23 October 2009
re-posted here March 23 2010
last edits 31 October 2010
The recent hubbub regarding overly-mobile Lockerbie evidence started with Dutch journalist Gideon Levy’s early 2009 video Tegenlicht: Lockerbie Revisited. It’s a well-made video, with good music, some informative bits, and an unusual format of having interviewees watch and respond to recordings of others. Its prime focus was the crucial evidence PT/35(b), the Mebo timer fragment “tying” the bombing back to Libya. It’s therefore a little embarrassing that Levy announces another famous fragment, of general Toshiba circuit board displayed on a fingertip – as the article in question. This confusion surfaces elsewhere in the film, but manages to not become a big deal.
The main attraction that has generated some buzz was a curious discrepancy revealed and captured regarding the whereabouts of this historic find during the course of the investigation. As evidence from Scottish soil it was, should have been, in control of the Scottish police investigation, headed by the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), a spot first held by Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS) John Orr (Strathclyde police, now Sir John Orr), and then by Orr's deputy, DCS Stuart Henderson (Lothian and Borders police, whom we meet below). The Scots would work in tandem with – but not give their evidence to – the American FBI's task force for the "SCOTBOM" investigation.
Officially the fragment was definitely taken outside Scotland - in the proper hands - to a RARDE lab at Kent, England and, as we’ve more recently had confirmed, to a private lab in Germany, both times for forensics testing. The understanding of then-Lord Advocate Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, which should have been quite good: “As far as I’m aware it’s always been in the UK,” he told Levy’s camera in 2008. He obviously didn’t know everything.
Besides the trips to England and Germany, which neither Lord Fraser nor Gideon Levy seemed aware of, there’s an alleged journey by this little blue key across the big blue sea to the United States. In the first of two interviews with Levy, FBI SCOTBOM chief Dick Marquise casually states that this one crucial piece of evidence, and nothing else, physically was brought to the FBI’s main lab in Washington.
“I’ll just tell you, not one piece - no I shouldn’t say that – the evidence – no, I’m not choosing my words carefully, I just want to make sure I say the right thing – all the evidence that was found in Lockerbie never made its way to be examined by the FBI laboratory. PT/35, as far as I remember, was the only piece of evidence that made its way to the laboratory, in the possession of a RARDE examiner. He brought it, he did the comparison, and he’s a scientist, and he took it back.”
Well that's an interestingly worded twist to the story. FBI Special Agent James “Tom” Thurman, the man publicly credited with making the identification of the fragment as from a Libyan-supplied MST-13 timer, on June 15 1990, also made an appearance. Levy caught up with him, wearing his years well in retirement, at a December 2008 ceremony to marking the 20th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster. Levy came across a bit wormy, in my opinion, using the solemn ceremony mostly to make Thurman squirm and deny he was dismissed from the FBI for altering evidence. More to the point, he challenged Thurman if comparing with a photo – as he has previously stated – was really scientific. Thus provoked, he responded:
Thurman: I did the real thing ... I had the real piece of evidence.Suspicions condensing around the Thurman link here is natural; PT/35(b) was apparently taken outside normal channels to his lab, and put under the grip of a known manipulator of evidence. Problem is, the charges against him were not over physically altering physical evidence, but for his explosives unit allowing conclusions to be overstated in the prosecution’s favor, in multiple instances unrelated to this one. Agent Fred Whitehurst told Levy how Thurman altered his reports when he deemed that his own political science training trumped Whitehurst’s chemistry smarts.
Levy: That pointed to Libya.
Thurman: Absolutely. Absolutely. The photograph was the first thing, then the real piece of evidence was brought over. And at that point –
Levy: It was – it was on your finger, the chip was on.
