Burying the “Lockerbie Bomber”—And the Truth - WhoWhatWhy

Burying the “Lockerbie Bomber”—And the Truth

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I first learned about the death of the “Libyan bomber” Ali Megrahi from a television screen. The sound was off, but I could see the closed captioning on CNN. Newspeople and guests were talking about the terrible thing Megrahi had done, and the closure or lack thereof from his passing. One man was noting that the perpetrator was a high official of Libyan intelligence, and that the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 had been ordered at the very top—by Muammar Qaddafi. The deaths of 270 people, 189 of them Americans, it was implied, justified last year’s removal of Qaddafi, and the dictator’s own abrupt and horrible death.

But there’s something wrong with that scenario.

How do I know? I read the New York Times. Especially the best part…..the fine print.

The Times Opens A Door…and Shuts It

Check out this article, from Robert McFadden, the Times’ septuagenarian obit writer and rewrite man extraordinaire. Under the appropriately neutral headline, “Megrahi, Convicted in 1988 Lockerbie Bombing, Dies at 60,” McFadden nailed the true import of Megrahi’s death in the second paragraph:

[box] The death of Mr. Megrahi, who insisted that he was not guilty, foreclosed a fuller accounting of his role, and perhaps that of the Libyan government under Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, in the midair explosion of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. [/box]

Most of the front half of the article lays out the conventional line on the plane that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. But anyone getting to the latter part will notice that it is dominated by evidence casting doubt on the official story.

Thus, if you read those second-half paragraphs carefully, you see what the reporter (and perhaps his bosses) may actually wonder: whether Libya was framed by some enemy, with hints on who that might be.

[box] The trial lasted 85 days. None of the witnesses connected the suspects directly to the bomb….The court called the case circumstantial, the evidence incomplete and some witnesses unreliable…Much of the evidence was later challenged….The court’s inference that the bomb had been transferred from the Frankfurt feeder flight was also cast into doubt when a Heathrow security guard revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the bombing, a circumstance never explored….Hans Köchler, a United Nations observer, called the trial “a spectacular miscarriage of justice”…. Many legal experts and investigative journalists challenged the evidence, calling Mr. Megrahi a scapegoat for a Libyan government long identified with terrorism. While denying involvement, Libya paid $2.7 billion to the victims’ families in 2003 in a bid to end years of diplomatic isolation. [/box]

But the Times was not finished with the story. It would have more to say, though not pursuing the line developed by the desk-bound McFadden, a 1996 Pulitzer Prize winner. Someone apparently decided that “more reporting” was needed, this time from another Pulitzer Prize winner, the longtime war correspondent John Burns.

His article, headlined “Libyan’s Death Brings Up Debate Over His Release,” focuses in part on the fact that Megrahi was given early release from prison because he suffered from cancer. But it also expanded on McFadden’s theme of doubts about Libya’s involvement. It actually goes a bit further in that direction, raising the theory that Libya was not involved.

Then it suggests that the true sponsor is…Iran.

The Times’s John Burns focuses on one relative and his theory.

[box]In the aftermath of Mr. Megrahi’s death, his defense was taken up anew by the most persistent — and most controversial — of Mr. Megrahi’s defenders in Britain, Dr. Jim Swire, a 75-year-old retired family doctor whose 23-year-old daughter, Flora, died in the bombing. Years before Libya handed Mr. Megrahi and another man, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, over for trial, Dr. Swire voiced strong doubts about the Scottish case, and he fainted in court when Mr. Megrahi was convicted and Mr. Fhimah acquitted.

In the years since, he has been a vociferous advocate of a new independent inquiry into the bombing, saying that there was no reliable evidence that Mr. Megrahi was involved, and much that pointed to Iran, not Libya, as the culprit.[/box]

If Swire is so “controversial,” why give his claims such attention?

