatcher-Bush accord, the emphasis of government policy changed, none too subtly, from catching the bombers, whose identities and whereabouts were known, to pinning the blame for the bombing entirely on Pan Am and the undeniable inadequacy of its security arrangements at Frankfurt.

In this, the US government had powerful allies, commanding everybody's sympathy. Relatives of the victims of Flight 103 had legitimate claims for compensation against Pan Am and its insurers, but under the Warsaw Convention of 1929, the airline's liability was limited to a maximum of $75,000 for each passenger unless the claimants could prove wilful misconduct on the part of the airline.

The enthusiasm with which American law firms undertook to represent the families on a contingency basis in order to prove just that, coupled with the unstinting help they received from the US government in support of their claims, ensured that, from then on, Pan Am would be pilloried at the bar of public opinion to a degree just short of what might have been expected if it had wilfully blown up its own aircraft.

Any attempt on the part of the airline, its lawyers and insurers to shift any part of the blame back to where they thought it belonged, on the government agencies whose operational deficiencies had let the terrorists through, was promptly denounced in the news media as a sleazy attempt to duck responsibility for the disaster and thereby to avoid having to foot the bill for the generous financial settlements to which the grieving families were clearly entitled. (Pan Am later offered $100,000 in compensation to each of the families but this was rejected.)

Surprisingly, perhaps, the most temperate comment came from Bert Ammerman, president of American Victims of Flight 103, representing many of the families claiming compensation. 'If what Pan Am is saying cannot be substantiated, then Pan Am is through,' he said. 'But if what Pan Am is saying is true, then we have the most major scandal in the history of government in the twentieth century.'

He was right on both counts.

What Pan Am was saying was that, good, bad or indifferent (and they were certainly bad), its security arrangements at Frankfurt were probably irrelevant. Intelligence information strongly suggested that the bomb suitcase had been put on the conveyor after the baggage for Flight 103 had been cleared through the airline's security checks.

Within days of the disaster, lawyers acting for the families were seeking to get around the Warsaw Convention's $75,000 limit by alleging that Pan Am had wilfully disregarded prior warnings of a terrorist attack. (To hedge their bets, they also served notice that they would file claims against the US government as well for failing to pass on the warnings.)

On 2 November, 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. On 17 November, this was followed up with another bulletin describing the bomb in detail and urging all airlines to be extra vigilant. The British Department of Transport underlined this with a warning of its own on 22 November and had a further detailed description of the bomb in preparation when it was overtaken by events.

On 5 December the American Embassy in Helsinki received an anonymous call about a plot to blow up a Pan Am aircraft flying from Frankfurt to the United States 'within the next two weeks'. On 7 December, the FAA advised all US air carriers of the threat, and the State Department circulated an unclassified warning to all its embassies.

This was taken particularly seriously in Moscow, where the entire American community was advised of the threat. Like the earlier alerts, the Helsinki warning was still in force when Flight 103 took off from Frankfurt on 21 December, and although it was later dismissed as a coincidental hoax, this was no consolation to the families of those who, unaware of the State Department's warning to its staff, had bought standby tickets for seats on Flight 103 vacated by American diplomats.

With the US, British and German governments prepared to stand pat on what they had done to alert everybody (except the traveling public) to the danger, attention then shifted from the weaker ground of Pan Am's wilful disregard of these warnings to the more promising ground of its wilful failure to observe the FAA's baggage-security requirements.

The first suggestion that the airline might be vulnerable to this line of attack had appeared in the New York Post only two days after the disaster. A report from Tel Aviv declared that an Israeli security firm had told Pan Am two years earlier that its security arrangements in Frankfurt and London were 'dangerously lax'.

This story was quickly followed by reports that baggage recovered from the wreckage could not be matched with any of the passengers aboard Flight 103. According to the Sunday Telegraph, 'The implications of this are causing investigators grave concern because police believe that matching luggage to victims is an essential first step towards tracing the bombers.'

It was Pan Am's concern over problems of baggage security that had led the airline in 1986 to commission a survey of its procedures from KPI Inc., the New York arm of an Israeli firm of consultants headed by Yossi Langotsky and Isaac Yeffet, former chief of security for El Al. Their 200-page confidential report was scathing. As copies began to turn up in newspaper offices around the world, lawyers for the families seized on it avidly.

'Pan Am is highly vulnerable to most forms of terrorist attack. The fact that no major disaster has occurred to date [1986] is merely providential,' was one of the more damaging conclusions.

Another was that Pan Am's security was in the hands of 'an organizational set-up which suffers from a lack of authority, and an alarmingly low level of training and instruction'.

And again: 'The striking discordance between the actual security level and the security as advertised by the corporation may sooner or later become a cause of harmful publicity. In the event of casualties or damage resulting from terrorist action, the question of fraudulent advertisement would assume even greater significance.'

And worst of all: 'There are no adequate safeguards under the presently operating security system that would prevent a passenger from boarding a plane with explosives on his person or in his baggage, whether or not he is aware of the fact.'

No matter how Pan Am protested after the report became public that changes had been made which 'satisfied both the security needs of Pan Am and the Federal Aviation Administration'; no matter that the co-author of the KPI Report, Isaac Yeffet, said after the Lockerbie disaster that Pan Am had been unlucky, in the sense that its security was neither better nor worse than that of other airlines -- Pan Am appeared now to stand before the world virtually self-condemned of wilful misconduct.

Certainly, any deliberate evasion of security regulations exposing passengers to unnecessary risk would have merited that charge. And certainly, there were security lapses by Pan Am at Frankfurt on 21 December 1988 that were probably unpardonable after the airline had been warned of the dangers of terrorist attack. Nevertheless, Pan Am's procedures were essentially the same as those followed by every other airline (but one) at every other airport in the world.

As the DEA, the BKA, H.M. Customs and Excise and any international drug trafficker like Monzer al-Kassar will acknowledge, if it is possible for suitcases to be lost or stolen in transit, it must also be possible for suitcases to be switched or added in transit. With the security systems operated by every airline in the world (but one), there is no finally effective way of preventing corrupt airport workers from putting an unchecked bag in with legitimate luggage for a flight to America or of preventing corrupt airport workers in the US from intercepting that bag on arrival -- and a bag smuggled aboard in this manner could as easily contain explosives as a shipment of heroin.

The only way to exclude, with reasonable certainty, the possibility of a bomb being placed on a passenger flight is to have the aircraft guarded around the clock, to hand-search everything that goes aboard, accompanied or not, and then to keep everything and everybody under continuous observation until the aircraft doors are closed for departure -- and even then, the risk of human error or corruption would remain.

Among airlines, only El Al does that, and because of the time it takes to hand-search every piece of baggage, passengers are required to check in at least three hours before departure.

If all airlines were obliged to do the same, airport terminals around the world would come to a standstill. At Frankfurt alone, about 60,000 pieces of luggage are fed through the airport's baggage-handling system every day. If they all had to be hand-searched, existing flight schedules would have to be abandoned, and international air traffic on its present scale would soon become impossible -- a level of disruption that terrorists would no doubt be delighted to achieve without risk or effort on their part.

Today, the danger of terrorist attack, like the danger of design faults, equipment failure, pilot error, traffic congestion, bad weather, metal fatigue, bird-ingestion and all the other acts of God and man against which it is impossible to legislate, is a risk every passenger takes in using so convenient, and so vulnerable, a service as air travel -- which is not to suggest that governments and airlines are under anything but the most solemn obligation to minimize those risks in every possible way.

In the case of Pan Am Flight 103, both government and carrier failed in their duty, but in the 'national interest' and for reasons of 'national security', the airline was left to carry the full burden of blame.

At the very least, this was a gross dereliction of responsibility. The destruction of Flight 103 was not simply an attack on a commercial airliner but a deliberate act of war against the United States, whose government was, and is, accountable for the safety of its citizens at home and abroad.

To expect an unsubsidized commercial airline to assume a government's role in defending its citizens against state-sponsored terrorism, as well as the more specific function of airport security in a host country, is unreasonable. The airline's duty is to provide a third line of defence against the known danger, and, however defective this may have been in Pan Am's case, it can hardly be blamed for defects in the first and second lines of defence. For the US and German governments to disown any responsibility for letting the terrorists through, and then to blame everything on Pan Am after their own agents had connived at bypassing an already inadequate third line of defence was unconscionable.

But once the findings of the KPI Report became known, anything Pan Am chose to say or do was dismissed as a cheap attempt to pass the buck. All that the lawyers for the victims' families needed to do in order to get around the provisions of the Warsaw Convention was to show that Pan Am had been warned of the risk of terrorist attack and had not done enough about it. Now, with every reason to suppose they could make the charge stick, a legal action 'proving' wilful misconduct on the part of the airline would also have the effect of absolving all three governments of their misconduct.

By the end of 1989, with the investigation effectively stalled for political reasons, with public opinion conditioned to accept that the mass murder of 270 airline passengers was Pan Am's fault, and with the BKA at last prepared to acquiesce in a joint cover story, the American, German and British co-sponsors of the 'controlled delivery' run from Lebanon to the United States could relax a little.

No one was likely to talk. Everyone connected with the operation had some degree of culpability or negligence to conceal, and no one could be required to testify while they remained in government service. As they approached the first anniversary of the disaster, the only really worrying loose end was Lester Coleman, the one man outside the loop who knew about the heroin pipeline at first hand, who had fallen out with the DEA on Cyprus, who was no friend to the CIA, and who had just been reactivated by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Operation Shakespeare.

Could he be trusted to keep his mouth shut?

He had chosen to involve himself with the Lockerbie disaster by appearing on network television to answer questions about it. And barely three months later, Pan Am's lawyers and investigators had arrived on Cyprus asking about a dope pipeline to the United States.

A coincidence? Or had Coleman gone off the reservation?

With the 'national interest' at stake, who could afford to take chances? It was a job for the octopus.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:55 pm

Chapter 6

Coleman's first assignment for the United States government was in 1982, when the CIA sent him to the Bahamas to interfere in the islands' elections.

By then, his love affair with broadcast journalism had reached the point of separation and divorce, but not without some purple patches along the way. Among the most memorable was his final year with the Boy Scouts of America, before he left it for the first time in 1974. Though increasingly disturbed by its paramilitary functions, he had no reservations about accompanying Norman Rockwell, Mr. America himself, on tour from sea to shining sea with his Boy Scout paintings, featuring Mom, Dad, apple pie and Old Glory.

Coleman's job was to act as a buffer between the grand old illustrator and his adoring female public and to arrange radio-TV coverage for the explosion of patriotic sentiment touched off by this travelling exhibition of Boy's Life magazine covers in cities across the nation. But he was still on the wrong side of the fence, and, as Walter Cronkite kept saying, 'If you want to be a network correspondent, you've got to get some experience first at a local TV station, pay your dues and move on up the ladder. You just can't start off at the top in New York.'

Taking the advice to heart, Coleman replied to all the likely want ads in Broadcasting magazine, tapped all the friends he had made in the media, and bombarded the industry with copies of his resume, finally reaping the reward for perseverance with the offer of a job as late night news anchor back home in Birmingham, Alabama, with WAPI-TV.

He lasted six months. It was not that he objected to being a one-man show, writing, editing and delivering the news, sport and weather; it was just that he grew tired of being stopped on the street and criticized for the necktie he had worn the night before. In radio, you didn't even have to wear a necktie. At the invitation of WSGN programme director Jan Jeffries, he moved on to become news director of Alabama's top radio station, with studios in the penthouse of the City Federal Savings & Loan Building, 'The Big Six Ten', where he lasted three years.

'There I was, free to cover stories I felt would have an impact [he says]. And a lot of them came through Aaron Kohn, director of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, who really got my juices going as an investigative reporter. Following through on leads I got from him, we aired reports linking the state attorney-general to New Orleans crime figures, and ran a whole series of in-depth probes into corruption and serious social issues. There were some unserious ones, too -- like the piece we ran on the wire-tap that Cornelia Wallace put on Governor George Wallace's bedroom phone. After I aired the story, he exiled her to Elba, Alabama, and called me up to say I was a nitwit shit, no bigger than a pinhead.'


Others held a higher opinion. Coleman was making a name for himself in investigative journalism. During his tenure, the station won the International Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television News Directors Association; the National Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service, and the National Headliner Award. But they earned him no laurels from management, despite Jeffries's enthusiasm. WSGN was one of six stations owned by Southern Broadcasting, a deeply conservative company that seemed sometimes to regard the weather forecast as a threat to the status quo. An invitation to join the Special Investigations Unit of WBZ-TV, Boston, in December 1978, probably arrived in the nick of time.

The move from 65th-market radio to 4th-market television was not only a significant leap upwards in his career but Coleman had been head-hunted on the strength of his growing national reputation to do what he liked to do most: non-deadline exposes of graft and corruption. He rented an expensive apartment in Concord, Massachusetts, just down the road from Walden Pond, and moved a somewhat reluctant Jocelyn up from Alabama with their two children -- Karen, now ten, and Guy, aged three.

But there are exposes and exposes. WBZ TV was part of the Westinghouse Broadcasting Network, and run with the same corporate zeal as Westinghouse displayed, wearing its defence contractor hat, in charging the Pentagon $9096 for Allen wrenches that cost 12 cents each in Handy Dan's. Coleman embarked on a six-month investigation of design faults and cost overruns in the supply of Boston's new mass-transit trolley cars by Boeing Vertol, a defence contractor, like Westinghouse, and better known as builders of military helicopters.

Coleman recalls:

'Any city that agreed to buy Boeing's product got an automatic grant from Nixon's Urban Mass Transit Administration. Didn't matter that the trolleys didn't work. Didn't matter they were dangerous, that their plane plastic interiors gave off toxic smoke if they caught fire -- any city that bought them still got its grant. So after digging around for six months, we went on air with a 35-minute report, lead story on the six o'clock 'Eyewitness News', exposing the whole thing. Big sensation. Media spin-off all around the country. The city of Boston sued Boeing and the federal government, and Westinghouse folded its Special Investigations Unit. I'd breached the Eleventh Commandment. Thou shalt not expose defence contractors.


