by Trowbridge H. Ford
Back in 2005, a former Scottish police chief – who investigated the terrorist downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 22, 1988 – came forward, and confessed that the indictment of two Libyans and the conviction of one of them, Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, of the crime which killed its 259 passengers and 11 persons on the ground, was the result of the CIA planting the fatal evidence – the device which triggered the Semtex explosive, the Swiss digital electric timers, and FBI agent Thomas Thurman so identified – “…bore an uncanny remblance to that used to bring down the civilian aircraft in West Africa (UTA Flight 772).” (Ted Gup, The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives, p. 312)
While it was easy and predictable for the Chief Constable of Dumfires and Galloway George Esson to question the motives of the still anonymous officer coming forward at this late date, no one has appreciated just how heavily the cards were stacked against the police officer ever opening his trap about the matter, much less officially coming forward. Not only had the Agency planted the evidence and made the spurious connection to the downed flight which occurred in Africa after the Lockerbie tragedy – making one wonder who was really responsible too for that act of terrorism on September 19, 1989 – but also had set the set-up in near irrefutable manner by Ted Gup, a veteran Washington Post investigative reporter, writing a most glowing obituary of Matthew Gannon, son-in-law of DDO Thomas Twetten who died in the Pan Am tragedy, entitled “Deadly Symmetry” (pp. 289-317).
By the time Libya had handed over Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah for trial, and the court, presided over by Scottish judges using their own criminal procedure, had been established in Holland, the Agency had gone all out to obtain their conviction. To give its claims the greatest conviction, Gup was allowed to write about leading members of its Wall of Honor, the 69 operatives whose exploits were commenorated on the north wall of the Langley headquarters lobby by black stars chiseled into a field of white marble, and whose exploits are cryptically recorded in an anonymous fashion in The Book of Honor. Gup spent three years during the 1990s determining who all of them were, and what some of them had accomplished.
In telling their stories, Gup centered his focus on the Arabist operative Gannon, and the leading operational manager Twetten because of their personal tragedy being so intertwined in the international one. Of course, the families of the heroes, especially the Gannons and the Twettens, and many covert operators assisted Gup in researching his accounts.
The reporter was even told the details of the emotion-packed ceremony on May 14, 1998, at which DCI George Tenet paid homage to the fallen agents, starting with star Gannon, though only mentioning him as an Arabist named Matt, whose survivors were sitting next to the widow of Richard Welch, the Athens station chief who was gunned down in 1975: “Tenet nearly choked on his prepared remarks as he read that Matt’s young widow, Susan, had insisted that he open his Christmas presents before he left for Beirut.”(p. 369) Gannon had been apparently killed trying to rescue another station chief, William F. Buckley, who had been kidnapped in Lebanon four years earlier. When the names of those inscribed in the Book of Honor was finally read, though, Gannon’s name was missing because it still remained classified.
Gup, in describing Gannon’s own murder, took the greatest liberties with the facts, and he laced his account with such emotion and certainty that it was hard to believe otherwise. First, DDO Twetten was described in the most glowing terms when, in fact, he had a most tarnished career. According to Gup, the only setback that Twetten had experienced was when he was the Agency’s chaperone for the NSC’s Oliver North when he was conducting his own foreign policy for Reagan’s Oval Office – what resulted in his being called to testify on 27 occasions before various venues after the Iran-Contra scandal broke.(p. 314)
Actually, before Twetten had retired as DDO, he was badly damaged by the exposure of Aldrich ‘Rick’ Ames’ decade of spying for the Soviets. Once DCI R. James Woolsey received the Inspector General’s Report on the terrible fiasco in October 1994, he diciplined four current and former DO employees with “severe” reprimands, and seven others with “light” ones. While one cannot be sure which kind of reprimand Twetten received, he apparently received a “severe” one, as it was while he was in charge that the Agency was most inept in getting to the bottom of Ames’ activities while in the division. “The casual way in which all this was handled,” James Adams wrote in Sellout, “almost defies belief.” (p. 190)
The reprimand meant that Twetten’s career with the Agency was finished as those so punished could receive neither promotion nor performance awards from anywhere from the next two to five years. This was a most bitter ending for one who just the year before on June 2, 1993 had stood at the Wall of Honor, and had made the commemorative remarks when the star for his dead son-in-law joined the others on it in anonymous fashion. “His eyes filled with tears and his voice chocked with emotion,” Gup wrote, “but he never faltered.” (p. 315) Little wonder that when Gup finally mentioned Ames’s most successful spying for the Soviets, he attributed it to his treachery rather than the Agency’s, especially the Operations Division’s, recklessness and incompetence. (pp. 371-2)
After both Woolsey and Twetten left the Agency, the new DCI, George Tenet, was determined to establish that Gannon had not died in vain, and that his father-in-law and other DO personnel had been unfairly treated. Tenet showed his determination regarding the latter by threatening to resign when President Clinton, during the 1998 Wye River Middle East peace talks, considered giving Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard a pardon as part of the deal. Pollard – along with Ames, the Bureau’s Robert Hanssen, and others – had supplied Moscow with intelligence which permitted it to frustrate Operation Courtship’s various covert operations, especially the assassination of Swedish statsminister Olof Palme to trigger a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War, with appropriate countermeasures.
