The London Origin Theory

Posted as a page 7 October 2010

“I want to know when the bomb was placed on the plane and by whom. We have to look more closely into the "London theory" – that the bomb was placed on the plane at Heathrow and not in Malta.” - Hans Köchler, independent UN observer at Zeist trial, 21 Aug 2009 (Source)

"If I was determined to bring down an airplane, I would have put [the bomb] on in London." - Robert Baer, 'former' CIA agent and weapons expert, who doesn't buy the Libyans-did-it story line.

The London Origin theory has emerged as the most logical explanation for what happened to Pan Am 103 on December 21 1988. The official story, all the most widely-seen revisionist arguments, and even Megrahi's defense team's curious "special defense of incrimination" drew on elements of the drug swap theory, with the bomb coming in from Germany or further afield. Megrahi's counsel William Taylor QC did however give reasons to suspect a  London origin (some below) to the trial judges and summarized at trial's end in 2001:
“My submission is that all of the above render the choice of Heathrow a much more likely one [than Malta]. And when that possibility is considered, one finds that there is a compelling body of evidence that points to Heathrow as being the point of ingestion.” [day 82 p 9862]

But in the earliest days of the investigation, January and February 1989, British investigators labored to clear Heathrow Airport of any lapses and ensure that the bomb's origin would have to be found elsewhere. Years of confusion ensued... (see "Counter-Arguments" below for more on the dismissal of the London theory).

Direct Evidence For the Theory
Among the first clues came from finding where the plane failed, and what luggage container the blast originated in. Container AVE4041 in forward left cargo hold, position 14L, was decided within a few days. The container's blasted out remains were found and reassembled enough to show the blast was down at the bottom of the container, in the aft outboard corner. It had been in the spot closest to the hull, only 25" from the thin and aged skin of Maid of the seas.

Unfortunately, the exact placement, origin, or even number of suitcases in that box was hard to pin down. Records and witnesses helped decide 4041 was loaded with a few bags (6-8 or so) of (apparently) interline luggage, then filled up with a few dozen cases from the feeder/first leg flight 103A out of Frankfurt. But within this generally imprecise body of memories, one stands out as of amazing possible significance.

This was always the hard part to get around in order to reject the initially obvious Heathrow introduction theory. A Pan Am worker mentioned to police right after the attack said he saw two brown hardshell samsonite suitcases, placed on the floor of container 4041. The position of these was side-by-side from the far left of the floor, at the (loading) front of the container. If the bags had been later stacked one on the other and the top bag slid a few inches left, it would be in the perfect spot to match the explosion center - aft outboard corner, second suitcase from the bottom - where just such case detonated.

An amazing lead, investigators almost seem to have tried to not follow this one.  Since the cases Bedford saw were on the floor when he saw them, and the blast seemed to have happened one layer up from that, they decided these cases were a coincidence. They must have been moved across the container, and replaced in that lower corner with an identical case from Germany, on top of some other damaged Frankfurt-originating luggage. The leaps of faith here are simply alarming.

The Bedford story is covered in great detail at this site, with the works so far compiled at the link above.

> Break-in Reported
A security Guard at heathrow Airport reported a break-in at terminal 3 around 12:30 am on  December 21. Ray Manly's report, of a padlock on the floor "cut like butter" was covered up for over a decade. Even at trial in 2000, the defense was not allowed to know of this. Manly came forward in 2001 with the story, soon verified by the long-suppressed police reports. A post is up but empty - anyone care to help? I'll get to it later.

Circumstantial Evidence For the Theory

Aside from its crew and perhaps some cargo that (probably) doesn't matter here, the 747 Clipper Maid of the Seas landed empty at London's Heathrow airport mid-day December 21, 1988. There the plane took on a load of 243 passengers and their luggage, and took off at 6:25 PM for New York as Pan Am Flight 103. Clearly, the bomb went on the plane at London, but the question that comes quickly behind it is where did it come from before that? A van in the parking lot, or another plane?

Such clues were vital to tracking down the perpetrators, and should be embraced when they're found. The time of explosion itself is a valuable clue - 38 minutes after leaving the ground - is a known hallmark of the altimeter bombs made just weeks earlier by terrorist bomb-maker and "double agent" Marwan Khreesat. He had produced four altimeter-triggered, radio-disguised bombs, set to detonate less than an hour after takeoff. Each of the others was a bit different, but the one that was captured and tested thoroughly would have blown up about 45-50 minutes after takeoff.  

The timing compatibility with a Khreesat bomb loaded at London notwithstanding, it's been officially decided and legally established that was a Libyan-ordered and set MST-13 timer that told the bomb to go off over Lockerbie. Officially, legally, by the evidence led at trial, it's an asbolute coincidence the timing so resembles the method first suspected. 

