Gauci and the Czech Photo

24 November 2010
last edits 26 December

Just What was Identified
From the revived JREF discussion thread Tony Gauci and the Mystery Shopper comes a very interesting nexus of questions surrounding critical images of "Lockerbie bomber" Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. In later pages there, Rolfe, Buncrana, Pete2, and myself are re-considering the image by which shopkeeper Tony Gauci linked al-Megrahi to the wreckage of PA 103 with his "identification" of the Libyan as the buyer of a certain set of clothes.

Although Tony had been talking to the police since September 1989, this historic fingering only happened on 15 February 1991, when Mr. Gauci was shown another spread of 12 faces. According to his statement, he at first felt all were too young to be the buyer, and selected none of them. The police refused to take no for an answer, and asked him to again "look at all the photographs carefully and to try and allow for any age difference." [Gauci 15/2/91] On the second pass he pointed to picture number 8 from the left. This was an image of al-Megrahi obtained by investigators from Czechoslovakia. For those unfamiliar, the undated big-hair image used for the slot in question is shown below.

Now, what Tony said pointing at this notably low-quality image and its obscuring noise, is less than amazing. His police statement following the session records it as:
“...similar to the man who bought the clothing. The hair is perhaps a bit long. The eyebrows are the same. The nose is the same, and his chin and shape of face are the same. The man in the photograph is in my opinion, in his thirty years. He would perhaps have to look about ten years older, and he would look like the man who bought the clothes. It's been a long time now and I can only say that this photograph resembles the man who bought the clothing, but it is younger.”
Back in 1989 he had given the buyer as a burly six-foot-plus Libyan, aged approximately 50 years. Our 5'8" villain al-Megrahi was but 36 at the time of purchase. And instinctively, this photo looks to me quite young, taken perhaps a decade before the 1988 purchase. He looks almost too young, with the apparence of baby fat on those long al Megrahi cheeks... and with the cheeks and nose actually seeming shorter... the lips and nose look different...

In fact, the image used is highly unusual, bearing such little resemblance to Megrahi one could be excused for wondering, as I have, if this really is him. The Lockerbie case is so special, I can't see ruling out such a simple thing as a misattributed photograph. However, there's a certain logic to presuming the image is genuine - it would be a massive risk that the picture could be proven to be of some other person, or even altered.

I remain convinced by an earlier experiment I did with photo comparison that I don't think I documented. Even with the apparent facial differences, this could well be Megrahi, taken a bit "chin-up," showing nostrils, more upper lip, shortening the face and nose as seen. Nothing in the overall proportions ruled out the same face. The hair obviously is unlike anything else we've seen him wearing, which when long is more like in the photo shown below.

The image at left was taken for the false passport in the name "Abdusamad" issued by Libyan authorities in mid-1987, age 35. It was used on a few occasions, including a now-famous trip to Malta on 20-21 December 1988. As I've explained elsewhere, this is a legitimate clue - if not for Megrahi's guilt, then for why he was selected for framing.

The image itself is the most widely seen photo of the accused from the 1990s onward. It's not unlike the others taken since then as the man gained new fame as the accused - and then convicted - "Lockerbie bomber." This verifiable likeness is very unlike the photo Tony pointed to, and to which we now return.

The Hair
What Megrahi looked like before and after the Abdusamad photograph is unclear. Whether the raging afro seen in the Czech photo was chopped down before the above or grew in after it can't yet be established (but most clues point to some time before). However, one thing we know it does, among all images of al-Megrahi, is bring him close to matching the plumage style of Gauci's buyer. 

At left is the police artist's sketch based on Tony's description of the mystery shopper, 13 September 1989. The likeness is uncanny in its near-exclusion of Megrahi. It just doesn't look a lick like him, especially with this intense, angular, face, compared to Megrahi's soft features he later pointed to. And all this on a "large head" atop a 6-foot-plus frame to Meegrahi's 5'8" and Tony Gauci's 5'3".

One main feature to note is the dense afro-style haircut atop a clear expanse of forehead. The tightness of the curl is different by a long shot from any photo of Megrahi I've seen. His dangling ramen-wiggle expanses seem incapable of the tightly spherical sculpted look of the artist's sketch.

And here is the "Photofit" or "composite face" image compiled from Gauci's descriptions, given the same day as the above. They share the same basic hair, here a bit longer and fuzzier at the top. Otherwise, the two look drastically different from each other in the lips, chin, eyes, eyebrows, nose, and cheeks.

Tony did specify the sketch was a better likeness than the photo-thing, but agreed both resembled the buyer quite a bit. This almost seems to say "if you can find a photo of anyone with this kind of mid-sized 'fro that I think you guys want to prosecute, I will say it looks like the man." 

Prior to al-Megrahi, Tony had selected others as a match for the buyer, like Mohammed Abu Talb, famously in December 1989. Abu Talb didn't really fit by hair; his appeal was more from the word "bomber" across the corner of his face.  And Tony once pointed out  Mohamed Salam - a pretty good likeness of the sketch in both hair and face - on a less famous occasion. Like al-Megrahi, both of these men were at least a decade  too young. 

Perhaps Megrahi's undated fro was an earlier thing, from his 20s. But other than the Czech photo, we've only seen Megrahi with less hair and apparently more hair product. Buncrana found a photo of Megrahi at about age 19 - a student visa is from when he was studying in Wales, around 1971 (first revealed by the Sun back in August). We can here recognize al-Megrahi's longish features as a stylish young man. A little quiet-looking, but with a wild frontal swoop, almost a bouffant, coming halfway to his eyebrows. Quite unlike Tony's buyer, the Megrahi images show nary a clear forehead, especially in the questionable Czech photo.  And unlike that photo, this one actually looks like the guy it's supposed to be. 

Czech Photo Origin, Age, and Effects 
What was shown was not that Megrahi was or even actually resembled the buyer. All we learned on 15 February was that, among a selection of 12 pictures, Megrahi's could be made to be reported as the one most resembling the buyer, so long as you pick one that doesn't really look like him, while giving him something like the right hair.

This highly useful image was supplied to the investigation by intelligence from Czechoslovakia, says lead FBI investigator Richard Marquise. [see Sent Home to Die, Youtube posting 17:48] In his 2006 book he gave no explanation I could find about when the investigation got this picture, why it's of such poor quality, and what info came with it.  He acknowledge that "no one could positively date the photograph shown to Gauci." [SCOTBOM p. 127 - Google Books link] This may be of key importance below.

Marquise and his faux-witness Abdul Majid Giaka agree the photo Tony pointed to showed a young man, who was Meagrahi. "Giaka had looked at the Czech passport picture identified by Gauci. He said it was Megrahi when he was much younger." [p 142 ] Gauci's own feeling was of a man "in his thirty years," (30s) which Megrahi then was. But this could be chalked up to the lack of clarity and the fact that nearly all men Tony had been shown were in their 30s. DI Scicluna, Maltese police, gave his own account of the 15 February ID with slightly different details.
“.. Gauci started examining the photographs and the first thing he said was that they are all too young. It was explained to him to allow for age discrepancy as the man he saw could be 10-15 years older. [...] Gauci then looked through them and again stopped at Baset’s photo and indicating it he said ‘This is similar, but it is maybe 10-15 years younger.” [Grounds of Appeal doc]
Somewhere in his 30s, plus fifteen years is close enough to a match with the 50-year old man he described. But Marquise, Bell, and Scicluna and crew didn't know how old the photo was. All they had to do, and perhaps did,  was presume the picture itself was 10 years old, and add 10 years per what Gauci said, and you've got Megrahi's age, even though it's still 14 years below what Gauci first estimated.