By citing Swire, Burns, wittingly or not, pulls out one of the oldest tricks in the book. He seems to be himself advancing legitimate inquiry by proposing an alternative theory that is not alternative at all. Indeed, what he does is redirect criticism from a former enemy of the United States establishment to a current one. The “controversial” disclaimer is also an old trick. It insulates the Times from any accusations that it has fallen into its predictable role of advancing the agenda of the American establishment. (Remember The Times’ former star reporter Judith Miller and all those Weapons of Mass Destruction that served as the Bush administration’s justification for the Iraq invasion?)

Even better, Burns cites “broadcast interviews” in which Swire had just repeated his assertions. Thus, it’s not The Times that is responsible for this. It is just “reporting on reporting.” Of course, those who trust the Times for their understanding of the world will not likely focus on any of these implied disclaimers at all. What they will remember is this: it was either Libya….or it was Iran.

Been Here Before, Ladies and Gents

Anyone really interested in figuring out who bombed that plane, and why, cannot ignore history. It is a history of our own government’s playing hardball, sometimes even doing (or at least contemplating) crazy and evil-seeming things in the service of a perceived greater cause. One example of this, and not the only one, is Operation Northwoods, a proposal from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rejected by an incredulous John F. Kennedy, which would have involved committing acts of terrorism on US soil that could be blamed on Fidel Castro’s government. It was seen as regrettably leading to the loss of innocent life. But the proponents argued that the ends—setting the stage for an American invasion and the removal of Castro—justified the means.

This kind of thing is unpleasant, to put it mildly—almost too awful to contemplate. And discussing it is to invite tremendous hostility from those who don’t know better (and from those who do as well). But raising these uncomfortable truths is called….journalism. History shows us that US and allied intelligence operations will go to almost any lengths to gain the upper hand psychologically, to defame enemies of the state in order to persuade the public to go along with more overt moves, ideally by surrogates. (See Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Congo and Dominican Republic 1961, Vietnam 1963, Indonesia and Congo 1965, Cambodia 1970, Chile 1973…may we stop here?).

Meanwhile, governments like Libya under Qaddafi, or Iran under the mullahs, despicable though they are in many respects, have little real incentive to commit such acts against much more powerful countries. They gain nothing and stand to lose everything. Indeed, we can see strong indications that Qaddafi was railroaded over many years (but the effort was put on a bullet train last year) using Lockerbie as well as allegations of mass rape and mass murder, among other issues, as laid out here.  If getting rid of the irksome and fiercely independent Qaddafi was a priority, Iran is much, much more important. The effort to remove the current leadership of Iran and bring it back into the Western political, military and corporate fold is one of the highest priorities of the US, its allies, and their spinmasters. (Read this and this to learn more)

Burns’s Times piece is yet another in a long string of unsupported claims of Iranian nefariousness, which are practically a staple of the Western news diet. But reporters needn’t be complicit. One can accept that the Iranian mullahs and their cohorts are brutal and contemptible without being willing to traffic in falsehoods about them.

Beyond Burns

If the repositioning from McFadden’s good work that Burns’ piece represented wasn’t enough, we get this, from the Times-owned International Herald Tribune and republished by The Times, headlined “Lockerbie Bomber Dead, Conspiracy Theories Survive.”  The message is, “If you don’t have time to read this, and you probably don’t, just remember: when anyone tries to tell you there’s more to this story, just dismiss them and their notions with the back of your hand.”

Every time we see a journalist use the term “conspiracy theory,” let’s add one of two thought bubbles: Either “I’m lazy” or “I’m worse.” It usually means the reporter is not actually looking into any of the assertions, just taking five minutes to type out references to them, and then subtly undermine the whole train of thought. Because the term “conspiracy theory” immediately telegraphs to readers that they can safely ignore the claims contained therein.

A proper headline, based on the cumulative facts, would be, “Lockerbie Bomber Dead, Big Questions on Bombing Sponsors Unresolved.” (Message to Times and IHT: Happy to help you with headline accuracy—and even headline buzz!)

