Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Primary Suitcase and Its Contents - Rethinking Basic Assumptions

"This is a case about cases"

  Opening line of Doctor Morag Kerr's "Adequately Explained By Stupidity?"

1.          This article was essentially inspired by the recent Al Jazeera documentary "Lockerbie - What Really Happened"   Beyond the cameo appearance of Dr Kerr (whose assertion of the Heathrow origin was somewhat at odds with the documentary's vague assertions about Malta) and two interesting claims by former CIA officer Robert Baer concerning alleged payments to the PFPL-GC and Abu Talb the film was pretty dire.   I also read with interest some comments made by John Ashton on his website "Megrahi - You Are My Jury"  in relation to the Al-Jazeera documentary and what he thought the film was going to feature.    It was a bit surreal to read the co-author of "Cover-up of Convenience" making quite sensible comments criticising the Al-Jazeera documentary (on which he was a paid consultant!) for making claims unsupported by credible evidence.  The words "pot" and "kettle" occurred. 
2.        Essentially this inspired me to rethink some basic assumptions and to appreciate how elements of the "official" version of events, indeed the very terminology, phrases such as "primary suitcase" and "Improvised Explosive Device" (IED) have conditioned some basic assumptions.
3.        The primary suitcase, determined to be an antique bronze Samsonsite, consisted, at least in the official version of events, of four distinct elements.   There was the suitcase itself, no more harmful than any other suitcase.  What made it the "primary suitcase" was when the IED was placed inside it. (When and where this occurred is not known.)  The third element was an instruction manual for a Toshiba Bombeat twin speaker radio-cassette recorder in which the IED (again in the official version)was concealed.  The fourth element was a motley collection of clothing and an umbrella supposedly purchased from the St Mary's House boutique in Silema, Malta.

4.     As the size 34 Yorkie trousers were delivered to Saint Mary's House on the 18/11/88 it seems the Malta clothing could not have been purchased earlier (Al-Jazeera implied the purchaser could have been Abu Talb who left Malta on the 26/10/88).  According to Leppard page 163 Gauci also claimed to have sold the mystery "Libyan" a checked herringbone jacket which according to Gauci had been hanging on a rack for months and which he had despaired of getting rid of it.   Nonetheless in September 1989 (Leppard 164) he was able to supply CIP Harry Bell with an identical item!

5.     Astonishingly in a brief undated statement  Harry Bell describes an interview he conducted with Tony Gauci on the 21st Feb 1990 in which he pointed out to Gauci (or complained?)  that the sample jacket he had supplied to him (in fact sold!) did not match the remnants of bomb damaged jacket.   Bell showed him a sample and asked him if he had anything that resembled it more closely! Even by the standards of the sweaty filth this is astonishing.   Gauci gave him (sold him?) another jacket, description unstated which Bell delivered to the LICC.   The possibility that the bomb-damaged jacket had been originally purchased somewhere else and was not sold by Gauci does not seem to have occurred to Bell.   It would therefore appear that while Gauci had despaired of getting rid of some ghastly jacket he eventually managed to palm it off on DCI Harry Bell.   (Bell's statement omits the crucial detail of whether he tried to get a refund or trade-in for the origional jacket!)
6.       In the official version of events these four elements came together by inference in Malta.  Megrahi bought the clothing and placed it in the Samsonite suitcase with the radio-cassette recorder (which he may or may not have built) and the instruction manual.   The sophisticated MEBO MST-13 timer was set to explode at 1900hrs (approx.) GMT.   The suitcase was then smuggled onto flight KM180 on the 21st December 1988 by unknown means.   Was the suitcase x-rayed at Malta?   No evidence was produced and (unlike at Frankfurt or London) the x-ray machine operator(s) at Malta may not have been interviewed.
7.        At Frankfurt the "primary suitcase" was supposedly transferred to flight PA103A and was supposedly x-rayed.  Whether it was x-rayed at London was an issue the authorities never addressed as they assumed it had been transferred directly from flight PA103A as "online" luggage and was not required to be x-rayed again.   Although quite aware the IED had been concealed within a brown Samsonite they were utterly uncurious about the brown Samsonite that had mysteriously appeared in container AVE4041.
8.      A widely publicised alternate version of events the "drug conspiracy theory" claims on the flimsiest of evidence (or no real evidence at all) that the primary suitcase was smuggled onto PA103A at Frankfurt either instead of or bizarrely in addition to a suitcase containing heroin.   This version pays little heed to issues such as how the bomb was detonated or to explain (at least in credible terms) the Malta clothing.
9.      The Al-Jazeera film made the credible claim that the bomb was built by Marwan Khreesat and infer a meeting between Abu Talb and Dalkamoni in Cyprus.  Was the bomb (and suitcase?) handed over here in early Octyober?  Did Talb take the IED (and suitcase?) to Rome and attempt to take it Libya before flying to Malta?   In material not featured in the final cut the documentary claimed Talb, assisted by Martin Imandi (a very credible courier) and the (mythical?) Abu Elias (the Kayser Soce of Lockerbie)  brought the bomb to the UK on a merchant ship on the 20th or 21st December.