Further, the quality of the Czech photo is worth wondering about. If the other 11 pictures he was shown that day were all normally clear and this one only looked strange, might that itself be leading? Might Gauci think it was included for some special reason? Might he think this is some super-elusive Mullah Omar character the cops can only get a crappy picture of? Might that make him feel it's more fruitful to point at then the others?

In fact, it seems the other images were altered to lessen the difference, but a professional who reviewed the effects in 2008 felt it was insufficient and the Czech photo still stands out as the gritty, mysterious one. [see Valentine report, page 40]

And There They Stopped
However exactly he was tricked into it, this was the final identification. Tony Gauci had been picking men out of photo lineups sporadically since September 1989, at different times having picked out at least three other men as similar to the buyer, but younger. But after 15 February the exercises abruptly stopped, and investigators were somehow sure they had their man. An identified buyer of the clothes, a Libyan agent comporting with the by-then identified timer, and there as Abdusamad on the day of the bombing. Never mind that he was about five inches too short, too slight of stature and light of skin, 14 years too young, and nowhere near the island of Malta on the day the clothes were purchased.

Marquise related how, at a mid-1991 conference, Senior Investigating Officer Stuart Henderson "discussed the photo spread leading to the Gauci identification of Megrahi. Although no one could positively date the photograph shown to Gauci, he was reluctant to show any more photos without fear of tainting what he had already provided." [127-8]

Something tells me it wasn't so much "tainting" as "spoiling the moment" Henderson was worried about.  As we've seen there was a special and delicate magic about how this supposed selection of al-Megrahi was materialized. It's also clear that the other photos available, with al-Megrahi's usual hair styles and better clarity, would show Tony how unlike the buyer this Libyan was. It could conceivably screw up the ID they had and wanted to keep.

So the big-hair Czech photo remained the only one of the chosen suspect that Tony saw until the better likenesses started appearing in the news a few months later as the "Lockerbie bomber." By then the whole world knew just what the guy looked like, removing all the cahallenge from arranging the later touted pointings-out in 1999 and 2000, just before Tony helped land a conviction and his $2 million prize.
Updates 12/26: In fact, Harry Bell noted in his police diary the day of this charade that this was the only photo the Scottish police had of "Abdelbaset" and they had to use it for fear they could never find another.
"meeting with Special Agent Reid. He tried to imply that we were rushing showing the photograph spread. ....they were the ones that wanted it done before Bollier left the USA.  Also if Baset was identified, Bollier would be the last person to be told as we know he is still in contact with the Libyans. Reid has been worried in case there is no identification made by the witness because [the photo]of Baset we have is too young. I explained that as we have no other and no indication that we will ever get one, then we can only proceed with what we have. If no identification is made and we later get a better photograph showing his true age and appearance in December '88, then the Lord Advocate may
accept an argument for showing this to the witness.

The differences in any photos can be noted while accepting that to some degree it will weaken the identification at any trial."

Then, among the eight points why Megrahi was the buyer, he wrote:
(7) The SIO [Stuart Henderson] advises that Bollier has now been shown the photofit and he states that if the hair was shorter then it would indeed look like Abdelbaset, also if it was 10 to 15 years older.
They got the same response from Bollier, but apparently in reference to the Photofit, not the Czech photo, if it was older (??). Bollier claims in comments below that he was never shown the Czech photo, and had still never seen it for 20 years of highly public study, until this blog post.

(8) The SIO also advises that the photograph we have of Abdelbaset is in fact 12 years old.
This confirms the suspicion. A twelve year old photo of Megrahi would be of a man aged 26, circa 1979. Gauci thought it was of a man in his 30s, and never actually retracted his belief the man was "around 50." This looks a hell of a lot like a shell-game or three-card-trick, designed to fit Megrahi in. [See: Grounds of Appeal doc, page 42/43]
Information continues in the excellent comments below.

Tony Gauci's "Identification" of Megrahi

posted Jan 17 2010
last update 23 December

Maltese shopkeeper Anthony "Tony" Gauci's supposed identification of al Megrahi (as the buyer of clothes found in the bomb suitcase) is a key plank of the Libyan's conviction for the bombing of PA103. In fact, it's the only evidence that the Zeist judges actually accepted that explicitly ties him to the physical evidence in any way.  After the fanciful tales of "star witness" Giaka were dismissed, Gauci's evidence became of crucial importance at the 2000 trial - he became "the real star witness," as the BBC's Conspiracy Files put it.

He is not to be confused with the great Maltese singer Tony Gauci, L-Kampanjol, who passed away in March of this year.

The fallibility of eyewitness evidence is well-enough known, and many others have done a splendid job exposing the incredible weakness of Gauci's fingering of Megrahi. A standard internet search will do well enough on this issue, without my needing to offer but a few special links. One would be this re-posting of the Gauci sections from Paul Foot's Lockerbie: Flight from Justice (2001). So I needn't reinvent the wheel altogether here, but I will briefly outline the problems with Gauci's evidence for those unfamiliar and link to my few detailed posts along the way.

The Basics and Prosecution’s Case
Tony Gauci is the son of Edward Gauci, proprietor of clothiers Mary's House in Silema, Malta. His sons Tony and his brother Paul usually ran the shop, with Tony working alone December 7 1988. He says a strange Libyan man came and bought most of the items found bomb-damaged shortly after around Lockerbie. He later identified Megrahi in a photo lineup as most resembling the buyer, and did the same in a physical lineup in court.

Problems with the Evidence
1 - The Alleged Logic of Megrahi's Purchase
There are many, and cheap, and anonymous ways for an Arab agent and terrorist mastermind to secure clothing to stuff a bomb case. Going to Mary's House when and how the mystery shopper did, is not a very smooth one. Rolfe explains this point quite well throughout this JREF forum thread. This is an important consideration but in itself doesn't prove a darn thing. Megrahi could make really bad tactical choices and still be guilty. So, moving along...

2- Weakness of Libyan identification
Gauci's first statement to Scottish police, 1 September 1989:
He was speaking "Libiyon" to me. He was clearly from Lbiya. He had an Arab appearance and I would say he was in fact a "Libyon" I can tell the difference between "Libyons" and "Tunisians" when I speak to them for a while. Tunisians often start speaking French if you start talking to them for a while.
There is of course no Libyan language - it's Arabic. The only specific clue he cites is that he heard no French so the guy was probably not Tunisian. It would be a good guess, as Libyans were the most common Arabic speakers on the island, but as evidence it doesn't count for even a penny rounded up. 

