Journalists, the State Department and Pan Am 103

        By Hart G. W. Lidov (c)

Three recent publications demonstrate the abysmal failure of the press and the media in the matter of the Pan Am 103 bombing at Lockerbie. This was the largest killing of American civilians since at least WWII, and there has been no examination of it - except as eminating from the US State Department - anywhere but in the fringe press of Europe and the jungle of the internet.

The articles by John Deutch on "Terrorism" and Robin Wright and Shaul Bakhash on "The US and Iran:An Offer They Can't Refuse"(Fall,1997), while quite different in their points and perspectives both exemplify a pusillanimous trend in American journalism - the effort to expunge from the record the Pam Am 103 bombing, its association with Iran, and the murky role of the American intelligence agencies, particularly the FBI.
John Deutch acknowledges that the Pan Am 103 bombing occurred - it was the culmination of the internationalization of terrorism (in fact it was the largest single killing of American civilians by a foreign agency since at least WWII). As he ponders who is responsible for countering the threat of "terrorism [that] crosses national borders - as in the case of Pan Am 103 and al-Khobar" - the later an event with less than a tenth the death toll of Lockerbie - he considers first the FBI. Interestingly he simply elides over Pan Am 103 and examines Louis Freeh and the al-Khobar bombing, and never gets back or around to considering the FBI and its behavior in connection with Lockerbie. But there is a great deal more to ask about this topic, all of which remains unanswered.
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). 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.
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. Given this background it is no surprise that Deutch - who as a former director of CIA must know more than he may say - skips over the FBI and Pan Am 103 and moves right to Louis Freeh and al-Khobar.
Its much easier to talk about that "impeccable" law enforcement agent "stiffed repeatedly by the Saudis". However since he gets around to touting the Counter Terrorist Center, established in 1986, as "a model of interagency cooperation", one might fairly ask what that agency did 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 asked, 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 truely 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 Libyanese "foot soldiers" is the real issue and the real disgrace. If Deutch does not want to look at the FBI and Pan Am 103, Wright and Bakhash don't want to look at Iran and Pan Am 103. They lay out quite accurately the reason why Iran has too big a market and has too many petrodollars to isolate or ignore - 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 mutally benificial 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.
Robin Wright has a long history as a pro-Iranian polemicist. She was a brilliant choice for a front page article in the LA Times (5/12/89) that uncritcally mouthed FBI counter-terrorist Oliver Revell's version of the Pan Am investigation. In her 1989 book In the Name of God she gives ample space to the USS Vincennes incident, including specifying that "66 children were among the 290 killed", and a heatrending photograph of a dead Iranian child, but gives a curt four lines (p.212) in which she acknowledges the suspicion that "hard-line Iranian elements played a role in the December 1988 bombing", and leaves Pan Am 103 but not the Vincennes incident, out of her summary chronology (p253-57).
Robin Wright's abbreviation of facts she has herself reported, however weakly, to polish up Iran in the present article qualifies her as a propagandist, apologist, or political hack, but not a honest journalist or balanced analyst. As part of the proposed normalization the authors indicate that US should "discourage the tendency to link acts of violence or even accidents, such as the explosion of TWA 800, to Iran before solid evidence is available". And by example, expunge Pan Am 103, not to mention the connection with Iran, altogether. US media are in fact ahead of Wright and Bakhash in adopted just such 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, even to dispute the assertion. Wright and Bakhash would applaud the restraint. As used to be said of Soviet historiography "only the future is certain, the past is continually changing".
At least 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. One is the "cops and robbers" whodunit treatment, the other the "human interest" story. The former have been stricltly limited to a State Department version, reflecting shifting politicals and occasional awkward revelations that have appeared in European media and could not be kept away from the American audience indefinitely.
Recently even significant items - like the July 1997 Guardian articles about an Iranian defector who implicates the Iranian government - currently not a popular view in the American establishment - have simply not been reported on in the US.
This webpage shows three different published Lockerbie stories - the "official US State Department" version and two from Europe. The other type of Lockerbie story is the "let's get the reaction of a sobbing relative" school of journalism. That is 90% of what has appeared in the US media - and basically it is the substance of Deppa's book.
The self-indulgent reflections of journalists who never uncovered anything or rose above the level of supermarket checkout-line rags. The only reporters who ever broke stories about Pan Am 103 were in Germany and to a lesser extent the UK. Years after, this is tiresome - ands its the only book that is available in the US.
The only other book - a reprint of a UK book was mysteriously "postponed indefinitely". How this disgraceful state of affairs came to pass ought to be the heart of her book; Deppa can't even see the problem. It is really disappointing that when 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" the book that follows ignores the whole question of what was 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 Regan/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 acknowleges is at the heart of the issue, gets a few dishwater pages late in the book that say nothing incisive or new. Its spineless tripe passed off as analysis.
The Pan Am bombing was not a natural occurance - like the Grand Forks flood, the Northridge earthquake, or even some airline disasters. 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, but it is an insult the the very people she interviewed 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, and ignored by spineless journalists, is a disgrace.