Coleman won a New England Emmy for the programme, but it was time to move on -- to Washington now for a stripped-to-the-bone security vetting before joining the White House press corps as correspondent for the RKO Radio Network. On the face of it, Coleman was now within reach of everything he had ever dreamed of in broadcast journalism, but in fact running around after Jimmy Carter for two years turned out to be the most boring episode of his professional career.

'Reporters assigned to cover the President are not reporters at all [he insists]. They're hand-out takers -- told what to report, how to report it and when to report it. Break the rules and goodbye press pass. There's no room for enterprise at all. The whole White House press operation is geared to feeding the television networks, making sure that the evening newscasts have the proper 'spin'. The rest -- and there were 150 of us when I was there -- were more or less along for the ride.'

'Never mind what the Constitution says, the role of the American media is to inform the electorate of what the Administration wants it to hear in the way the White House wants it done. The press office manages the media the way you manage a spaniel, by leaking tid-bits to TV correspondents as a reward for stories that flatter the President and punishing them for stories that make the President look bad by shutting them out of the house. You get some rebels but they don't last. They can't, if they're shut out of background briefings. So most of the White House press corps just scamper around like puppies in pin-stripe suits, caught up in the ego trip of trotting along at the heels of the leader of the free world. Ask any honest reporter who's covered that beat -- it's a grueling, back-breaking bore.'


The nomadic life of a newsman had already cost Coleman his marriage. Jocelyn was tired of packing and unpacking and starting again somewhere else every two years. She wanted to settle down and raise her family, and he could not fault her for that.

'They say there are three things you can't keep if you want the job of White House correspondent -- and I wanted it: plants, pets and wives. Everybody I knew there was divorced. But it went deeper than that. Jocelyn and I had married too young and we'd grown apart, that was the truth of it. We woke up one morning and found we weren't the people we had been before. We both tried to keep things going, but it didn't work out. And that was mostly my fault. I still have deep scars and regrets about the way I conducted myself. It was the worst time of my life.'

Resigning after the 1980 election, Coleman went off to Connecticut to win another New England Emmy with WFSB TV, Hartford, and to write a book about the Mafia.

The Ethel Donaghue case made him an instant celebrity. Coleman's story of how a crooked probate judge had conspired with corporation counsel to bilk an old lady of $83 million by having her declared incompetent plucked at Connecticut's heartstrings, bringing him not only an Emmy but more criticism of his taste in neckties at supermarket check-outs and the friendship of FBI Agent Danny Mahan.

'Boy, have I got a subject for you,' Mahan said, when Coleman told him one night in their favourite bar that he wanted to write a book.

The subject's name was Richie Pedemonti, who had spent the last three of his 20 years in organized crime as an FBI informant. Refusing to go into the Federal witness protection programme after his cover was blown, Richie had fallen on hard times, made all the harder when his wife divorced him, unable to face life without a pink Cadillac and regular trips to Las Vegas. Although the FBI agents he had worked with had done their best to get him on his feet again, they were running out of ideas when Mahan took Pedemonti to meet Coleman at the Arch Street Tavern, behind the Bureau's Hartford office.

Fascinated by Richie's inside view of the mob scene, Coleman rented a small studio on Asylum Street and set to work on Squeal, a book anatomizing the mob's business interests in New England -- his collaborator, as often as not, sleeping on the studio floor. Even with a grant from the Fund for Investigative Reporting in Washington to match a small advance from the publishers, Spoonwood Press, their standard of living was austere, and Coleman was obliged to do some additional, part-time reporting for WCVB TV, Boston in order to keep the project afloat.

When his WFSB-TV source of income ran dry at the end of 1981 -- Coleman had gone after a businessman implicated in a Federal housing scam, not knowing that he was the station manager's neighbour, the collaboration seemed headed for the rocks, but then the CIA came to the rescue. In mid-December, Richie was summoned to a meeting on Long Island to discuss the Pizza Connection case, and, as he was unwilling to go alone, Coleman agreed to tag along.

Two weeks later, Coleman took a call at his studio from a government agent who declined to identify himself but proposed a chat and a drink at the airport Ramada Inn. Coleman recognized him at once by the drip-dry suit, white shirt and wing-tip shoes.

'Understand you guys could use a little cash,' the agent said affably, after they had settled in a quiet corner of the bar.

'Yeah, well, without it, I'd say posterity is going to be deprived of a literary masterpiece. What do I have to do?'

'How about a few days in the Bahamas?'

Coleman put down his drink. 'You're going to pay me to go down to the Bahamas? In January? Who do I have to kill?'

The agent chuckled politely. 'Guy we know down there just lost his wife from cancer. Nice lady. Name of Rose. Helped us for years. She was a real asset -- you know what I mean?'

'Okay.' That was when Coleman realized he was talking to the CIA. 'Sure. I know what you mean.'

'Fine. Well, she left a ton of papers and documents we need. And some people we know think you might be just the guy to help us out.'

'Yeah? How?'

'Soon as her husband gets the stuff together, we'd like for you to stop by their place and bring it out for us, that's all.'

'Well, I think I can handle that,' said Coleman cautiously. It seemed like a complicated way of dealing with a simple problem but he was broke and tired and not disposed to quarrel with the idea of a few days in the sun at the government's expense. 'Do I take Richie with me?'

'Hell, no. Not on your life. He's not to know anything about this.'

Rose's husband, now widower, turned out to be an American expatriate of about 30 years' standing, with business interests in the islands and a lovely old house across the street from the governor's mansion in Nassau. When Coleman stopped by, expecting to pick up a huge box of documents, he was handed a couple of rolls of film.

'Is that it?'

'That's it,' he said. 'That's what you came for. Have a nice trip.'

After ten days in Nassau, Coleman felt guilty about accepting the paper bag that the CIA agent offered him in exchange for the film when he arrived back in Hartford -- until he looked inside.

'What the hell's this?'

'That's two thousand dollars,' the agent said. 'In Italian lira.'

'What am I supposed to do with Italian lira?'

'You're supposed to take a run over to JFK and change 'em into dollars.'

'Oh. Okay. Tell me, you know a guy named Danny Graham? General Danny Graham?'

'Yeah,' the agent said cheerfully. 'I heard of General Graham.'

A few days later, he called to fix another date at the Ramada Inn.

'How'd you like to go down to Nassau again?' he said. 'There's something else we'd sure like you to do for us down there, if you got the time. And I guess you could still use the money.'

'That's a pretty good guess,' agreed Coleman, who somehow had to tide himself over for another month or two until he could finish the book. 'What do you want me to bring back this time? Robert Vesco's head?'

'Ha ha,' said the agent. 'No, this time, you'll take some stuff down for us. Including your typewriter. You can stay in the cottage behind Rose's house and work there.'

'Sounds good to me.' He was still broke, and more tired than ever 'What is it this stuff you want me to take?'

The agent smiled benevolently. 'You got a public relations background, right? Used to work for the Boy Scouts, I hear.'

'That's right. That was before I got to be a legitimate journalist.'

'Well, you're not a journalist now, are you?' He seemed worried suddenly. 'I mean, you're writing a book, but that's not the same, is it?'

'No, I guess not.' Coleman was unaware at the time that the American intelligence community was under orders not to use the media as a cover for its agents. 'It's kind of a longer range project.'

'Well, that's good. Because here's a situation where we think you can really help us, with your media experience. And I think you'll enjoy it.'

As he certainly enjoyed the Bahamas, and as his first mission had been harmless enough, Coleman agreed to go without even asking what was expected of him. The widower would fill him in when he got there, the agent said.

'And we're going to give you some alternative identification to use instead of your passport,' he added. 'You'll be in and out a couple of times, so we'll get you a birth certificate in another name. That's all you need for the Bahamas -- a birth certificate. So I want you to fill out one of these applications.'

He produced forms from three different states, and after some discussion they settled on one for Connecticut, as Coleman was more familiar with that state than with the other two.

'Should I use my own date of birth?' he asked.

'No, better not. This has got to be a whole new identity.'

'Well, I'm not too good with dates. If I can't remember my own birthday, that could be embarrassing.'

'Well, put down July the Fourth,' said the agent. 'You're not going to forget that one.'

He went away with the completed application form and came back in a couple of hours with a Connecticut birth certificate in the name of Thomas Leavy, born on the Fourth of July, 1948.

A few days later, Coleman set off on his first covert operation for the octopus, which was to discipline the prime minister and government of the Bahamas and remind them of their dependence on America's good will.

Lyndon O. Pindling had been framed in Washington's sights since offering sanctuary to the runaway financier Robert Vesco, and even before that had incurred American displeasure by consorting brazenly with money launderers and senior members of the Colombian cocaine cartels.

As the widower explained to Coleman on arrival, the CIA would feed them information on these associations and it was their job to use the dirt where it would do the most damage. He would see that it reached the ears of Pindling's political opponents, and in particular the Free National Movement, which could be counted on to make hay with it during the election campaign. Coleman's role was to use his public relations experience to get the maximum possible mileage from it in the Bahamian and mainland media.

Not having bargained on helping to run a dirty tricks campaign in somebody else's elections, and in any case feeling he had been suckered into it, Coleman hesitated for a day or two before finally persuading himself that Pindling was a rotten egg anyway and deserved all he had coming. Though scarcely aware of it at the time, he had crossed the line. It was easier, after Thomas Leavy's mission to Nassau, to accept that in the real world it was sometimes necessary to do good by stealth, and that it was all right for the United States to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries because everybody knew it was constitutionally committed to the greater good of the greatest number.

Upon his return to Hartford, Coleman changed another bagful of Italian lira at JFK airport, finished Squeal, and in 1983, after the book appeared in the stores, took a job as field producer with 'The Jack Anderson Show'.

As a legitimate journalist again, this put him out of reach of his new friends at the CIA, who were now calling periodically to see if he was ready to change his mind and work for the Company full-time. And there were moments when he wavered. The trivialization of broadcast news by the networks had made him uneasy about the future; the world was too complicated to deal with in picture opportunities and soundbites. Reporting in depth was what he wanted to do, and what he felt he was good at. The rest was just showbiz. Already he was looking back on his time at WBZ TV, Boston, as the good old days.

For a while, 'The Jack Anderson Show' gave him the scope he needed. Indeed, one story he worked on, in which he managed to get cameras inside a camp run by the Ku Klux Klan for training kids to be Klansmen, came close to his ideal of what investigative journalism was all about, but a few months later the show folded, yet another casualty in the trend towards news as entertainment. Faced with a choice between unemployment, WMAR TV -- a Baltimore station owned by the same company -- and the CIA, Coleman chose Baltimore.

It was a mistake. Determined not to repeat its experience with 'The Jack Anderson Show', management had made up its collective mind to spare viewers the agony of thought by censoring any provocative, or even serious, material from local newscasts. The station wanted a 50-second expose every night, and Coleman was free to do anything he liked in that spot, provided it had to do with sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll.

With a family to support (he and Jocelyn were separated but not yet divorced), Coleman tried his best and even met management half-way with an off-beat story about a local attorney, James B. McCloskey, who ran a quickie divorce business from his home at 301 Timonium Road, Timonium, Maryland.

Working with a partner, Fernando Cornielle, in Santo Domingo, McCloskey claimed he could get a divorce for anybody, even for those who didn't want to tell their spouses. It was not necessary to leave the country, and no court appearances were required. All petitioners had to do was sign a few papers, pay McCloskey his fee and bingo! Within a week, the decree would arrive by airmail, and, under the laws of the Dominican Republic, they were free to do it again.

His own best advertisement for the service, McCloskey had been married five times and would probably have gone on but for the fact that he was well past sixty and his last wife, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent, was busting his ass through the courts. Tough, gruff, feisty and profane, he was almost the last person anyone would have suspected of being a spy-catcher, recruiting officer and consultant to the US Defense Intelligence Agency. Coleman certainly didn't when he aired his story about McCloskey's mail-order divorces or for some time after they became friends. None of it showed behind McCloskey's amiable facade, and even if it had, Coleman, like most other Americans to this day, had never even heard of the DIA.

Often at a loose end at weekends, he took to stopping by McCloskey's place on Saturdays to pick him up for lunch at a local Mexican cafe. Over tacos and Dos Equis, Coleman would complain about the assholes who ran WMAR, McCloskey would listen sympathetically, although convinced Coleman was wasting his time anyway 'with all this bullshit news business', and divert him with stories about his ancestors.

One of these Coleman wrote up for the Baltimore magazine. According to McCloskey, his forebears had once owned the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia's Independence Hall and he was planning to sue the city to get his bell back. Before long, he had taken Coleman under his wing in much the same way as Tom Geohagen had appointed himself the younger man's mentor in the Boy Scouts.

'If you ever wanna do something meaningful with your life,' he said one day, after Coleman confided that his running battle with WMAR's management was likely to get him fired, 'all I gotta do is pick up that phone. I know a lotta people in D.C. who'd snap you up in a minute.

'Like who?'

'Never mind. When you're ready to give up this bullshit, just say the word.'

A week later, Coleman was declared surplus to WMAR's requirements, but he was still not ready to say the word. For one thing, to have abandoned journalism at that point would have left him feeling defenceless against the CIA, which for months had been pressing him to the point of harassment. He had even complained about it to Laurie Bernard, a TV producer in Washington whom he was dating at the time.

It was getting close to blackmail. 'Well, now, you know, you worked for us a couple of times, and you're a journalist and all -- I mean, how's that going to look if it gets out?' was the usual line. 'The media's not going to like that. On the other hand, you could have a secure future with us, with a pension at the end of it. And that's something you ought to consider very seriously. People in TV news don't get pensions. They get fired.'

