Document:Lockerbie - The Syrian Connection
Lockerbie - The Syrian Connection
The narcotics trafficking, gun-running and money-laundering cover-up of Pan Am Flight 103
“I think the CIA and Justice Department are withholding the truth.” Winding down his March 14, 1996, speech in the House of Representatives, Congressman James Traficant, was referring to a joint British-US cover-up over the Lockerbie bombing. Permitted precisely sixty seconds to make his point, the straight-talking Republican went straight for the jugular.
Traficant has long disbelieved the US and British claim that Libya was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Telling his fellow Congressman that “intelligence experts around the world disagree,” with the British and US position, he continued “I think Congress deserves the truth. I think the families of the victims of 103 deserve the truth.” Going unsaid was Traficant’s belief that Pan Am 103 was bombed with the foreknowledge and acquiescence of the CIA.
Two months earlier in January 1996, Prime Minister Major came under similar pressure to come clean. Cross party members of Parliament pressed the government to agree to prosecute the two Libyan “suspects” at an international tribunal in the Hague. The accused, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, believe that a trial on British soil would be prejudiced.
John Major swatted-away the Parliamentary suggestion with shoddy arguments and stone-walling tactics. Many were left to conclude he fears any sort of independent trial. Such an event may once and for all reveal the murky trans-Atlantic cover-up that has dogged this story for eight years.
The threads of suspicion that surround the Lockerbie atrocity are many and complex. Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, told me that he first became involved on New year’s eve in 1988. A police sergeant friend had been drafted-in to search the crash site. The policeman phoned the MP asking “how come all the evidence is being tampered with?”
Dalyell, known as a terrier who’s bite is a lot worse than his bark, has pursued the story ever since. He is accompanied by Conservative MP, Sir Teddy Taylor, who also has a reputation for not letting go once he has sunk his teeth in. During an interview the Southend East MP said he had been in contact with the source who had provided the “timing switches” for the Lockerbie bomb. The source said he would be able to identify whether the timing switch used on Pan Am 103 was part of a consignment sent to Libya, or whether it formed part of a larger batch delivered to East Germany. In a reply to the MP, the Lord Advocate refused access for purposes of identification.
The Dark Alliance
Within hours of Pan Am 103 exploding over the small Scottish village, CIA agents were swarming over the wreckage. Clearly they were looking for something extraordinary. Aboard the downed plane was a secret, five-man Defense Intelligence Agency “team” headed by Major Charles 'Tiny' McKee. A suitcase belonging to McKee was recovered and emptied before being returned to the site to be “found” again. Inside had been a large quantity of heroin, some “sensitive” documents, plus a large quantity of cash and travellers cheques. These items were “purged” from official records. Incredibly, an unidentified body was also removed from the crash site. No official explanation has been given for these extraordinary examples of evidence tampering.
The DIA team had been in Lebanon searching for US hostages held by Hezbollah. Whilst in Lebanon, McKee’s team is said to have come across a secret CIA operation known as “CIA One,” who were collaborating with Manzur El-Khassar, a Syrian drug dealer. El-Khassar was closely aligned to Lt-Col Oliver North’s highly illegal activities around the world. These included covert trafficking of narcotics and weapons. The Syrian was also involved in brokering weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages. El-Khassar’s precise role in the Lockerbie bombing may be the missing link that unravels the entire story.
In recent weeks it has been revealed that the Contra's, backed by Oliver North’s covert group, were responsible for the explosion of crack cocaine in Los Angeles, and thence into mainland America. Gary Webb, an investigative journalist for the San Jose Mercury News, shattered American readers with his The Dark Alliance series. Following a year of investigations, the journalist revealed that the Contra’s shipped vast quantities of Cocaine to the US to finance much need weapon purchases for their war in Nicaragua. This was done with the tacit backing of the CIA, Webb suggested.
Webb’s astonishing revelations strike at the very heart of the secret CIA Iran-Contra story. By 1984, the Senate had vetoed the provision of additional funds for the covert Nicaraguan campaign. Blocked at home, North - under the crafty guidance of Bill Casey, Director of Central Intelligence - looked for alternative ways to raise the necessary finance. The answer was narcotics trafficking.
The Heroin Pipeline
Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is a fertile area ideally suited to growing opium. Rifat Assad, the brother of Syria’s President Hafez Assad is widely known to have been in charge of Syria’s narcotics enterprise, and was the “Supremo” of the Bekaa Valley’s massive opium industry. Rifat, a CIA “asset,” was being groomed to succeed his elder brother to become the Syrian President. He was extremely close to El-Khassar. The influx of 30,000 Syrian troops to Lebanon in the late eighties, had as much to do with protecting the opium fields, as with separating the warring factions.