3 - Gauci was non-specific, and that's putting it generously
For having identified this man as THE buyer, Gauci's statements are surprisingly devoid of anyhthing as simple as "that's the man." On seeing Megrahi's photo in February 1991, in the news as "Lockerbie bomber," a photo spread was hastily called where Gauci found the same photo in a lineup of others was most:
“... similar to the man who bought the clothing. The hair is perhaps a bit long. The eyebrows are the same. The nose is the same, and his chin and shape of face are the same. The man in the photograph is in my opinion, in his thirty years. He would perhaps have to look about ten years older, and he would look like the man who bought the clothes. It's been a long time now and I can only say that this photograph resembles the man who bought the clothing, but it is younger.”
Wow. Did you catch the whole subtext where he's comparing two different men? In ten years he'll look like the guy I saw is what he said. After the witness parade April 13 2000:
not exactly the man I saw in the shop. Ten years ago I saw him, but the man who look a little bit like exactly is the number 5 [Megrahi]”

4 - Physique, complexion, age
The buyer was "about six foot or more in height," "well-built" and big in the chest for the 42" jacket he bought, 36" waist, 16-17" collar, Gauci first said. Mr. al-Megrahi was 5'8" tall, and average-slight build. Gauci first said the man seemed to be around 50 years of age. Megrahi was 36 at the time. The man was dark complected, with a tight afro. Megrahi had long wavy hair and was fairer. At trial, Gauci fudged each of these closer to the man in the dock with mantra-like repetition. "I'm not an expert on these things. I think he was below six feet. I'm not an expert on these things." [on age] "I said before, below six -- under 60. I don't have experience -- I don't have experience on height or age." [trial transcripts, p 4752-53] Baloney. He was a clothier. He measured people for a living. The mixing up of "below six" and "under sixty" is interesting, joined with a double renunciation of age AND height expertise. It suggests a mantra he was remembering to stick to. 

5 - He Identified Abu Talb, too
Mohammed Abu Talb (or just Abu Talb) is a PFLP-GC connected suspect found to possess some clothes from Malta and share links with those busted in the Autumn Leaves op. Arrested in Sweden and considered suspect no. 1 for a while. Gauci enthusiastically fingered this man as the buyer. He had a return plane ticket that might have gotten him to Malta for free that day, but no evidence he used it. Abu Talb is himself even younger than Megrahi, and has a plausible alternate story for how he got those clothes (including many at home that matched none of Gauci's story). This blogger doubts either of the men Gauci identified was the clothes buyer, and I'm not convinced that Tony's story of one discrete buyer is even true. [See: Abu Talb and Tony Gauci]

6 - He Had Two Million Reasons to Fudge it
Mr. Gauci was eventually paid $2 million by the US government, following the trial, and given a new life and identity in Australia. His brother Paul Gauci was never called to testify, despite being an assett to the investigation." (note: not to be confused with the Maltese clothing maker Paul Gauci who did testify at Zeist) He's been suspected of helping coach his dim brother into affirming the police story, but whatever his role, it earned him a million of his own and a slot next to Tony among the Aussies. (Detailed post on the payments aspect)

The prize was no surprise - money talks happened from the beginning, with the Gaucis' mentioning the danger they were in by exposing Libya's plot, and Scots police acknoweldging large payments might help grease the story along. Wouldn’t a huge cash reward and the weight of a world-class terror investigation be expected to crush the reliability from his fragile memories? Sure, but the thing to focus on is what's crushed in.

7 - Photo Spread / Lineup Procedures and Tainted Memory
Most famously, Mr.Gauci was shown a photo of Megrahi, in a news magazine, as Lockerbie suspect. Days later he pointed straight to al Megrahi after traveling to Camp Zeist. But beyond this, there are some great observations of lineup procedure contained in reports commissioned for the convict's second appeal. These are available at Megrahi My Story [Valentine and Clark reports]. The details I haven't studied, but it seems on several fronts, both the 1991 photo lineup and 2000 in-person version at camp Zeist, there was a leading arrangement notably regarding subject ages. Recall that Megrahi at the time was about 15 years younger than Gauci's buyer (36 compared to app.50).

Anthony Gauci testimony, Camp Zeist, day 31, July 11 2000
Statement to police, 15 Feb 1991:
The first impression I had was that all the photographs were of men younger than the man who bought the clothing. I told Mr. Bell this. I was asked to look at all the photographs carefully and to try and allow for any age difference. I then pointed out one of the photographs, and I later counted the photographs from the left as number 1 to the photograph at number 8."
Tony usually sounds like an idiot, but this is clarity in action – a textbook description of a slanted line-up. Witness to young? Compare him to men younger yet, and have the witness pick the closest one. This is just how the pivotal September 15 "identification" of al-Megrahi was achieved. He was photo number 8, an unusual picture, in part, for looking almost nothing like al-Megrahi. [See: Gauci and the Czexh photo]

8 - Discrepancies, uncertainties in sold items recall
Gauci initially gave authorities a reportedly perfect list of items recovered - tied up with a bow and cash totals tendered, tax, minor discount and change returned. The only discrepancy I'm recalling at the moment is that he first insisted no shirts were in the order. This was a problem, as at least one piece of "Slalom" shirt collar had contained the miraculous timer fragment PT/35(b).

No problem, they could just say Megrahi bought a few of the items elsewhere, but too late. Mr. Gauci changed his story to reflect the sale of said shirt (as well as I believe one or two other shirts that had turned up), and revised all the neat math to reflect the new total. The second time, after marinading a while in close proximity to police evidence, is more accurate, we are to believe.

Also, one must wonder how they got Gauci's memory rolling in the first place without mentioning at least some of the items he needed to remember. I hear that dozens of police chats/interviews were either not recorded or had the records lost, including the first talks where Gauci initially decided on the laundry list. But then again, if he were coached, why wouldn't the Slalom shirt be included in the first list he came up with?

9 - Date of Purchase - Best Evidence that Gauci's Testimony specifically Ruled out Megrahi before it implicated him
Eyewitness evidence is never very solid to begin with, but here we have the most reliable (early) memories sidelined when convenient. Tony Gauci's initial identification evidence – before he was just pointing at faces and still giving details - rainfall, the Christmas lights, and the football game his brother Paul was watching at home - pointed to a purchase on November 23, 1988. I mean, clearly and with no room for doubt, pointed at the 23rd.

Megrahi was simply not on Malta at all that day. Investigators and the Gaucis instead have fudged things to fit an alternated date of December 7, when their villain was nearby. The mental gymnastics required to do so are astounding. This is the one point I felt is strongest in indicating Megrahi's innocence of this on solid link to the crime. And since this post is long enough, that explanation will reside in this long post of its own.

"Justice Undone"

Comments on the U.S. Senate Report
December 21 2010
last update December 23

I've been not posting much here in recent days, but being the 22nd anniversary of the destruction of Pan Am 103, it's a day to say something. I didn't know what until I just saw this report from MSNBC regarding the long-awaited U.S. Senate report on al-Megrahi's release. This was issued today, to mark the anniversary for maximum effect. Senator Memendez and crew are playing hardball here, with the title also meant to be punchy: Justice Undone: The Release of the Lockerbie Bomber. (report PDF link)

I'll have to read the report before critiquing it (space reserved below for a later update). But the release of Megrahi was not "Jusice undone." Even if you call the verdict "justice," which might be legally true if not really, the legal technicality of his conviction still stands and serves its key purpose for U.S. foreign policy of keeping the real truth legally barred from beiing followed up on.

Justice was undone many years ago, when at an unclear date (sometime in 1989) a decision was made to deny the truth of the attack and pursue strange new clues that started appearing. The injustice of framing a different nation, nd two men within it in particular, was set in stone in November 1991 with indictments against al-Megrahi and "accomplice" Fhimah - charges laced with what we now know are lies (brown suitcase on Malta, explosives at the airport, 1986 report on bombing a plane, at least, all legally dismissed). The final nail in Justice's coffin was hammered in a decade later at Camp Zeist, when the judges accepteed enough of the bogus case to convict one of the two accused.