In his late thirties, with a broken marriage and his career fizzling out, Coleman felt trapped in the wreckage. After several days of putting resumes together in McCloskey's office, of calling around the industry on McCloskey's telephone, and badgering his agent, David Crane, in San Francisco, for a network news opening overseas where he could do some serious work, Coleman touched bottom, one night in a waterfront bar and showed up next morning at McCloskey's place ready to throw in his hand.

Among his telephone messages was one from Crane, who had got him a freelance assignment with Cable News Network (CNN) in New York.

For six weeks, Coleman worked out of the new CNN bureau across from Penn station, running around town with a camera crew doing one or two pieces a day, covering the UN and interviewing notables, from Mayor Ed Koch to visiting Israeli Premier Shimon Peres -- and then lightning struck. Crane called to say that CBS had seen his work for CNN and had asked for a tape and his resume. Its foreign desk was thinking of adding another producer.

'This is it,' Coleman told McCloskey, exultant.

It wasn't.

He was kept dangling for several months while CBS News reorganized itself around Dan Rather and News Vice President Howard Stringer. Then at last, on 19 August 1984, Don DeCesare, the assistant foreign editor, called to ask Coleman if he was free to go to Saudi Arabia as an assistant producer with senior correspondent Tom Fenton to cover the Hadj, Islam's annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The contract would run for six weeks, and he would work on the story with Rome Bureau Chief Peter Schweitzer out of the Jeddah Hyatt hotel.

'Take it,' said David Crane. 'They want to see what you can do.'

Coleman needed little urging, although he already knew that one of the things he would have to do was to keep the Jewish chief of the Rome Bureau well away from Saudi officialdom. Then, as now, the country was a tightly run police state, a true kingdom, where the house of Saud literally owned the country and its citizens, and where arbitrary arrest was an automatic response to breaches of political or religious protocol.

'They gave me a CBS News ID [Coleman remembers] and the next evening I took an Air France flight to Paris, connecting four hours later with a flight to Jeddah. After nearly twenty years away from the Middle East, it felt like I was coming home at last. Then culture shock. On clearing customs and immigration, I stepped out of the terminal into the glaring heat to grab a cab, and there, strung over the four-lane highway, was a banner in Arabic which said, 'Please refrain from auto-racing'. Kids in Porsche 911s and Mercedes 350SLs, rich and bored, amused themselves by weaving in and out of the traffic at 100 miles an hour plus.'

'Otherwise, it could just as easily have been Tucson, Arizona. Riding over to the Hyatt, and talking to the driver to free off my rusty Arabic, we passed big American-style shopping malls, Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants -- even Taco Bell joints. The women, especially the young girls, were the only visible difference. With nothing to do but shop, they were in and out of the stores, cloaked from head to toe, soda straws sticking out from their veils as they sucked on their Slurpies, giggling, gossiping, buying designer jeans and Walkman stereos. I mean, what have we done to those people?'


Schweitzer was not particularly pleased to see him and let it be known up front that he was running the show. Although he had declared himself 'an agnostic' to the Saudi authorities, his evident unfamiliarity with the Arab world made Coleman even more nervous for he had realized within hours of his arrival that all foreigners were under close surveillance. With Islamic fervour at its height, he knew there would be hell to pay for the whole crew -- jail or worse -- if the Saudis were given even the slightest room to suppose that Schweitzer was an Israeli spy.

The security police were everywhere [says Coleman]. All interviews and shoots had to be cleared in advance -- there was no going out on our own, shooting pictures in the streets. Anybody caught doing that was put on the next plane out and had his cameras and gear confiscated.'

'My job was to go around to the Ministry of Communications every day with a box of tapes, sit down for hours on end and negotiate each shot. Every foot of video we wanted to up-link by satellite had to be previewed by Saudi censors. If they didn't like a shot of a Hadji shaving or pilgrims passing out in the heat, out it had to go. Anything sensitive, anything I knew we couldn't get by, we had to smuggle out in videotape machines, hoping Customs wouldn't look inside.


Due in large measure to his knowledge of Arab ways, the assignment passed off without incident and Coleman returned to New York confident that he had shown CBS what he could do and that a full-time contract offer would now be forthcoming. But, if anything, morale on West 57th Street was lower than when he had left. Don't hold your breath, was the best Don DeCesare could offer. 'Who knows?' he said. 'I may be selling aluminum siding in Bridgeport myself next month.'

Coleman went down to Baltimore to see McCloskey.

'Okay,' he said. 'Who are these people you're always talking about?'

Ironically, he heard some weeks later that he was under consideration for a producer's slot with the CBS correspondent in Amman, but by then Coleman had been visited by two young men wearing double-knit sports jackets and highly polished black shoes who asked a thousand questions and took notes and had him fill in the permission forms they produced from their identical grey briefcases so that the US Army could proceed with a full security vetting.

At thirty-nine, he had finally committed himself to joining the octopus as a secret agent of the armed forces of the United States -- and taken the first step on the road to exile.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:58 pm

Chapter 7

When President George Bush and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed on the telephone in March 1989, to keep the Flight 103 investigation within politically acceptable limits, the octopus was presented with a tricky problem of news management.

As the only official source of information about the disaster, as well as the only official source of information about government business in general, the American and British bureaucracies could count on the polite attention of every mainstream journalist, but the story had run for months and it was hardly possible to retract the tips, leaks, official statements and background briefings already given.

The consensus was that the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC had committed the atrocity for the Iranians; that the Libyans had probably had a hand in it by supplying the bomb components; that the individuals responsible had been identified, and that warrants could be expected at any time.

Undoing these now inconvenient views and expectations was not going to be easy, even without the continued meddling of congressional committees, boards of inquiry, lawyers for both sides in the compensation dispute and police officers still treating the case as a murder investigation. There was also the problem of what to do with the Germans, because there was no way of putting a suitable gloss on events without them.

At their baldest, the new policy requirements were that Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran should be eased out of the picture, leaving Libya solely to blame, but without seeming to deny or tamper with evidence already made public and without appearing to allow expediency a higher priority than the ruthless pursuit of justice.

Given the usually uncritical reception of 'official news' by the media, and the patriotic reluctance of most people to believe the worst of their own governments, this should have been possible, but the solution to the problem rested in the hands of those who had created it in the first place, and in the end the task was to prove beyond them.

The first requirement was to get the Germans to cooperate, and the only way to do that was to show that the bomb had gone aboard Flight 103 in Frankfurt due to circumstances beyond their control.

After Detective Chief Superintendent John Orr had taken them to task in March 1989, for dragging their feet, the BKA in April sent him the files on the PFLP-GC cell they had broken up some eight weeks before the disaster -- and by any reading, the circumstantial evidence against Dalkamoni, Ghadanfar and Khreesat was strong, not to say overwhelming. Although the first two remained in custody, charged with bombing American military trains in Germany, Khreesat and the other PFLP-GC suspects rounded up in the raids had, unaccountably, been released -- a decision which, on the face of it, might well have cost 270 lives.

A possible solution was to show that the bronze Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb had been fed into the system at some other airport, and that it was therefore a failure on Pan Am's part which had allowed it to go aboard Flight 103 in Frankfurt without an accompanying passenger. If this could be 'proved', then the German authorities would be no more to blame than the British at Heathrow, who had also allowed the bag to be transferred from one aircraft to another for the trans-Atlantic leg of the flight.

To make this version of events plausible, a few awkward facts had first to be smoothed over. There could be no suggestion, for instance, that Frankfurt was the European hub of a 'controlled delivery' pipeline for drugs in transit from the Middle East. There could be no suggestion that 'clean' suitcases, properly checked through, were routinely switched in the baggage-handling area with 'dirty' suitcases containing heroin en route to the United States. There could be no reports of 'suspicious activity' in the baggage-handling area before Flight 103 left Frankfurt on 21 December. Nor could there be any videotapes available from the security cameras in the baggage-handling area.

A good deal of embarrassing speculation had already been made public. On 30 July 1989, for instance, the Observer, in London, had published an 'exclusive' under the headline: 'Lockerbie: Turks "planted bomb."

Reviewing the results of a 'three-month inquiry' into the disaster, the report said the paper had

obtained specific information from a range of Middle East sources who have told us that Turkish nationals were brought into the plot to bomb the Pan Am Boeing 747 at the end of September last year ... Contact is said to have been made, on the instructions of a German-based Iranian diplomat, by a member of the PFLP-GC ...
According to our sources, five Turks were entrusted with the task of planting the bomb on the Pan Am plane ... One has been described as a 'young Turkish engineer' and it is this man who is said to have physically planted a suitcase containing the bomb inside a cargo container on the London-bound Boeing 727 ...

German officials who questioned airport workers after the bombing have refused either to support or dismiss this account. American intelligence agencies want to reexamine and trace all likely suspects, but they appear to have received little cooperation from the Germans. The 'engineer' allegedly left Germany for Beirut via Cyprus shortly after the bombing.


What was needed to divert attention away from Frankfurt into politically safer channels was some 'new' evidence, preferably linked to the hard forensic evidence that had already been established and which, by association, would lend credibility to it. And as the police officers engaged in the field investigation could not be counted upon to cooperate in a political fix, that evidence had to be 'found' in a plausible way, even at the cost of further inter-agency bickering.

On 17 August 1989, eight months after the disaster, Chief Detective Superintendent John Orr received from the BKA what was said to be a computer print-out of the baggage-loading list for Pan Am Flight 103A from Frankfurt to London on the afternoon of 21 December 1988. Attached to this were two internal reports, dated 2 February 1989, describing the inquiries that BKA officers had made about the baggage-handling system at the airport. Also provided were two worksheets, one typewritten, the other handwritten, that were said to have been prepared on 21 December by airport workers at key points on the conveyor-belt network.

In the margin of the computer print-out, a penciled cross drew particular attention to bag number B8849 -- that is the 8849th bag to be logged into the computerized system at Terminal B that day. By reference to the worksheets, B8849 could be shown to have arrived in Frankfurt by a scheduled Air Malta flight from Luqa airport and to have been 'interlined' through to Flight 103. But neither the Air Malta nor the Pan Am passenger lists showed anybody who had booked a through flight from Luqa to New York that day. In other words, bag B8849 had arrived from Malta unaccompanied but tagged for New York and had been loaded aboard Flight 103 without being matched with a passenger. And as the job of matching bags with passengers is the responsibility of the airline, not of the airport authorities or of the host government, Pan Am had plainly been guilty of lax security amounting to 'wilful misconduct'.

This tied in nicely with the forensic evidence, which had already shown that the bomb had been hidden in a Samsonite suitcase filled with an assortment of clothing made in Malta, including a baby's blue romper suit.

Less than three months after the disaster, in March 1989, two Scottish police officers had flown out to the island to interview the manufacturer of the romper suit but had drawn blank. At least 500 of them had been sold to babywear outlets all over Europe. To trace the purchaser of the suit that had been all but destroyed in the explosion was clearly impossible. Now, with the baggage records pointing to a suitcase originating in Malta, the field of search was dramatically narrowed.

Two weeks after the BKA released the Frankfurt baggage print-out, two of Detective Chief Superintendent John Orr's men returned to Malta and, with the help of the manufacturers, traced the clothing to a shop in Sliema.

As 'luck' would have it, the proprietors not only remembered selling the exact items which the forensic team had shown were used as packing around the bomb but remembered the date on which they had sold them, 23 November 1988, a month before the bombing; remembered the purchaser -- a Libyan, they thought -- and, ten months after the event, remembered what he looked like clearly enough to brief an FBI video-fit artist to produce an acceptable likeness to Abu Talb of the PFLP-GC, who was known to have visited Malta not long before the bombing.

Leaving the shopkeepers guarded around the clock by security men, the police officers returned home with their questions answered so neatly that in other circumstances they might have been forgiven for suspecting the witnesses had been coached.

Never mind that Air Malta, the Maltese police and the Maltese government categorically denied that any baggage, unaccompanied or otherwise, had been put aboard Air Malta flight KM180 to connect with Pan Am 103 in Frankfurt on 21 December 1988, and never mind that the airline's record-keeping showed this to be so -- as David Leppard of The Sunday Times pointed out later, if the fatal bag 'had been smuggled on to the flight unaccompanied, it must have bypassed Luqa's baggage control system. No one could blame the airline company for the criminal activities of a terrorist gang.'

He was not prepared to exercise the same understanding for Pan Am in Frankfurt, however. 'Under international airline rules, bags unaccompanied by passengers should never be allowed on to aircraft,' he wrote (erroneously) in The Sunday Times of 29 October 1989. 'The new evidence casts serious doubt on the theory that the bomb was placed on board in Frankfurt and carried by an unwitting passenger who died in the crash.'

Leppard did not address the possibility that the bomb might have 'bypassed' Pan Am's baggage-control system at Frankfurt in the same way as he suggested it might have bypassed Air Malta's at Luqa; nor did the Independent, in London, two days later.

'Police investigating the Lockerbie bombing,' the paper reported, 'have confirmed they are investigating whether the bomb was first placed aboard an airliner in Malta, and then transferred to the Pan Am flight even though it had no accompanying passenger.' The story went on to quote a spokesman for the BKA as saying 'there are clues that a suitcase from Malta may have played a part. There are also clues that someone from Libya -- or at least, someone with a Libyan accent -- may have bought the items.'

John Orr declined to comment.

With this sensational breakthrough in the case, everybody but Pan Am and its insurers were off the hook. If the world could be persuaded to buy this scenario, then the responsibility would be shifted from the Iranians and Syrians to the Libyans, to the obvious benefit of Western foreign policy, not least in its attempts to secure the release of Western hostages in the Middle East; the security and police forces of the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom would be seen to be blameless, and the families of the victims would have a clear shot at a clear target in seeking proper compensation for their loss.

