"As the layers are peeled away..."

AFIO and Poteat on Megrahi's Release
31 August 2010

last edit 1 September

Leading up to, upon, and following the 20 August anniversary of Abdelbaset al Megrahi's release from Scottish prison, and with the man still stubbornly surviving, calls went up on both sides of the Lockerbie divide. Last week, former FBI SCOTBOM chief investigator Richard Marquise spoke with a writer for the Christian Science Monitor (critique link). The self-serving result, to the effect that they got the right man, joined a chorus of media reports obediently repeating the Libyan guilt storyline without regard to the other side.

From that other side comes Dr Swire's story on stage in Scotland, JFM's petition to Scotland putting Salmond "on the spot," Michael Mansfield QC repeating his conviction that the conviction was "entirely unsustainable," plus a steady show of support from the UK public for the "bomber's" release, and generally for his innocence. Even in the states, Time's article on "five big questions" conveys with some conviction the "british"position. Americans, previously assured their reality was the real one, were in danger of growing confused amid these mixed messages.

"During the 1970s the Intelligence Community was buffeted by a number of leaks and revelations, culminating in the Church and Pike Congressional investigations. CIA officer David Atlee Phillips took early retirement in 1975 to respond to the growing sentiment that the CIA was a “rogue elephant.” As part of this effort, Phillips founded this organization, known then as the Association of Retired Intelligence Officers (ARIO). Although much attacked at the time when many people called for the dismantlement of the CIA, Phillips toured the world to speak out in favor of the need for a strong intelligence community. He was subsequently personally accused of being a participant in the Kennedy and Letelier assassinations... " Source: AFIO - About AFIO
Quickly on the heels of the Monitor-hosted FBI re-affirmation came a similar show of solidarity from the intelligence community, via their trusted affiliate, the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO - see box at right for more). With a membership drawn about one fourth from former CIA agents, the group's president Gene Poteat spoke with Jeff Stein of the Washington Post's "blog" Spy Talk (27 August). The column also mentions an AFIO statement (which I cannot find elsewhere) supporting recent moves by members of the Senate to investigate Mr. al-Megrahi's release. Poteat explained "the families of the murdered intelligence officers – and indeed all of the families – deserve no less than a full airing of the facts..."

Unfortunately, the sentence ended "...around Mr. al-Megrahi’s release." Silently, he affirms in the negative, a full airing of the circumstances behind Megrahi's framing for the bombing is not worthy of the same scrutiny.

This is suspected by most observers who are informed, but not implicated in an operation that was apparently headed by the CIA more than any other party. Their investigation into the bombing fell to counter-terrorism director Vincent Cannistraro, one of Reagan's experts on blaming and smearing Libya for political reasons. It's only to be expected from Cannistraro and his colleagues to defend the case that sanctioned Libya and put Megrahi away, and even to go on the offensive as a show of confidence against  any undue leniency.
In its statement, AFIO expressed strong support for the Senate committee’s investigation and called on “the UK and Scottish Governments to launch independent inquiries into the release of Mr. al-Megrahi to ensure that commercial and/or political interests did not lead to Mr. al-Megrahi’s freedom. ... CIA Director Leon Panetta, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Attorney General Eric Holder [should] direct their staffs to fully cooperate with the Senators’ investigation.”

Obviously the foreign governments are requested to explain what they already have in letters and statements, so far refusing to come in person. As I've said before, I can see their annoyance at American ignorance and presumptuousness, and the principle behind not "crawling" to Washington. But however justified, this stance is counterproductive and really is strengthening stand-offishness over here, as Mr. Poteat and the AFIO have just shown.

At least as noteworthy is the association's suggested "narrow focus" for this desirable investigation:
AFIO "also called for U.S. government agencies “to assist in providing minimally redacted operational cables and intelligence reports to cleared Senate staff in a secure environment. All documents should be narrowly focused on al-Megrahi’s release in order to protect sources and methods of collection.”
Whatever light the US government could shed on the decision by Scotland's justice secretary is minimal, and that lack of relevant sources is quite protective of anything relevant. And in case anyone was confused, the Association of "Former" Intelligence Officers recommends you be careful to avoid accidentally requesting information on the "sources and methods of collection” behind the bullsh*t story that put Megrahi away in the first place. They're all surely just as unanimous on the justness of the conviction as they are on the unjustness of his release, as Poteat put it:

“There have been few clear-cut issues where so many of us agree as we do on this one ... The decision triggering al-Megrahi’s release was a shock, and had a strong whiff of manipulation and back-room deals.”