For now I'll just pass on my comment at the MSNBC article, modified slightly for better effect

"Unrepentant terrorist" is apparently code for someone who maintains his innocence, which is in turn strongly supported, not by the verdict, but by the facts - both the ones before the judges and withheld from them.

Megrahi is an "unrepentant terrorist" not on Malta November 23, the day the clothes in the bomb suitcase were purchased there by man 4 inches taller and 14 years older and of different appearance from himself (so says Tony Gauci's only reliable evidence). Only one questionable scrap of paper, with no corroboration and contradicted by everything else, even suggests there was a bomb on Malta Dec 21, while Megrahi was there under an alias. If one accepts the court's judgment on Megrahi's guilt, why ignore their ruling that he had no legally accepted accomplice, when one was clearly needed? There was a dismissed star witness (Giaka) with a handful of juicy clues found "unreliable," and a back-up star witness (Gauci) whose stories changed in all key regards by trial (since the suspect changed). There are questions over the most crucial physical evidence, at least two multi-million-dollar pay-outs to liars, and a string of bollocks stories from Bollier. And finally, a heap of clues still pointing to an Iranian hand, not a Libyan one, behind the attack and to an English, not Maltese, point of departure for the bomb. (see around the site for details on these underreported facts)

If legal technicalities of conviction or acquittal were all that mattered here, I could see being upset by the early release. But knowing what I do of the actual facts, and that the release only happened after his appeal was safely surrendered, I'm still too mad about other things.

Menendez: ""God forbid there should be another terrorist attack."

Hey, dummy! Megrahi had just gotten in jail when 9/11 happened (ironic side-note - with Libya the first nation, even before this, to target bin Laden and al Qaeda as a dangerous element). Megrahi's accepted guilt stops nothing except the truth about Lockerbie coming out (so far). You of all people are probably aware of that, and hence will never stop your crusade to keep the hex on Libya. Unless...

Mad that a convicted terrorist is free? Then help us revive that appeal and clear his name so an innocent man can die in peace and his family can move out from under that shadow. Sound good?

Review of the report

No, never mind. I'm too busy to read through this piece of crap. I'll let a few others speak on it, via these articles linked on Professor Black's blog The Lockerbie Case.
This Lockerbie bomber nonsense shows US senators have lost the plot
...the cause of the bereaved would have been served better had the senators steered clear of this elaborate conspiracy theory.
'Bonkers' US claim on bomber
[SNP] MSP Stewart Maxwell said: "It is bonkers. It is an absolute work of ill-informed fiction.

"They started off making wild claims about BP lobbying for the release of Megrahi and end up making the most bizarre allegations about the Sainsbury's buyout.

"This report is a piece of politically motivated propaganda that lets down all those who worked long and hard to see justice done in the Lockerbie case."

And "Blogiston's" comment from the second one:
Having now read the report - the subtext is really, ageing imperialist nation on the verge of bankruptcy accuses small friendly nation of corrupt practices and attempts to override its internal judicial process.
Meanwhile, it is impotent to curtail a real and growing threat from emerging east Asian countries with global ambitions who ARE making corrupt deals, refusing to acknowledge human rights, ignoring undemocratic regimes, disregarding environmental issues, on EVERY continent.
American foreign policy (which is governed solely by its own domestic expediency including global commercial interests) does not project overseas to become local domestic policy, anymore - but they ain't assimilating the new data yet, are they?
We should just ignore them now, and move on, because they would hate that - but internal cat-fighting locally will stop that happening, of course.

Video: Gauci on al-Megrahi

"A Little Bit Like Exactly" Like a Non-Identification
December 13 2010

last update 15 December

I'm just wrapping up a video on Tony Gauci's evidence in toto. Including credits, it's about 12 minutes, split in two halves on Youtube, embedded below.

Part One:

Introduces the relevance of Mr. Gauci, the physical discrepancies between his buyer and Megrahi, and the date of purchase issue. Some pretty damning stuff.

Part two:

The actual identification session, Gauci's other IDs, his amazing fudging of all discrepant points at trial, the $3 million plus paid out to the Gauci brothers following the verdict, the SCCRC's findings, second appeal, conclusion, and credits.

This production is a little rushed. I didn't re-do the narration enough times, adjust all the levels, make the best slides or animations. I thought I could rush this through in time for the Dec 7 anniversary of the alleged sale to Megrahi, but the assembly and rendering process didn't agree. Then I just wanted it done by Monday (today), and only managed to meet that deadline with part one.

Anyone who'd like to see more of the information this is based on, all my blog posts about Tony Gauci's evidence are at one or both of the links Tony Gauci's "Identification" of Megrahi and all posts tagged Gauci T.

Owning the Comments

On American Media Coverage of Swire's Libya Visit
22 September 2010
last edits 6 Feb. 2011

About a week ago, British family leader of PA103 victims Dr. Jim Swire made an unusual visit to Libya, to meet the convicted "Lockerbie bomber" he and so many believe is innocent. Within the UK, discussion about this and related developments is animated, as can be glimpsed at Professor Black's blog. The Scotsman coversthe visit, and The Firm talks about Swire'splan to revive Megrahi's appeal in his name.

In step with following American media reports on the issue of Megrahi, I've done that here. Relatively few US outlets that have picked this up. Most have focused on Swire's rare news that Megrahi is still alive and, while sick, able to stand and walk. And not dead. This was bound to piss people off over here, but the first article was New York Daily News. Being about Swire, New Yorkers I guess get it to keep the criticism muted - a touch of either silent awe or awkward silence. I added a sixth comment and it stopped there. The usual NYDN reader brand of ugly stayed mostly at bay, aside from the one guy calling Swire a "useful idiot." The other comments were actually sympathetic. Strange.

On the article itself, I was surprised. Just mentioning the visit and Swire's unusual belief is itself rare, but the article actually cited a support for it:
Swire, however, met with al-Megrahi in a Scottish prison in 2008 and told the Daily Record he believed the testimony of one of the witnesses, Maltese shop-owner Tony Gauci, was paid for by prosecutors. He visited Libya last week at al-Megrahi's invitation and called for investigators to overturn the verdict.
There was no mention of the SCCRC deciding the same thing and making it one of six reasons to order a second appeal. But on the other hand, they included a poll about megrahi'sguilt - the one allowing doubts actually got about 20% ("who cares"got 25%).

CNN's report was actually worse than NYDN's, mentioning no support, but did discuss the notion of Swire reviving the killed appeal of conviction. Its target audience perhaps can be gauged by the slew of flippant comments, well over 200 when I set in. Most of these basically said "not dead yet? He should die wait, live and suffer ... I hope someone kills him ... I hope he's tortured," and so on, amid lectures about Islam, softness, Obama and the Brits and oil and lots of uninformed opinion in general. One called Swire a "limey suck-up," and another said "Gee, Jim, with a Daddy like you, Flora hardly needed a plane crash!" I called that one out solidly.

Before long I was correcting a lot of people and being a real pest, leaving over 30 comments among over 300 now. Few responses. There are a few smart people there who acknowledge doubts, but these were piled on with attacks. One member suggests they were family of a victim, and berated another member for expressing such doubts, and for being a "worthless piece of crap."

Epoch Times' report was bland. It didn't anger me, and it didn't have any deep insight, nor anything suggesting Megrahi's innocence aside from mentioning Swire's strange views. Seattle Times covered it as well, blandly, and I left the sole comment. Oh, I see Faux News is covering it. I might not even bother with that one...

