FLIGHT 103: The OTHER Story

Erick Anderson
8 June 1999

Editor's Note: In 1986, the Bay Guardian was perhaps the first newspaper in the country to devote extensive coverage to a claim by the Christie Institute that a secret team of U.S. spies was operating in Central America. The Institute charged that team with bombing a May 1984 press conference in an attempt to kill Contra leader Eden Pastora.

It was a wild cloak-and-dagger conspiracy story, but the sourcces were credible. So we ran journalist Michael Emory’s investigative report. Before we could publish the story, the Iran/Contra scandal broke and many of the defendants in the lawsuit -- Oliver North, Richard Secord, John Hull, etc. -- became household names. Although many specifics of the Christie case are still disputed, the underlying claim -- that Oliver North and a team of private individuals were covertly and illegally pursuing their own foreign policy objectives outside the established channels -- is no longer in doubt.

The story you are about to read is in many ways similar to our first "Contragate" story. In both cases, the original reports were based on the results of a single investigation and were largely uncorroborated by independent sources. In both cases, the parties conducting the investigations were involved in multimillion-dollar lawsuits. In both cases, there were allegations that a renegade U.S. intelligence group was willing to protect drug smugglers in order to further its own goals. Finally, in both cases, current events quickly overtook the stories -- and many of the major claims were verified. On November 28th, the PBS news program Frontline aired an extensive investigation into the bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It concluded, like the story below, that Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, had ordered the attack. But Frontline said the luggage containing the bomb was probably transferred to Flight 103 from another airline. That would seem to contradict the claim reported below that a passenger name Khalid Jafar helped bring the bomb onto the plane in Frankfurt. Two days later, however, ABC's PrimeTime Live reported that the bomb route described by Frontline was largely a ruse used to confuse spies within the PFLP-GC. Instead, ABC reported, Jibril used a three-man special team that reported only to him to carry out the Pam Am bombing -- and the man he recruited to carry the deadly suitcase was one Khalid Jafar. In other words, pieces of the picture presented here are beginning to get picked up -- and confirmed -- by the national news media. But only the alternative press has put out the entire story.

Erick Anderson

When PAN AM Flight 103 crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland last December 21st, killing 270 people, news agencies quickly reported that West German and U.S. intelligence agencies had been warned of a possible terrorist attack on a U.S. carrier.

Now a U.S. congressman is claiming the Central Intellience Agency was warned when a bomb was placed aboard the plane in Frankfurt, but allowed the flight to continue to protect a CIA-sanctioned drug-smuggling route.

According to Congressman James A. Traficant, Jr. (D-Ohio), at least five members of an eight-member CIA team, returning home without authorization to expose the drug-smuggling operation, died when the Boeing 747 exploded in midair.

Traficant bases his claim on an investigative report commissioned by PAM AM's insurers. His office released five pages of the 27-page report November 6th,but its incendiary contents have been largely ignored by the U.S. news media.

PAN AM spokeswoman Pamela Hanlon confirmed that the airline's insurance carriers commissioned the report. The airline is seeking to defend itself from a $300 million dollar lawsuit filed by the families of the dead, who claim PAN AM's security arrangements were inadequate. PAN AM and its insurers are seeking to prove U.S. and German intelligence agencies ignored advance warnings about the attack.

Traficant did not disclose who authored the report, but a November 20th Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York) article by Tom Foster said the report was prepared by Interfor, Inc., a New York-based anti-terrorism consulting firm headed by former Israeli intelligence agent Juval Aviv. Traficant, said the article, received the report from former CIA agent Victor Marchetti, who reportedly received it from Aviv.

The Post-Standard reportedly obtained 20 pages of the report from Jim Swire of Bosgrove, England, who obtained it from an unnamed source. Swire, whose 24-year-old daughter, Flora, died over Lockerbie, is a member of U.K. Families--Flight 103.

The CIA has labeled Interfor's findings "nonsense" and the West German police agency BKA has also issued a denial.

Despite the official denials, however, the report contains a fascinating amount of detail about the alleged events of November and December of last year. It reads like the outline of a bestselling spy thriller, complete with a classic list of characters. The key players include:

Did the CIA ignore warnings that a bomb was aboard
PAN AM Fligtht 103 last December to protect a drug smuggler?
It may sound strange, but a U.S. congressman says
the answer is YES.

Last June, according to a November 4th article in the Long Beach Press Telegram, Traficant "was found guilty on civil charges of defrauding the government and evading taxes on $108,000 in bribes he accepted from organized crime figures in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He was acquitted of criminal charges related to the case."

The drama alleged in the Interfor report dates back to November 1988 when Ali Racep, A Syrian living in Bulgaria, arranged to ship bomb components to West Germany by a route set by Al-Kassar, who had agreed to provide bomb materials to Jibril.

