The “Helsinki warning” is the infamous phone call of 5 December 1988 that partially predicted the bombing of Pan Am 103. Officially ruled a hoax, the threat is still widely suspected to have been either genuine or actionable – that is, whether true or not, if the targeted flights had been cancelled, lives may have been saved. This series of posts, sequentially linked, will set to exploring the following issues:
1- The call and its contents
2- Distribution and assessment
3- Would it / did it serve as an effective warning?
4- Can we be sure it was a coincidental hoax?
5- The decoy theory
---The call and its contents
The basic gist of the warning is explained in the 1990 final report of PCAST, the President’s Commission on Airline Security and Terrorism. [Google Books link]
On December 5, 1988, an anonymous phone caller to the U.S. embassy in Helsinki, Finland, said that sometime within the next two weeks a Finnish woman would carry a bomb aboard a Pan Am aircraft flying from Frankfurt to the United States. The FAA security bulletin on that threat was issued December 7 and was redistributed by the State Department to its embassies worldwide December 9. [p iii]
A little more detail was given in Steve Emerson and Brian Duffy’s contemporaneous book The Fall of Pan Am 103. It was 11:45 local time when “a man with a deep, indistinct voice who’d spoken with a thick Arab accent had placed a call to the main switchboard behind the Marine guard post in the U.S. embassy building.” The operator routed the call to the Regional Security Office, where Kenneth Luzzi, a special agent with the State Department, was filling in. He took careful notes, but “for some reason, he neglected to tape it.” The book continues:
“Start over again, from the beginning, Luzzi told the man on the phone. Several times Luzzi asked the man’s name. His voice sounded odd, and he would not give his name. His message, he told Luzzi, was simple: Sometime before the end of the year, operatives of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization would smuggle a bomb on board a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States. He mentioned a Mr. Soloranta in particular.”Mr. Soloranta” was actually Samir Kadar, a master bomber from the Abu Nidal organization.” [E+D p 53]
The notorious Mr. Kadar, aka "The Professor," had many links including, notably, to Libya. He was taken by police to be dead as of 11 July 1988, apparently having perished in an exploded car in Athens that had his papers and fingerprints in it, part of an attack on a ferry. Or was he dead? An LA Times article from 1989 noted the questions; his remans were never identified, and intelligence types continued to presume he was active somewhere. The caller was apparently informed enough to know this, as well as his identifiable alias.
11 July would be a good time time (if a bit soon) for Kadar to disappear and plot, “from beyond the grave,” the inevitable revenge for the sinking of Iran Air flight 655 on 3 July. An aggressive American cruiser in Iranian waters had mistaken the hapless Airbus for a fighter jet on the attack, and had shot it from the sky, killing 290 innocent people. Since that bizarre action and the Iranian threats of blood for blood, US interests – especially air travel - were considered in danger of retaliation.
And in late October, a terrorist cell was busted near Frankfurt, reportedly linked to Iranian agents by payment of $1 million. They had produced, we heard later, five altitude sensitive bombs disguised in radios (and a computer monitor). These were mostly built by double (or triple?) agent Marwan Khreesat. Four were recovered. Again, the reference to Frankfurt would ring eerily familiar to the trained ear.
So the call has the not-dead Kadar plotting against american airliners in Frankfurt. And the final twist that gave it actionable specificity was the Finnish woman, and the local plotter who would be giving her the bomb. Dr. Ludwig deBraeckeleer's online analysis from December 2008 adds the following:
The caller stated that a man living in Frankfurt called Abdullah would passed a bomb to a man named Yassan Garadet who just arrived from Libya and was now residing in Hemeenlinne, a city North-east of Helsinki. In turn, Garadet would plant the bomb on an unidentified Finnish woman.
Ken Luzzi, the agent who had taken that call, spoke up again for a 2008 BBC documentary (Conspiracy Files). He was interviewed on his fishing boat, starting “it was shortly before lunchtime, and the phone rang,” followed by a shorter version of the above story. At this time, he specified for the record that “Pan Am” was not mentioned, but deduced. “There was actually no mention of the airline at that time, but the main airline that flew of course from Frankfurt to the United States was Pan Am.” [CF 8:17-9:10]
So, within a span (alternately given as within two weeks and by the end of the year), a presumably Pan Am jet flying from Frankfurt to America would be targeted for bombing. A woman flying in from Finland would be carrying the bomb in her luggage, as an unwitting mule. Women romanced into carrying bombs onto planes was a known terror tactic, in fact once associated with Khreesat's bombs, 1970s phase.
The information was on the record with security professionals, and would be further analyzed. Who was this Garadet? Who was the caller, and what did he know? As long as there was a chance it reflected a genuine threat, it should also have been disseminated as variously seen fit.