Thurman: At that point - then there was a one-to-one identification made. The real piece of evidence, to the timer, the MST-13 timer, was made in the FBI laboratory. It wasn’t just a photograph. The photograph started it, and then the authorities from England brought over the real piece of evidence. That piece of evidence was examined in the FBI laboratory, along with the MST-13. That examination was verified in the forensic science laboratory, in England. So, it wasn’t only my examination, it was verified by other peoples’ examination as well.
This will and certainly should cast doubt on Thurman's general investigative even-handedness and his certainties over his own lab work (“I knew we had it,” it "absolutely, absolutely" implicates Libya, etc.). In fact why Thurman was selected is beyond me – any idiot with the two photos could affirm they’re the same, and this selectee has become a real liability. All the rage at the 1991 indictment, he was discredited and never called as a witness by the time of the big trial at camp Zeist in 2000.
But presenting this side-by-side with concerns over the “tampering with” of this evidence once taken somewhere dangerous is quite leading. The fact is, I can see no sign of tampering with the evidence, nor much of a reasons to suspect it. The problem is the thing itself, not where it was taken and who touched it in these dark corners.
At that same chilly cemetery, as the people were leaving to more private venues, Levy caught up again with Mr. Marquise, as it so happened accompanied by his Scottish counterpart DCS Henderson. When standing side-by-side with the prime guardian of that fragment Marquise was of a different recollection altogether from his first interview. Levy was granted an answer to one question, and that's about what he asked, for almost four minutes.
Levy: When I asked Lord Fraser about the circuit board, he said something that contradicted what you said. He said it had never been to the United States. And if it was in the United States, then he would have known.
Marquise: No, I don’t know that I told you the circuit board was in the United States.
Henderson: The circuit board was never in the United States.
Marquise: Let’s back up, we’re talking two different things. There was a circuit board of MST-13 timer in the United States, but the fragment PT/35 was never in the United States. Photographs of it were in the United States.”
Levy: It was never in the United States? (murmured agreement) Oh, I thought it was…
Marquise: No the fragment never came to the United States, but the circuit board was in the United States, because we had the MST-13 timer, which we turned over to the police in Scotland.
Levy: Ah, but but… Tom Thurman, who was here today, also said it was in the United States.
Marquise: No, he never said that.
Marquise: The fragment PT/35 was not in the United States.
Levy: But it was in England, but it came…
Marquise: It never came to the United States
Levy: It never came to the United States.
Marquise: I don’t believe so – I’m 100% sure it was not here.
Levy: Oh, it has never been here.
Henderson: Never released out of evidence control of ourselves. Couldn’t afford to let something like that …
Levy: I thought it was brought in the possession of Alan Feraday.
Marquise: Feraday’s over in RARDE. He’s in England. It’s in his possession.
Levy: Yes, yes, but I thought he came – I thought you told me that it came in his possession to the United States.
Marquise: I don’t know that…
Henderson: His possession and my possession. But it was never released for any reason (inaudible).
Levy: And who are you?
Henderson: Detective Chief Superintendent Henderson, I conducted the investigation.
Levy: Okay. My name’s Gideon Levy, and I’m from Holland - from the Dutch television. So it has never been in the United States.
From the video: Levy, Henderson, Marquise (l-r) discuss whether or not it was ever in the United States. But it wasn't? No, wasn't it?
Levy: At all.
Henderson: Couldn’t be, ‘cause it was such an important point of evidence it wasn’t possible to release it. It had to be contained to be produced to the Court, therefore you couldn’t afford to have it waved around for everybody to see because it could have got interfered with.
Henderson: So it was far too valuable to be other than made available – couldn’t be.
Henderson: Very valuable piece of evidence.
Levy: (shouting over) But you said it was in the possession of Alan Feraday and brought to the United States.
Marquise: You know, its – you’ll have to talk to Alan Feraday about what he brought to the United States. I don’t remember…
Henderson: Alan Feraday had it in his possession with me, but he did not release it to anyone
Marquise: No, no, no, he said bring it with him. Did he bring it to the, I don’t remember.
