Evidence Reconsidered: The Bag from Malta

The Basics and Prosecution’s Case
The prosecution (Crown) case regarding the bomb bag was fully accepted by the Judges ruling in the 2000 trial. Their summary, paragraph 17 of their final "opinion of the Court," reads:
"[T]he primary suitcase was carried on an Air Malta flight KM180 from Luqa Airport in Malta to Frankfurt, that at Frankfurt it was transferred to PanAm flight PA103A, a feeder flight for PA103, which carried it to London Heathrow Airport, and that there, in turn, it was transferred to PA103. This case is largely dependent on oral and documentary evidence relating to the three airports. From this evidence, it is alleged, an inference can be drawn that an unidentified and unaccompanied item of baggage was carried on KM180 and transferred to PA103A at Frankfurt and PA103 at Heathrow." [Opinion of the Court, para 17]
The judges do acknowledge that "The Malta documentation for KM180 does not record that any unaccompanied baggage was carried," [para 31] and that Luqa Airport's security measures "seem to make it extremely difficult for an unaccompanied and unidentified bag to be shipped on a flight out of Luqa." [para 38] They had also dismissed as fabrication witness Giaka's tale of seeing the accused with the exact model suitcase the day of the bombing. [OoC para 44]
"[T]he absence of an explanation as to how the suitcase was taken into the system at Luqa is a major difficulty for the Crown case but after taking full account of that difficulty, we remain of the view that the primary suitcase began its journey at Luqa. The clear inference which we draw from this evidence is that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the planting of the explosive device was of Libyan origin." [para 82]
In the end, the Court was swayed by the compelling evidentiary narrative presented by the Crown. As we've seen, the story is a bit weak in the beginning, with the introduction to KM180 being unsubstantiated and in fact directly contradicted by the relevant evidence. The final alleged transfer, to Maid of the Seas at Heathrow, was not clearly documented; luggage from Frankfurt was considered good-to-go but late, and hastily loaded with no further securiy or scrutiny. The only brown Samsonite suitcase reported in the primary luggage container was seen by handler John Bedford, and it was loaded before the Frankfurt feeder had arrived.

Otherwise the case that such a suitcase made the journey does look reasonably good on paper, and it's at the middle link of Frankfurt where the item is glimpsed briefly. Off-loading records for KM180 were not available to give a number for comparison with Air Malta's records, and the loading papers for PA103A seem to have gone missing as well, along with the entire central luggage system's computer data. (Another page explains the missing computer data more fully) With the middle and outer parts of the middle link equally blank about this bag, it was only some alleged luck that an employee, Bogomira Erac, and no one else, had printed a copy of just the data investigators needed, luggage destined for 103A, as a personal souvenir. Apparently she realized police had never gotten a copy, and then surrendered hers at the end of January 1989. (Another post yet deals in more detail with the circumstances of this save) [Trial Transcripts, Day 47, 30 August 2000, pages 6659-6671 - see also Erac testimony]

What this unusual and unsubstantiated record showed was a luggage item "coded" into container no. 8849, at coding station 206, 13:07 local time. Station 206 was logged as processing KM180's luggage from 1304-1310 local, suggesting the bag was from that flight. Item 8849 was then logged through storage and up to the correct loading gate to go on PA103A. (For more detail on the actual records, and lack thereof, and what they say or don't, see the post Primary Evidence: Frankfurt Airport Records.)

Also, the public indoctrination about this item on the printout is quite interesting. Well before it was decided libyans were responsible, a year or so was spent telling the world via David Leppard, a Granada/HBO TV movie, and other sources, that the Palestinians working for Iran in Germany had taken their altimeter bomb to Malta and sent it through three ups and downs before it blew up over Lockerbie. Only later did they realize they had a piece of the timer ...

Problems with the Evidence
- Contradicted by Air Malta's records
Stand-alone Post: Primary Evidence: Air Malta's Records for KM180
In terms of air security, an unaccompanied bag being waved through the system was considered a major and embarrassing breach. When the notion of such a bomb was visualized in a Granada/HBO movie, released December 1990, Paul Foot explains:
"This was too much for Air Malta, who sued Granada for libel. Norton Rose, the London commercial solicitors, compiled a huge dossier detailing almost everything about the flight from Malta to Frankfurt on the day of the Lockerbie bombing and proving that all 55 bags checked in on the flight could be ascribed to passengers, none of whom travelled on to London. The evidence was so powerful that Granada settled the action before it got to court. They paid Air Malta £15,000 damages and all the costs of the case. The only time these matters had been tested in a legal action, the Maltese connection to the bomb suitcase was comprehensively demolished." [Foot p 7]

- Supported by nothing else
Stand-alone Post: Frankfurt Airport's Missing Computer Records

- Ambiguity of its Evidence
Stand-alone Post: Coding Station Reliability
Station 206 at 1307 does not actually mean that an item from KM180 really entered the system tagged for PA103A. While this blogger accepts that's the single most likely thing indicated, such a conclusion runs up against both the Air Malta records having no 56th bag to fill the slot. It's quite possible, as widely argued, that another item altogether, from somewhere else, could have been piggy-backed in on KM180's load.

- Questionable Authenticity

- Operational Security (circumstantial)
Three airports circumvented ...
Frankfurt Airport had been put on alert,and vigilant against radio units that might have bombs inside.

See also: Randi forum (JREF0 discussion thread, started by me but taken over to amazing effect by Rolfe. Unaccompanied bag from Malta - evidence?


FullInquiry said...

In the 1980's, when we travelled through Malta by air as I often did as we boarded the plane, we passengers always had to indentify our bags on the tarmac to an Air Malta person who chalk-marked the passenger-identifed bags and put them on a cart to be loaded on the plane.

If there was an unidentified bag everyone would get off the plane and re-identify their bag (this happened to me more than once).

In part because of this excellent security at Malta's Luqa airport I first started to doubt the Malta-bag theory (I no longer doubt it I know its not true), and began in about 1994, looking into the indictments of the two Libyan accused - and beneath the surface I found this murkey story that Libya did it, which is still just as murkey today.

Caustic Logic said...

Interesting... first-hand knowledge from back in the day. I've heard more around in discussions at the JREF forum, mostly, than what this slim intro article passes on. But indeed, no one much seems troubled to flick aside Air Malta's methods and records, in favor of the investigation's NOTHING until a stray souvenir copy turned up 1-9 months later (depending on degree of backdating).

It's inherently insane, but people so want to trust the government and be tough on terrorism that they'll let logic be short-circuited in the process. "No time to make sure we've got the right perps, we're busy being tough! "

Again, welcome to the this site. If you haven't popped in there already, Professor Black's blog is more happenin' joint for discussion. (But boy do they whiz by fast)