But there were problems.

The weight of circumstantial evidence against the PFLP-GC unit in Germany was still impressive and not to be wished away. If the bomb had been built there by Marwan Khreesat and hidden in the copper-coloured Samsonite suitcase that he had brought with him from Damascus, how did it get into the hands of the Libyans in Malta?

And why? It was winter time, when flight delays and missed connections were commonplace. Was it likely that any well-organized, well-funded, seriously determined terrorist group, capable of building a sophisticated explosive device to blow up an American aircraft over the Atlantic, would choose to put it aboard the target flight by sending it, unaccompanied, in a suitcase that had first to be smuggled on to an Air Malta flight (which might have been delayed or diverted) to Frankfurt (where it might have been mislaid or misrouted), in the hope that Pan Am would fail to search it or match it with a passenger and forward it, unaccompanied, on a feeder flight (which might also have been delayed or diverted) to Heathrow (where again it might have been misplaced or misdirected), still in the hope that no one would notice or examine the suitcase before it was finally loaded aboard the third, and target, aircraft for the New York leg of the flight?

As this is still the official view, such a plan must surely represent the most conspicuous victory of optimism over elementary common sense in the annals of terrorism. On the face of it, the PFLP-GC would have been better advised to post their bomb to the United States as a registered air parcel.

More particularly, there were problems with the computer records and worksheets from Frankfurt. For one thing, they did not tally with Pan Am's own baggage records, which although questionable as to their accuracy, were at least compiled in good faith. To this day no one knows exactly how many pieces of luggage there were aboard the doomed flight or consequently whether they have all been recovered or accounted for. Nobody even knows exactly how many suitcases were in the luggage pallet that contained the one with the bomb -- it was 45 or 46 -- or how many of these were brought in by the feeder flight from Frankfurt. (The number was also thought to include not one but four unaccompanied bags.)

The BKA estimate that 'about' 135 bags were sent through to the baggage room below the departure gate of Flight 103A, some belonging to the 79 passengers whose journey ended in London and the rest to the 49 who were going on to New York. There were no records of luggage sent directly to the departure gate, nor of interline luggage taken directly from one aircraft to another, nor of bags belonging to first-class passengers.

Of the 49 passengers bound for New York and beyond, 28 began their journey in Frankfurt, and 21 transferred from other connecting flights. As with the other interline passengers who joined the flight in London, their luggage was X-rayed before it went aboard but no attempt was made to match baggage with passengers, even though it had already been established that the Semtex explosive in the PFLP-GC Toshiba radio bombs was virtually undetectable by X-ray examination alone. (Later on, it would emerge that the X-ray machine operator had been instructed to pull out any bag that appeared to contain a radio. According to his testimony, he X-rayed 13 bags but none contained anything resembling a Toshiba radio.)

Of the 135 bags mentioned by the BKA, 111 had been logged on the Frankfurt computer and about 24 taken directly to the aircraft from three other connecting Pan Am flights. The list compiled by Pan Am at its check-in desks, however, showed not 111 but 117 items of luggage, and the discrepancy has not been convincingly cleared up to this day.

Although the 'discovery' of an unaccompanied bag from Malta was seized upon as a breakthrough in the investigation, there were in fact 13 items of unaccompanied luggage on the flight. According to the minutes of the fourth international conference of police agencies called on 14 September 1989, to consider the new Libyan link with the bombing, this cast 'doubt on the total reliability of hand-written entries of the baggage handlers on the computer print-out,' which had indicated only one such item. Details of the Malta connections were discussed, 'and it was explained that the bomb need not have been brought on in Malta, but must at least have come from Frankfurt'.

Well, they said it. Given that the flight wreckage was picked over initially by the CIA, that the total number of bags loaded aboard is not known, that the remains of others may yet be found in the wilder reaches of the Kielder Forest and the Scottish border country, and that there is still no reliable manifest for Flight 103 listing all the passengers by name with their seat numbers and baggage -- given all this uncertainty, to suggest that the theory of a suicide bomber or of an unwitting 'mule' had been eliminated or that the baggage could not have been tampered with at Frankfurt or Heathrow or that the investigation had accounted for every piece of luggage on board and, except for the bag from Malta, matched every piece to a passenger is, to say the least, unpersuasive.

Indeed, the claims are almost as unconvincing as the provenance of the crucial computer listing itself.

If the new Malta/Libyan theory was to replace the established Iran/PFLP-GC scenario, it was necessary, first of all, to believe that no one thought to ask for the baggage-loading lists for Flight 103A as soon as terrorist action was suspected -- which was almost at once.

It was necessary to believe that no one in any of the British, German and American police, intelligence and accident inquiry agencies who had a hand in investigating the disaster, or anyone who was in any way involved with airport management or security at Frankfurt or London, thought to secure the baggage lists as the one indispensable tool that would be needed to unravel the mystery of how the bomb got aboard.

It was necessary to believe that the only person who considered the lists to be at all important was a lowly computer operator at Frankfurt airport.

The Observer's chief reporter, John Merritt, described how this came about in a story published almost two years after the disaster.

He wrote, on 17 November 1991:

A major breakthrough in the hunt for the Lockerbie bombers came to light only because of the quick thinking of a conscientious computer operator at Frankfurt airport.

The vital computer evidence, proving conclusively that the bag from Malta, identified as Item B8849, was on board as the airliner was blasted apart on the last stage of its journey from Heathrow to New York would have been lost forever if the woman operator had not kept her own record.

Acting on her own initiative, the woman, an employee of the Frankfurt Airport Company, who for legal reasons cannot be named, was working at the computer system known as KIK on the day of the disaster. She knew records relating to baggage loaded on to flights were kept in the system for only a limited time [eight days] before being wiped. So when she returned to work the next day she made her own print-out of the information and placed it in her locker before going on holiday.

On her return, weeks later, she was surprised to learn that no one had shown any interest in the computer records. She passed the print-out to her baggage section leader who gave it to investigators from the West German Bundeskriminalamt. But it was not until mid-August, eight months after the bombing, that the German authorities turned over this information to Scottish police in charge of the investigation.

The woman employee's role became known only last week when lawyers for families of the American victims took evidence from her in Germany. She had kept her own copy of the print-out and still had it in her locker.


The Observer's readiness to print this story contrasted sharply with its scepticism when Pan Am subpoenaed the CIA and five other US government agencies in the US District Court for 'all documents concerning warnings, tips, alerts and other communications as to plans by any person to place a bomb, make an assault or commit another form of terrorist attack at Frankfurt airport during November or December 1988'.

The request seemed reasonable enough, given that the airline and its insurers were facing damage lawsuits totaling some $7 billion, and possibly as much again in punitive damages, but it was instantly dismissed as a fishing expedition when it became known, five weeks after the subpoenas were served, that Pan Am was seeking through the courts to compel the US government to produce the documents necessary for its defence.

This step had been prompted by the now notorious Interfor Report commissioned by the airline from Juval Aviv, whose inquiries into the disaster had produced intelligence information that was sometimes more reliable than the conclusions he drew from it. When copies of the report were leaked to the press and to Congressman James Traficant, a member of the House Aviation Committee who was then seeking re-election, its findings captured media attention across the world.

'Pan Am Seeks to Prove U.S. Was Warned of Lockerbie Attack' -- The Independent, London.
'Syrian Arms Dealer Linked to Pan Am Lockerbie Disaster' -- The Daily Telegraph, London.
'Lockerbie: How the Bomb Slipped Through' -- Daily Mail, London.
'CIA Drugs-for-Hostages Deal Allowed Bomb on Pan Am Jet' -- The Times, London.
'CIA Accused of Link to Drug Runner in Lockerbie Attack' -- The Guardian, London.


In vain, Pan Am protested that it was embarrassed by the leak of its confidential report (which was certainly doing the airline's position no good at all) and, in vain, did its spokesman insist that: 'We are not supporting the findings, neither are we suggesting that they are nonsense. What we are trying to do is establish what is fact and what is fiction. That is why we asked for the subpoenas.'

No sooner had the furor died down than the Observer weighed in on 26 November with the results of a 'Special Investigation':

'Pan Am Lockerbie Report a Sham'
'How Lockerbie Bomb Story was Planted'.


In marked contrast to the sympathetic hearing the paper was later to give the story of how the computer baggage-list came to light in Frankfurt, its reporting team fastened on the Interfor Report and its author like piranha fish.

An investigator's report which claims that the CIA allowed terrorists to place the bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103 is today exposed as a sham, following an investigation by the Observer [it announced]. Pan Am's insurers commissioned the report from an Israeli intelligence expert based in New York. As a result of his findings, the airline issued subpoenas demanding information from the CIA and five other US intelligence agencies ... As the agencies will strenuously contest any attempt to force information from them, Pan Am will be able to argue it was prevented from presenting a complete case.

And why not? Why would the agencies 'strenuously' contest the subpoenas if their hands were clean and they could prove the airline was wrong?

Described as 'incredible', 'unbelievable' and 'bizarre', the Interfor Report was summarized in the context of interviews with Juval Aviv -- 'a chubby Donald Pleasance, wearing a grey suit and a Gucci watch' -- and Congressman Traficant -- a 'former sheriff, who was once accused by Federal tax inspectors of accepting $108,000 in bribes from organized crime figures.'

When the Observer team met with Aviv, 'he failed to provide any evidence to substantiate a single claim in his report.' And when Traficant was told that there were 'serious doubts about the report', he suggested the Observer might be working for the CIA. When pressed, Mr. Traficant said: "'You've come here a day late, a dime short and you're a piece of shit." The Observer made its excuses and left.'

In the Observer's summary, the Interfor Report claimed

... that an autonomous CIA unit based in Frankfurt, West Germany, struck a deal with a Syrian drugs dealer with terrorist connections [Monzer al-Kassar]. He was supposedly allowed to smuggle heroin into the United States in return for helping to negotiate the release of American hostages in Beirut. Knowing of his 'protected' route, the bombers used his network to place the device on board the plane. It also alleges that warnings that Flight 103 was the target of a terrorist attack were suppressed because they would have exposed the 'drugs-for-hostages' deal ...

On first reading, the report is a detailed and strictly factual account of a complex plot to strike back at the U.S. for the downing of an Iranian airliner over the Gulf in July 1988. Many of its facts are true, but they have no link with Lockerbie. Other details do not stand up to close examination. The report is riddled with errors.


The Observer team then itemized the errors they had found and the details which did not stand up to close examination.

1. The report claimed that al Kassar had rented a car in Paris and driven to Frankfurt with components of the bomb. On examining the records of the rental firm for the day in question, 'No car hired on that date clocked up sufficient mileage to have made the trip.'

2. The report claimed that 'Corea' was the code name for the drugs-for-hostages deal. 'But Corea actually refers to communications between members of Trevi, the group of European intelligence, customs and police forces set up to monitor "terrorism, revolution and violence".'

3. The report claimed that documents proving Pan Am's case were held in the safe of Kurt Rebmann, 'a West German equivalent of an assistant attorney general, based in Berlin'. This was denied by Mr. Rebmann, 'who is, in fact, a Federal prosecutor based in Karlsruhe'.

And that was it, apart from other unspecified 'facts' that appeared 'to have been cobbled together from newspaper cuttings, many of which have turned out to be wrong'. On the strength of these revelations, which seem little enough to warrant such a conclusion, the Interfor Report was never again to be referred to in the public prints, either in Britain or the United States, without being described as 'discredited' or 'a sham'.

Aviv may have failed to provide the Observer with any additional evidence to support his findings, but equally the Observer failed to provide any solid evidence to refute them, despite the obvious pains it had taken. It was also a little ungrateful of the paper to attack him so vigorously, for in his preamble to the report, Aviv had spoken of crossing the trail of several other private investigations into the Flight 103 disaster, notably those of the Observer and The Sunday Times but 'only the Observer', he wrote, 'seems to continue trying to identify how the act was done and by whom.'

The Sunday Times was less dismissive of Aviv's work, although its reporter, David Leppard, agreed that 'the report at first appears so fantastic as to be ridiculous. Almost all the agencies involved have denied it. The CIA called it "nonsense"; one intelligence source said it was "fantasy". But the report, however bizarre, does contain remarkable detail, including names, dates, times of meetings, telephone and bank account numbers.'

The Interfor Report was commissioned by James M. Shaughnessy, of the New York law firm, Windels, Marx, Davies & Ives, who was acting for Pan Am as lead counsel in its defence of the liability suit. The report was an internal document, summarizing mostly unverifiable intelligence data collected in the field, designed to open up lines of inquiry that might lead to the discovery of evidence admissible in court, which the report self-evidently was not. Aviv began work in the spring of 1989 and when his findings were submitted to Shaughnessy on 15 September they provided the basis for the subpoenas served shortly afterwards on the CIA, the DEA and other government agencies.

The leakage of the report to Congressman Traficant and the press some six weeks later was a severe setback for Pan Am's legal team -- indeed, the embarrassment it caused was so acute that conspiracy buffs might well have suspected the U.S. Justice Department itself of leaking the report. A U.S. magistrate thought otherwise, however. Amid a blizzard of media speculation, an evidentiary hearing was ordered, at which John Merritt of the Observer was questioned, and, after hearing the testimony, the magistrate concluded that Aviv's denial of having leaked the report was 'not credible'.

After defining its terms of reference -- which had nothing to do with exculpating Pan Am, as was widely suggested even by those who had read them, but was 'to determine the facts and then to identify the sources, nature, extent, form and quality of available evidence' -- the report reviewed the results of the official investigation to date and the theories then current as to who was responsible ... Then followed a review and assessment of the anonymous intelligence sources who had contributed to Aviv's findings, rated on a scale of reliability from 'good' to 'excellent'. In some cases, their anonymity was barely skin-deep. 'Source 5', for example, rated 'excellent', was described as 'an experienced director of airport security for the most security-conscious airline'.