10.      The inference was that the PFLP-GC had planned, with quite astonishing foresight,  months in advance to leave clues in the debris that would lead the authorities to Malta and somehow to Libya.   Why the PFLP-GC wanted to implicate Libya, a prime and steadfast supporter of the Palestinian armed struggle,  was not adequately explained.   But what was it that the three terrorists supposedly transported from Sweden to England?  Just the Toshiba radio-cassette player containing the IED or a brown Samsonite containing said radio-cassette, clothing and the instruction manual.
11.      Morag Kerr's excellent book is essentially concerned with the evidence of John Bedford - who after his break returned to container AVE4041 and saw that somebody had added two suitcases, one a brown Samsonite, and argues that this must have been the primary suitcase containing the bomb.  She spends no time speculating how the suitcase got into the container or how it got to Heathrow and into the Interline baggage shed.   The question of how a Khreesat built IED was primed, by inserting a jackplug (as demonstrated in the widely publicised warnings) did not arise.  But somebody would have to open the suitcase, prime the device, then close and presumably lock the case.
12.    As I argued in my article "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil"   page 51 of RARDE scientists Thomas Hayes notes (in which he claims to have recovered the timer fragment and five tiny sheets of the Toshiba manual from part of a Slalom shirt on the 12th May 1989) is obviously, by comparison with "photograph 117" a fabrication.   This of course casts doubt on whether these items were ever in reality recovered at all or fabricated for the purpose of implicating Libya, exonerating CIA "asset" Khreesat and making the Malta origin vaguely credible.   It also casts doubt on whether the primary suitcase really contained a Toshiba manual and whether the present version of the "Horton Manual" is actually what these witnesses recovered.
13.     If the MEBO fragment was faked then the possibility or likelihood that the IED in fact contained one of Khreesat's barometric bombs increases. This was the premise on which the investigation was based until the emergence of "evidence" the suitcase had in fact come from Malta.  If the evidence of the Toshiba owners manual was also faked then the IED may have been contained within a single speaker Toshiba radio-cassette player.
14.    We now come to a primary assumption that has been transferred from the (false) official scenario to the idea of a Heathrow origin.  That the IED had been transported to the Airport at which it had been introduced in a brown Samsonite containing the Malta clothing.  Is there an assumption that the UK was transported to England in a brown Samsonite containing also the Malta clothing?

15.      Why was the IED contained within a radio-cassette player?   The blindingly obvious answer (deriving from the official scenario or the Police's initial conclusion that the suitcase had come from Frankfurt) was to conceal the bomb so that it would not be detected when the bag was x-rayed and possibly hand-searched.   But was this the reason? Wouldn't an x-ray operator find this bag really suspicious anyway?   It contains only this large (supposedly twin-speaker) radio cassette, three pairs of PJs, a cardigan, a jacket two pair of trousers and an umbrella. (but initially at least no Slalom shirt.)   No shoes, socks, underwear, toiletries or personal items.  Who puts a radio-cassette in hold baggage anyway?
16.       How did the primary suitcase get into the Interline baggage shed?   Did it come in on another plane and was placed on the incoming belt?   What of the "Manley" break-in.  was this the route taken to move the primary suitcase from landside to airside?  Was it delivered landside at Heathrow and smuggled into the Interline baggage shed by an unknown route?
17.     Morag Kerr's book may have offered a clue when she described the long hours worked by the staff in the Interline baggage shed and suggested they frequently napped between infrequent activity.   Probably true but how else to deal with the boredom?   Well take a radio-cassette to work!   Presumably airside staff go through some sort of security check to get to work.   You might look a bit odd going to work with a suitcase but who is going to challenge you with a radio-cassette player!     
18.      If the primary suitcase was introduced at Heathrow then the only relationship with Malta is the Malta clothing.   If Abu Talb is a suspect then it is chronologically possible that the IED and the Samsonite suitcase passed through Malta  but there is no actual evidence where the Samsonite came from.   While is may be suspected that the IED was in fact built in Neuss between the 1st and 26th October 1989 there is again no evidence how it came to the UK.   One can only speculate.

19.       What if the IED was armed (by inserting the jack-plug) and put in an unconnected suitcase at Heathrow?  Of course this leaves the difficulty of where you find a suitcase at Heathrow Airport.  

20.       Is it therefore possible that the contents of the suitcase were of no significance and the trail to Malta was a complete red herring?   That the purchaser (who only vaguely resembled Megrahi) and whom Gauci claimed to have seenafter he was interviewed by Harry Bell had simply had his suitcase mislaid?    Did Gauci's reward through the US "rewards for justice" scheme in some way colour his evidence?