The shipment may have been necessitated by 1988 raid on PFLP-GC safehouses by BKA, the West German equivalent of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. BKA confiscated bombs made with the Czech explosive Serntex and hidden inside audio equipment, much like t one that destroyed Flight 103.

The report goes on to describe the following events leading up to the explosion.

Al-Kassar's sister-in-law, traveling on a South Yemen diplomatic passport, flew the components from Sophia, Bulgaria to Paris. From there, Al-Kassar drove them in a rental car to West Germany and handed them to Jibril or his operators.

Originally, the attack was to be on American Airlines. Jibril knew Al-Kassar was smuggling drugs through PAN AM with the CIA's knowledge, and chose not to disrupt those operations.

Around this time, however, West German police and the CIA received a tip from Israeli intelligence about a possible terrorist attack against a U.S. carrier. The CIA asked BKA to tighten security on all U.S. airlines expect PAN AM, possibly in order to funnel the attack toward the airline where it already had surveillance in place.

The report reads like the outline of a bestselling spy thriller,
complete with a classic list of characters --
including a Syrian arms dealer with ties to Oliver North,
a Palestinian terrorist group, an international drug courier
and a renegade CIA team.

Al-Kassr was also aware Jibril was planning a bomb attack through the Frankfurt airport. On or around December 18th, Al-Kassar and his associates warned BKA the attack would be on PAN AM's regular Frankfurt-London-New York flight within the next three days. The idea was apparently to increase surveillance on that route to protect the drug pipeline from attack. According to the report, they had "tipped off the authorities to the very act" without knowing Jibril's actual target. The tip was passsed along to CIA-1 and CIA headquarters, but apparently not to PAN AM, the report states.

Around this time, Al-Kassar also passed on to CIA-1 information about McKee's team and its plans to return to the United States. "There were numerous communications between CIA-1 and its control," says the report.

Sometime within this same two-to-three-day period, "Jibril or his on-scene lieutenants then decided to scratch American Airlines and finally selected PAN AM . . ." the report states. "Sources speculate that, although Jibril knew this jeopardized Nidal/Al-Kassar's drug route, he felt that he was too committed to stop . . . and rationalized that any exposure of the act and blame would fall on his rival, Nidal."

A few days before the December 21st disaster, a BKA undercover officer reported PAN AM would be the target of a bomb attempt within the next two or three days. BKA passed the information to CIA-1.

Twenty-four hours before the flight, an undercover agent from the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad report to BKA about a plan to place a bomb on that very PAN AM flight. BKA again informed CIA-1. CIA-1 did not respond.

THE VERY DAY of the flight, the report continues authorities had even more reason to know something was very wrong.

To get the bomb on the plane, Jibril reportedly co-opted Al-Kassar's drug route. Normally, a Turkish baggage handler would remove a suitcase from the trunk of a black Mercedes in the airport parking lot a day or two before the flight and take it to the exployee locker area. Jafar would check in and his bag would go through customs. But at the last minute, the baggage handler would substitute the bag taken from the Mercedes for the one checked by Jafar.

The BKA surveillance agent watching the PAN AM flight load December 21st noticed that the "drug" suitcase loaded that day was different in make, shape, material and color from the one normally used for Al-Kassar's drug shipment. The agent, alert to the bomb warnings, reported to his supervisors that something was very wrong.

BKA headquarters passed the information to CIA-1. CIA-1 reported to CIA "Control," which replied "Don't worry about it, don't stop it. Let it go." CIA-1 issued no instruction to BKA or its agent at the airport.

A BKA videotape reportedly shows the baggage hander loading the suitcase with the bomb onto the plane. BKA's copy of the tape was "lost," but the report alleges the CIA has a copy.

According to the report, at least five and possibly eight members of McKee's team lost their lives in the skies over Lockerbie when the bomb in the brown Samsonite briefcase exploded.

The Sunday Star reported that McKee had telephoned his mother last December, saying he would be home for Christmas. After his death, according to the Star, FBI agents visited Kee's mother to ask if her son had left any packages with her. Agents said some of her son's belongings found in his luggage could not be returned and would be destroyed in the interests of national security.

The Star article credited ten unnamed sources from the intelligence agencies of four governments.

Shortly after the crash, a CIA team landed a helicopter at a farm near Lockerbie where much of the debris had landed. A suitcase was recovered apparently with the approval of British intelligence and Scotland Yard. The Post-Standard reported November 20th that Scottish radio reporter David Johnston, in his book Lockerbie: the Real Story, told how a sheep farmer was kept off a portion of his property while CIA agents recovered McKee's baggage. And military searches recovered what appeared to be a plan of a building in Beirut. The plan was marked with two crosses thought to be the positions of two hostages and contained a narrative account of how to storm the building.

Erick Andrson is managing editor at Random Lengths Independent Habor News, a San Pedro weekly. This article is based on articles that appeared in the November 9th an 22nd issues of Random Lengths.

Reprinted from the The San Francisco Bay Guardian December 6, 1989.

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