Next came a 'Background History' to the disaster, starting two years beforehand, in which the politics and principal players were put in context. Libya's leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, 'a major funder of terrorism', was said to have demanded better coordination among terrorist groups, and better 'deniability' for himself, with the result that the Abu Nidal group took over drugs and arms smuggling while Ahmed Jibril's PFLP-GC, backed by Syrian intelligence as its 'front team', concentrated on arms and terrorism.

Nidal's partner was Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian arms and drugs smuggler, married to Raghda Dubah, sister of Ali Issa Dubah, then chief of Syrian intelligence, and a close associate of Rifat Assad, Syrian overlord of the Lebanese heroin industry and brother of Syria's President Hafez Assad. Al-Kassar's mistresses in Paris included Raja al-Assad, Rifat Assad's daughter, and a former Miss Lebanon who had previously been married to two prominent terrorists -- most recently to a friend of Nidal's, Abu Abbas, who had planned the Achille Lauro hijacking.

Al-Kassar had many passports and identities, which Aviv listed in his report by serial number and date and place of issue, and operated through cover companies and offices, also listed by address and phone numbers, in Tripoli, Warsaw and Berlin. One of the principal drugs/arms smuggling routes ran through Frankfurt, with Pan Am being the favoured carrier. Tipped about what was going on, 'reportedly by a jealous Jibril', the BKA, in cooperation with the CIA and the DEA, began to monitor the operation and infiltrated 'at least two agents as well as informers, one of whom was Marwan Khreesat', the PFLP-GC's ace bomb-builder.

Aviv's Interfor Report went on:

The Pan Am Frankfurt smuggling operation worked as follows: an accomplice boarded flights with checked luggage containing innocent items. An accomplice Turkish baggage handler for Pan Am was tipped to identify the suitcase, then switched it with an identical piece holding contraband which he had brought into the airport or otherwise received there from another accomplice. The passenger accomplice then picked up the baggage on arrival. It is not known how this method passed through arrival customs, where such existed, but this route and method worked steadily and smoothly for a long time ...

Khalid Jafaar was a regular 'passenger' accomplice for the drug route.


The BKA/DEA/CIA surveillance continued to monitor the route without interfering with it, according to the report, and by visibly increasing the police presence in other locations, the team sought to focus drug smuggling through Pan Am's baggage area at Frankfurt. The reason for this was mainly convenience, as it was already under close watch by the CIA because of cargo shipments via Pan Am to and from the Eastern bloc through Frankfurt, Berlin and Moscow.

In Aviv's opinion, the CIA team concerned with this operation was not closely supervised. 'It appears that it eventually operated to some, or a large, extent as an internal covert operation without consistent oversight, a la Oliver North ... To distinguish what it knew as opposed to what CIA HQ definitely knew, we refer to that unit as CIA-1.'

In March 1988, the report went on, the CIA team was advised by the BKA of a secret meeting in Vienna between delegations from France and Iran that led to the delivery of weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of French hostages held in Lebanon. Having identified Monzer al-Kassar as a key player in the deal, BKA/CIA-1 approached him to see if he could also help arrange the release of American hostages in return for their protection of his drug routes.

According to Aviv, al-Kassar not only agreed to this but helped the CIA 'in sending weapons ostensibly to Iran ... supposedly to further the US hostage release', and also used his arms routes to supply weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua, sometimes financing the shipments out of his drug profits. For these and other services, he was designated a CIA 'capability', which meant that he and his business activities were then virtually immune from interference.

'It is believed that US Customs at JFK were ordered by CIA to allow certain baggage to pass uninspected due to national security interests. Thus the drug-smuggling operation was now secure.'

That was in the summer of 1988, at about the same time as a special team of counter-terrorist agents led by Matthew Kevin Gannon, the CIA's deputy station chief in Beirut, and Major Charles Dennis McKee, of the Defense Intelligence Agency, left for Beirut 'to reconnoitre and prepare for a possible hostage rescue'.

Against this background, Aviv now set out the sequence of events leading up to the bombing of Flight 103 as described by his sources.

On 13 December 1988, Jibril met with Khalid Jafaar and a Libyan bomb-maker known as 'the Professor' in Bonn -- 'sources speculate that Jafaar was offered money to make a private drug run to raise money "for the cause".' The 'passenger accomplice' was now lined up. But the BKA's raids on the PFLP-GC cell in late October had made it necessary for another bomb to be brought in, and Aviv asserts that al Kassar took care of this personally.

'His brother Ghassan's wife, Nabile Wehbe, traveling on a South Yemen diplomatic passport, flew from Damascus to Sofia on 13 November 1988, picked up the bomb components from [Ali] Racep and then flew to Paris. Al-Kassar picked up the bomb from her, and on 25 November 1988, rented a car from Chafic Rent-a-Car, 46 Rue Pierre Charron in Paris and drove to Frankfurt (carrying other contraband as well). He had previously been arrested twice by West German border guards but each time was suddenly released after a telephone call was made. Sources speculate that he apparently felt secure because he had "protection".' (The Observer, which later discovered that Chafic had no record of any such rental transaction, also managed to reach al-Kassar by telephone in Syria. Not unnaturally, he insisted he had been somewhere else at the time.)

Aviv's report went on to list the warnings that began to come in from the beginning of December 1988.

The first, from a Mossad agent about three weeks before the disaster, was to the effect that a major terrorist attack was planned at Frankfurt airport against an American-flag carrier. This warning was passed to CIA HQ and BKA HQ. The local CIA team is said to have suggested that the BKA visibly secure all the American carriers except Pan Am so that the threat, if it was genuine, would be focused on an airline and airport area already under close surveillance.

The second warning, on or just before 18 December, came from associates of Nidal and al-Kassar, who wanted to save their protected drug route without seeming to lack zeal in the cause of militant Islam.

Having figured out the most likely flights for Jibril's bomb ... they tipped BKA that a bomb would be placed on this regular Pan Am Frankfurt-London-New York flight in the next three days. They figured that BKA would increase visible security, thus dissuading Jibril in case that was in fact his target. So, two to three days before the disaster, and unwittingly, these terrorists tipped off the authorities to what proved to be the very act.'

The third warning, a follow-up of the second, was issued by CIA HQ, 'which sent warnings to various embassies, etc., but not apparently to Pan Am. CIA-1 thought that BKA surveillance would pick up the action and that BKA would stop the act in case the tip was correct.

Meanwhile, al-Kassar had learned that the Gannon-McKee official hostage team in Beirut had found out about his relationship with the CIA unit in Germany and his protected drugs/arms smuggling route through Frankfurt. According to Aviv, the official team had advised CIA HQ of what was going on and when no action was taken to put a stop to it, Gannon and McKee decided to return home, outraged that their lives and rescue mission should have been put at risk by CIA-1's deal with al-Kassar.

'Al Kassar contacted his CIA-1 handlers sometime in the third week of December,' the Interfor Report went on, 'communicated the latest news and travel information and asked for help. There were numerous communications between CIA-1 and its Control (in Washington).'

The fourth warning came two or three days before the disaster. A BKA undercover agent reported a plan to bomb a Pan Am flight 'in the next few days' and the tip was passed on to the local CIA team. Though anxious not 'to blow its surveillance operation and undercover penetration or to risk the al-Kassar hostage release operation', the warning was passed on and the State Department advised its embassies. As a result, BKA security was tightened even further around all the American carriers operating out of Frankfurt except Pan Am. Observing this, Jibril scratched American Airlines as his preferred target and finally selected Pan Am.

'We do not know exactly when this decision was made,' wrote Aviv, 'but the dates point to two or three days before the flight ... Jibril, through an intermediary, activated the Jafaar /Turkish baggage-handler connection via Pan Am. For the Turk and Jafaar, this was another normal drug run. Jafaar does not profile as a suicidal martyr type.'

The fifth warning, from an undercover Mossad agent 24 hours before take-off, was of a plan to put a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December. BKA passed this to CIA-1 who reported it to Control.

'The bomb was ready,' Aviv's report went on. 'Within 24-48 hours before the flight, a black Mercedes had parked in the airport lot and the Turkish baggage-handler picked up a suitcase from that auto and took it into the airport and placed it in the employee locker area. This was his usual practice with drugs.'

The sixth warning came from a BKA surveillance agent watching the Pan Am baggage loading about an hour before take-off on 21 December. According to Aviv's sources, he 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. He, like the other BKA agents on the scene, had been extra alert due to all the bomb tips ... He phoned in a report as to what he had seen, saying something was very wrong.

BKA passed that information to CIA-1. It reported to its Control. Control replied: 'Don't worry about it. Don't stop it. Let it go.'
CIA-1 issued no instructions to BKA.

BKA did nothing.

The BKA was then covertly videotaping that area on that day. A videotape was made. It shows the perpetrator in the act. It was held by BKA. A copy was made and given to CIA-1. The BKA tape has been 'lost'. However, the copy exists at CIA-1 Control in the U.S.

Jafaar boarded the flight after checking one piece of luggage. The suitcase first emerged from hiding and was placed on the luggage cart in substitution for Jafaar's only after all the checked suitcases had already passed through security. The suitcase was so switched by the Turkish Pan Am baggage loader ...

The special, designated communications codename which BKA/CIA-1 had set up for their operations as described above is known at CIA HQ as 'COREA'. All communications concerning the surveillance operation and as described above as between or among BKNCIA-1 and CIA-1 Control were made via COREA. Thus all documents concerning all communications described above ought to be marked at the top COREA.

This completes the recitation of intelligence as to the act.


After listing other possibly useful details, such as the banks and account numbers used by al-Kassar, President Hafez Assad, Abu Abbas and Ali Issa Dubah to deposit their drug revenues in Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Beirut and Damascus, the Interfor Report declared

... it is our firm conclusion and opinion that our sources are correct as to why, how, where, when, by whom and what act was committed, and who had what prior warnings and when and what they did about it ...

From the perspective of intelligence analysis, our findings are conclusive. From the perspective of journalists, it is publishable speculation. From the perspective of trial lawyers, it probably remains inadmissible speculation or hearsay. Fortunately, the intelligence provides leads to admissible evidence. The videotape is the gem. But all the evidence is guarded by formidable constraints. Only carefully planned and tenaciously and narrowly pursued efforts will make acquisition possible.


The remaining six pages of the report consisted of Interfor's practical recommendations as to how Shaughnessy should proceed in seeking to obtain that evidence, including the issue of discovery subpoenas.

In the light of affidavits sworn to later by Lester Coleman and many other witnesses and investigators, the Interfor Report -- a confidential document never intended for public consumption -- can be challenged more for errors of interpretation than errors of fact (although there were probably more of the latter than the Observer was able to find).

Lester Coleman believes that, by grouping the CIA agents in Germany together under the designation of CIA-1, Aviv endowed them with a collective, conspiratorial purpose which almost certainly did not exist, and that he entirely omitted the contribution to the Flight 103 disaster of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and its country office in Cyprus.

With the sinister expansion of 'narco-terrorism' everywhere in the world during the 1970s and 1980s, the work of the two agencies overseas had become ever more closely entwined, with the CIA emerging as the senior partner in view of its superior resources, its loftier purpose and its greater freedom of covert action. As often as not, the requirements of narcotics law enforcement were subordinate to those of foreign policy and national security, as defined in Washington but reinterpreted by the octopus in the light of changing local circumstances.

In Coleman's view, the Lockerbie disaster was not the consequence of a malign conspiracy by a rogue CIA team in Germany -- as many assumed Aviv was saying from a careless reading of the Interfor Report -- but the result of misguided decisions and misplaced confidence in their own abilities on the part of a loose alliance of U.S. government agents in the field, often working with different agendas and priorities, and always without adequate supervision, on an ad hoc, day-to-day basis.

It was only after the event, in his opinion, that Washington engaged in a deliberate conspiracy, and that was to avoid the potentially disastrous political fall-out from Lockerbie by covering up the incompetence, complacency and bravado that had let the terrorists through.

Aviv was also perhaps confused by his sources' reference to COREA, a matter the Observer seized upon in its attack on the Interfor Report. COREA may well have referred to communications within the Trevi group, as the paper suggested, but as Coleman pointed out later, it could also have been a mishearing of khouriah, a Lebanese slang word for 'shit', which is, in turn, the international slang word for heroin.

With the media only too happy to savage Aviv's report as a device to allow Pan Am to escape its obligations, the government was under no necessity to descend into the arena and battle it out line by line.

'Garbage,' said the CIA.

'Rubbish,' said British intelligence.

'We never received any credible threat against Flight 103 on 21 December or any other date,' said the State Department, diplomatically hedging its bets with the weasel word 'credible'.

With the report made public, Juval Aviv's usefulness to Pan Am as an investigator was virtually at an end, a consequence he might have foreseen if he had, indeed, leaked it to the press. In an attempt to flesh out its findings with hard evidence, he met Shaughnessy with a polygrapher, James Keefe, in Frankfurt in January 1990, and interviewed the three Pan Am baggage-handlers who, on 21 December 1988, were thought to have been in a position to put the suitcase bomb aboard Flight 103.

They were Kilin Caslan Tuzcu, a German national of Turkish origin, who had been in charge of incoming baggage; Roland O'Neill, a German who had taken his American wife's maiden name, and was load master for the flight, and Gregory Grissom. All three voluntarily submitted to polygraph examinations.

Tuzcu was tested three times, O'Neill and Grissom twice. On reporting the results to the Scottish police, Shaughnessy was asked to sign a statement about the tests in the presence of an FBI agent, and readily agreed. The only visible result, however, was that, upon his return to the United States, James Keefe, the polygrapher, was served with a subpoena at Kennedy airport to appear before a Federal grand jury in Washington.