Tenet and the DO – after the Agency had concluded that the Iranians had not used the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) to shoot down the Pan Am airliner in retaliation for the USS Vincennes having shot down one of theirs – stumbled across a way to solve the mess by the way in which the murder of Viktor Gunnarsson, suspected assassin of the Swedish Prime Minister, was handled. Gunnarsson’s murder in December 1993 had been carried out in such a successful way – especially since his body was nowhere to be found – that another murder, that of Mrs. Catherine Miller, had to be committed to provide a probable suspect, former Salisbury, North Carolina policeman L. C. Underwood.
When Underwood was finally tried, the prosecution used evidence from the second murder in a probative way to help establish Underwood’s guilt in the first one – a kind of ‘deadly symmetry’, to use Gup’s terminology. (For more on this, see my article, “Why Palme Assassination Suspect Gunnarsson Was Murdered,” on Jerre’s Thinktank, July 7, 2004.)
By the time Underwood was ultimately convicted of Gunnarsson’s murder, the Agency could see how it could help in the conviction of the Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, as Gup has laid out in considerable detail. This time the symmetry was not between two murders but between two mass murders – the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the French UTA flight from Brazzaville to Paris, which exploded over the Tenéré desert in mid-September 1989. “The aircraft disintegrated,” Gup wrote, “spreading wreckage across the desert of Niger in a scene all too reminiscent of Lockerbie, Scotland.” (p. 310)
The similarities did not end there, though. After Gannon was killed while coming back from his mission in Lebanon to free, it seems, the hostages held there, his brother, Dick, received a letter of condolence from Robert Pugh, the number two man in the American Embassy in Beirut when it was bombed. Dick Gannon wrote a most appreciative thank-you note to Pugh and his wife Bonnie.
Bonnie Pugh, along with six other Americans, was on the UTA DC-10 when it blew up over the Niger desert, thanks “…to a terrorist bomb that had been tucked in the forward baggage compartment.” (p. 310) She was the US Ambassador to Chad, but there was no safe haven for her either. “It was now Dick Gannon’s turn to write a letter of condolence to Pugh. Both men, twice struck by terrorism, shared a common bond that neither would have wished upon his worst enemy. (Ibid.)
The ultimate piece in the deadly symmetry puzzle was the timing device which was used to bring down the Pan Am 747. It, as an analyst working for the task force to determine the cause of the crash discovered, “…bore an uncanny resemblance to that used to bring down the civilian aircraft in West Africa – the terrorist action that had claimed Bonnie Pugh’s life.” (p. 312)
The Agency, armed with this evidence, continually pushed for a criminal prosecution of those thought to be responsible for both acts of terrorism – Libyans – rather than another air assault on Tripoli. Shortly after Palme was assassinated, and no suspect had been indicted for the crime, the US had provoked Gadhafi into apparently justifying such an attack.
On March 25th, American ships and planes intruded into the Gulf of Sirte, and the Libyans responded by firing missiles at them. The Americans reacted by attacking Libyan patrol boats, and destroying a missile site. Tripoli retaliated, it seems, a few weeks later by exploding a bomb in a West Berlin restaurant frequented by US troops, killing two and wounding 250. The Reagan administration – thanks to intelligence input provided by Twetten, then the chief of the Near East Division – responded with a massive Anglo-American attack on the country which nearly killed the Libyan leader in the process.
Now, the Clinton administration opted for a trial, undoubtedly because of Tenet’s continuing demand, in the Netherlands – though it doubted that the suspects would ever undergo prosecution – since the UN sanctions, the result of the indictment of the Libyans, and costing Tripoli $18,000,000,000 a year in revenue, were running out of support. To help assure this result, Muammar Gadhafi handed over the suspects for trial, and it commenced in May 2000 before the High Court of Justiciary at Camp Zeist before Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and Maclean.