> Operational Security
When confronted with the official story of a Malta-Germany-London, the most obvious averse reaction of those who know air travel operations is to ridicule the notion that an airline bomb would make any sense being trusted to so many switches. Any functional security screen or time delay along the way coulld screw up the whole operation with a timer-based device as alleged. A trip from Frankfurt only is often suggested to replace this, but it too has one too many stops for a Khreesat bomb, and still a high chanced of the bomb being delayed or intercepted. If one could pierce security at any of the three airports, and it obviously happened at one of them, Heathrow would give one the best chance for success and the only way for a Khreesat bomb to have done what happened.  

Former head of security for British Airways, Denis Phipps, Maltese Double Cross:
“If a device had been infiltrated into the system at Malta, it would have been necessary for that device to have been carried in an aircraft in the sector from Malta to Frankfurt, to have gone through a handling process, been carried on an aircraft through the sector from Frankfurt to Heathrow, and then timed to detonate during the final sector, Heathrow to New York, presumably whilst the aircraft was over the ocean to avoid discovery of forensic evidence …  one has to say, um, are - terrorists  - idiots? Don’t terrorists plan to have a reasonable degree of success?"  

> Explosive Efficacy
If one places a device at the airport the target leaves from, rather than remotely through multiple flights, a new ppossibility is opened up - depending on the nature and depth of his penetration, a determined terrorist could place the bag himself and chose where in the container it went. As it happened, the bomb in PA103 was placed in the best spot (for the terrorists), and one of the few that could have even worked - the lower outboard quadrant, more or less on the sloping floor nearest the hull. Figure F13 (below) of the AAIB's report shows the deduced center of explosion that officially was achieved by accident. Considering even there, all that was blows from the hull was a chunk the size of a dinner plate. That's all it took, but it wouldn't happen at all if the bomb had wound up in the upper inboard corner, or even in the middle.

It is true, as some have pointed out, that there'd be no guarantee any cases placed in that deadly corner would stay there. But terrorists simply can't wait for guarantees. Certainly having it in the right spot, for sure, at one point, is better than relying on pure chance. Perhaps with this in mind, famous former CIA agent Robert Baer, who may have direct experience in this for all we know, has said:
"I used to teach explosives. The last thing you want to do is put a bomb on in a place like Malta and have two stops along the way ... you couldn't count on this thing hitting its target. ... Malta would not have been my first choice. It would have been London. If I was determined to bring down an airplane, I would have put it on in London." Flight into Darkness video, part two, 5:25

Counter Arguments Addressed
Forensics and the Frankfurt Link to the Rescue
UK and Germany had both been unsettled by the possibility their security forces had allowed the horror of Lockerbie to pass through. Some of their early wrangling is addressed in the post "What did the Germans Know?" British investigators decided the blast - 10 inches above the container floor - was above any possible non-Frankfurt luggage and therefore had to be some other brown, hardshell Samsonite from the one(s) Bedford described, that must have been from the feeder 103A. It was unsound reasoning and wishful thinking until the Erac printout emerged months later, showing an item apparently coming from Malta, to PA103, via Frankfurt.

The Malta Link to the Rescue
The Erac printout, emerging months after the attack from an employee's locker after all official copies somehow disappeared, sealed the deal for Malta origin. But the tiny island nation had already been mentioned in the evidence, as the place of manufacture for some of it. As it so happened, the Erac (Frankfurt) printout in August 1989 spurred a closer look, and the clothes were traced to a store on Malta where Tony Gauci was found...

Malta-based Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka was already on file with the culprits - Megrahi and Fhimah - that some hoped Tony saw one of. By late February 1991, they had a sort of identification of Megrahi from the shopkeeper.  A few months later, Giaka was finally removed to safety and first mentioned the suitcase - possibly the same model Bedford reported - seen on Malta the day before it reappeared on that dubious printout leaving there. The story is clearly false, but formed one basis of the U.S. indictment against Megrahi and Fhimah in November 1991.

And finally, Air Malta has airtight records that the 55 bags on flight 180 were all claimed by its 39 passengers. They've shown this in court, like in their libel suit against Granada television. How the bomb was sneaked around Air Malta's system was never explained or substantiated even back when Fhimah was accepted as an accomplice. Investigators tried to find evidence of Maltese collusion or corruption or incompetence, but came up only with 'well, they must have done it somehow.' After the dismissal of Giaka's Malta stories, the Zeist judges  found that accomplice not guilty, further complicating the feat for Megrahi. They admit it's hard to see just how he did it, but he must have. Guilty.

See also: Original blog post, with comments option. 
JREF Forum discussion thread on the London Evidence - great discussion