When he did so, he testified that Tuzcu 'was not truthful when he said he did not switch the suitcases'. And in Keefe's opinion, 'Roland O'Neill wasn't truthful when he stated he did not see the suitcase being switched, and when he stated that he did not know what was in the switched suitcase.' He thought the Grissom results were inconclusive.

A second polygrapher brought in by Shaughnessy to review Keefe's findings agreed with his interpretation of Tuzcu's and Grissom's tests but found those on O'Neill inconclusive. (Grissom was later eliminated from Pan Am's inquiries when it was shown he had been out on the tarmac at the time.)

The interest displayed by the FBI in the fact of Pan Am's polygraph tests rather than in the results was not shared by the British authorities, however. Convinced that the Scottish police would wish to interview Tuzcu and O'Neill on the strength of this lead, the airline found a pretext to send them to London so that they could be questioned and, if necessary, detained, but nobody seemed in the least bit interested. After hanging around all day, they returned to Frankfurt that night. (Intelligence sources suggested later that O'Neill was an undercover BKA agent, which, if true, might account for the lack of British and American interest. Otherwise, it must be assumed that the British investigators were as committed as the Americans to the politically more convenient theory that the bomb had arrived unaccompanied from Malta.)

Predictably, the results of the polygraph tests were leaked to the press, and just as predictably, on 28 January, the Observer heaped scorn on the airline's initiative: 'Both the timing of the pair's interrogation [by polygraph] and the circumstances surrounding it have refueled suspicions about Pan Am methods in defending the lawsuit brought by relatives of the 270 people who died when Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie.'

Unable to resist having another tilt at the Interfor Report, which was exposed as a sham by the Observer two months ago, the paper went on to say that the report 'weaves a fantastical tale around the assertion that the CIA, operating a drugs-for-hostages deal through Frankfurt airport, allowed the bomb to proceed, thus overriding or corrupting the airline's own security controls'.

Whether that was a fair statement of Juval Aviv's position or not -- he still believes that Tuzcu and O'Neill are prime suspects in the mass murder -- it was certainly typical of the prevailing view that Pan Am was indulging in spy-fiction fantasy to pervert the course of justice.

But in the scale of probabilities, was it any more likely that the management and staff of a major international airline, its insurance underwriters and the best legal brains that money could buy would seek to evade the legitimate claims of the victims' families and counter the determination of three governments to pin all the blame on Pan Am by inventing a fairy tale?

Is it any more fantastic than Aviv's report to think that they would hire, not just Aviv, but a small army of investigators to run around the world looking for some shred of happenstance to clothe that invention?

Or that they would persevere with it for years in the face of almost universal condemnation and ridicule and at a cost of millions of dollars in the hope that one day they would find someone like Lester Coleman, who might transmute some of that fantasy into fact?
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut To Lockerbie

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:01 pm

Chapter 8

The octopus had had him in its sights for so long that the security vetting should have been a formality, but a month went by without a word. And that was the first thing Coleman learned about the Defense Intelligence Agency: it never knowingly took chances. It would sooner not employ him than take an unnecessary risk, said McCloskey. He had known them junk a whole operation that had taken hundreds of people months to put together just because there was an outside chance that if anything went wrong the DIA might break cover.

McCloskey was unperturbed by the delay. This wasn't the CIA, he said. The CIA was a showboat civilian agency. These were the professionals, the military, the combined intelligence arms of the United States Army, the United States Navy and the United States Air Force. Together, they formed the largest and most discreet intelligence agency in the world; 57,000 people operating out of Arlington Hall, Virginia, and Bolling Airforce Base, Washington, D.C., on a budget five times bigger than the CIA's. No restrictions, no oversight -- and nobody even heard of it. Why? Because it didn't make mistakes. And because the director reported to the joint chiefs of staff, who didn't tell anybody anything they didn't have to know. And that included the Secretary of Defense.

But wasn't that dangerous? asked Coleman. To have a covert agency that big and powerful, and not directly accountable to anyone? Not even to the President of the United States? Their commander in chief?

The White House leaked like a colander, McCloskey said. It was full of politicians, and politicians came and went. Same thing with Congress. The military had never trusted politicians. It didn't trust civilians. Period. The military was America's backbone, its power and its honor. It didn't take sides. It didn't have to make promises it couldn't keep or gamble with the national interest to get elected. You could count on the military to see things straight, to see things through and to do things right. The DIA was only dangerous to the nation's enemies.

But where did the CIA fit in? And the National Security Agency? Didn't the DIA have to share these responsibilities?

The National Security Agency took care of the electronic and satellite stuff, McCloskey replied. And all that was filtered through the DIA before it went to Langley. The NSA did an important, technical job. As for the CIA, its main use as far as the military was concerned was as cover, as a front operation. While Congress, the media and the whole world watched the CIA, America's real spy shop could get on with its work the way it was supposed to -- in secret. Everybody knew about the CIA. It was good for a scandal a year at least because it leaked from top to bottom. It was a public agency, pinned down by White House directives and Congressional committees. Its director was a public figure. Everybody knew about William Colby, Richard Helms, George Bush, William Casey, William Webster, Robert Gates -- but who even knew the name of the DIA director?

'Not me,' said Coleman.

'Damn right,' said McCloskey. 'Not that I guess you'll ever get to meet him anyhow. Or even see the inside of Arlington Hall, come to that. The only DIA personnel you're ever likely to meet will be your handler and maybe a couple of agents you'll work with. (And he was right. It was only after the DIA froze him out that Coleman finally learned that the name of his boss, the agency's director of operations, was Lt. General James Kappler.)

A week before Thanksgiving 1984, a call came in on McCloskey's private line instructing Coleman to drive out to Washington's Dulles international airport and stand beside a potted palm near the United Airlines ticket counter, where he would be contacted at 11:15 a.m. precisely.

Coleman thought it was McCloskey playing a joke. He started to ask if he should wear a red carnation in his buttonhole or a false nose or something but the caller hung up.

At 11:15 a.m. precisely, he took up position by the potted palm and waited to see if he could spot his contact before his contact spotted him. It was a tie. He advanced to meet the first young man he saw with a grey briefcase, they shook hands cordially, and descended by escalator to street level, where his escort hailed a cab.

On arriving at the airport Ramada Inn, they took the lift to the fifth floor, walked back down the stairs to the third floor and along the hall to a room towards the end. After knocking on the door, his escort unlocked it himself and ushered Coleman inside.

"Sitting by the window (he remembers), was a thin fellow in his shirt-sleeves, about my age, a bit taller than me, same color hair as mine, a beard, too, who gets up and introduces himself.

'Hey, buddy,' he says. 'How are you? Glad you could make it. My name's Bill Donleavy.'

Before I could say anything he flips on the room TV, I guess to mask our conversation, and again I have to smile because this is straight out of John Le Carre. Anyway, Donleavy is to be my Control, my principal contact with the DIA for the next five years."


A quiet, careful, calculating man, Donleavy would quickly earn Coleman's trust and respect, in large measure because Coleman never caught him out in a lie but also because he always felt that Donleavy really cared, that he was genuinely concerned about Coleman's personal safety and the welfare of his family. But it was soon clear also that while Donleavy had to know everything about him, he was to know next to nothing about Donleavy.

Over the five years of their association, Donleavy revealed very little about himself, other than that he had served in Vietnam with the Special Operations Group, Military Assistance Command, and had worked in intelligence for most of his military career. Nor did he ever reveal very much about the agency that employed them both, other than that the range of its interests was wide enough to merit ex-CIA Director Richard Helms's rueful description of the DIA as 'the 900-pound intelligence gorilla'.

That was one of the ground rules Donleavy discussed at their first meeting. Everything would proceed on a strictly need-to-know basis. Coleman would have no contact with the DIA other than through him or those he would introduce from time to time. He would not meet or be aware of the identity of other agents unless they worked together, and possibly not even then. He could tell no one of his affiliation under any circumstances, not even the closest members of his family. If he were ever compromised or if it was ever suggested that he worked for military intelligence, the DIA would disown him; it would categorically deny that he had ever worked for the agency or had ever had any dealings with it in any capacity, whatsoever.

In return, the DIA would pay him $5000 a month, plus expenses (but in a way that could not be traced back to the agency); it would put him to work on matters of national importance (for which he would never receive any public recognition); it would train him in the most advanced security and intelligence techniques, and go to almost any lengths to keep him out of harm's way because the DIA was only as good as its agents and none of them were ever considered expendable. If Coleman was ready to accept the offer on those terms, all he had to do was sign an undertaking, binding for life, that he would never disclose the nature of his employment or assignments to anyone at any time and the agency would be happy to welcome him aboard.

As McCloskey had told him most of this already, Coleman signed.

'Okay, so what now?' he asked. 'Where am I going?'

Donleavy smiled. 'Later,' he said. 'When you get back from Europe.'

'Europe? Where in Europe?'

'Spain. For your training.'

'When?'

'First of the year. But there are things to do yet.'

They included a polygraph examination by an operator from Fort McClellen, Alabama -- six hours wired to the box in a hot, stuffy hotel room, while he answered the same sets of questions over and over again, with the sweat pouring off him.

Then another session at a different hotel with Donleavy, who told him he was now officially assigned to the Department of Defense Human Resource Intelligence (HUMINT) Program of the Armed Forces of the United States. His unit was MC/10, whose activities, he later learned, were part of Trine, a compartmented, special-access programme requiring clearance beyond Top Secret. MC/10 reported to the Special Technical Operations Center (STOC), The Pentagon. His code name was Benjamin B. He would use that to sign all receipts and agency documents from then on in.

'What about Thomas Leavy?' Coleman asked. 'I've still got that birth certificate. The one the CIA gave me to use in the Bahamas.'

Donleavy shrugged. 'Let me have it,' he said. 'It may come in useful some day. Who knows? I'll give it back to you later.'

Coleman was also given a contact number to call, but only in an emergency (703-455 8339), and a mail-drop address (P.O. Box 706, Oxenhill, Maryland 20745).

'Otherwise, don't call us, we'll call you,' Donleavy said. 'And if I can't get to you myself, if I have to send somebody, he'll say, "Hullo, I'm a friend of Bill Donleavy's." And you'll say, "I don't know any Bill Donleavy." Then he'll say, "His friends know him as Kevin." After that, you can talk. But if you've got any doubts, any question in your mind at all, just act like the name means nothing and pass it off. Never take a risk you don't have to. Not ever.'

Coleman practised this procedure several times before Christmas when meeting experts from Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) attached to Army Intelligence Center and School (JITC), Fort Huachuca, Arizona. They took him through such things as IUG (Intelligence User's Guide), MEBE (Middle East Basic Intelligence Encyclopedia), ACOUSTINT (Acoustical Intelligence), OPSEC (Operations Security), CIPINT (Encrypted Intelligence Communications) and HITS (Human Intelligence Tasking System).

He was also told to look out for a help-wanted ad in Broadcasting magazine placed by the Christian Broadcasting Network, a private venture owned and operated by Pat Robertson, the popular TV evangelist and moral conscience of the far right. CBN would be looking to hire a Middle East correspondent and when the ad appeared, Coleman should apply for the job.

'You're going to get born again,' said Donleavy. 'Kind of a nice touch that, seeing you're just starting out with us.' He seemed quite proud of it. 'When they get your resume, a guy with a British accent will give you a call and invite you down to Virginia Beach. Do like he says, and he'll help you see the light.'

The call came just before Christmas. Right after the holidays, Coleman flew down to be interviewed at CBN's Virginia Beach headquarters, a sprawling, neo-Colonial, campus-like complex with broadcasting facilities to rival anything he had seen in the major networks. The guy with the British accent, besides working for M16 under the code name of Romeo, was at the time general manager of CBN's Middle East Television (MET) based in Jerusalem, and had flown over to hire a correspondent for its bureau in Beirut.

'It's all set,' Romeo said, as they strolled in the grounds. 'All you've got to do is play the role. And not just with the Robertsons -- with everybody you meet down here. These are pray-TV people, every last one of 'em -- and they're all paranoid, so watch your step. They all think they've been called by Jesus to work for Pat Robertson.'

'Including you?'

'Doesn't it show? You'll find 'em friendly enough on the surface but don't let that fool you. They're fanatics, and very suspicious of strangers. They're going to work you over pretty thoroughly to make sure you're not the devil in disguise, so let's show 'em a little evangelical fervour, shall we?'

Romeo was not exaggerating. Coleman was asked to supply the names and addresses of past and current friends, a floor plan of his house, the names of his spouse, children and close family members, his medical records, dental charts and a typical daily schedule of family activities.

He then sat for a round of personality profile tests and apparently showed the requisite degree of apostolic zeal for, at the end of this two-day inquisition, a benevolent Romeo introduced him to Pat Robertson's son Tim and the three of them went off to meet the great man himself at a local restaurant, where they prayed over the salad bar.

During lunch, the Robertsons explained that MET operated from studios in Jerusalem, with a transmitter in Marjayoon in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon, an office in Nicosia, Cyprus, and a news bureau in the Christian enclave in Beirut, to which Coleman would be assigned. The station aired Christian and family programmes to the mostly Arab populations of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, thereby enraging Islamic fundamentalists to such an extent that they had several times bombed the transmitter even though it was located in the Israeli security zone.

'It was a funny coalition,' Coleman found. 'You had right-wing Christian Americans, the Israelis, and right-wing Christian Lebanese fascists, funded, trained and uniformed by the Israeli Army, all working together and in bed with outfits like CBN.'
Over dessert, Pat Robertson explained at some length that his interest in the region stemmed from his belief that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was imminent in the Holy Land, and he intended to cover it live.

As far as Coleman could make out, MET seemed to be a pirate station, operating, in violation of international law and numerous treaties, without a license from any government. There was no advertising, and the programme material, other than the Robertsons' religious and family output, consisted of wrestling on Saturday nights, NFL football and endless reruns of American soaps and situation comedies. As far as its audience was aware, the whole operation was funded entirely by the American faithful (of whom the most generous, as Coleman discovered later, was faithful Bill Casey, director of the CIA, and his friends at the Jewish Defense League).