The Plot Thickens—and Another Person Dies

If you’re still not convinced that dark forces of a particular sort have a deep interest in how this all plays out, consider this development: the mysterious death Sunday of Sukri Ghanem, Libya’s former Oil Minister. Ghanem’s early defection turbocharged the effort to unseat Qaddafi. What’s so interesting, besides his ending up floating in the Danube, is that he had long insisted that Libya had no connection to Lockerbie, nor to the 1984 shooting of a British policeman outside the Libyan embassy in London, four years before Pan Am 103, that was cited as the basis for severing UK-Libyan ties.

Call Ghanem the man who knew too much. And please compare to a fellow defector, the Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil, who, unlike Ghanem, was perfectly happy to stoke the fires against Qaddafi—by announcing, after he had switched sides, that Qaddafi personally ordered the bombing, and promising to produce evidence.

He…..never has. It is now more than a year since the media ran its Jeleil headlines that were so damaging to Qaddafi, and no one, including the Times , has bothered to go back and see if he kept his word. (Background on that can be found  here.)

The Pan Am 103 story could provide crucial linkage to the invasion of Libya and removal of Qaddafi—and lead to a real understanding of why some “accidents” happen, of why some “unavoidable interventions” happen. And no, it’s not always, or even usually, for the stated reasons. Just as the isolation of Libya over Lockerbie was, it seems, not really motivated by justice, the Western support of an externally-planned and -stimulated “indigenous” uprising was not really motivated by a concern for the human rights or the lives of the Libyan people.

This is not to pick on any particular reporter. On some level, all but the very stupidest journalists know how things really work. But they aren’t permitted to tell the rest of us. Thinking of digging deeper when that’s strongly (albeit implicitly) discouraged? There’s a simple choice: your conscience or your job.

[box] To read Megrahi’s claims of innocence, go here.  (If you are in the UK or just want to read the more extensive British reader comments, go here)[/box]

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0 responses to “Burying the “Lockerbie Bomber”—And the Truth”

  1. Avatar fuddled says:

    About 3 and half weeks before the flight, all of the travel agents in London starting offering £105 tickets for Pan Am flights Dec. 20, 21, 22 and 23 for London to JFK. I decided to stay abroad that Christmas. A fellow student didn’t make it home. Now, why was there this sudden ridiculous barrage of cheap Pan Am flights before Christmas is what I would like to know.

  2. Avatar Caustic_logic says:

    Dr. Swire is quite controversial, and pretty much right on the money. Powerful Iranians-if not”Iran” per se-almost certainly did order PA103 destroyed. We know the bomb style use, point on introduction, people who made those bombs, who paid them, and the perfect six-month old grievance: IR655. 

    Those who want to bring up Iran’s involvement NOW, people like John Burns, propaganda robot, they have an agenda. But there’s truth to it. I say PA103 put us even-steven and it’s better not to escalate the issue. That’s about what we did in ’89/90 as the decision was made to whack Libya with it instead.

  3. Avatar Dan Garden says:

     Rolling Stone claimed long ago that the business was payback for the iranair shootdown.

  4. Avatar DRL says:

     What I think is that the evidence put forth in the Frankovitch documentary, The Maltese Double-Cross, recommended by Bluesky, above, which points the finger at Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the PFLP in the downing of PanAm flight 103, is exceedingly weak. — I’ve come across second- and third- hand accounts echoing these same notions, whose source is this same Frankovitch film.

    It’s as though Frankovitch’s point was to create a decoy, implicating the favorite demons du jour, to deflect attention away from the vast underworld of CIA, MI6, Mossad, BND, etc, drug trafficking, necessary for the funding of black operations and the laundering of cash in and out of ultra-powerful banks.

    The most effective propaganda is largely truthful, constituting a sugar-coating for a 5%-10% of toxic propaganda.