Update, later: Interestingly, I tried to comment at Faux News. I registered, then had it tell me I had to log-in to comment. I logged out and back in, same thing. Logged out to check to 50 or 60 comments there earlier, all gone. 0 comments listed, no new ones allowed. Very strange...
Update again: I was allowed to submit a comment - in case it doesn't take or doesn't stay, it said this:
Hey weren't there about 60 comments here recently, ranting about death and pain and especially Hell, plus Islam and liberals and Obama? Why is this the first comment now? Well I'll take the slot - what do we have for actual evidence this man is even guilty? Let's look at witnesses - Abdul Majid Giaka and Tony Gauci. Giaka was a Libyan defector, telling the CIA what he knew (little)about JSO on Malta. He had a whole pile of overly-juicy details of the plot that appeared just in time to form the indictments and then sanctions. But these were all dismissed at trial in 2000 - the star witness was shot down by the all-wise judges. “Information provided by a paid informer is always open to the criticism that it may be invented in order to justify payment, and in our view this is a case where such criticism is more than usually justified […] we are unable to accept Abdul Majid as a credible and reliable witness on any matter except his description of the organisation of the JSO and the personnel involved there.” They knew about his CIA payout, various other help, his relocaion to America to escape Libya, his salary for testifying, and witness protection. They did not know about an additional $2 million reportedly given by the DoJ. (search "rewards for injustice"). He's hardly mentioned after 2000, but was the smoking gun before that.  
The scorched clothes that were found were traced right to the shop where investigators found Tony Gauci. He clearly described Nov 23 as the date of purchase (weather records, TV schedules, and Silema Christmas decoration schedules establish this). But Megrahi wasn't there that day, so investigators changed it to Dec 7 (there's a case to be made for that date, but a very slim one with too many presumptions - search "date of clothing purchase" + Gauci) Besides the date discrepancy, which is dynamite, Gauci never even identified Megrahi. The buyer he described was at least 4 inches taller and 14 years older than our villain,observations Tony has fudged in the years since ("under six feet, under sixty" was his mantra at Zeist). Once in 1991 he pointed at a photo of Megrahi and said "similar to the man ... He would perhaps have to look about ten years older ... this photograph resembles the man who bought the clothing, but it is younger.” Note he's comparing two separate men. All the men shown that day were too young, and Megrahi was the oldest among them. Later in 1999 at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, he pointed to the guy in person (famous by then) and said "“not exactly the man I saw in the shop. Ten years ago I saw him, but the man who look a little bit like exactly is the number 5 [Megrahi]” And he was paid $2 million,I guess just to not protest at the abuse of his evidence, while his brother scammed another $1 million. (search: "yes, millions to Malta") That's as good as the evidence against Megrahi gets. But he was (wrongly) convicted and so he killed all those people and deserves to die in pain and suffer in Hell, right? Because of a legal technicality?
Update: Of course they didn'tpublish it. It's a zero-comment article. CNN's new comments halted with the appearance of TerpMole, aka Kaddafi Delenda Est, come to criticize me. I've left I think 49 comments there now.

Abu Talb and Tony Gauci

24 August 2010

Two Non-Fits
Among those who question or reject Abdelbaset al Megrahi's guilt, perhaps the most prevalent suspect for the bombing of PA103 is Egyptian-born Mohammed Abu Talb. Among his recommendations are alleged active links to the PFLP-GC, known possession of clothes made on Malta, the presence of other Maltese clothes found at the bombing site, and the "identification" of him as the buyer of said Maltese clothes, in November 1988, at the store they were traced to.

This post will deal with the last point, Mr. Abu Talb's fingering by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci. It's been widely reported that he was there around the original date of purchase (November 23), despite having taken home a batch of clothes from the island in late October. Although Talb was a leading suspect at the time, the evidence that the terrorist was on Malta after October is conflicting and inconclusive, as explained in a separate post. For this post however, we'll consider this no problem and focus on the actual comparison of the buyer and this early suspect.

Gauci's initial description of the buyer was six feet or more in height, and 50 years old roughly. There's no data available on the Egyptian's height, but given the average male height there is 5'7" it's unlikely he's a much better fit that 5'8" Megrahi.

The older man Gauci reported compares poorly to later suspect al Megrahi, who was 36 at the time (b April 1 1952). Abu Talb was younger yet, at 34 (b 27 June 1954). In one of his many statements, Gauci told investigators Megrahi was "a bit older other than the one my brother showed me (Abu Talb)." With only two years difference, that's a fine-tuned eye, considering either man was at least 10 years too young to be the man he said both "resembled."

"Identification" Chronology
The Camp Zeist judges’ explanation of the “identification” of Abo Talb as they callhim, is not a compelling one. From their Opinion of the Court, paragraph 61:
Mr Gauci had been shown on 6 December 1989 a selection of photographs which included a photograph of Abo Talb, but he made no identification of anyone from these photographs. [...] By the time he gave his statement on 10 September 1990 Mr Gauci had been shown many photographs but he said in that statement that he had never seen a photograph of the man who had bought the clothing.
Between failing to single out Abu Talb and explaining that he'd never identified anyone, there was a brief course-change. As Paul Foot put it in his Flight from Justice booklet in 2001:
Gauci’s brother Paul showed him an article in the Sunday Times series which featured a photograph of the Sunday Times’ chief suspect, Abu Talb, under the headline BOMBER. Gauci told his brother: “I thought that was the man who bought the clothes from me. His face and hair were similar.”
The Judges, again from paragraph 61:
At about the end of 1989 or the beginning of 1990 his brother showed him an article in a newspaper about the Lockerbie disaster. As he recalled, there were photographs of two people in the article. Across the photograph of the wreckage of Pan Am 103 there was printed the word “Bomber”. In the top right corner of the article there was a photograph of a man with the word “Bomber” also across it. Mr Gauci thought that one of the photographs showed the man who had bought the [clothing] articles from him. 
However, it seems there was never a point where investigators got him to identify Mr.Abu Talb in a photo lineup. He had a chance once and passed it up, perhaps because "bomber" wasn't attached that time. After seeing it that way just weeks later, he was eager to see the photo again and point to it, but the offer was apparently not taken up. It may have been just a bad start to an identification, or it may be that by early 1990, investigators were done pursuing that suspect and entering the long lull until the new track sorted itself out. Certainly by September 1990, as noted above, Gauci himself was not claiming to have identified anyone yet. Six months later he'd be pointing at Megrahi.

A Better Identification?
Some revisionists have implied that Gauci's identification of Mohammed Abu Talb is more sure or more reliable than that of Megrahi. For example, Maltese journalist Joe Mifsud commented on Gauci's evidence shortly after the trial. After relating the weakness of the Megrahi "identification," Mifsud contrasted it against our current subject:
But when Gauci saw the photograph of Palestinian terrorist Abu Talb, whom the defence is incriminating and is currently serving a life sentence in a Swedish prison, the Maltese shop owner said, “yes, he resembles him a lot”. Abu Talb’s photo was shown to Gauci in the trial and he again confirmed after being asked by the defence if he resembles the person who both the clothes.

And a 2007 article from the Express (Scotland) stated:
While the SCCRC said there is dubiety over whether Gauci had correctly identified al-Megrahi, documents show the shopkeeper had no such problems identifying Abu Talb.