The trial was an utter fiasco, as Dr. Hans Köchler, a noted authority on international law, and the UN observer of it, appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan, duly reported. While the prosecution used four most unreliable witnesses to prove that the two defendants had provided the bomb with blew up the Pan Am airliner, thanks to “…a tiny fragment of a circuit board for MST-13 timer” the CIA had planted miles away from the crash site, it was the liberties the court granted the prosecution which insured at least Ali Megrahi’s conviction.
Köchler was quite critical of the presence of two prosecutors, Dana Biehl and Brian Murtaugh, from the United States Justice Department sitting next to the Crown’s prosecutors, and consulting often with them about substantive and procedural questions. “…This created the impression,” Köchler reported, “of ‘superiors’ handling vital matters of the prosecution strategy, and deciding in certain cases, which documents (evidence) were to be released in open court or what parts of information contained in a certain document were to be withheld (deleted).” This was particularly evident in the handling of CIA cables concerning one the Crown’s key witnesses, the most unreliable Abdul Majid Giaka.
Köchler was even more critical of an unknown government – apparently Libya – constantly introducing claims to support the defendants: “It was officially stated by the Lord Advocate that substantial new information had been received from an unnamed foreign government relating to the defence case. The content of this information was never revealed, the requested specific documents were never provided by a foreign government.” This intervention, Köchler concluded, had been able to influence the outcome politically to a considerable extent.
The Libyan government had added to the charade that it was the government referred to by appointing a Mr. Maghour, a former high government official, to the defence team – an interference that caused original counsel, Dr. Ibrahim Legwell to resign, and Dr. Köchler to complain about, though Maghour did not interfere with the defence, as the Americans did with the prosecution. Then the defence promised a most vigorous one, proposing to call all kinds of witnesses, only to collapse without calling any of them. It seemed apparent that Tripoli, most eager to end the sanctions, had pulled the props out from under the defendents’ claims of innocence.
It was during the trial that Gup’s book was published, and given the apparent candor that it showed in discussing the secret roles of Gannon, Twetten, and the Agency in general in the Lockerbie disaster, no one could reasonably expect that the United States and the CIA were the government and secret intelligence agency involved. But this was the case, as the Scottish police officer finally coming forward has demonstrated, with the Agency providing in various corrupt ways what has been explained above: the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 and French UTA Flight 772 were matches of Islamic terrorism. “Then, in 2003,” after an appeal had confirmed the conviction, “a retired CIA officer gave a statement to Megrahi’s lawyers in which he alleged evidence had been planted.” (Marcello Mega, Scotland on Sunday, August 28, 2005)
Of course, the claim that the Agency planted the tiny fragment of the circuit board revives the stories of a conspiracy being responsible for the tragedy, going all the way back to the Interfor report that private investigator Juval Aviv, allegedly a former Mossad operator, supplied for Pan Am’s insurance company, but in a new way.
Aviv attributed the bombing to two Agency teams – one headed by Major Charles McKee and to which Gannon belonged on TDY in Beirut, and another, CIA-1, led by the infamous Syrian arms-dealer Monzar Al-Kassar, and working out of Frankfurt – falling foul of one another in their efforts to free hostages, starting with Buckley, while continuing to trade illegal arms, and drugs. While the two groups were doing their thing and checking on one another’s activities, it seems that Al-Kassar’s superiors decided to blow up an American airliner, and despite all kinds of warnings and complications, it was allowed to go ahead, and McKee’s team, knowing where the hostages were being held, just happened to be on the one when it happened.
Then books and whistleblowers surfaced which just compounded this quite unlikely story. Lester Coleman’s story, adding bits which Time took seriously enough to publish a story about in an April 1992 issue, that he knew who CIA-1’s handler was back in Langley – who betrayed McKee’s team – was not helped by his pointing out a Christian Broadcasting Network cameraman as the high-level covert operator. NBC claimed that Interfor’s story was essentially correct but Al-Kassar’s group worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration – a claim the NYT readily investigated, and quickly dismissed. By the time The Fall of Pan Am 103, written by Steven Emerson and Brian Duffy, appeared in 1990, the ‘conspiracy theories’ had been so shot down that no serious person would listen to them any longer, though Joe Vialls continued to claim that the Zionists had done it.
That should have changed. The planted evidence, plus Gup’s false stories, should have made everyone thinking conspiracy. It should have been seen, it seems, as the disaster the just-elected George H. W. Bush arranged to prevent the worst secrets of Iran-Contra ruining his Presidency. In particular, Al-Kassar had been most helpful in arranging acts of terrorism – the highacking of the Achille Lauro and the killing of passenger Leon Klinghofer, the assaults on El-Al passengers at Rome and Vienna airports over Christmas 1985, his dealings with the NSC’s Ollie North and Iran-Contra’s Richard Secord, etc. With the John Kerry Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations due to report soon, Al-Kassar could have ruined ruined Bush’s time in the Oval Office.
