The Political Scientists of Lockerbie: An Overview

3 November 2010

Science Well Done, Answers that Make Sense
Following the bombing and fall of Pan Am Flight 103, and the sudden deaths of 270 people, quite a a number of extremely important questions needed answered. Many of these were best addressed by the rigors of physical science - gathering and analyzing the debris of the crash to form as clear a picture as possible of just what happened to that aircraft  The aircraft debris and break-up analysis was tasked to Mick M. Charles et al. at the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). I see no reason to dispute their findings or methods. (AAIB report) It showed where the initial failure occurred, petaled-out panels indicating a powerful explosion in the vicinity of cargo hold station 14L.

Container AVE4041PA, the luggage "pallet" that occupied station 14L, also showed signs of extreme blast damage and was ruled by the AAIB to have held the primary (bomb) suitcase: The container was studied in particular by Thomas Claiden at AAIB. There are some minor points of strangeness with his findings (and they're named AI/100 and AG/145), but on balance his findings seem sound. It established the approximate blast center, most likely in a case laid flat, with one case between it and the floor, at the outboard end of the container.

Likewise, the Scottish police and their allies should by default be trusted in their painstaking collection of thousands of blast-related pieces of evidence from across hundreds of square miles. And after the in-gathering, their own book-keeping should be presumed to show signs of tampering if such even conceivably happened at their end. For example, Detective Douglas Roxburgh, who headed the store house at Dexstar, would have noted debris being removed without a proper cataloging. In fact, he did report this to his superiors at the time.

At trial in 2000 he didn't seem to recall this removal being a big deal or anything nefarious. Nonetheless, there are certainly ways, from the inside or the outside, to alter the police records to accommodate evidence slipped into certain key spots. This may sound like an absurd consideration to many, but on further reading one can see why it's worth keeping in mind.

A Critical Three 
The most relevant material to determining who was responsible for the bombing also happens to be the evidence with a cloud of questions surrounding them. The accepted evidence from closest to the bomb, and three particular scientists at the heart of it - two with the UK military's RARDE agency, one a special agent with the FBI, all known for returning politically useful but scientifically questionable decisions. Hence the "political" scientists of Lockerbie.

The Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment (RARDE), a branch of the UK military, had an explosives forensics lab (sometimes called EC3) that had helped in previous terrorism cases involving the IRA. The blast science side of the Lockerbie inquiry was assigned to EC3. Journalist David Leppard, a huge RARDE fan, wrote in early 1991:
"The Lockerbie case team was led by two men who were considered the best in Britain. They were Dr Thomas Hayes, the senior forensic scientist, and Allan Feraday, his deputy. The remarkable work which the two men were to undertake over the next two years was to provide the cornerstone of the entire investigation.” [p74]
Just who among Hayes and Feraday did what neither could recall - they both signed off on the final report of 1990, but remembered nothing specific at trial in 2000.

Part 1: Thomas Hayes
Dr. Hayes was the head investigator at EC3 during most of the time debris was being studied there. He had previously been involved in the Maguire Seven case of 1976, signing off for science that helped put away seven people for supplying the explosives used in a string of IRA bombings. On review in 1990, the basic science was found to be consciously skewed to secure the convictions, which were all overturned. It was apparently this review that led Hayes to vacate EC3's top spot, leaving his deputy Feraday to take his place.

Part 2: Allen Feraday
Mr. Allen Feraday (no PhD) headed the lab from late 1989 to RARDE's elimination in 1995. He had not a single prior case that would fall apart - he had four. A mass-murdering IRA bomb mastermind, a supplier of Syrian terrorists, a Libyan planning to supply someone for bombs, and three IRA terrorists who deserved to be shot by the SAS because they could have blown a bomb. All these opinions were later questioned or tossed out by courts. For decades Feraday served the Crown loyally and robotically, with an eye to political objectives of his superiors rather than to science and truth. In one case it seems an innocent man was targeted in lieu of a known IRA bombmaker whose prints all over the device were ignored. Feraday helping terrorists get away?

All the above cases hinged on Ferraday's supposedly vast understanding of electronics and circuitry, and he showed the same interests in the Lockerbie case. He made a project of identifying the radio model used, and months later, identifying the fragment of Libyan timer that turned up. This he personally escorted on its mid-1990 journey to the United States (see below). In these and other ways unseen he played a key role, in ambiguous collaboration with Dr. Hayes, laying the "cornerstones" of an investigation that most impartial observers recognize as horribly crooked and geared towards securing a rather ludicrous conviction.

Part 3: "Tom" Thurman 
Among the American experts brought in was FBI special agent James "Tom" Thurman, described by mainstream reports as "one of the bureau's best explosives technicians." Others have said he has no formal explosives training, but rather a degree in, literally, political science. The reality may be in the middle - I'm still sorting that out.

Agent Thurman was ordered to Scotland, along with other folks from the FBI and FAA, on the night of the crash. Starting soon after, he helped locate and assess the blast-damaged clues. There's reason to guess he might have been the guy that set off Roxburgh's alarm bells. Otherwise, I see no great reason to question his findings here. Again, it's closer to the blast center that the clues get weird.

The Scottish police handled most of the rest, and Hayes and Feraday zoomed in on the analysis of the bomb-damaged luggage. Thurman was however called on to make a second appearance in mid-1990. In June he helped identify the crucial timer fragment PT/35(b), in a remarkably short and focused quest. Upon making the link with top-secret CIA help, Thurman then had a look at the actual fragment, brought over by EC3 chief scientist Allen Feraday. Both eminent minds agreed this was a piece of a Mebo MST-13 timer, sold only to Libya in a tiny batch of 20.  Convenient.

The fragment's genuine blast origin was doubted by neither of these two supposed explosives experts, nor by Dr. Hayes. Not all scientists outside their little loop agrees, however. Consider Dr. John Wyatt, involved in tearing down Feraday's work before, who later found in a dramatic series of twenty tests that even at a fraction of the official blast power, all surviving remains were many times smaller than PT/35(b).

As the dedicated post will explain, Thurman has been widely criticized for his lack of real knowledge and lack of credentials. That I could forgive if his science was solid. But he was later drummed out of the FBI crime lab for misleading practices, which is clearly more problematic. His other cases are high-profile - including the 1989 Libyan bombing of UTA 772, and the 1995 right-winger bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. Potentially troubling stuff, which I also haven't got sorted out enough to comment on yet.

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