In fact, this characterization is doubtful. Comparing the wording between some statements, one may be able to make out a verbal distinction favoring Abu Talb, but there may be another explanation for that. Any difference in eagerness between the two fingerings could just as well be explained by their timing relative to each other. In the period around the one-year anniversary, and seeing the buyer first IDd as the bomber, Gauci was confident in his ability to make this witness fit his differing description and help secure a conviction.

Another year later, with that version having failed, he repeated the exercise with a different man on a different day (December 7). It should be little surprise after having the rug yanked from beneath him once, perhaps wondering if he'd have to ID a third suspect one day, he may have been more guarded and vague the second time around.

The long and short of it is that Talb is no better fit for the mystery shopper than Megrahi. That Gauci tried to identify the reported bomber as the buyer, irrespective of this, is troubling. That he was most likely aware of the $2 million reward for information leading to a conviction in the bombing may explain his certainty in both cases. Therefore, his fingering of Abu Talb is just as questionable as his later pointing at Megrahi.

Rewards for Injustice

A Shocking Trail of Witnesses Paid Millions for Misinformation
July 25 2010
last edits July 30

The early release from Scottish prison of “Lockerbie bomber” Abdelbaset al Megrahi has been getting much airplay and page space the last three weeks. A myth that he might live for decades more, and the “news” that Gulf-despoilers BP (British!) had also lobbied for the “bomber’s” release back in 2007, stuck together for indignorant Americans. This spurred a flurry of commentary and Congressional calls for investigations, summoning foreign CEOs and ministers to explain themselves, as the Brtis say with annoyance, like naughty schoolchildren before the headmaster.

This will surely settle down before long, and amid the furor, one crucial issue will still lie in the dust, unseen by most. And that is the assassination of Megrahi’s hard-won second appeal of conviction. Many informed commentators have been bringing up the appeal in a more recent backlash, but so far It’s hardly even a side note in the US - just a trifle the “bomber” was “allowed to drop” right before going home to live way more than three months.

Three Important Witnesses
And so the appeal’s secrets were buried, for the moment The central point of the surrendered challenge, soon submitted to the court of public opinion, was the reliability and credibility of eyewitness Anthony “Tony” Gauci. The scope of this article will be wider and consider two other witnesses who share three key features with Gauci.

Upon finding Megrahi guilty for the bombing on January 31, 2001, the three judge panel ruling at Camp Zeist issued an 87-page Opinion of the Court (PDF link) to explain their thinking. Among the points in setting up the evidence against Megrahi was this short list:
“In relation to the first accused, there are three important witnesses, Abdul Majid, Edwin Bollier and Tony Gauci.” [paragraph 41]
To those who know enough about the case, that line is itself hilarious, the punch-line to a sick joke. To those who don’t know enough (and that’s who this article is for), it take a little explaining. Besides being the only three with anything truly incriminating to say against Megrahi, each of these has in common two further points:
1) The evidence they provided is questionable in many cases, and unquestionably fraudulent in others.
2) They were all offered (or have said they were offered) millions of dollars, and at least two apparently collected.

“Abdul Majid”
Abdul Majid Giaka (an alias, true name unknown, called ”Abdul Majid” by the Zeist judges) was a Libyan intelligence agent with the JSO, Libya’s CIA. He was very low level and knew almost nothing, but from August 1988 he had been able to draw money from the CIA ($1,000 a month, increased to $1,500) selling them small tidbits. The CIA called Giaka code-name “Puzzle Piece.”

The defector was stationed at Luqa airport on Malta, where the JSO and Libyan Arab Airlines mingled. At some point after Pan Am 103 fell to Earth in December, two of the people he’d named as high JSO agents working on Malta – Megrahi and his “accomplice” Fhimah – came to the center of suspicion. Strange clues emerged suggesting Libyan authorship, and a Malta link that pointed right to Megrahi. By early 1991, the other puzzle pieces (including Gauci and Bollier) were all in place, and they needed a witness closer to the perps.

It seems the Libyans were by then tired of Abdul Majid’s strange behavior on Malta and ready to call him back to Tripoli. The CIA threatened to cut him off and let him go unless he said something good, and if it was good enough, he might say it to the FBI. So in the summer, he met with agent Hal Hendershot and laid down a whole new version of the previous years in which Megrahi and Fhimah had plotted the bombing in the open and he saw half of it himself.

Hendershot liked what he heard, and Giaka went straight to Washington, with his pregnant wife fetched from Malta soon after. He testified to a grand jury in October 1991, telling of the brown Samsonite case he’d seen the Libyans with on December 20, of the report he (Giaka) was asked to write about bombing a “British plane,” the TNT they kept in a desk at the airport…

As the indictments were sealed and put in place on November 14, the defector Giaka was re-settled somewhere under a new name and witness protection, and paid handsomely. Megrahi’s appeal documents reveal, from DCI Harry Bell's diary, January 8 1992: “Bhiel states DOJ (Department of Justice) will give Magid [Giaka] $2 million dollars. Advised of our concern." This seems to have been dispensed under a US DoJ “Rewards for Justice Program."

When the millionaire was presented as the star witness at Camp Zeist in 2000, it was an unprecedented event – the first time a CIA asset had testified in open court (his voice was disguised and he was hidden behind a screen). The judges were not told about the $2 million, but they did know of his CIA paychecks, other arrangements and efforts to secure money, and his relocation to America, which was clearly of immense value to the witness. They noted how Abdul Majid’s best stories about late 1988 only appeared in mid-1991, and learned along the way that the CIA themselves didn’t believe his information, and had tried to conceal that fact. Therefore, they explained, rather timidly:

“Information provided by a paid informer is always open to the criticism that it may be invented in order to justify payment, and in our view this is a case where such criticism is more than usually justified […] we are unable to accept Abdul Majid as a credible and reliable witness on any matter except his description of the organisation of the JSO and the personnel involved there.” [para 42, 43]

This is an embarrassing rebuke - the most crucial witness to the whole Libyan plot was found to be almost entirely a fraud. It was this loss that led to a total lack of Fhimah clues and the judges having to find the “accomplice” not guilty. And then there was the $2 million they didn’t even know about, as the Crown either didn’t know or didn’t pass it on. And Giaka wasn’t the only witness considered at Zeist who was given this princely sum and had the fact successfully concealed.

Tony (and Paul) Gauci
This now-famous refugee shopkeeper from Malta, clearly a man of simple intellect, was able to recall the exact sale (in different exact versions) of some odd clothes that were later “found at Lockerbie.” Anthony Gauci's original performance recalling the sale was convincing enough, and it seems likely, barring a very elaborate set-up, that he really did sell these clothes to some particular man, on November 23 1988, and they wound up in the bomb bag.

But Megrahi was not on the island that day, so the second-best fit of December 7 (a distant second) was chosen by investigators as what the man meant to describe. By “six feet or more in height,” he meant 5’8” like Megrahi. By around 50, he meant 36. By raining enough to warrant an umbrella, he meant no rain. Etc. But Gauci is touted as identifying a photo of Megrahi, on February 1991, as “similar” to the buyer but ”ten years” too young. Even Tony himself noted the obvious slant of the lineup in question. “The first impression I had was that all the photographs were of men younger than the man who bought the clothing.” With the police’s help, he picked the oldest one shown – Megrahi.