Coleman's job was to file stories from MET's Lebanon bureau, not just for the pirate station, but for a new national network news programme the Robertsons were planning to set up in the United States.

They always had some major project going (he remembers). Pat would say he had been talking to Jesus, and Jesus had told him He wanted him to do this or do that, so CBN would then go out and hire the people they needed. These people would quit their jobs and sell their houses and move to Virginia Beach, where they'd buy new homes and settle down happily and go to work for Pat because Jesus had called them. He'd pay everybody lots of money and they'd all live very comfortably. Until one day he'd walk into the office and say, 'I just talked to Jesus. He doesn't want me to do this anymore. You're all fired.'


The Robertsons' mission in the Middle East was still clear and urgent, however, when they talked to Coleman over lunch.

'How soon can you join us?' Tim Robertson asked. 'We really need to get you out there, to get you started on God's work as soon as we can.'

'Praise the Lord,' said Coleman. 'I need thirty days to prepare myself.'

Donleavy had already told him to set January aside for his crash course in DIA HUMINT operations. CIA agents graduate in classes of 40 from spy school at Camp Perry, Virginia, not far from Williamsburg. As a DIA HUMINT agent, Coleman was trained alone, one on one, having little contact with anybody but his instructors and no contact at all with anyone outside his chain of command.

On 15 January 1985, he flew out to Malaga and made his way to Torremolinos, where he was picked up by an American contact, a friend of Bill Donleavy's, better known as Kevin, who drove like a madman down the winding coastal highway to Estepona, deposited him on the doorstep of a small hillside cottage overlooking the sea, and drove away immediately with a cheerful wave. With a rueful nod, Coleman went inside and slept the sleep of the jet-lagged.

The following morning, at 8 a.m., he dragged himself out of bed and went downstairs to see who was hammering so vigorously at the door.

'Sorry to disturb you," said another obvious Englishman, looking him up and down with professional detachment. This one had steel-grey, Fuller's brush hair, a bulging briefcase and a generally more purposeful air than Romeo. 'I'm a friend of Bill Donleavy's.'

Donleavy had already explained that the DIA enjoyed a special relationship with MI6, sharing the view that secrets were meant to be kept, not turned into headlines in the morning papers. The British had never quite grasped the logic of Congressional oversight of the CIA. The notion of their own intelligence chiefs being questioned at televised hearings before a Parliamentary committee was so comically at variance with British ideas of a secret service that they had turned gratefully to the DIA as a discreet, professional alternative to Bill Casey and his Langley cowboys, whom they distrusted almost as much as the Pentagon did.

But there were limits.

'I wish your people could have waited another fortnight,' grumbled Coleman's visitor. 'The border reopens next month, and I can drive here in under an hour from Gib. As it is, I had to fly from Gib to Tangier, and from Tangier to Malaga and drive over from there. And a bloody bore it was, too, I don't mind telling you.'

'Sorry,' said Coleman humbly. 'How about another cup of coffee?'

The man from MI6 had come the long way around in order to brief him on the finer points of the political situation in the Middle East, a British sphere of interest since the late 19th century. When they got down to considering which neighborhoods in Beirut were controlled by which of the warring Christian and Muslim factions, his visitor raked through his tattered briefcase and tossed a bundle of Bartholomew's folding maps on to the kitchen table.

'There you are,' he said, 'Compliments of HM government. Available at all good stationers. Easy to read and a bloody sight more accurate than the rubbish you'll get from the CIA.'

It was a useful lesson. If he was ever stopped and searched, no one would think twice about finding a Bartholomew's street plan in his pocket. But a map of Beirut by a military cartographer?

The lesson was underlined by a succession of visitors to the cottage over the next two weeks, most of them from Wiesbaden and Lisbon. As a correspondent for the CBN, Coleman was not about to engage in hand-to-hand combat with enemy agents or in high-speed car chases with armed Muslim militiamen, but for his own protection he was issued by one of his instructors with a small, five-shot, stainless steel, single-action, North American Arms .22 Magnum revolver, courtesy of 7th Brigade, Special Forces Detachment, from Bad Tolz, near Munich.

He was supposed to carry it in a canvas holster worn under the zip fly of his trousers, but Coleman never could get used to the idea of walking around with its barrel pointed at his private parts. On the rare occasions he went out with it, he wore the holster on his ankle instead.

In the event of an attempted kidnap or close combat he was supposed to aim at the eye or behind the ear of his assailant, but, having some notion of the hitting power of its Magnum round, rather doubted if he could do it. Although brought up with firearms, he had never really liked them, and managed to lose this one before he left for Beirut.

The main thrust of his training was in cryptography and communications. Although his assignment would entail the dispatch of lengthy reports to Control almost daily, the use of secret short-wave transmitters or fancy electronic gadgetry was ruled out. Unless the means of transmission were as secure as the codes he used, his cover would be constantly at risk, along with the integrity of his reports. If his true role as an American agent were ever suspected, not only would his life be in danger, but -- even more serious from the DIA's point of view -- he might also be used by the opposition as a channel for disinformation.

The same considerations also ruled out the use of the American Embassy's secure communications system from Beirut. Donleavy had already made it clear that Coleman was to keep well away from the embassy and its staff after he arrived in Lebanon as they were under continuous surveillance by Arab and Israeli intelligence agents. Anything but the most casual and routine contact with U.S. government officials in the field was, therefore, to be avoided, and under no circumstances was he to reveal his true affiliations to any of them, up to and including the ambassador.

Being entirely on his own, therefore, and unable to use any method of communication with Control that might draw attention to himself, Coleman needed a simple yet virtually unbustable code system that would enable him to send untraceable dispatches to Washington every day via the ordinary international telecommunications networks without alerting anybody listening in to the traffic and without having to use any item of equipment more incriminating than a Bartholomew's street map.

For an FCC licensed broadcast engineer working with the DIA's cryptographers, the solution was child's play. Between them they devised a simple grid code based on random number access via a telephone touch-tone keypad, the variable alpha-numeric sequence being determined for each transmission by the day of the month and the month of the year. All he needed was a Radio Shack pocket calculator with a touch-tone number pad, of the sort that any businessman might carry in his briefcase, and a two-speed microcassette recorder of the type that any self-respecting media correspondent would carry in his pocket.

After encoding his message, Coleman had simply to record the touch-tone bleeps, using slow speed, then direct dial Donleavy's answering machine in Maryland from a public telephone, place the recorder over the mouthpiece, play the tones on high speed as soon as the answering machine beeped, hang up and erase the tape. In this way he could transmit a lengthy, secure message in 30 seconds or less -- far too short a time for anyone to trace a call even if they had been waiting for it. (Later on, they supplemented this system with a software program in Coleman's laptop computer that randomly scrambled his plain language reports as they were sent via a modem direct to his contact number in Washington.)

But first he had to have something to communicate, and so was taught about 'dead drops' for the exchange of messages. A basic means of communication among members of the DIA cell in Beirut, these offered the advantage that the people using them did not have to meet, and messages could be left there at any convenient time. Popular locations included an international telephone booth in the central telephone exchange, where messages could be taped under the shelf, and the soap and detergent section of a supermarket in Jounieh. This became one of Coleman's main pick-up points for material coming from West Beirut, and was the unromantic setting for his first meeting with Mary-Claude, who worked there for a time.

He also learned about 'live drops', receiving or passing information face to face, and the 'brush pass' -- by far the riskiest means of exchange.

Then there was 'environmental situation awareness' -- or how to work covertly in a hostile environment. The key to this was an intimate knowledge of the terrain, with carefully selected drops, meeting and contact areas, and prearranged escape routes and safe houses, taking into account the opposition's strong points and weak points.

An intimate knowledge of the enemy was also crucial, for to overestimate him could be as dangerous as to underestimate him. This in turn meant understanding local culture and history and how differences in thought and outlook had to be taken into account in running an operation -- a factor nowhere more important than in the Middle East.

Still using off-the-shelf technology, he was taught how to photograph documents with an ordinary 35 mm. camera in available light. He was also shown the basic spy tricks of how to pass a message in a paperback book by pinpricking letters or words, the holes being visible only when the pages were held up to the light. (A variant of this was the overlay message, where the holes were pricked through a sheet of paper that the message receiver would then lay over the appropriate pages of his own copy of the book.)

A more sophisticated method was to use the book as a one-time code pad, reducing a letter or word to a number sequence by listing page number, line number and the letter or word number on that line. He liked this system, for he could keep up with the paperback bestseller list at the same time. He also enjoyed typing invisible messages on the back of innocuous letters by means of his IBM typewriter's lift-off correction tape.

The remainder of Coleman's crash induction course was taken up with briefing sessions on Operation Steeplechase, the mission for which he had been so hastily prepared.

The DIA had been monitoring activities at the Virginia Beach headquarters of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which suggested that Pat Robertson's organization was heavily engaged in raising money and providing support for the Nicaraguan Contras through Major-General John K. Singlaub, president of the Taiwan-directed World Anti-Communist League, and Lt-Colonel Oliver North, with the covert assistance of DCI William Casey and the CIA. James Whelen, a close friend of Casey's, had been installed at CBN to tap its database for fund-raising, and it was a measure of the importance attached to Robertson's contribution that, in 1985, the Contras named a brigade in his honour.

Coleman's job in Beirut was to track the Middle Eastern ramifications of the conspiracy, working through a network of informants who reported to Tony Werner Asmar, the DIA agent in place. A Lebanese of German extraction, Asmar owned AMA Industries, SAL, -- a hospital supply business which gave him access to every part of the country and every section of Beirut, regardless of which faction, Christian or Muslim, controlled it.

Until Coleman arrived, on 25 February 1985, the main duties of the Asmar cell had been to monitor the Muslim radical groups supported by Iran and Syria, to report on the movements of their leaders -- in particular, those of Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadellah -- and to keep track of the Western hostages then being taken in Beirut. After Coleman's arrival as Asmar's Control and his communications link with DIA headquarters, this work continued but with the added responsibility of trailing Oliver North and his boss Robert McFarlane, President Reagan's National Security Advisor, as and when the Iran-Contra conspiracy brought them to the region to buy illegal arms.

Coleman was also required to provide intelligence support for 7th Brigade Special Forces detachments in Lebanon, working through DOCKLAMP (Defense Attache System), American Embassy, Beirut. These Green Beret units were there ostensibly as advisers to the Lebanese Army but actually as a commando team to free the American hostages if the political situation in Lebanon ever changed sufficiently to warrant the use of force.

As CBN's Beirut correspondent, Coleman was well placed to observe and report on all these activities. Robertson's Middle East Television had close ties with Lebanon's right-wing Christian groups, which were largely funded by drugs trafficking, and in particular with the Christian Lebanese Forces, a militia largely funded by Israel.

CBN's 'office manager' in Beirut, Gushan Hashim, and his 'assistant,' Antoine, had both been recruited from the Christian Lebanese Forces, and, as Coleman observed when he took over, the bureau was better equipped with arms than with cameras. He also quickly discovered that the main function of CBN's telex links was to enable Antoine to contact 'Odette' in Tel Aviv via Zurich on behalf of the Mossad, ingeniously rendering his Arabic into its phonetic English equivalents in order to use the English-language keyboard.

DIA's concern about the Iran-Contra conspirators was focused in particular on Oliver North's Georgia 'mafia', whose representative, Michael Franks, also known as Michael Schafer, arrived in Beirut soon after Coleman. Described as a 'TV cameraman', Franks stepped off the boat from Cyprus wearing full army battle fatigues with a mercenary patch on his black military baseball cap.

He had been sent out by Overseas Press Services Inc. (OPS), a television consultancy company run by W. Dennis Suit, formerly a CIA operative in Central America. An associate of Oliver North, General Singlaub, Contra leaders Adolfo and Mario Calero, and William Casey, Suit specialized in organizing field trips for journalists to U.S.-supported military and paramilitary operations around the world, notably in Afghanistan, Angola, Central America and the Middle East.

As consultants to Pat Robertson's television operations, OPS clearly felt that Franks's inability to distinguish one end of a camera from another was offset by the expertise he had acquired in counter-terrorist techniques at SIONICS, a mysteriously funded training school near Atlanta run by another North associate, retired Lt. General Mitchell Werbell III.

It was all the same to Coleman. The Beirut bureau never filed a story in all the months he was there, and Franks was never around long enough to prove an embarrassment. Socially, they got on well enough, to the point where Franks felt free to talk openly about OPS and the Contras. His boss, W. Dennis Suit, while under cover for the CIA in Nicaragua as an ABC-TV cameraman, had apparently been caught handing out bugged Zippo lighters to the Sandinistas and ABC had fired him. When not regaling Coleman with gossip of this sort, Franks spent most of his time fighting along the so-called 'Green Line' with the Christian militias.

For his part, Coleman had his hands full coping with the flood of intelligence data from Tony Asmar, who quickly became a close friend. The Asmar cell was efficiently run, thoroughly professional and highly productive. Besides a network of informants inside every political and religious faction, the armed militias and the Lebanese Army, he also ran a string of Filipino domestic workers recruited from American Baptist missions in Manila. To have a Filipino housekeeper was a mark of prestige among Lebanon's leading political, military and business families, and as she invariably attracted the intimate attention of the head of the family, her reports, often of pillow talk, were invaluable.

"When I first got to Beirut, Tony stationed one of them with me for a while (Coleman recalls). Mainly for my protection. Before I even opened a suitcase, a package arrived at the chalet with a .380 calibre Beretta and another .22 Magnum pistol inside -- to add to the folding umbrella with the stiletto in the handle. I kept the Beretta in the bedroom and sometimes wore the twenty-two in an ankle holster, but Kathy was much better at that sort of stuff than I could ever hope to be.