El-Khassar, in exchange for his help to release US hostages held in Lebanon, and, presumably, for past favours to the Contra’s, was permitted to ship Heroin to the US. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maintain that his pipeline, through Frankfurt airport, was a carefully controlled “sting” operation. Others, more cynical doubt this explanation.
Dark rumours persist that Major Chuck McKee had unearthed the illegal dope connection and realised that elements within the CIA were actively collaborating in it. Deciding to report the matter to his superiors, McKee booked his team on a flight home aboard the ill fated Pan Am 103. Their travel plans were intercepted and reported to Syrian intelligence, who notified El-Khassar. He, in turn, arranged to have a bomb planted inside the suitcase used to carry the regular Heroin shipment - to dispose of McKee and his evidence.
It is at this point that an alternative scenario arises. The July 1988 shoot-down of an Iranian Airbus by the US Navy battle cruiser, Vincennes, resulted in the deaths of 290 passengers. Despite US statements that this was a tragic accident, disbelieving hard-line Ayatollahs were hell-bent on revenge. They hired the Syrian based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC) for a tit-for-tat attack. Under the leadership of Ahmed Jibril, an expert on blowing up airplanes, plans were speedily put in place. Jibril learned of El-Khassar’s CIA protected Frankfurt dope pipeline and persuaded El-Khassar to substitute a bomb inside the normal heroin laden suitcase. The subsequent deaths of 'Tiny' McKee and his team were co-incidental.
However, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that both these scenarios merge rather than diverge. Faced with exposure of his drugs pipeline, and aware that the Iranians had planned a spectacular revenge for the Airbus attack, El-Khassar and his CIA-Syrian “minders” may have cobbled together a plan that killed two birds with one stone. They would aid the Syrian-based Jibril to satisfy the Ayatollahs' lust for revenge, and at the same time rid themselves of US intelligence agents who were about to blow the whistle on their top secret drug and weapons trafficking arrangements.
The 21 December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 resulted in the deaths of all 259 passengers and crew. Eleven more fatalities in Lockerbie resulted from wreckage of the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet raining down on unsuspecting villagers. News of the atrocity blazed across the headlines around the world. This prompted an immediate cover-up, which has remained to this day.
The centre-piece of this strategy was to blame Libya. Colonel Gaddafi was widely seen as an eccentric leader. His past financing of terrorists organisations, including the IRA, caused understandable friction. Sitting atop a wealthy and independent oil based economy, Gaddafi refused to fully align himself with either the western alliance led by the US, or the Eastern Bloc under the leadership of the former USSR.
Inside the US Administration, one figure had a personal detestation of Libya’s erstwhile leader. During the course of his tenure as Director of the CIA, Bill Casey was pre-occupied with finding new ways to bring Gaddafi down. Constantly pressing his viewpoint home, Casey eventually gained the support of senior Cabinet members, George Shultz, Caspar Weinburger and others to undertake military and covert operations, designed to topple Gaddafi.
These included projects with “Flower” code-names: “Tulip” was a CIA covert operation that sought to mobilise the anti-Gaddafi exile movements, leading, hopefully, to a coup d'etat; “Rose” involved a pre-emptive strike against Libya with the support of US allies, notably Egypt.
Another operation code-named “Prairie Fire” resulted in a three carrier battle-group steaming just off the Libyan coast. The US armada included forty five warships and 200 warplanes. Beneath the waves slid the latest nuclear-powered attack submarines. This was a meticulously planned provocation designed to draw Libyan forces into an attack. The planned response was graduated and included warplanes striking deep into Libyan territory to bomb oil-pumping facilities and other economic targets. The “boys- own” discussion on “Prairie Fire” reached its zenith when Don Regan, White House Chief of Staff, asked if nuclear weapons were to be used. They were not, he was told. Despite this, US threats to use nuclear weapons against Libya were renewed in spring 1996.
Lester Coleman, former Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) operative, had first-hand knowledge of the covert events surrounding Lockerbie. His book Trail of the Octopus jointly written with Donald Goddard, blew the lid off the Lockerbie story and laid bare the Frankfurt airport narcotics pipeline.
With death threats ringing in his ears, Coleman fled with his family to Sweden, and was granted political asylum. Interviewed by phone, Coleman explained the US rationale in falsely blaming Libya. They’re an “easy hit,” he said. Scapegoating Libya has become a political art form in US domestic politics. Mimicking a drawling mid-west voice, Coleman expounded further. The strategy plays to the “Rednecks,” he said, who believe anything they’re told about “Ay-rabs.” “It’s all domestic politics,” he concluded.