21.       As noted at para.10 other evidence leading to Libyan involvement (the fragment of MST-13 timer) and which made the Malta origin credible was irrefutably fabricated.   There is no credible evidence the primary suitcase really contained (within the IED) an MST-13 timer or that it contained an instruction manual.   In his hearsay "statement" (on which the trial Judges relied) Khreesat claimed to Thurman and Marshmann of the FBI that he had never built an aviation bomb in a twin speaker radio-cassette.   He may have been telling the truth.  It was also an admission he had built them in the single speaker model.

22.      Was there in fact anything inside the "Bedford" Samsonite but a single speaker Toshiba radio-cassette recorder?   Was the "Malta clothing" bomb-damaged elsewhere and strewn at the crash site to lead "like a trail of sweeties" to Malta?

Friday, March 7, 2014

John Downey, "On the Run Letters" and the Relationship to the Lockerbie case

1.    There has been considerable and on-going controversy concerning the collapse of the trial of Mr John Downey (arrested May 2013)  who was suspected of involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bombings.   The Judge brought proceedings to a halt in January 2014 when Mr Downey's Solicitor Gareth Peirce produced a letter of reassurance issued by the Northern Ireland Police Service in 2007 informing him that the Police did not propose to proceed against him for any Crime.
2.       This letter was one of 183 letters known as "On the Run" letters issued to suspected IRA members (it is not known if they were also issued to INLA members)  who were described as being "On the Run" (apparently a polite euphemism for being resident in the Irish Republic - indeed how do you correspond with somebody "on the run"?  A speaker on BBC4's Law in Action programme described these as "disguised amnesty" letters.

3.        The letters arose from a perceived anomaly in the Good Friday agreement in which convicted terrorists on both sides of the sectarian divide had been released.  Had these persons described as "On the Run" been convicted prior to the approval of the Good Friday agreement they too would have been released.    While the Blair Government was unable to carry a general amnesty bill through parliament the "On the Run" letters were used instead.

4.       In setting up a judicial inquiry Prime Minister Cameron described Mr Downey's letter as "a mistake" and declared the object of the inquiry is to ascertain if there were any similar "mistakes".  Apparently the Northern Ireland Police Service were unaware that the Metropolitan Police had applied for a warrant for Mr Downey's arrest!   However as should be blindingly obvious these letters served two purposes.  If an applicant received such a letter he would be in the clear.   However if the applicant did not receive a letter then he or she would be forewarned that it would be unsafe to travel to the UK or a jurisdiction from which they could be extradited.  Perhaps this was the intention.

5.      Mr Downey was arrested at Gatwick apparently while transferring to another plane.  It emerged he had previously travelled to Canada and had made several trips to Ulster.

6.      This blog is not about "The Troubles" but primarily the Lockerbie bombing.    It is the author's view that the "Libyan solution" to Lockerbie did not arise from real evidence but that evidence was created to implicate the two Libyan suspects (notably the claim the primary suitcase was introduced at Malta not Heathrow and the faking of key exhibits.)  The motivation of the British Government in general and MI5 in particular arose from the Libyans having supplied prodigious quantities of weaponry to the PIRA, a discovery only made from the interception of the trawler The Eksund by French customs in November 1987 en route to the Irish Republic.

7.       The "On the Run" letters demonstrates the quite remarkable lengths the British Government went to in order to make and sustain the Good Friday agreement.   In comments made to Radio 4's World at One former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain staunchly defended the letters and the policies of the Blair Government arguing that the Rule of Law did not apply in the Northern Ireland situation as it did in England, Scotland and Wales.   He also alluded to (without going into specifics) extraordinary measures taken by previous British Prime Ministers.  While the Lockerbie indictment supposedly came about as a result of a Criminal investigation and a Judicial process the involvement of the Security Services, MI5 and the CIA is almost entirely out of the public domain.  The Indictment was the pretext for imposing UN Sanctions on Libya, which was in the author's view the primary purpose of the Indictment.  Mr Megrahi's eventual (and freakish) conviction was just gravy.  (The word "Lockerbie" does not feature in the index of Mr Hain's memoirs.)

8.   One the four demands made of Libya following the imposition of UN sanctions was that Libya "cease all support and aid to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and provide the British authorities with all available information regarding that relation".  (Which they did.)  (see the section "Libya and Great Britain - the Enemy Within, the Enemy Without" in part III of this blog "Lockerbie - Criminal Justice or War by Other Means?"  and  "Scotbom - Evidence and the Lockerbie Case."

8.    Like the 9/11 attacks the creation of the "Libyan solution" to Lockerbie case it not widely recognized as a milestone in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.  It should be.