Payments to Mr. Gauci, and to his brother Paul, who assisted somehow behind the scenes, are covered in detail elsewhere, but Megrahi’s appeal documents note the earliest American mention of money is from September 28, 1989, just weeks after the brothers were first approached. “The FBI discussed with the Scottish Police an offer of unlimited money to Tony Gauci, with $10,000 being available immediately." It's not clear if any of this ever came through, but as Giaka was being put up for a reward in 1992, the Scottish police lobbied for Tony to get the same. "I also clarified with him about the Gauci reward and the response was only if he gave evidence."

Tony had his chance to give evidence in mid-2000 and he performed well, considering, fudging everything possible. Under 6 feet, under 60, I don't know, raining a little, not really, no, maybe. Mysteriously, the Judges bought it and Megrahi’s fate was sealed.

The day after the verdict, February 1 2001, the Scottish police started the application for the brothers’ rewards – they had realized specific arrangements couldn’t be discussed until after the judgment, had no explicit promises, had delivered well, and deserved their money now. Paul’s assistance upholding his brother’s “resolve” was noted - but so was his evident desire for money. For some reason they had to wait until the appeal was over as well, and only in April 2002 was “a meeting held with the US Department of Justice where the reward was discussed and supported by the FBI,” say the appeal papers. Further, a suggestion was made there “that the sums applied for - $2m for Tony Gauci and $1m for Paul Gauci - could be increased."

The Scottish review board found all this, and that at some time after the appeal (date redacted) the two were paid some amount under the US DoJ "Rewards for Justice" program. And that is why the appeal they authorized had to be killed.

Edwin Bollier
The third witness is a Swiss electronics merchant, supposed supplier to Libyan JSO of the only 20 MST-13 timers ever made. When an implausibly large chunk of one was “found at Lockerbie” and identified in mid-1990, Bollier’s 18-month-old campaign to sell evidence to the CIA paid off. Much of what he said before and during the trial was dismissed as an obvious bunch of rubbish, but the 1991 indictments did feature his info for points (a), (b), and (j).

Bollier is quite different from the other two “important witnesses.” First, he has not disappeared as a protected witness and made silent. Quite the contrary; He has continued to claim a leading role in the fight to clear Megrahi (comments as "ebol"), and claimed in a 2008 interview that this is to secure a $200 million prize from Libya. [Video, 41:10]. Mr. Bollier reminds me (see comments below) the BBC cut out Q: "Will Libya pay you for your work in the Lockerbie case?" A: "No, if we win the case and the compensation for the victims (US$ 2.7 billion) is refunded I will get a success honorary of US$ 200 million." If the victims pay Libya back, Bollier says he gets almost 8%. To this end, he uses illogical or unsupported claims and exclamation marks, and hasn’t even bothered learning to write in English for a campaign this ambitious.

And unlike Giaka and Gauci, there is no evidence I’m aware of that Bollier was ever paid by investigators for his own evidentiary offerings. He does claim a measly 1% of Libya’s later offering, $2 million - was offered to him in January 1991 by a FBI legal attaché in Switzerland named Fanning. This sounds entirely plausible, actually. But in the same interview linked above [33:35], he says FBI chief Richard Marquise personally doubled the offer just a couple weeks later, “up to $4 million and a new identity” merely to say that this fragment was from a Libyan timer. But they already knew this, and he says he refused anyway (Marquise firmly denies this offer).

Bollier’s oddball account isn’t to be trusted, and he hasn’t been. But he’s served a useful role since the conviction, as a lightning rod to safely channel revisionist thought down blind alleys. Someone really should pay him if they haven't yet.

A Tentative Tally
So far it appears the Scots-CIA-FBI Lockerbie witness pipeline brought in all three “important" but unreliable witnesses against Megrahi. The DoJ payout was at least $5 million to Giaka and the Gaucis plus possible money to Bollier that we just don’t know of. There would be administration, manpower, paid dinners, car rentals and air travel, and assorted overhead for arranging all this, some under FBI, others under CIA or Scottish police. All told, we’re dealing with at least $8 million for just this aspect of what seems like an intelligence operation masquerading as a criminal investigation. The whole case was bigger than this but no squarer, and the other, wider costs of the resulting miscarriage of justice will defy all efforts at calculation.

Video: BBC Dispatches / 60 Minutes

last update 30 Nov. 2010 

BBC Dispatches, 1999
External video link (not embeddable, hosted by Mebo)
"The Lockerbie Trail" Director: Greg Lanning. Reporter: David Jessel. Producers: Phillip Wearne, Steve Haywood, John Ashton. BBC 4. First aired December 1998.

CBS 60 Minutes.
details forthcoming...
External video link (not embeddable, hosted by Mebo)

These two programs are almost point-for-point on content with each other. I'm not sure if Joohn Ashton helped with the second one as with the first. They're not bad, with most issues dealt with quite well. Professor Robert Black is interviewed, expressing doubts over the case. Fhimah's diary entry "get taggs" is covered well in both. The lack of evidence for an unaccompanied bag from Malta is well-established.

One interesting point I must note is the performance in both videos of Major Owen Lewis. I learned that he was involved in successful appeals of terrorism cases based on the sham science of Allen Feraday - he was also brought into support the Megrahi defense apparently, but here is flat wrong. (Dispatches,  16:44 60 Minutes, 8:40) His opinion of the "true edge" and "different curve" is accepted by the program for some reason - this board is similar but not the same, not part of the same batch. I made the image at left myself, by making an outline of the surface of the fragment as found in 1989, and as shown again later (in color, that odd too-blue green) beneath it. It's clearly a match but with the top sliver cut off at one point between. Tom Thurman says just this (Dispatches 19:38) and strangely, comes off looking like the credible one here.  

Dispatches, 14:55, Edwin Bollier of the timer's makers, MEBO, speaks of the rough saw marks evident in a pixelated photo of the corner curve. Further proof for Edwin that the fragment "does not come from one of the timers we sold to Libya." For 60 Minutes (7:45), he says the soldering on the board is too rough, to the same effect - it wasn't Libyan. It was one of the two (brown-coated) handmade prototypes sold to the Stasi, he insists.  I'm not impressed with the free reign Edwin was given in these videos, given his deep history with this case and rejection of the much better MST-13 frame-up scenario implicitly advanced by an Owen Lewis colleague, Dr./Lt/ Col. John Wyatt.

What Did The Germans Know?

The Scots-German War Over Airport Security, part 2 of 2
June 23 2010

last edits 21 November

The following is part-essay, part compilation of long quotes. Two early books are drawn from throughout:
[E+D] Emerson, Steven and Brian Duffy “The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation” New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons. April 1990. 283 pages.
[L] Leppard, David.On the Trail of Terror: The Inside Story of the Lockerbie Investigation. London, Jonathan Cape. May 1991. 221 pages.
The views expressed by those writers are not necessarily shared by this blogger – the exercise is to gather facts and attitudes, the zeitgeist, of this minor 1989 struggle of wills between two erstwhile allies in a major investigation.

Vehement Vengeance
Part one explained the unfounded British decisions to rule out London origin for the bomb while repeatedly insisting it must have come in from Frankfurt. “Smarting from the accusation that sloppy West German security had allowed this terrible act of terrorism,” Emerson and Duffy explain, “Germany would begin to strike at the British with a vengeance.” [E+D161] It was the first of January 1989, the day after the inflammatory Times story (Disaster Bomb placed on Jumbo in Frankfurt), that the first response was heard. As the book explains:
“West German Interior Ministry spokesman Michael Andreas Butz was convening a news conferencet to respond to the Times account of the day before. “There is no indication,” Butz declared stiffly, “that the explosives could have been put on board at Frankfurt airport.” In fact, he added ominously, “there is evidence which is contradictory.”

