<< See part 1: the call and its contents.
Assessment and Distribution
News of the strange phone call in Helsinki was sent to Pan Am and the Federal Aviation Authority within a day of its placement on 5 December, 1988, and apparently bounced around about two days before being acted on. Jim Berwick, Pan Am’s head of security for London, learned of the threat on the morning of the 8th. He soon flew to Finland and met with security experts who told him what they knew.
The Finnish feds had been tapping the line that the call came in on (no word whether they got a recording or not). The picture that emerged from the outset was of a hoax from someone who knew nothing and was driven by his own irrelevant agenda. The phone was found by the Finns to belong to one Samra Mahayoun, “an unfortunate creature,” as Emerson and Duffy put it - a displaced Palestinian student, perhaps 30 years old, whose girlfriend had recently dumped him for another man. [E+D p 54] It seems Mahayoun had taken to prank calling the Israeli embassy to frame his rival as a terrorist who might be worth deporting.
This rival is given by the authors as one Yassan Gharadot - the man who was to pass the bomb from “Abdullah” to the Finnish woman. The BBC's Conspiracy Files (who wouldn't give Mahayoun's name and gave the other as Ghassan Jaradet) suggests the woman in question was the coveted woman in the middle of the dispute. De Braeckeleer says the Finns had suggested it was drug gang rivalries behind it all. Whichever the case, it was apparently evidence of a personal crisis, and not a civi aviation one.
But the tense times called for a little caution. Berwick agreed the call was a hoax, but was already aware of the earlier “Toshiba Warning" regarding weaponized consumer radios. He ordered special screening of all female passengers from Finland, and sent out a memo instructing all Alert (Pan Am security) personnel to place “special emphasis on the handling of interline baggage” at Frankfurt.” [E+D 186]
On 9 December the warning was also distributed to embassies worldwide, the only one of which to respond was Moscow. The mission the the USSR put out an advisory on 13 December, over a week into the two week period of possible danger. It was widely seen and remembered in that community. One of the chiefs there told the PCAST panel in 1990 that 80 per cent of the Pan Am reservations by embassy staff for the holiday season were cancelled after the so-called Helsinki warning. [dB] He explained:
“It named a carrier. It named a route. And it covered a time period when many Americans in Moscow would be going home for Christmas. Here, it seems to me, we have a moral obligation to let people know." [Coleman and Goddard, chapter 9]
In contrast, the head of aviation security at the UK Department of Transport told victim's families in June 1989 the since the warning had been a hoax, its posting around Moscow had been a "mistake," rather than a moral obligation. Family member Martin Cadman is said to have replied
“[A]re you really telling us that there may be some Americans alive today because someone in the embassy in Moscow made a mistake in issuing a warning? Are you saying that 259 passengers [including his son William] are dead because the British Government did not make the same mistake?" [de Braeckeleer]
That question, whether the apparent hoax would likely have really saved any of the passengers on PA103, will be covered in part 3 - "Would it be an effective warning?"