Charles McKee's Suitcase

17 September 2010

In the recent murder trial of two Libyans for the Lockerbie bombing, reference was made to the fact that a suitcase belonging to Major Charles McKee, a senior CIA agent who had been involved in the negotiations for the release of hostages in Beirut, had been mysteriously carried away from the piles of wreckage left by the crash and even had a large hole cut into it before it was returned to the investigators. The specific intention of cutting the hole, it was agreed, was to inspect the contents of the suitcase long before its evidential value could be established.
- Paul Foot, Flight From Justice, page 9

The enigmatic major McKee is central to the discredited drug swap theory - the main target, in fact, for planning to rat out the CIA protection of a terrorist heroin pipeline. This was supposed to be related to freeing the hostages in Lebanon, which McKee was also working on in a high-level manner. McKee's targeting by the CIA is also central, in a different way, to Charles Norrie's theory; as his book A Tale of Three Atrocities explains:
The explanation came to me very quickly indeed. Poor McKee was killed by his colleagues. Unknown to him, his last duty was to help them locate baggage container AVE4041 PA among the debris, by using the transpondered suitcase he was carrying. [...] Transpondered suitcases must have a basis in fact since they appear frequently in fiction, for example in recent film No Country for Old Men.
As for why, he writes:
Once the CIA had used McKee's suitcase transponder to locate it, it must have been easy to determine which baggage container was AVE4041 PA. [...] In the remains of AVE4041 PA, the CIA placed a pre-blown suitcase, the remains of a Toshiba cassette recorder and various miscellaneous items. They hoped that, when the Lockerbie investigation team found the suitcase, they would follow the concocted evidence to a suitable CIA selected target, which would become Libya.
Norrie believes the CIA approved this operation, so it might have been better to include pre-blown materials in a suitcase to be placed right next to the bomb. Done. This tromping around in the open after the fact seems to me incompatible with someone who was in on the set-up.

More to the point, there was no intact "luggage container" near McKee's bag. Pieces of AVE4041 were scattered across many square miles. Likewise the suitcase fragments would have to planted across H, I, and K sectors - a wide swathe indeed. McKee's suitcase is described as item PD/889, suggesting it was found in D sector, near Lockerbie itself and miles west of the Samsonite remains.

All you'd need a transponder for is to locate a bag with sensitive (???) you didn't expect to become compromised. But you were prepared for the unexpected - you follow the bag's signal, remove and conceal the sh*t, then put it back before anyone notices, if possible. In fact, it seems that's what happened, except for the part about not being noticed. For one, they didn't just open the bag, they cut it open in a way that was clearly not from the explosion, nor likely there before. The scientific report from RARDE, signed by Hayes and Feraday noted:
PD/889. This is a partially disrupted grey hardshell suitcase. The suitcase measured 685 millimetres by 510 millimetres by 190 millimetres and was constructed from a rigid dark grey sheet plastics with a simulated leather finish, lined with a woven cream-coloured material backed with a white fibrous material which adhered to the grey plastics skin. The suitcase was fitted with a rigid plastics handle, bright metal trim and locks, which were devoid of any proprietary or owner's identification. A rectangular hole had been cut in the hard shell above the handle.

The left-hand edge of the suitcase showed evidence of having been damaged by an explosion, with disruption and blackening of the outer skin and bright metal body frame.

This had come up in a JREF discussion of Norrie's theory. Therein a notion was mentioned that the cutting was "to remove a secondary security lock that incorporated some kind of anti tamper device that would destroy the contents if activated." That would be a better explanation that removal of the transponder, which would only require the lock picked or opened with the known combination. Such a special lock mechanism would require special manufacture, perhaps by a CIA proprietary company. This then could explain the removal of all identifying markings (why a secret company's labels would ever be there is, however, left un-answered).

RARDE Dr. Thomas Hayes gave interesting details about the bag in his evidence at Camp Zeist in 2000 (day 16, pp 2637-2641).

Q Now, I would just like to examine your contemporaneous note of this case a little further, Dr. Hayes. If we look to the right of your diagram, we see the reference "Unidentified suitcase"; is that right?
A Yes, it is.
Q And then the entry "Labels, name tag, brand name apparently removed."
A Yes.
Q All of these items had been removed from the suitcase. And then, if we look to the left at the diagram, we can see the notation "Hole cut"?
A Yes, we can.
Q Do you recollect this case and its examination, Dr. Hayes?
A No more clearly than any other examination, I'm afraid.
[...snip - discussion on whether "sawn" or "cut" was the better word for the obvious rectangular hole...]
Q Taken together with the removal of all labels, name tags, brand names, would that perhaps attract your attention, Dr. Hayes?
A Yes, it would.
Q And if we go on in your notes, after you record "clear indications of explosives involvement", do we see in the margin towards the bottom of the page "PD/889 attached above"?
A Yes, we do.
Q And then plastics bag and contents with attached ID label marked "Contents of grey suitcase belonging to Charles McKee."
A Yes, I see that.
Q Was it disclosed to you that Charles McKee referred to there was in the service of the United States government?
A No, it wasn't.
Q Or that this case had been returning from Beirut?
A No.
Following this, he was asked about his description of the case's contents.

Q I see. You then make this entry: "Contents: Assorted clothing with [sic] unlike the suitcase from which it was supposedly taken showed little evidence of explosives involvement."
A Yes, I did.
Q Now, I see the use of the word "supposedly" employed by you, Dr. Hayes. And I take it you chose that word with care?
A Yes, I did.
Q And was that intended to convey that in your own mind the assorted clothing which had been passed to you labelled as the contents did not appear on the face of it to represent the contents of the suitcase which had been damaged in the way already described?
A Yes, that's certainly one interpretation.
Q Indeed, looking to this case and the examination note on page 22 as a whole, the reasonable inference, is it not, is that some party has interfered with the case following the disaster and prior to it being made available to you for forensic examination?
A That is an inference that could be drawn.
This is certainly an interesting story in its right, but I for one suspect it's no clue to the attack itself or the larger cover-up. More likely it's simply a nexus of two separate paths of clandestine mystery, and until I change my mind on that, the subject probably won't come up much around here. McKee's unusual profile make him useful to attach new fictions to - reminiscent in fact of Abdelbaset al Megrahi's clandestine  appearance on Malta earlier that day.


baz said...

If Major McKee's suitcase was cut open and the contents manipulated how come the suitcase of CIA agent Matthew Gannon wasn't?

Caustic Logic said...

I really don't know enough about any of these guys to say why.

I think Norrie's idea of a transponder is fair given how quick this one was found.

And I suspect something was in it that would be interesting and unusual to learn. But we'll never know and I don't care much. I'm pretty sure it's a side-note.