What did the Germans know that the Americans and the Scots didn’t?”

Butz went on to assert, with some vehemence, that German agents had determined that the “Disaster Bomb” had been smuggled aboard the 103 in London. The German agents had proof of it, Butz said."
Five days later, it seems the Germans were ready to show what they knew or didn't know. Reuters in London, citing “West German security sources,” reported on January 6 that “an airport worker at Heathrow had planted the bomb in the forward luggage hold of the 103.” A bizarre explanation followed:
"According to the sources quoted by Reuters, investigators had arrived at the Heathrow link because of the “fact” that the bomb that had blow up the 103 weighed “at least sixty-six pounds.” Luggage restrictions limited carry-on bags to seventy pounds, but the sources cited in the Reuters account said that the bomb was loaded aboard by an airport worker. What the sources evidently didn’t say is why the airport worker couldn’t have been in Frankfurt instead of London." [E+D165-66]
That explanation fails to make sense in numerous ways (the bomb likely weighed less that 66 ounces, for one), and doesn’t sound like what any thinking German would really say. But this wasn’t their only counter-charge passed on in The Fall of Pan Am 103:
“In a matter of days, news stories began to leak from Bonn and Frankfurt that security at Heathrow was far worse than at Frankfurt. British authorities were outraged. For days and weeks, as the families of those killed on the 103 watched this ugly game of diplomatic Ping-Pong, Britain and Germany fought a nasty proxy war through their TV networks and newspapers. Clearly, the feud was based on more than a technical dispute among forensic specialists. Some went so far as to assert that the bitterness of the dispute showed the extent to which the age-old cultural animosities between the two nations had still not abated after two world wars.” [E+D 161]
The authors Emerson, Duffy, and Leppard have the Germans trying to deny both a Khreesat bomb (their botched police work) and the German bomb infiltration (their airport security failure), often confusing and conflating the two drives. On the other side, it’s clear that the Scots and Americans tried at every juncture to put all failures in Germany. David Leppard writes “the bitter argument […] persisted throughout the long hot summer of 1989” [135] and “the German BKA were to spend more than a year publicly claiming that the bomb must have been put aboard at London.” [60]

So Just What Did They know?
Such persistent denial could be motivated, as the Brits and Americans charged, by German fear of accepting the horrible truth about their epic shortcomings. But to be fair, the Germans in fact knew some actual evidence supporting their claims, and should have been given more credit.

Emerson and Duffy’s telling shows hardly a hint of this, with its cited argument that a 66-pound bomb somehow implies Heathrow origin. But the West Germans had to have noticed the lucky bag placement within the container, that could only have been more than luck if it was placed in London. They probably did not know of John Bedford’s story of suitcases matching the IED style seen at about that spot of that container - well before the 727 arrived from Frankfurt. Had they known, they likely would have said so.

The break-in at Heathrow’s Terminal Three the morning before the bombing was surely concealed from German ears as it was from the whole world up to and including the Zeist trial in 2000. On top of the generally lax security at Heathrow, this additional bit of information could only have added to the German resistance against the first script changes.

It was enough at first to know that both alleged German failures - a Khreesat bomb and Frankfurt ingestion - could not be true at the same time as the Yanks and Brits insisted. At least, not without a fair amount of speculation.

The German BKA actually did some work along these lines to help their colleagues understand, as David Leppard shares in some detail. They knew the Khreesat altimeter bomb better than anyone, having overseen the raid that caught only one of five, having had another one later kill one of their bomb technicians, just before they destroyed yet another in revenge. Leppard rails along with the Scots at these scientific losses and such fatal sloppiness. But he also misrepresents the number of samples they once held (it was four, not three), and the readable remains they had at the end of the explosions (three partial and two complete samples, not one). These were, however, studied as far as possible.
“In May the Germans decided to prepare a detailed scientific rebuttal of RARDE’s theory that the bomb had been made by Khreesat […] and put aboard at Frankfurt. The BKA asked its forensic section, ST33, to prepare a report on the three Khreesat bombs so far recovered.” [L142]
They shortly issued a final report called "Comment on the ignition Devices,” which said their remit was “to test and report if [Khreesat bombs] were suitable for surviving the flight from Frankfurt to London […] and exploding 38 minutes after take-off in London.” [L142] The answer, delivered with “bland Teutonic logic,” was No. Rather, they realized and explained one of the best London-origin clues. 
“The rundown of the functioning on the ignition devices … can be brought into line very well with the circumstances during take-off and pahse 1 of flight PA103 London to New York.
Presupposing that an explosive device of the same construction was used in the attack, then it must have been taken board for the first time in London, or at least made acute [armed -ed] by insertion of the master switch.”
Leppard dismisses the report as "a compendium of fudge and obfuscation." They had “only one [sic] fully functioning example of Khreesat's bombs,” Leppard complained, “but this did not prevent them concluding all three bombs had a time delay of between 30 and 45 minutes." The reality is in fact a little more complex it seems than the BKA’s report lets on, but the noted similarity of the timing style is still completely valid. The 38-minute detonation after leaving there really does look a lot like a Khreesat device loaded there.

War’s End
Upon seeing that insolent ST33 report, SIO John Orr “was furious,” writes Leppard.
“As the Kamboj episode showed, there had always been the outside chance that a bag had been smuggled into the container at Heathrow. That possibility aside, Orr had effectively ruled out Heathrow within three weeks of the bombing. Much to the relief of British security chiefs, the Met’s Special Branch had long since stopped investigating the Heathrow theory. Now the Germans were suggesting they were all wrong.” [L145]
They launched back in June with a rebuttal. “Harry Bell was tasked with getting RARDE to research a reply” to this ST33 report, writes Leppard. “It took five weeks to come up with a convincing response.” Finished before June was out, it mostly poked holes the uncertainties of the report, like using “only one working device” to decide the time delay. It offered no solid alternative, quibbled over climb rates, postulated a simple electrical error, and closed condescendingly:
“In conclusion the ST33 report deals with presumptions and presuppositions and it is respectfully pointed out that only factual evidence will be acceptable in the furtherance of the inquiry to bring to justice the bombers of Flight PA103.” [L146-48]
The Scots and Americans, on the other hand, were never able to shake the fact that London was always the far better fit for just the bomb style that everyone first suspected. And they could show no support for what they insisted on: a Khreesat bomb loaded and triggered in Germany but with a speculated two-hour timer to carry it just past London.

In short the authorities and investigators of the West German Federal Republic knew some of the same clues their counterparts across the channel did. They could see the general logic of London introduction, the detonation timing, and the expected British ass-covering. After all, as Leppard put it:
“Certainly, if Heathrow had been to blame, the ramifications would have been severe […] Fortunately for the British, no such evidence was ever uncovered. All the political embarrassment would fall on the Germans.” [p 60]
The embarrassment would then somehow shift off of them onto Malta and thence Libya, in a fascinating leapfrog action. But early on, we can see the Germans had circumstantial clues - if only half as many as the Brits held - that the bomb actually started in London. They could be called jumpy or defensive to leap to the conclusions they did so fervently based on such limited information. But now, with more information, we can see that they were probably right all along.

Helsinki Warning Re-Considered, pt 1

24 September 2010

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.