She was a deadly little thing. Good with knives, guns or bare hands. Black belt karate. Close armed combat expert -- kill you in a minute. And yet the sweetest little thing you ever saw. I could step out of the shower in the morning and my slippers would be waiting at the bathroom door. She was always very attentive, and kept everything clean and spotless."


Mary-Claude soon put a stop to that.

As there was no way of avoiding face-to-face contact once in a while, Coleman and Asmar had decided that to fraternize openly as friends would probably attract less attention than if they were observed meeting in secret. At the first opportunity, therefore, Asmar invited Coleman to join him and his fiancee Giselle for Sunday dinner with Giselle's family. And to provide possible observers with a plausible reason for subsequent visits, Giselle made sure her sister Mary-Claude was there to make up a foursome who might also meet elsewhere on other occasions.

Virtually on sight, the two put flesh and blood on the stratagem by falling in love.

Neither could quite believe it. On the surface, Coleman, going on forty-two, divorced, a disillusioned, cynical and worldly American, a secret agent sailing under false colours, had nothing whatever in common with a petite, vivacious, voluptuously attractive, 22-year-old girl, strictly brought up by a typically close and protective Lebanese Catholic family in the claustrophobic confines of East Beirut during a civil war. His first reaction was to lie about his age. He told her he was thirty-seven.

But that was the least of their problems. He told Mary-Claude everything else about himself, except that he was an American spy, and left it to her to decide how much she would tell her family, who strongly disapproved of divorce, were concerned about the age difference between them, even though he had pruned it, and were naturally suspicious of his intentions. Even so, they were determined to marry from the start, and as quickly as possible as far as Coleman was concerned, for he had no way of knowing how long his assignment to Beirut would last.

"The family's reaction was reserved, polite and curious (he remembers), but Mary-Claude was always headstrong and usually got her way, no matter what her father said. As I spent more time with them and they saw it was a serious matter -- I told her father I respected the traditions of his society and I think that went in my favour -- so they came to accept me.

Even so, it was a style of courtship entirely alien to me. Though Christian and emancipated compared with the rest of the Arab world, the family was very strict by American standards. Mary-Claude and I were not allowed to meet without a chaperone -- one of her brothers or sisters always had to be there. Once or twice we met surreptitiously for lunch and went for a walk afterwards but that was the only time we were ever alone. Out of respect for her father, we complied with his wishes in order to show the seriousness of what we felt for each other. Once he was convinced of that, we had a traditional Lebanese engagement party, at which I gave her the traditional set of gold jewelry and stuff, and that made us official."


Mary-Claude was unhappy with the idea of keeping anything from her family, but knew that Coleman's divorce would be one problem too many for her father to handle. Asked, years later, what she had thought on meeting Coleman for the first time, she replied, 'I thought he was an old fart,' and they both laughed uproariously.

'He lied to me about his age. He was a foreigner -- with a previous marriage. There were many problems. But I always did like older men. I wanted a peaceful life with a wonderful husband who took care of me. I enjoy being spoiled. I like the attention. And I got it. I lived through hell.'

They both laughed again, but ruefully this time.

The DIA was delighted with the idea of having a married agent. Donleavy wanted to know all about Mary-Claude so that he could run a security check, but as her sister Giselle was already unknowingly in the loop, the vetting was a mere formality.

'Go ahead,' he said. 'Congratulations. That's great cover. With family there, you can go in and out of Beirut whenever you like and nobody's going to think anything about it.'

By then the question of cover was important. Although hired to do news stories for CBN, Coleman was using the camera equipment mainly to shoot background footage for intelligence reports and to keep up appearances. Even if he had filmed a story, he had no way of getting the tape to the studios in Jerusalem except via Cyprus. A running joke among correspondents in Beirut was, Middle East Television: Yesterday's News Tomorrow.

Until Operation Steeplechase got under way in April, the work Coleman was paid by CBN to do consisted mainly of training the Christian militia to run a TV station, called LBC, for the Christian enclave. This operation was backed by the Israelis, who were trying to set up a microwave link to feed video from Jerusalem to its agents inside Lebanon. But he was kept busy enough handling the huge volume of data from Asmar's cell, and servicing the drop for what was officially described as an in-country mobile training team (MTT) from 7th Brigade, Germany.

The drop was at Juicy-Burger, a hamburger stand run by an American couple known as Bonnie and Clyde at Dora, on the road between Jounieh and East Beirut.

"These Green Beret guys were supposedly advisers to the Lebanese Army [said Coleman], but they were really there to handle the wet jobs. If the politics had ever been right, they might have been used to rescue the hostages but the situation was always too sensitive, too precarious to risk using force. So they were simply there in case they were needed. They took care of loose ends. If there was anything for them, I'd take it over to Juicy-Burger and Sergeant-Major Duke, from 7th Brigade, would stop by for a hamburger and pick it up.

I remember one time I took in some special bullets that somebody needed. Six rounds in a coffee-can full of coffee with lead foil to beat the X-rays. Mercury-loaded or something, about .380 size shells hollowed out, with a wax tip. Couldn't help wondering what they were used for. But I'm happy I wasn't there when they were."


He was certainly there when the starting gate went up for Operation Steeplechase. On 22 April 1985, Coleman and office manager, Gushan Hashim, flew to Cannes to join Tim Robertson at a meeting in a private apartment with Pierre Dhyer, of the Christian Lebanese Forces militia; Mario Calero, representing the Contras, and a British agent from MI6 working undercover with the DIA.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a consignment of arms confiscated by the Israelis from the PLO and turned over to the pro-Israeli faction of the Lebanese Forces. The idea was to buy them secretly for the Contras and send them out to Honduras disguised as relief supplies on a ship chartered by CBN, but the problem was that the Hoobaka faction had declined a cash offer, preferring to exchange the weapons for an unspecified commodity to the value of $1.5 million, to be brokered by CIA asset Monzer al Kassar.

After an animated discussion, Hoobaka's terms were accepted in principle and the meeting adjourned, the CBN contingent to advise Oliver North with a view to setting the wheels in motion, and Coleman to advise DIA with a view to applying the brakes. Control responded by calling him to Frankfurt. On the strength of his report, the DIA had decided to scrap the whole vehicle.

'This CBN thing is getting to be a real pain in the ass.' Donleavy said.

He paused to light another in his endless chain of Merit cigarettes, brushing the stub ash off what could have been the same pair of double-knit trousers he had worn at their first meeting.

'So is Ollie North and that whole damn bunch of kooks and weirdoes. We got this lightbird colonel running around loose, telling two and three-star generals what to do, and they're getting pissed off about it. So don't be surprised if we pull his plug. Starting with this cockeyed deal with the Hoobaka bunch. We want you to close 'em out, old buddy. Nothing sudden, nothing dramatic -- we don't want to make waves. Just let it die from natural causes, okay? Let 'em get on with it, but from now on, things should start to go wrong.'

Early in June, al-Kassar flew out to Bogota, Colombia, on a Brazilian passport, No. CB5941792, in the name of Muce Sagy, one of several aliases. By prior arrangement, $1.5 million had been transferred from Oliver North's secret Contra fund at the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in Panama to al Kassar's own BCCI account in Lima, Peru, which he held under the name of Pierre Abu Nader. From there, the money was credited to a BCCI account managed for one of the Colombian cocaine cartels by Frank Gerardo, a DEA informant, for the purchase of several hundred kilos of cocabase.

As Pierre Abu Nader, al-Kassar then returned to Europe on his Peruvian passport and subsequently reported on the success of his mission to North, who was then in Cyprus, staying in the ambassador's private apartment at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia. Coleman observed him there on 15 June.

Two months later, on 17 August, the shipment of coca base arrived from Colombia aboard an East German freighter that put in to Tarbarja, Lebanon, an illegal narcotics port operated by the Hoobaka faction. The load was then taken by road to Zakorta, just east of Tripoli, processed into high-grade cocaine in the Hoobakas' own laboratories and passed through to its agents in Sofia, Bulgaria, en route to Monzer al-Kassar's distribution hub in Warsaw for bartering in the Eastern bloc.

On 23 August, Coleman reported to Control that the arms were to be loaded within ten days on the same freighter, which was now waiting to sail for Porto Lampura, Honduras, under the banner of the CBN's Central American relief programme, Operation Blessing.

The rest was up to Donleavy and the DIA, for by that time Coleman had so demoralized CBN headquarters with telex messages about Gushan Hashim and his colleagues stealing the store in Beirut that he knew it would take only one more serious shock, like preventing the arms from leaving Tarbarja, to bring the whole enterprise down. In accordance with instructions, he had ensured that the Lebanese would take the debacle philosophically, for they already had their cocabase and so would lose nothing by it, and that the Contra supporters would have to attribute the loss of the arms shipment, and of North's $1.5 million, to an act of God.

Meanwhile, Coleman had a pressing problem of his own. From the moment Donleavy gave North, Casey and CBN the thumbs down, Coleman had known that the days of his Beirut assignment were numbered. And now that he had found Mary-Claude, there was no way he was going to leave her in a war zone, not knowing when or if he could get back to her. The shelling had been bad that summer, and she had already had one narrow escape.

Coleman had been running around the city one day with Michael Franks when the bombardment became so heavy that he decided he should move the family down to the comparative safety of his beach chalet, which was sheltered to some extent from incoming fire by a number of tall apartment buildings. As the shells rained in from the Druze artillery, he drove through the winding streets of the quarter and found Mary-Claude hiding with her sisters in a neighbor's basement. Fifteen minutes after they left, the house took a direct hit and was virtually demolished.

But even the random brutality of the shelling provided the DIA with an opportunity for the kind of black humor enjoyed by the octopus. Coleman had been surprised to learn that Nabi Berri, boss of the Amal militia, held a resident alien's Green Card issued by the U.S. immigration authorities and owned five garages in the Detroit area.

"And yet here he was, in the middle of kidnapping U.S. citizens and up to his neck in the TWA 747 hijack and all that stuff. Berri really pissed us off. The problem was, what could we do to screw him without getting the U.S. involved in the civil war?

"Well, what we did was leak the trajectory coordinates of every house on Berri's street except his to militia factions Amal happened to be fighting at the time, including Hezbollah. And sure enough, every damn house in the neighborhood was hit except his. You can imagine what the neighbors thought. They went ape-shit. After that, nobody was going to mow his yard."

The incoming bombardment was less amusing, however, when Coleman himself seemed to be the target.

Mary-Claude was determined to have a proper wedding in a proper wedding dress at Christ the King, a beautiful, cathedral-sized church overlooking the sea. Equally determined to bring the marriage forward before his mine exploded under CBN, Coleman found himself faced with the usual string of time-consuming formalities, and prevailed upon her father Philippe to accompany him up to the monastery overlooking the city to seek a special dispensation from the bishop.

No sooner had they set out than shells started falling along the road, the barrage accompanying them half-way up the mountain. Taking their survival as a favorable omen, Coleman managed to convince the church hierarchy of his good intentions and they set off again down the mountain with the necessary dispensation, only to pick up the barrage where it had left off. Muttering prayers forgotten since childhood, he drove down the winding mountain road with Philippe, the shells still falling around them, and presented Mary-Claude with the necessary papers like a knight errant back from the Crusades with a trophy for his lady.

And only just in time. As Coleman had anticipated, CBN was finally panicked into acting on the reports he had been sending over about the reckless indiscretions of Hashim and his cronies in the Lebanese Forces. Fearing a major political scandal, the Robertsons ordered Coleman to close down the Beirut bureau at once and evacuate its equipment to Cyprus, abandoning the cache of arms on Tarbarja beach.

The shelling was then at its height, which at least spared him the complications of having to contend face to face with Hashim, who was hiding in his basement. But it did rather spoil the bride's toilette and the wedding party. Mary-Claude's hairdresser failed to get through, and except for Tony Asmar, only the immediate family were in the church when the bride and groom arrived in Range Rovers manned by Lebanese Forces militiamen armed with Kalashnikov rifles. The best man, hurriedly pressed into service at the last minute, was Michael Franks, alias Schafer, the OPS mercenary.

The Coleman's wedding night was spent in the chalet, with Tony Asmar's men tramping in and out delivering videotape machines, cameras and other equipment from the CBN office. At 5 a.m., trucks arrived to take all the boxes to the Jounieh docks, where they were loaded on the ferry to Larnaca, and as the sun came up, the happy couple watched the coast of Lebanon fade behind them in the morning haze. For Mary-Claude, it was the first time she had set foot outside Beirut's Christian enclave.

Following Donleavy's instructions, Coleman reported on arrival in Cyprus to Colonel John Sasser, the Department of Defense attache at the American Embassy in Nicosia. He was also debriefed by Micheal T. Hurley, the Drug Enforcement Administration attache, though without revealing his connection with the DIA. As far as Hurley knew, Coleman was an employee of CBN's who had been evacuated from Lebanon after the closure of its Beirut bureau.

At Donleavy's suggestion, Coleman then took Mary-Claude to Corfu for a two-week honeymoon before they went home to the United States to begin their married life in an apartment not far from James McCloskey's house in Timonium, Maryland.

Everything had gone according to plan. Fearful that his political ambitions, including a presidential candidacy, would be wrecked if CBN's connection with bartering drugs for guns on behalf of the Contras ever came to light, Pat Robertson lined up Gushan Hashim to take the rap, severed his connections with Colonel North, General Singlaub and their associates, and fired every non-believer who knew anything about it, including Coleman -- cushioning the blow with a $6000 severance check.

'Keep it,' said Donleavy, 'You did a great job, buddy. I want you to know that some very high-level people over here have asked me to thank you for a job well done. We rate the mission a major success. So take a couple of months off. Show Mary-Claude a good time. We're going to need you out there again after Christmas.'
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17175
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Next

Return to Political Science

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron