A G-Man rewrites history

I have just read Three Sisters Ponds: My Journey from Street Cop to FBI Special Agent – from Baltimore to Lockerbie, Pakistan and Beyond, by Phillip B J Reid, (or, at least, chapter 12, which charts his involvement in the Lockerbie case). Reid was one of the main FBI agents assigned to the Lockerbie investigation and spent a lot of time conducting inquiries in Malta with the Scottish police. It is a remarkable work not least for the number of factual error and distortions that it contains.

At p.144 he states that Abdelbaset and Lamin Fhimah were partners in a Maltese travel agency. The agency in question, Medtours, was in fact owned by Lamin and his Maltese friend Vincent Vassallo, and Abdelbaset had no role in it. The original indictment against the two Libyans claimed that Medtours was a JSO front. Reid makes no mention of the fact that, shortly before the end of the trial, the Crown dropped the allegation for lack of evidence, no doubt because the only person to make the claim was the money grabbing fantasist – and the FBI’s star witness – Magid Giaka.

At p149-50 Reid describes how Tony Gauci picked out Abdelbaset’s photograph on 15 February 1991, and in doing so completely re-writes history. He states that Gauci chose the photo, but said that the man who bought the clothes “was about 10 years older” than the one depicted in the photo. What Gauci in fact said was that the man would have to look 10 years or more older. Moreover, he was clear that the photo showed someone in their thirties, which meant that the clothes purchaser was at least in his forties. As Reid must know, but omits to mention, Abdelbaset was 36 at the time of the clothes purchase.

To make matters worse, Reid goes on to state “we later determined that the passport photo in question was about 10 years old.” This is complete nonsense. As Reid recounts, the photo was obtained by the CIA “from one of their overseas counterparts.” Other evidence confirms that the counterparts in question were the Swiss. The photo had been used by Abdelbaset for two Swiss visa application, which were dated 11 July 1988 and 16 December 1988.

Most outrageously, Reid states: “Gauci went on to say that the person in the photo had thick hair while the man who had come into the shop was thinning on top.” As Reid must have known at the time of writing, Abdelbaset was thinning on top. It seems that he is inviting us to infer that in the years between the photo being taken and the clothes purchase Abdelbaset had lost a lot of his hair. Nice theory, but completely at odds with the facts: Gauci had consistently described the clothes purchaser as having a full head of hair and the only recorded comment he made about hair on the 15 February was that the man in the photo’s was perhaps a bit longer than the clothes purchaser’s. Nowhere does Reid acknowledge that Gauci also consistently described the purchaser as 6 feet tall, around 50 years old heavily built and dark skinned, ie completely different to Abdelbaset.

At p.152-3 Reid writes that the FBI and Scottish police were able to view passenger manifests for every flight in and out of Malta during the critical timeframe, except for those operated by Libyan Arab Airlines. He claims that, with the help of the Maltese police, they visited the LAA office at Luqa airport and surreptitiously searched the records, only to find that the records for the flights in the days of interest were missing. “It was obvious”, he writes, “that the records had been deliberately removed to keep us from finding out who was on LAA flights in and out of Malta on the days surrounding the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.” Although Reid doesn’t say when this took place, as the book gives a broadly chronological account of the investigation, and as the previous page refers to events on 18 April 1991, it is very likely that it was after that date. The key flight in question was LAA flight LN174, which Abdelbaset took from Malta to Tripoli on the day of the bombing. The suggestion that the investigators were unable to access the flight’s passenger manifest is complete rubbish. A statement by DC Brian McManus (S3070FZ) describes how Inspector Godfrey Scicluna of the Maltese Police handed the manifest to him on 20 January 1991. DCI Harry Bell, who worked closely with Reid throughout the Maltese investigation showed the manifest to witnesses at Luqa airport on 18 & 19 February 1991 (statement S2632BN).

Pages 154-162 deal with Giaka, who is referred to only by his codename of Puzzle Piece. Reid explains that this name was coined “because he provided the missing pieces to the Pan Am Flight 103 investigation.” He adds: “It was clear that he was honest, almost to a fault.” That, of course, was not the CIA’s assessment of Giaka, rather his handlers described him as a shirker, whose primary interest was in getting the agency to pay for sham surgery in order to fake an injury so he could dodge military service. Nowhere in the chapter does Reid acknowledge that Giaka failed to implicate Abdelbaset and Lamin in the bombing until he had fled Libya and was desperate for asylum in the US. Neither does he acknowledge that, armed with the CIA’s cables on Giaka, defence counsel were able to destroy him in the witness box, and that the judges said that they considered him to be neither credible nor reliable.

Reid is at his most interesting when describing the role of the CIA in the investigation. It was the CIA, he says, who told the FBI that Abdelbaset sometimes used the cover name Abdusamad. More importantly, it was the agency who encouraged him to investigate the Libyans when the Scottish police were still pursuing the PFLP-GC. Reid describes how, in August 1990, he wrote a memo to his superiors, which argued the case that the Libyans were responsible. He gave a copy to his “CIA partners in Malta” even though he had been told by his superiors not to work with the agency. He writes that the CIA partners “reviewed the document and wholeheartedly agreed with my conclusions.” He then describes how he worked with them to develop potential leads, and how they eventually gave him the names of Abdelbaset and Lamin.

Reid confirms that, with his full knowledge and blessing, the CIA tapped the phone of Mohammed Abu Talb’s associate Abdelsalem Abu Nada. He also describes how the agency failed to remove the bugging device, which Abu Nada discovered and handed to the authorities, resulting in the Maltese government suspending the investigation for two months.

Undoubtedly the book’s most interesting claim is that there was evidence that Abu Talb was in Malta on 9 December 1988. This almost coincides with the date upon which the clothes purchase occurred, according to the Crown (7 December). More remarkably still, Reid writes: “We determined through passenger manifests and Maltese embarkation/disembarkation records that Talb had visited the island during the critical period around December 21, 1988.” According to the evidence explored at trial, there was nothing to indicate that Abu Talb was in Malta after 26 October 1988. If true, Reid’s claims are hugely important and the corresponding evidence should have been disclosed to the defence. However, given his appalling grasp of the facts elsewhere in the chapter, that’s a big ‘if’.



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