9.   (An earlier post on this blog "The (not so) Secret Rulers of the World" (Aug 2009)  notes the curious affair of former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson's trip to Syria in December 2000 during the recess of the Camp Zeist trial.)

Gareth Peirce and Allen Feraday

10.       Mr Downey's Solicitor Gareth Peirce had put her name to a lengthy polemic on the Lockerbie case  "Guilty? Judge for Yourself"  published in the Independent on Sunday of the 20th September 2009.   Ms Peirce's interest in the Lockerbie case was not stated but she had recently appeared at a public meeting with Dr Swire and the journalist John Ashton one or both of whom may have made some contribution to the lengthy article.

11.   While the article purported to present the facts in order to let the reader come to their own conclusion the article contained a number of dubious assertions and claims that did not stand up to scrutiny.   It also contained two wild allegations for which there was not a shred of evidence notably that (para.6) "The suitcase belonging to Major McKee (a CIA operative flying back to the US to report on his concern that the couriering of drugs was being officially condoned as a way to entrap users and dealers in the US)"  and "A second suitcase, opened by a Scottish farmer contained packets of white powder which a local police officer told him was undoubtedly heroin".   

12.       The best part of the article was in discussing the role of RARDE in the case with which she had a great deal of personal experience particularly in relation to one of the many miscarriage of justices cases related to Irish terrorism, the case of the Maguire family and the related case of the Guildford Four.   The article noted that central to the overturning of these verdicts and other notable cases was the discrediting of the evidence of forensic scientists.   Ms Peirce rightly pointed at para.31 in relation to the work of Dr Thomas Hayes of RARDE that "without Hayes's findings,  the Lockerbie prosecution would have been impossible."

13.   In a side-bar to the article describing "Key characters in the Lockerbie story"  Hayes' colleague and successor Allen Feraday is described as follows "The forensic scientist is credited with discovering the fragment of circuit board allegedly used in the bomb.  The former head of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment was an expert witness in a number of terrorism trials were where convictions were overturned.   Lord Justice Taylor later said Feraday should not present himself as an electronics expert".

14.     Actually it was Dr Hayes who was officially credited with discovering the fragment on the 12th May 1989 although in evidence at Camp Zeist Feraday gave evidence that he had witnesses the removal of the fragment of circuit board together with fragments of a Toshiba radio-cassette owner's manual from a fragment of Slalom shirt.    As my article "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil"  (posted November 2013) demonstrates Dr Hayes note of that discovery could not legimately have been written before the 22nd May 1989 and may have been written much later.   There was no credible evidence that the fragment of circuit board and the fragments of the owner's manual was discovered in the circumstances claimed.

15.      The article did not mention Feraday's evidence at the Gibraltar inquest into the deaths of the three unarmed IRA terrorists shot dead in the "Death on the Rock"  case.   Feraday gave evidence that the terrorists could have detonated their bomb by a remote control device and therefore had to be incapacitated (i.e.killed) therefore exculpating the authorities.

16.     Para.38 of Ms Peirce's article notes that Mr Feraday has no relevant academic qualifications only a higher national certificate in physics and electronics.   Dr Michael Scott, "whose evidence has been preferred in appeals to that of Feraday"  was quoted that "the British government employed hundreds of people who were extraordinarily well qualified in the areas of radio communication and electronics.   Alan Feraday is not qualified yet they use him.  I have to ask the question why."

17.    The paragraph continued with a reference to the case of Danny McNamee who was convicted in 1987 of involvement in the Hyde Park bombing on the basis that his fingerprints were found on two pieces of circuit board and (supposedly) on a battery associated with the atrocity.   McNamee, an electronics expert, claimed that he may have handled the circuit boards innocently in the course of previous employment.    The paragraph continued that "Feraday, like his US counterpart Thurman, has been banned from future appearances as an expert witness, but he had already provided the key evidence in a roll-call of convictions of the innocent.   A note of a pre-trial conference with counsel prosecuting Danny McNamee (wrongly convicted of involvement in a bombing in Hyde Park) provides a typical instance: "F" (Feraday) prepared to say it (a circuit board) purely for bombing purposes, no innocent purposes".

18.     Mr McNamee's conviction was quashed in 1998.   Modestly Ms Peirce fails to note in the article that she was his Solicitor.

18.     Allen Feraday would have been one of the main witnesses at the trial of John Downey if the case had gone ahead.  Mr Downey's "On the Run"  is presented in the official version of events as having been issued by mistake a conclusion unchallenged by the recent inquiry by the House of Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee.   Happily for  the authorities' point of view it also prevented Allen Feraday being exposed to cross-examination by a QC instructed by a Solicitor well-informed as to Mr Feraday's  track record.  It had the potential to open a whole can of worms  particularly in relation to "Death on the Rock" and Lockerbie.