    It is clear, now, that Libya was not involved in the PanAm 103 Lockerbie tragedy, but it is inexcusable from there to implicate Iran, Syria, and others, on the basis of what can only be considered flimsy evidence.

    What should attract everyone’s attention is the prior knowledge any number of European intelligence agencies provided to Germany, Britiain and the US, any trace of which could have been sufficient to put a stop to the operation. — Who benefited from the fact that the information went unheeded?

    I urge you to look at the dark underside of defense / intelligence / mafia, in a startling account by ‘Axel Brot’ [pen name; former German defense analyst], published in 2007, as to how it works, from a German perspective:

    Germany, the Re-engineered Ally

    Part 1: Readiness for endless war

    Part 2: Everything is broken

    Part 3: Hail to the chief, or else


  5. Avatar Fouad says:

    I have been following this story through the writings of Andrew Killgore in Washing Report on Middl East Affairs. It has all the ingredients: intrigue, “miscarriage of justice”, strange testimonies.  Lots of book material. This case is worthy of pursuit by a fine investigative journalist. Russ? 

  6. Avatar dave fryett says:

    Here’s a link to a story on Megrahi which contains one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen on this topic or any other. This one and Gladio didn’t make Francovitch many friends in Langley.

    This film is long but worth the time.


  7. Avatar Kevin Ryan says:

    Thanks for the good article.

    One of the Pan Am 103 investigators was Larry Johnson, at the time a CIA paramilitary officer.  Johnson went on to become a leading terrorism expert and made some interesting remarks over the years. 

    1999 – Johnson on Frontline – “No other terrorist group in the world has been out killing Americans except for Osama bin Laden…. Osama bin Laden remains out there as the one really targeting us. So, we recognize that he’s the threat. He’s serious about wanting to kill Americans, but as long as he’s in Afghanistan, as long as he doesn’t have access to a cell phone, as long as he can’t just hop on a plane and travel wherever he wants without fear of being arrested, his ability to plan and conduct terrorist operations is extremely limited.”

    June 2000 –Frontline “Paul Bremer and Larry Johnson discuss a study that claims terrorism is an increasingly lethal threat to Americans and in the United States.”  http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/international/jan-june00/terror_6-6.html   Johnson: “Back in the mid-80’s, you could not go three weeks without a major attack against the United States. And I’m talking about airplane hijackings, bombings of airplanes, attacks at the Rome and Vienna Airport — hijacking of the Achille Laurel. What we’ve seen is the last major attack against this country, thank God, was August of 1998. We have a very sound system in place. What has happened is once the threat of the Soviet Union disappeared, we’ve got a lot of national security bureaucracies and other bureaucracies that are looking for a way to justify their existence, and many are scrambling to get the counter terrorism bonanza.”In July 2001, Johnson wrote “Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal…”

    • Avatar Kevin Ryan says:

      In July 2001, Johnson wrote “Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal…”

  8. Avatar Colleen says:

    This is not to pick on any particular reporter. On some level, all but the very stupidest journalists know how things really work. But they aren’t permitted to tell the rest of us. Thinking of digging deeper when that’s strongly (albeit implicitly) discouraged? There’s a simple choice: your conscience or your job.     
    Russ, in your opportunities to hang out and talk with these reporters (your colleagues), do you ever get a sense that their moral failings (knowing “how things really work” but shutting up for job security) weigh on them?    

  9. Avatar dave fryett says:

    Ralph Schoenman did something abt this on his Taking Aim radio show. The archives are available online. There is a piece that focuses on Gaddafi and touches on Lockerbie. It’s called Moammar Gaddafi, Socialist Revolutionary or Charlatan? It’s online too.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I wrote the latter.