To prevent this from happening, the McKee group went to Lebanon to track him down, and arrange his downfall. Gannon was included in the group, as Gup reported: “From the summer of 1983 until the summer of 1986, Matthew Gannon was based in Damascus Syria, a country long suspected of supporting terrorism.” (p. 302) While there, he had witnessed at close hand all the above-mentioned acts of terror – and many more – and now he was to use his contacts there, as the Bierut station chief so confirmed after he finished his action-packed, 3 1/2-week, TDY assignment:
“He met seven different assets, bringing back on stream all of our Arabic-speaking assets that had been unexpectedly abandoned after (name deleted) was prevented from returning to Beirut…” (Quoted from Gup, pp. 289-90.)
Unfortunately, this glowing assessment amounted to not only Gannon’s death warrant but also those of the 269 other passengers on the airliner, as a high level officer in the Agency learned about it, and took what he considered to be appropriate countermeasures. As for who might have alerted Al-Kassar’s people to place a bomb on it, and advised West German counterterrorists not to worry about the unexpected-looking brief case, the authors of The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time asked but did not answer: “Could former CIA chief Bush or his underlings be the ‘control’ for CIA-1?” (p. 283)
In sum, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission should have called for a new trial of Ali Megrahi because he was convicted on the basis of almost no evidence but the British government blocked any new trial in various ways, forcing the Scottish government to order Al Megrahi’s release back to Libya on compassionate grounds because he was dying of cancer.
At the same time, L. C. Underwood, the former Salisbury policeman convicted of killing Viktor Gunnarsson, a suspected assassin of Sweden’s Olof Palme, arranged in having a new trial by the State of North Carolina or ordering his release in 180 days by a successful appeal to the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2010. While the state finally prevented his release in July by slowly starting a new trial, the federal court surprisingly stopped it all by rejecting his appeal in Janaury 2011 with little ado. It found that he had indeed murdered Gunnarsson, and that any failing by his lawyers in his defense would not have made any difference in its outcome. In reaching its verdict, the court alluded to the murder of Mrs. Miller, for which Underwood had not been charged, in reaching its judgment.
A few days later, the long-suffering subjects of Colonel Gaddafi in eastern Libya mounted finally protests in the cities of Benghazi, Al Bayda, Darnah, and Bani Walid against Tripoli’s failure to provide new housing units, and the government’s general corruption. While Gaddafi offered immediately $20 billion in new investment, it did little to quell the rising public resistence, and by the middle of February a civil war was unfolding which certainly will result in a fate for him, similar to that which Underwood has received.
America’s covert government likes working in pairs when it comes to covering up most difficult problems.
Trowbridge Ford (1929 – 2021) was the son of William Wallace Ford, the father of the US Army’s Grasshoppers.
He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and Columbia University where he received a Ph.D. in political science after a stint in the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps as a draftee during the Korean War, and after being discharged, worked as the sports editor and a reporter for the now-defunct Raleigh Times.
Thought academia was the thing for him. He was quite satisfied teaching all kinds of courses about European and American politics while writing his dissertation about an under-appreciated British politician, Henry Brougham, who became the Lord Chancellor of the famous Reform Government (1830-34).
At the same time, Trowbridge became most interested in the role that A. V. Dicey, a famous Oxford legal professor, played in settling the Irish question – another figure that historians didn’t think did much about. It was while he was doing research on the dissertation at the British Museum in London that President Kennedy was assassinated, and it slowly led him to take a dimmer view of academic life, especially when joined by campus protests over the growing Vietnam War. He was fired by two institutions of higher learning because of his protests against the war.
When the Vietnam War finally ended, he got involved in researching the Dallas assassination, and his first serious efforts about it appeared in Tom Valentine’s The National Exchange in 1978 – what Fletcher Prouty thought was quite good, just urging him to go higher in the Agency and the political world for the main culprits.
He slowly started doing this, ultimately deciding to retire early in 1986, planning on finishing his Brougham biography while living in Portugal. While he did this, he had made too many enemies with the White House not to be punished – first by attempts to establish that he maliciously tried to destroy Richard Nixon during Watergate by libeling him, and when he died, DCI George Tenet tried to have me killed by poisoning – what would make his death look like a suicide or a natural one.
As a result of this, once he had finally determined the cause, he moved to Sweden to not only save his skin but also investigate and write about assassinations, covert operations, ‘false flag’ deceptions, preventive wars, weapons development, and their use, etc. He passed away in 2021.
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