PAM AM 103 - 10 Years later too hot to touch?

Written by Hart Lidov and posted at the Columbia Journalism Review, USA 

Three recent publications demonstrate the abysmal failure of the press and the media in the matter of the Pan Am 103 bombing at Lockerbie. To get a couple of myths that have distracted a lot of the reporting out of the way at the beginning
 

  • 1) All aspects of the Lockerbie deserved attention - This was the largest killing of American civilians by a foreign agents since at least WWII. Selected aspects - the “interview the sobbing relatives” stories and the “hodunit story” have been overdone and repeated without end. By contrast there has not been a single article examining the role of the US government in relation to Lockerbie. Even the "whodunit" stories have almost without exception been the “US State Department version” (which has shifted with the political winds). The only reporting - good or bad, has appeared in fringe press in Europe and the unverifiable mire of the internet. In recent years they can only be found by combing internet databases, and efforts at publication reportedly have met with shadowy legal challenges (Ashton, Mail on Sunday June 9, 1996)

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  • 2) The issue of “the Libyan’s” is a distraction. Whoever actually planted the Lockerbie bomb was a “foot-soldier”. According to the US State Department in it's current version it was two men who were members of the Libyan intelligence service. Carrying on about turning them over for trial is hypocritical nonsense or a foolish distraction. Would we turn over similar agents to a foreign government - we gave Capt Will Rogers III of the USS Vincennes, who shot down an Iranian Airbus and killed 290 civilians, a medal of merit (for the period of service, not for the incident, LA times;5/28/89). The indictment in absentia of the Libyans will however, because it is a criminal proceeding and criminal proceedings ordinarily take precedence over civil proceedings (and this one will pend forever) provide a legal excuse for the government to deny access to any information in regard to Lockerbie indefinitely into the future. Contrary to the suggestion of some of the victim's families the criminal suite trumps any civil action against Libya, not visa versa. Meantime it is difficult to imagine that the US or Britain would like to have the men in court, or that Iran would let them appear alive in such a forum considering the potential damage to the gradually thawing relations with that country.
  • But what are the real questions - that have gone unanswered ?

    WHAT HAPPENED IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT BETWEEN JULY AND DECEMBER 1988?

    Oliver Revell was executive assistant director of the FBI and the man responsible for counter-terrorism in 1988. Something that has never been commented on is that he was already involved in defending the Reagan/Bush camp in connection with the Iran-Contra affair in 1986(Nation, 7/18/87). Revell was certainly one of the people in the best position to know the aims of Iranian backed terrorists, and if our government had an interest in stopping them, Revell would have been a key player. When in October 1988 the German police apprehended terrorist who may have actually planned the Lockerbie bombing Revell must have been aware and he subsequently referred to it as the “bumbling of the German police”.

    In October 1988 the FAA inspected the security facilities of Pan Am in Frankfurt(NYT 9/17/89). Our government had the best available account of what security there could or could not be expected to deal with - in the same month that Revell was looking at photographs of the barometrically triggered bomb taken from PFLP-GC terrorists in Frankfurt. In that light it is interesting that much of what has ever been reported in the US media about US Government activities in relation to Pan Am 103 and Lockerbie came from Revell.

    In 1995 Revell appears to have acknowledged in print that his own son was scheduled to travel home on leave for Christmas on Pan Am 103 and unexpectedly had his trip moved back by two weeks, saving him from the ill-fated flight (Living Marxism issue 81, July/August 1995 - yup that is how far out the press has to be to do anything but tote the State Department line on Pan Am 103!). The US government had received the famous Helsinki warning on December 5, two days before young Revell's leave was moved up. This is the same warning which was disseminated to US embassies across Europe and then declared a hoax after FBI agents, Revell's subordinates, paid a visit to Helsinki (Washington Post, 1/6/89). In nine years no journalist in the US has gotten into print examining the Pan Am 103 investigation without using Revell as a source, and not surprisingly these connections have never been commented on.

    What did the Counter Terrorist Center, established in 1986, as "a model of interagency cooperation" according to John Deutch (Foreign Policy, Fall,1997),do with the German warnings,the Helsinki warnings, the radio-intercepts from Beirut(NYT 5/23/89), and the knowledge that Iran had a grievous score to settle after the U.S.S.Vincennes incident - apparently nothing. When ask, Deutch - a university provost, author of several hundred scholarly papers - could manage “interesting”. In nine years nothing has come to light to suggest that the US government had any interest in stopping the attack on the Pan Am airliner or doing anything but re-establishing relations with Iran, at the lowest possible cost to State Department employees. However the deed was done, a detail which is truly irrelevant, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary one must assume that the US intelligence services elected to “turn a blind eye”. That, not the carrying on about Palestinian, Syrian or Libyan “foot-soldiers” is the real issue and the real disgrace.

    Wright and Bakhash (Foreign Policy, Fall,1997) along with editorials in the WSJ make clear why Iran has too big a market and has too many petrodollars to isolate or ignore and that was true in 1988. Even then Iran was too important to hold accountable and Texan oilman George Bush switched blame to Syria as part of his inauguration and later, in the interests of the Gulf War, to that most convenient scapegoat Libya, were it rests today. In fact it was a clever strategy - Libya will never turn over the agents - the Iranians, British and Americans would be lining up to make sure that they never appeared in court - which would risk upsetting the mutually beneficial and improving relations between Iran and the US, and so long as there is a pending criminal case, the US can deny anyone access to any information ...indefinitely.

    WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE PRESS ?

    The American press - particularly the major papers have made every effort to expunge Pan Am 103, not to mention the connection with Iran, altogether. It is politically expedient self-censorship. A high-level Iranian defector in Germany in 1997 implicated the Iranian government in initiating the Pan Am bombing and it was reported in the German press and secondarily in the English Guardian (7/14/97), but has never been mentioned at all in American papers. No one has followed up interviews with State Department personal from 1988 - how did they get home for Christmas ...were all the planes half empty and selling half price tickets - or just Pan Am 103? Does no one wonder about a connection between Bush, Iran, Oliver Revell, and an unpaid debt after the Vincennes incident?

    What happened to the Prime Time interview(11/30/89)of US Moscow Embassy Consular Assistant Karen Decker - never followed up. ABC won’t even acknowlege requests for transcripts of that interview.

    Who has paid for the libel suits against the “Trail of the Octopus” in England and why was Publishers Group West put off their plans to bring out an American edition - a call from the DoJ or the same lawyers at work in England perhaps?

    Lester Coleman and the “Trail of the Octopus” may be all lot of hocum but why did the DoJ pursue him long after the Pan Am trial was over (and Coleman obviously had no money for a legal defense) hold his feet to the fire until he plead guilty to perjury and then let him go with “time served”. That’s how the Spanish Inquisition arrived at the “truth” ... but was all that effort just a warning to journalists and editors?

    Just how awful can the journalism be -

    As bad is the book “The Media and Disasters:Pan Am 103” by Joan Deppa - a professor of journalism! There are only two types of story about Pan Am 103 in the US. Deppa herself recognizes, in the introduction, that “this particular disaster was international in the ultimate sense of the word: it seemed from the outset to be aimed at an American airliner, probably in retribution for some action by the US government” but the book that follows ignores the whole question of the US government response, was it adequate, was the investigation by the US press adequate, how and why in this essentially American disaster the US press mustered nothing more than “sob stories” and mouthing the information handed to them by Reagan/Bush spokesmen like Oliver Revell.

    How is it that any attempts to produce stories other than the “State Department version”, especially in the US, have been stifled or quietly withdrawn. The watchdog - which is the most important role of the media functioning at its best - was muzzled from the start; how did it happen? That is the real media issue - the one that is particular to Pan Am 103. Deppa systematically devotes separate sections to every conceivable reaction, families, police, journalists, but the government, which she acknowledges is at the heart of the issue, gets a few dishwater pages late in the book that say nothing incisive or new. This is passed off as analysis.

    The Pan Am bombing was not an accident - so it rarely appears as a "airline accident", and when it terrorist attacks on the US are tabulated it is generally avoided as “foreign”. Andrew Revkin (NYT 12/14/97) could not even get the the year right. It was not a natural occurrence - like the Grand Forks flood, the Northridge earthquake, or even some airline disasters, but Joan Deppa’s treatment, which evades issues by using the Pan Am bombing as thought it were a just another natural disaster, one pretty much like another, is certainly taking the easy way out. She and journalists like her are an insult the very people who are fodder for their interviews and those who died at Lockerbie.

    Pan Am 103 was an American disaster - an American plane and largely American dead. The circumstances and number of American civilians killed is almost without precedent. And to see critical issues being evaded and turned into the mush of politic rhetoric is a disgrace.

    The nearest thing to an explanation of why there has never been an exploration of the US intelligence agencies in relation to Lockerbie may be, by implication, a lecture by William M. Baker, the CIA's chief spokesman during the investigation of the Lockerbie bombing (NYT 2/25/89) given at Harvard University, July 27, 1989, on "Restraining the Media at the CIA" with specific examples of stories killed at the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post. Or perhaps the example of Lester Coleman, Gary Webb and perhaps Danny Casolaro has put the muzzle on any journalist or editor? After almost 10 years is Steve Emerson (3/18/90) and John Newhouse (New Yorker 7/10/89)taking dog biscuits from Oliver Revell really the best that American journalism can manage?

    Freelancer Hart Lidov

    Posted at 25th of March 1998 

    Steve Emerson and Oliver Revell hiding something?

    The basic question is what happened that resulted in the reporting on the 1988 Pan Am 103/Lockerbie bombing being so abysmal. Steve Emerson & Brian Duffy wrote the only book that has been published in the US on the bombing of Pan Am 103 "The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation" (1990).

    That book, as well as there prior excerpt in the New York Times, and possibly their previous pieces for US News and World Report made use of Oliver “Buck” Revell as a source - perhaps the major source of information.

    A transcript of a radio program “Booknotes” May 13, 1990 Emerson is quoted as saying

    INTERVIEWER: There were two people that talked to you a lot, and you credit them, John Boyd and Buck Revell. Is that the way you pronounce ...

    EMERSON: Buck Revell, right.

    and later

    INTERVIEWER: Who's Oliver "Buck" Revell?

    EMERSON: Oliver "Buck" Revell is -- I guess if you had to compare him to a movie actor, he would be a Gene Hackman type. He gets the job done. He believes in his cause. He cuts the corners sometimes. He riffles some of the wrong feathers sometimes. But he's a very, very dedicated long-term FBI veteran, been there over 25 years, in charge of this investigation and all counterterrorist investigations.

    Well you could say more about “who is Oliver Revell”.

    In 1995 Revell appears to have acknowledged in print that his own son was scheduled to travel home on leave for Christmas on Pan Am 103 and unexpectedly had his trip moved back by two weeks, saving him from the ill-fated flight (Living Marxism issue 81, July/August 1995 - pretty fringe, but that is how far out a journalist has to be to do anything but write the State Department line on Lockerbie).

    The US government had received the famous Helsinki warning on December 5, two days before young Revell's leave was moved up. This is the same warning which was disseminated to US embassies across Europe and then declared a hoax after FBI agents, Revell's subordinates, paid a visit to Helsinki (Washington Post, 1/6/89). It goes without saying that Revell did not succeed in preventing the Lockerbie bombing; and no evidence has ever been presented to suggested that he tried to do anything. But the interests of his masters in the Bush/Reagan administration may have been better served by letting the bombing take place. Steve Emerson missed these.

    Bert Ammermann, at a House hearing December 18, 1990, asked the question “Was there any connection between [the Pan Am 103] bombing and the cast of characters from the Iran-Contra scandal, i.e. Oliver North and his associates, Ronald Reagan and George Bush?” Needless to say he did not receive an answer, and not only has the US government never answered this question, no journalist has ever considered it. In fact the answer is emphatically yes.

    As noted above the Nation article indicated a relationship between Revell and Oliver North and in George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography by Webster G. Tarpley & Anton Chaitkin - unreliable though the book seems the reference is correct.

    “July 1985: Vice President George Bush was designated by President Reagan to lead the Task Force on Combatting Terrorism (or Terrorism Task Force). Bush's task force was a means to sharply concentrate the powers of government into the hands of the Bush clique, for such policies as the Iran-Contra armaments schemes. The Terrorism Task Force had the following cast of characters:

  • GEORGE BUSH, U.S. Vice President:
  • CHAIRMAN Admiral James L. Holloway III: Executive assistant to Chairman Bush
  • Craig Coy: Bush's deputy assistant under Holloway
  • Vice Admiral John Poindexter:Senior NSC representative to Chairman Bush
  • Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North: Day-to- day NSC representative to George Bush
  • Amiram Nir: Counterterror adviser to Israeli Premier Shimon Peres
  • Lt. Col. Robert Earl: Staff member
  • Terry Arnold: Principal consultant
  • Charles E. Allen, CIA officer: Senior Review Group
  • Robert Oakley, Director, State Dept. Counter Terrorism Office: Senior Review Group
  • Noel Koch, Deputy to Asst. Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage: Senior Review Group
  • Lt. Gen. John Moellering, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Senior Review Group
  • Oliver”Buck”Revell, FBI executive: Senior Review Group
  • Revell was well situated to have excellent connections to Iran well before 1988. And supervisor of the FBI investigation into the Pan Am bombing was involved in the Iran-Contra affair.

    And was this the limit of Steve Emerson’s working relation with Oliver Revell? No, both spoke at the International Conference on Criminal Justice Issues held at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) from July 31 to August 3, 1995, and Emerson quotes Revell on Islamic terrorists in The Wall Street Journal, August 5, 1996.

    Can any reasonable person regard Steve Emerson as an objective reporter on the Pan Am 103 bombing - and he is the only reporter to get a book length publication in the US.

    Pan Am 103 was an American disaster - an American plane and largely American dead.
    The circumstances and number of American civilians killed is almost without precedent.
    And to see critical issues being evaded and turned into the mush of politic rhetoric is a disgrace.

    I did not expect Iran, Syria, or Libya to protect me - I assume they would would all kill me and any other American given a chance - big deal. But I did trust the US Government, the FBI and the CIA (and not just Pan Am security!) to be protecting me and I think, knowing that the man holding all the cards - Oliver Revell - was the Iran-Contra crowd's man, that my government made a very treacherous deal to withhold its vigilence.
    The nearest thing to an explanation of why there has never been an exploration of the US intelligence agencies in relation to Lockerbie may be, by implication, a lecture by William M. Baker, the CIA's chief spokesman during the investigation of the Lockerbie bombing (NYT 2/25/89) given at Harvard University, July 27, 1989, on "Restraining the Media at the CIA" with specific examples of stories killed at the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.

    Posted at 2nd of April 1998 



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