  10. Avatar stevebonzai says:


  11. Avatar A. Benway says:

    Long ago Rolling Stone did a piece on this matter and, so far as feeble memory goes, I recollect that their thesis was that 103 was a tit for tat (zero sum game) for the the Iran-Air flight 655 shoot-down; this tit for tat being run through a dope import operation “licensed” by cia (the bomb being substituted instead of dope) …and thus necessitating, because cia could hardly admit to having been duped or to “licensing” criminals, the improbable Libyan story. I’d like to hear about what’s happened to that Rolling Stone story – confirmed or disconfirmed?

  12. Avatar Tim Weiner says:

    The evidence against Meghari — and the late Libyan leader — was convincing and compelling. Skeptics are invited to read Chapter 40 of my new book, “Enemies: A History of the FBI.”

    • Avatar Russ Baker says:

       Thanks, Tim. I won’t hold it against you that you’ve misspelled Megrahi. ;-)

      also please email me so i have your current contact info.

    • Avatar dave fryett says:

       You may think so Tim, but the original prosecutor sure didn’t. Lord whatever his name was said he had been deceived about the quality of evidence against the accused and resigned.

    • Avatar Aaron Aarons says:

      Considering that the governments of the U.S. and the U.K., both of which have enormous propaganda resources, are committed to the Libya-did-Lockerbie narrative, why should anybody have to buy a book or otherwise pay to get the best available arguments for their official story? If there is a case to be made for that story, it surely has been made already by the numerous shills in the media. In fact, every case that has been made to that effect has been debunked.

    • Avatar sfulmer says:

      Your opinion is in opposition to convincing and compelling evidence as presented, in his own inimitable way, by Rodney Stich, or , for those with European taste, Kochler.  I recognize you may not want to put that evidence to review by a jury here, but it’s easy to say that the evidence was compelling.  It’s just as easy to say that the evidence of tampering with the evidence was just as strong.  I’ve noticed in Legacy of Ashes a tendency of the author to take CIA cover for truth, a challenge that Russ explicitly grapples with in Family of Secrets.  At times while reading Legacy of Ashes, I thought I was reading the esoteric meanderings of the artist formerly known as Britney Spears.  

      In the Lockerbie case, it appears that cover stories may be in conflict, and that the lack of compelling evidence can be manipulated for covert purposes.  As I recall, it was first a CIA analysis that Iran was behind PA 103 – which does make sense in the context of their claims for revenge which then went quiet even more clearly than Ivins’ suicide quieted anthrax letters –  but being ever the pragmatists, they were not so concerned about truth.  Thank you for the invitation to read chapter 40 of your book.  I hope I find a discussion of why companies like the MEBOs of the world are getting funded to develop bomb timers to begin with.  

      And at the risk of being “long”, one more comment:  If any of you guys who call yourselves journalists (and I mean that respectfully, and with admiration toward those free to investigate the world), please find in this story the very – what, ironic? – coincidence that Syracuse University community also has some influence in the world of journalism.  Well, media, anyway.

    • Avatar Brian Willcutts says:

      If there is compelling evidence against either Megrahi or Qaddafi, it wasn’t presented at the trial.

      Have you read the court transcripts and the appeals?  The reason Megrahi was released is that the appellate court was sending clear signals it would have to overturn the lower court decision in light of new evidence which completely discredited the critical trial evidence.  Rather than have the decision thrown out, they opted to let the guy go to end the appeal.  They made up as story that he was just days or hours from death to justify his release – obviously that was a cover story, given that he loved almost three years.The idea that Iran was involved has been around since the mid-1990’s.  John Ashton and Ian Ferguson review evidence behind this assertion in their 2001 book Cover-Up of Convenience.

      Could it have been the CIA?  Sure, but until we have some evidence, it’s just speculation.  I have heard Susan Lindauer claim the CIA was behind it in an interview with Kevin Barrett, http://www.americanfreedomradio.com/archive/Truth-Jihad-32k-030911.mp3

    • Avatar FredWol says:

      Here’s a link to a 96 min talk Lindauer gave with unique and interesting discussion of 9/11, Lockerbie, and US/Iraqi relations before and after 9/11: