On the evening of December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 traveling from Frankfurt to New York crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, after a stopover at London’s Heathrow Airport, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew along with 11 civilians on a residential street.
Following a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arrest warrants were issued for two Libyan nationals, Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah.
A Scottish court found Fhimah not guilty, though Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
In November 2022, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former senior Libyan intelligence official, was kidnapped from his home and charged with two criminal counts related to the bombing—it was alleged that he set the timer before the bomb went off.
U.S. officials say that Mas’ud admitted during an interview with Libyan law enforcement following the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 that the Lockerbie bombing was ordered by Libyan intelligence and that he and others who participated were personally thanked by Qaddafi for their roles.1
However, the former director of that prison, Khalid al-Sharif, denies that Mas’ud ever made such a confession while he was there. Sharif, now living in exile in Turkey, was one of the top leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Afghan-based group that was listed in 2004 as a terrorist organization, though this designation was removed in 2015 after it participated in the 2011 U.S.-NATO-supported armed revolt that toppled Qaddafi’s secular national government.
Portrait of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi appearing in U.S. court.
After his release from a Scottish jail in 2009 because he was suffering from pancreatic cancer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was greeted by crowds back in Libya as a national hero, as people thought that he was innocent.
Megrahi’s conviction had hinged on the testimony of a Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, who identified Megrahi as buying clothes, fragments of which were found among the plane wreckage.
However, the man who bought the clothes was older and taller than Megrahi and bought the clothes two weeks earlier. Furthermore, Gauci did not say he sold a slalom shirt that was found at the crash site with bomb fragments. Megrahi said that he never bought clothes at all from Gauci whom he said “dealt with me very wrongly. I have never seen him in my life before he came to court.”2
Gauci admitting he never sold Megrahi a shirt.
Australian Investigator Finds Hidden CIA Hand
Peter Osborne is a physics teacher and former science adviser to the Australian government who began investigating CIA corruption in 2002 after his encryption business venture established with the Australian government and United Nations was destroyed by CIA Operation StillPoint because it had an encryption key that the National Security Agency (NSA)—which operated at a U.S. spy base in Australia—could not infiltrate.
Osborne’s research has followed on the heels of investigative journalist Danny Casolaro, who was murdered in August 1991 before he could write a tell-all book that would expose a web of corruption by a rogue group of CIA agents who appeared to be involved in the Lockerbie bombing.
Known as “the godfather of secret warriors,” Shackley had worked as a translator for Nazi spy chief Reinhard Gehlen after his recruitment into the CIA and headed the CIA’s JM-Wave station in Miami, which directed terrorist operations against Cuba following the Cuban Revolution.
Shackley then teamed up with jungle warfare specialists such as Richard Secord, John Singlaub, Tom Clines and Oliver North in the secret war in Laos, where the CIA created a secret army of opium-growing Hmong tribesmen to fight against the communist Pathet Lao. Millions of dollars in opium profits were siphoned off and laundered through the Nugan Hand Bank of Australia during this operation.3
Shackley retired from the CIA in the late 1970s but continued to work with the Agency while heading private security companies that were involved in illicit arms deals with Iran to help fund the Nicaraguan Contras (counter-revolutionaries funded by the CIA to overthrow the left-wing Sandinistas).
The motive of Shackley and his secret team in bombing Pan Am Flight 103 was to cover up their involvement in illegal drug trafficking going back to the era of the Indochina War to fund black operations.
Among the Lockerbie victims were three U.S. intelligence specialists returning from an aborted hostage rescue mission in Lebanon: a) Matthew Gannon, the CIA Deputy Station Chief in Beirut; b) Ronald Lariviere, a special agent assigned to Beirut; and c) Major Charles McKee, a senior Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CIA operative from Arlington, Virginia.
A variety of sources have claimed that McKee got wind of illicit narcotics trafficking by Shackley and his secret team and was returning to Washington with Gannon and Lariviere to blow the whistle on them.
Exposure of CIA drug trafficking by George H.W. Bush’s CIA cronies would have damaged his political career.
A few months after Lockerbie, reports emerged from Lebanon that McKee and Gannon’s travel plans had been leaked to the bombers. The implication was that Flight 103 was targeted because they were on board.
McKee and company’s itinerary was allegedly telexed by then-DEA Agent Micheal Hurley to the CIA Director of Operations in Washington, MI6 and SPAG, a CIA Special Action Group in Germany. CIA operative George K. Pender had alerted members of the secret team that McKee and his team had unearthed evidence of their illegal drug and arms trafficking operations and was on his way to Washington to report on it. Prior to the flight, McKee had contacted his mother, Beulah, who said he appeared to be in distress.4
According to John Ashton and Ian Ferguson, authors of Cover-up of Convenience—The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie, Megrahi’s trial did not take into account the wads of U.S. dollars, or the heroin or the Hezbollah t-shirt found in the wreckage.
Furthermore, a suitcase belonging to McKee was mysteriously carried away from the piles of wreckage left by the crash and even had a large hole cut into it before it was returned to the investigation.
Called “tiny” by his Army intelligence friends when he was really a burly giant, McKee had graduated first in his class from the Army Special Forces School and served with the Green Berets in Beirut before working with the CIA there.
Ohio Congressman James Traficant said that a report that McKee and Gannon had seen concluded that the CIA was “covering up a drug run, protecting the terrorists’ Frankfurt to New York heroin route in exchange for contacts that might lead to the release of American hostages.”
These hostages had been taken by Hezbollah after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which the U.S. was blamed for supporting.
The CIA-protected drug route that McKee and Gannon were going to expose was supposedly called Operation Corea.
It allowed Syrian drug dealers led by Monzer al-Kassar, an associate of Oliver North, to ship heroin produced by Christian Falangists backed by the CIA in Lebanon to the U.S. using Pan-Am flights in exchange for intelligence on Palestinian groups holding hostages in Syria.
Monzer al-Kassar with his family at his mansion in 1985 and after his arrest in 2008.
The CIA protected the suitcases containing the drugs and made sure they were not searched. However, on the day of the bombing, terrorists exchanged suitcases, one with drugs, for one with a bomb.
Beulah McKee told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that, if her son had discovered that a faction of the CIA had become corrupt, he would have demanded answers and that her son was unwilling to be caught up in a drug-running ring.
Three years after the crash, she told Time that, “for three years, I’ve had a feeling that if Chuck hadn’t been on that plane, it wouldn’t have been bombed,” adding that she had “never been satisfied at all by what the people in Washington told me.”
Traficant said that the classified report McKee and Gannon had seen detailed a web of plots and connections involving hostages, spies, bombers and drug runners.
Allegedly, West German intelligence agents told CIA agents in Frankfurt about an hour before Pan Am Flight 103 departed that they suspected a bomb may have been enclosed in a specific suitcase, Traficant said.
Traficant corroborated that McKee and Gannon knew the CIA was protecting the heroin ring and planned to tell U.S. officials this was hindering efforts to win the hostages’ release.
Matthew Gannon’s grave.
A sign that there was a cover-up in place was that FBI Agent Oliver “Buck” Revell, who worked with the “secret team,” was able to warn his son in advance not to take Pan Am Flight 103 but to change to another flight.
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon John McCarthy and Pik Botha, a South African politician and 22 other South African delegates were also booked on Pan Am Flight 103, but they either changed planes or declined to travel because of a warning.
According to Osborne, Shackley’s co-conspirators included Richard Secord, a veteran of the secret war in Laos involved in Iran-Contra, and Vincent Cannistraro, head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center who worked out of the U.S. embassy in Rome and with Oliver North. Conveniently, Cannistraro was appointed to head the CIA’s investigation into the Lockerbie crash.
Edwin Wilson claimed from his prison cell that he had been working for the CIA when his company, International Consultants, shipped 20 tons of plastic explosives from Houston, Texas, to Tripoli and trained people in Libya working for the Qaddafi regime to blow up things like airlines. (Wilson was convicted in 1983 of illegally selling weapons to Libya.)
Edwin Wilson during his trial for illegally selling weapons to Libya.
Michael Riconosciuto, a CIA whistleblower imprisoned on phony drug charges told Peter Osborne that Robert Booth Nichols, a CIA agent “involved in virtually every nefarious covert plot carried out by the U.S. government in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s,” was the security leak responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Riconosciuto said that Nichols and the daughter of George K. Pender changed the booking of the flights to ensure that all members of the McKee team were placed on the same flight in breach of normal security protocols.
Both Nichols and Pender worked for a Cyprus-based CIA front company, First Intercontinental Development Company (FIDCO), which secured financing for the reconstruction of Beirut and Damour after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and ran arms into and heroin out of Lebanon’s Beqaa (Bekaa) Valley.
Nichols had ties to the Medellín drug cartel, Japanese Yakuza and Gambino crime family. He used blackmail tactics to buy out rival companies while benefiting from insider government knowledge, and made sure that businessmen who refused a buy-out were taken hostage.
With Nichols’ support, Ted Shackley’s team was selling cocaine. According to Osborne’s research, they sold the radar detection systems to Colombian drug lords to ensure that their drug shipments could evade the drug interdiction program into the U.S., Canada and Australia.
After the Pan Am Flight 103 crash, American and Scottish forensics experts traced the clothing that was in the suitcases containing the bomb to a clothing shop in the resort town of Sliema, Malta, located directly across the street from the Malta offices of Ishan Barbouti Inc. The suitcase was further traced to a small boutique, Mary’s House, located right next to his company. It was sold to an Arab gentleman resembling Ishan Barbouti on November 23, 1988.
Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard exposed Barbouti, an Iraqi who owned a fuel additive plant in Oklahoma City, as the builder of the Rabta Chemical Weapons plant in Libya and as a conduit in the CIA’s covert arming of Iraq with biochemical weapons as part of a scheme to ensure that Iraq would not lose its war with fundamentalist Iran.5
A CIA liaison with both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, Barbouti had ties with Richard Secord, who was part of Ted Shackley’s secret team. Allegedly, Secord got Barbouti involved with Wackenhut Corporation’s production of chemical and biological weapons at the Cabazon Indian Reservation in Riverside, California, which was owned by CIA officer Dr. John P. Nichols. According to Riconosciuto, Secord met Barbouti in Boca Raton, Florida, where Barbouti operated a plant that produced deadly cyanide to be exported to Iraq.
Operating as a CIA-front, Wackenhut was the company responsible for security for Pan Am Flight 103 at London’s Heathrow Airport, which was compromised.
Wackenhut security officer.
When Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal died in 2002, he left behind journals filled with vivid accounts of his activities as a CIA asset working with Theodore Shackley and his secret team.
Notable among these activities was his function as a principal conduit to more than $5 million that was used under a CIA operation called TD-Wave to train Libyan hit squads and members of a Palestinian front group based in Damascus led by Ahmed Jibril, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was implicated in the Lockerbie bombing.
Peter Osborne’s research uncovered that $500,000 was transferred to the PFLP through Indosuez Bank, which was founded in 1983 in Australia by Howard Smith, who was involved in covert arms sales with Robert Booth Nichols, the security leak for the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, and Wackenhut.6
The Nidal/Libya/Jibril connection with TD-Wave was known by Dr. Richard Fulsz, a CIA operative based in Damascus at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, who said that the training and arming of terrorist cells was “classic Shackley.”
TD-Wave had spawned from Shackley’s earlier operation running Cuban terrorists in Miami, JM-Wave, and established proprietary companies, including Zabado in East Berlin, to help move weapons and funds and provide a cover for its illegal activity.
JM-Wave building on the campus of the University of Miami in the early 1960s.
After the Lockerbie bombing, TD-Wave moved to keep the lid on Edwin Wilson’s sanctioned relations with Libya and the CIA’s contacts with Abu Nidal and Ahmed Jibril and role in training them to build bombs inside boom box radios—the kind of bomb used in the Lockerbie crash.