The only back room - or rather prison cell - deal that I've sensed lurking in the release decision was the indirect way by which Megrahi's appeal of conviction and his return to Libya were linked, and that's almost surely not the same scent they're onto. Rather, its more likely something like the deals some former intelligence officers arranged in 1989-91, that made the latter batch necessary (kill the appeal to obscure the frame-up). The most informed among the AFIO's members would know there are secrets just beneath the surface that are better left there, and one would almost expect more discretion that calling for an investigation of Lockerbie anything.

The apparent CIA personnel scouring the Scottish countryside from day one could be explained by normal, uptight, agency protocol - secure all secrets.  But the 2 February 1989 news report citing an "American" source, suggesting Libyan operatives at Frankfurt carried out the bombing - is harder to explain. Quite likely from Cannistraro or a like-minded colleague, this would be based on no evidence that ever was mentioned again (ie, made up), but did help prepare the field for the replacement story that would evolve.

The first key to the eventual Libyan narrative was the identification on Malta of Libyan agent al-Megrahi, aka Khalifah Abdusamad. It's unclear just when his presence there on December 21, under the alias, was known to the CIA. But it was by early 1989 most likely and they'd be the first to know. Since even before the bombing they were getting original tips from liar for hire Abdul Majid Giaka, who was recieving $1500 a month from the agency for his slim, low-level info. On the CIA's urging,  this onetime literature student was accepted by DoJ as a witness, just after he fabricated a major portion of the evidence in the 1991 indictments - all the really specific stuff. He was apparently paid $2 million in 1992 for his efforts as well as being resettled with his family in the US.

Among a handful of other allegations lodged against the CIA, one of interest is how their bomb timer expert "Orkin" helped FBI's "Tom" Thurman identify the suspicious PT/35(b), under mysterious circumstances. It was found to be from a MST-13 timer, made by Mebo, whose founder Edwin Bollier first stepped up in a January 1989 note to the CIA offering to blame Libya for money. His clues were bizarre, but he had supplied the highly specific and identifiable timers, like the one months later "found at Lockerbie." The later yet ID seems to be accurate, but something fishy abides in that transaction and perhaps others unseen. Thurman was physically there on the scene and behind the scenes at the beginning and frequently thereafter, for example. And the fragment is forensically almost certain to have been involved in no such explosion. The timer fragment also was reportedly the subject of a document -requested by Megrahi's defense - that was sealed by the UK government to protect the interests of an unnamed friendly nation.

But the vital heart of the provable intelligence frame-up was Giaka; even after leaving the agency, Vincent Cannistraro continued into the 1990s with ignorant or dishonest public pimping of the secret witness and his amazing ability to bust the case open. The agency's ignorance or dishonesty (as with the Scottish Crown) continued into insisting to the Zeist judges in 2000 that the witness was credible, and that the redacted parts of CIA cables held no secrets. In fact, they revealed that the agency knew Giaka's was a bogus story. They had already chosen to push it anyway, to create a false reality by which crippling and deadly sanctions on Libya were justified.

Mr. Poteat further prophesized to Stein, "As the layers are peeled away, we will see what was at the center of the early, and unexpected release, of this malingering convicted terrorist.” These professionals will surely know just when to stop peeling that onion and it'll be well before the rotten center. Just beneath the surface is not faked cancer, but Megrahi's assassinated second appeal. Just beneath that is evidence that the CIA, among others, manipulated the investigation to fit the crime to the selected villains.

The AFIO's origin was as a public relations face to help "explain" CIA excesses of the Cold War. They served to counter criticism of coups, cover-ups, operations gone sour, deception and disinformation. The AFIO is therefore a less than credible source when it comes to another apparent CIA cover-up - Vincent Cannistraro's brainchild, the Libya did it story line. If indeed the best-informed among them were involved in this almost mind-bogglingly bold confidence scheme, we can take no comfort that their public face at the AFIO is publicly expressing confidence in the operation.


Charles said...

This is suspected by most observers who are informed, but not implicated in an operation that was apparently headed by the CIA more than any other party. Their investigation into the bombing fell to counter-terrorism director Vincent Cannistraro, one of Reagan's experts on blaming and smearing Libya for political reasons. It's only to be expected from Cannistraro and his colleagues to defend the case that sanctioned Libya and put Megrahi away, and even to go on the offensive as a show of confidence against any undue leniency.

Well done CL. This is the right track.

Caustic Logic said...

It's one track among many, and a main one, and the one Mr. Poteat and his colleagues know how to navigate safely, it seems.

Thanks for the comment.