Henderson: No, they came to us to see it.
Marquise: Yes. I saw it – I saw it in London.
Levy: Oh, you saw it in London?
Henderson: They came to where we had it, see. Because it wasn’t possible to remove any evidence out of the jurisdiction of the – Scottish control.
Levy: So you were the same – you were the FBI investigator and you were the Scotish investigator. Ultimate inestigators.
Henderson: That’s why I’m here, to go and see the relatives.
Marquise: We need to go.
Henderson: We’ll have to go. Pleasure to meet you, gentlemen.
Levy: Thank you very much.
Henderson: And by the way, there is no hidden holes to find because the culprit is in custody. (with a smile and wink) Take my word for it. Okay?
So I would come away from this with an impression that it may well have not been in the United States, whatever Marquise and Thurman said to same guy ten minutes earlier. But I’m weird hat way, denying Henderson’s bait that I imagine was dangling there. A more normal reaction would be to get a little confused, and for many to solve that by taking their own default position. Some would just dismiss this all as faulty memory two decades on, while others will surely latch onto it as more proof of a cover-up, or at least something to make some more noise over.
My main concern with PT/35(b) is that this much-fretted over fragment may have been planted outright to begin with, or at least has been overstated as direct evidence pointing only to Libya. This hullabaloo about where the possible fraud was carted to adds little to an understanding of either level of worthwhile inquiry.
Update, 10/28: Something I saw later that fits best here: Marquise's unacknowledged about face here was short-lived. In September 2009, months later with Henderson not present, he again affirmed an American trip. This was in a response to Gareth Peirce, and sent into Robert Black's blog. I haven't been able to verify it, so do please take a grain of salt:
Once he identified the fragment, he asked Alan Feraday to come to Washington. Feraday brought the original fragment of the timer with him and they both examined it under a microscope. They independently agreed it was identical to the MEBO timer. The fragment was never out of the control of Mr. Feraday and returned with him to the lab at RARDE.
Second update, Nov 24 2009: Mr. Marquise responds to the confusion that indeed the fragment did come to the US, and he and Henderson were both confused by the tone of Levy's Arlington ambush. Again from Black's Lockerbie Blog:
With regard to the "travel" of PT-35-- once again-- it was the sharing of information which led to the solution of this case. If the fragment had remained behind in Scotland, never shared, it would possibly be unidentified today. No one would ever have discovered it was a piece of one of 20 timers given to Libyan intelligence. It is clear no one ever attempted to "cover" that up-- I freely admitted it in my book, Mr. Henderson stated such in his precognition and I again said so to Mr. Levy. My "confusion" at Arlington last December over whether it had come to the US or not, was due more to the tone of the question, the setting and the allegation I may have lied to him when he first interviewed me. Unlike Mr. Megrahi, I do not tell lies when it comes to the evidence in this case. I said it right when Mr. Levy first interviewed me. We had nothing to hide because we did the right thing and there has never, never, never been one scintilla of proof that PT-35 was altered or changed in any way.
In his 2006 book, Marquise relates how it was at an investigator’s conference in Virginia on June 11 1990 that the Scottish authorities finally made their puzzlement over the fragment known to all. 55 companies had been checked to no avail. At this point, four days before his identification, that Thurman “approached Henderson and asked if he could take photographs of PT-35 and attempt to identify it. Henderson, who believed the Scots had done all they could do, agreed.” [2, p 60]
This passage is crucial to move claims, and rather ambiguous. It seems to read that Thurman, in Arlington, was allowed to take a picture of evidence Henderson had there with him. It could also mean a request to retain one of the photo-prints there, or to take a picture of the single photo they brought, or fly to Scotland to photograph PT/35(b). The last option seems out, given the mechanics of identification that followed. I remain agnostic on the reading here, and on its value as one of Mr. Marquise’s sometimes confused recollections. (and there is a hell of a lot of confusion and amnesia surrounding this investigation)