Allan Francovich and the Maltese Double Cross
Francovich had earlier produced the 1976 documentary On Company Business, which provided a critical history of the CIA, featuring interviews with CIA whistleblowers such as Philip Agee.
One of the first persons interviewed in The Maltese Double Cross was Thomas (Tam) Dalyell, a Scottish Labor Party politician who observed that the Americans had arrived on the crash scene suspiciously quickly and that Americans could be seen fiddling with bodies and tampering with evidence. A local Lockerbie surgeon who was interviewed said that he had noticed that the Americans also re-did the labels that he had put on the bodies.
Lockerbie crash scene.
Many were left to wonder why there were so many Americans at the crash scene and why some were there simply to search for missing objects of some kind.
Lester Coleman, a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) operative who reported on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)’s activities in Cyprus, said that a compromised American covert drug operation allowed Iranian-backed terrorists (PFLP) to plant the bomb.
In 1993, he wrote the book, Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie—Inside the DIA, which went unpublished in the U.S. until 2009.
Coleman related how drugs were routinely flown to the U.S. from London and Frankfurt, in marked suitcases which were purposely overlooked by three governments.
“They could not eradicate the drugs in Lebanon so they only could do two things. That is to monitor what was being produced and how it was being shipped out. And two, use DEA informants from Lebanon in drug sting operations back in the United States to set up drug buys and catch drug buyers in the U.S. And that was a big part of what they were doing. The DEA informants would fly in to Los Angeles, for example, or Detroit, and they would be loaned out to the local DEA office and used in a drug sting operation. Many times they would haul in heroin with them—in a controlled delivery—sometimes they would take in cash and act as a buyer.”
Coleman continued: “A controlled delivery is when a courier carries a predetermined amount of heroin through security checkpoints, with the knowledge and consent of the local law enforcement people, for example the Germans in Frankfurt, the British Customs and Excise service in London, to pass the heroin through on the way to New York and then onto Detroit or Houston or Los Angeles.”7
Coleman’s revelations were corroborated by Oswald LeWinter, who claimed to be a CIA agent from 1968 to 1985 and was interviewed for The Maltese Double Cross.
Juval Aviv, an investigator hired by Pan Am, added that the American, German and British governments were all aware of these controlled deliveries and they would always use a brown Samsonite suitcase and switch the suitcase with the drugs with an identical suitcase filled with clothes.
The Francovich documentary alleges that the bomb was taken on board Pan Am 103 by an unwitting drug mule named Khalid Nazir Jaafar, a Lebanese American who had done work for a CIA front company called Ureme Trading Company.
The suitcase was not searched by airport officials because it was believed to be part of a “controlled” delivery and protected by the three governments involved.
Coleman recalled seeing Jaafar multiple times and confirmed that he was a drug mule. The film crew traced Jaafar’s steps from several points in Germany to Uppsala, Sweden.
They also traced a one-way student ticket to Detroit on Pan Am 103 purchased for Khalid Jaafar, with the form of payment listed as “not shown.”
Another Suspicious Death
Rodney Stich reports in his book, History of U.S. Aviation Disasters: 1950 to 9/11, that, on April 22, 1997, Allan Francovich was going through U.S. Customs in Houston, Texas, carrying documents for Coleman’s defense and Aviv’s civil damage trial against the government. During questioning by Customs agents he suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack.
The highly sensitive papers that he was carrying then disappeared. Francovich’s body was taken by friends for a private autopsy to determine if he had been injected prior to his death by any of the drugs used to bring about a fatal heart attack. The private laboratory reported three small pin marks on the back of his neck.
Thirty-Five Years On, Who Will Hold the CIA to Account?
Francovich and Osborne’s investigations give strong weight to the belief that the CIA was involved in the Lockerbie bombing and perpetration of a vast cover-up that persists to this day.
Though 35 years have now passed, the pain lingers for the families and friends of victims who are still alive, which is compounded by the fact that justice was never obtained. The people who have been prosecuted are pre-selected patsies whose purpose is to create the illusion that the bad guys were caught.
The CIA has been very effective in cultivating a heroic, popular image through Hollywood and the media; however, scratch behind the surface and you will find its true dark nature, which its role in the Lockerbie bombing and cover-up exemplifies.
- In 2003, Qaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims, although he maintained that he had never given the order for the attack. Acceptance of responsibility was part of a series of requirements laid out by a UN resolution for sanctions against Libya to be lifted. ↩︎
- Gauci’s testimony appeared coached and he was given fancy vacations in Scotland apparently, as part of a payoff. Lord Fraser, Scotland’s chief law officer during the Lockerbie investigation, admitted to journalists that Gauci, his chief witness, was “unreliable” and that key evidence may have been planted by the CIA. ↩︎
- See David Corn, The Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA’s Crusades (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994). In his long criminal career working for the Agency, Shackley also helped coordinate the 1973 fascist coup in Chile and helped the Shah of Iran to set up assassination teams. ↩︎
- Hurley allegedly sold pirated PROMIS software that had been stolen from a legitimate entrepreneur and was being used by the CIA to facilitate money laundering. ↩︎
- Pollard turned over to Israel a classified study that included a contract between Barbouti’s company, IBI, and Juergen Hippenstiel-Imhausen of the German company Imhausen Chemical dated October 1984 which called for designing a chemical plant at Rabta. The address listed on the contract for Barbouti’s company, 145 Tower Road in Sliema, Malta, was right next to where the clothing and suitcase linked with the bombing device were purchased by an Arab gentleman resembling Barbouti. ↩︎
- The Indosuez Bank waa involved in the CIA’s Operation Hammer and StillPoint, which were money-laundering operations designed to secure a monopoly on the use of U.S. encryption technology in foreign countries. Nichols allegedly provided weapons training to Osama bin Laden in Australia, according to Peter Osborne’s research. ↩︎
- Wikipedia reported that the U.S. government indicted Coleman on perjury charges, accusing him of making false statements in an affidavit supporting Pan Am’s claims against the Federal Government of the United States in a Pan Am 103 civil suit. Joe Boohaker, Coleman’s defense attorney, said that the filing of criminal charges based on the course of a civil suit was “the most unusual thing” he had ever encountered. Coleman, at the time, was an asylum-seeker in Sweden. During this time, the FBI sent letters to the Swedish Government, requesting Coleman’s extradition request to Sweden. Tam Dalyell, a Labour Party Member of Parliament from Linlithgow, asked the Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, to grant diplomatic immunity to Coleman, so he could give evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial in Scotland. Allan Stewart, a former Office Minister of Scotland and a Conservative Party MP for Eastwood, also said that Coleman should be granted immunity, so he could testify in Scotland. The Lord Advocate rejected Dalyell’s plea, saying that the Home Office and the English courts have the jurisdiction over the demand of the U.S. government’s extradition demand regarding Coleman, and that the Crown Office and the Scottish Office had no authority over the case.According to Redding Pitt, Coleman called Governor of Alabama Fob James, an acquaintance of Coleman from the 1970s, for help in his case. James helped arrange Coleman’s State of Alabama-paid voluntary return to the United States. Boohaker said that James apparently knew Coleman from his radio days. Upon Coleman’s return, federal agents in Atlanta, Georgia arrested Coleman. On Thursday, September 11, 1997, Coleman pleaded guilty to the five counts of perjury and signed a public apology. Coleman’s plea agreement stated that his claim that the U.S. defense and intelligence agencies authorized him to obtain a false passport was not true, that he lied in his Pan Am testimony in order to bolster his image as an international security and terrorism consultant and to obtain money, and that he wanted revenge against the DEA because the DEA had fired him. Coleman’s prosecutors recommended a sentence of time served, five months in prison, and six months of home confinement. Coleman later claimed to have signed the statement under duress. ↩︎
This article was first published in CovertAction Magazine