Click. Lockerbie: CIA witness gagged by US government

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Lockerbie: CIA witness gagged by US government

By Neil Mackay, Home Affairs Editor, and Ian Ferguson in New York
Publication Date: May 28 2000

A FORMER CIA agent who claims Libya is not responsible for the Lockerbie bombing is being gagged by the US government under state secrecy laws and faces 10 years in prison if he reveals any information about the terrorist attack.

United Nations diplomats are outraged that the US government is apparently suppressing a potential key trial witness. Diplomats are now demanding that the CIA agent, Dr Richard Fuisz, be released from the gagging order. Fuisz, a multi-millionaire businessman and pharmaceutical researcher, was, according to US intelligence sources, the CIA's key operative in the Syrian capital Damascus during the 1980s where he also had business interests.

One month before a court order was served on him by the US government gagging him from speaking on the grounds of national security, he spoke to US congressional aide Susan Lindauer, telling her he knew the identities of the Lockerbie bombers and claiming they were not Libyan.

Lindauer, shocked by Fuisz's claims, immediately compiled notes on the meeting which formed the basis of a later sworn affidavit detailing Fuisz's claims. One month after their conversation, in October 1994, a court in Washington DC issued an order barring him from revealing any information on the grounds of "military and state secrets privilege".

When contacted by the Sunday Herald last night, Fuisz said when asked if he was a CIA agent in Syria in the 1980s: "That is not an issue I can confirm or deny. I am not allowed to speak about these issues. In fact, I can't even explain to you why I can't speak about these issues." Fuisz did, however, say that he would not take any action against a newspaper which named him as a CIA agent.

Congressional aide Lindauer, who was involved in early negotiations over the Lockerbie trial, claims Fuisz made "unequivocal statements É to me that he has first-hand knowledge about the Lockerbie case". In her affidavit, she goes on: "Dr Fuisz has told me that he can identify who orchestrated and executed the bombing. Dr Fuisz has said that he can confirm absolutely that no Libyan national was involved in planning or executing the bombing of Pan Am 103, either in any technical or advisory capacity whatsoever."

Fuisz's statements to Lindauer support the claims of the two Libyan accused who are to incriminate a number of terrorist organizations, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which had strong links to Syria and Iran.

Lindauer said Fuisz told her he could provide information on Middle Eastern terrorists, and referred to Lockerbie.

Why you deserve the facts on Lockerbie

Publication Date: May 28 2000, SUNDAY HERALD Kathleen Nutt ©, Scotland

Last week, the Sunday Herald was accused by the Lord Advocate of publishing a "largely inaccurate and misleading" report on the effect of new information regarding the position of the Lockerbie bomb on the trial currently taking place in Camp Zeist.

The Sunday Herald cannot allow such an attack on our integrity to go unchallenged and today we publish our detailed response to the allegations leveled against us by the Lord Advocate and by other newspapers, which it must be remembered are also our commercial competitors.

But before we do so, we also have a duty to state, for the record, that it has never been and is not now our intention to undermine the trial of the two Libyans accused of planting the bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103.

The destruction of that flight was a savage act of terrorism which shocked the world. It led to the demise of Pan Am and sparked perhaps the largest, most detailed criminal investigation the world has seen. Its shock waves have reached the White House, Downing Street and many governments. It led to the creation of a special treaty to allow, for the first time in history, a trial to be conducted under the laws of one country yet take place on foreign soil.

It is the job of newspapers such as the Sunday Herald not simply to report on the trial itself, but to set the proceedings in this much wider context and thus give our readers the ability to understand all the implications.

The Lord Advocate was correct when he said it is the trial process which tests the evidence and decides the guilt or innocence of the accused and that it is in nobody's interest to prejudge the issue or to usurp the function of the court. That is not this nor any other newspaper's function. Indeed, the Sunday Herald welcomes the trial, which is taking place 11 years after the tragic deaths and after a long campaign by family members of those who died.

There is a point which is so fundamental to the legal process it is worth repeating: the judgment of evidence is the sole responsibility of the court and the Sunday Herald has no interest whatsoever in second-guessing, or attempting to influence, that process. That being said, there is a distinction between the legal testing of evidence which lies at the heart of the judicial process and the reporting of that procedure which lies at the heart of a newspaper's care and responsibilities.

If it is the court's role to stand in judgment, then it is the press's role to explain that process to its readers and to place it in a context which can be easily understood.

Our article reported that information gathered by Edward Bollier, cited as a witness for the prosecution in the trial, claimed to reveal that the bomb could not have been in the position the prosecution claimed.

The information, if true, would have posed serious problems for the prosecution, whose case relied heavily on the positioning of the bomb. Our article further claimed that the prosecution was seriously worried by the new information and because of that had asked that the trial be adjourned for 12 days. It quoted "Crown sources" to that effect.

The Lord Advocate did not criticize the Sunday Herald for publishing the information gathered by Bollier.

We believe we acted responsibly to explain the background to impending events at the trial, based on evidence which had been made available to us and which we believed to be in the public interest.

This is not just a fundamental aspect of press freedoms, which is understood all over the world, but it is enshrined in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers".

Of course, that freedom brings with it certain responsibilities which are also central to the way the press operates. It is our duty to make sure that stories are factual and that no person or body is harmed by inaccurate, irresponsible or fanciful reporting. However, when there was a new development which appeared to have a bearing on the Lockerbie trial, it was our duty to report it fully and factually.

We were not the only newspaper or media organization to do so. The same story ran in other Scottish newspapers, in some Scottish editions of English-based newspapers, and by newswire organizations all over the world.

So if the principle behind our publication of the story was not the issue, what was? The Lord Advocate's specific criticisms were:

l He insists we were given no information by a Crown source other than its press officer, who did not provide the quotes in our article.

The press officer did not give us those quotes, nor would we have expected him to do so. We did speak to sources within the Crown Office. We cannot reveal their identities, but it is hardly new or dubious journalistic practice to use sources who wish to remain anonymous. We must reject entirely the suggestion that these quotes were fictitious and that the basis for our story was not fact. We are proud of our high journalistic standards and we would not publish any story unless entirely convinced of its accuracy.

Neil Mackay, the author of our article, was last week named as runner-up in the Reporter of the Year section of the Bank of Scotland press awards. As we report elsewhere in this issue, his award was one of several this newspaper won. It is not true to suggest that our reporting procedures are anything less than rigorous and demanding.

l The Lord Advocate says we implied that the Crown misled the court when it asked that the trial be adjourned and that we disputed the reasons it gave to the court for that adjournment.

Again, we reject this accusation. Alastair Campbell QC asked for the adjournment in question as the Crown needed more time to interview witnesses over technical and scientific matters relating to the destruction of Pan Am 103.

The Sunday Herald said that the Crown had sought an adjournment as it needed to consider the Bollier report, which dealt with technical and scientific matters relating to the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103.

There was no implication that the prosecution intended to mislead the court. It should be pointed out that on Thursday, the Lockerbie trial was adjourned after issues almost identical to those in the Bollier report were raised in the court. Air Accident investigator Christopher Protheroe said an error was made in calculations aimed at determining the exact position of the bomb. He said the bomb was actually closer to the skin of the plane than previously thought. Lord Sutherland agreed to an adjournment after defense QC Richard Keen argued that the luggage container, which the prosecution claim the bomb was in, should be reconstructed in court. The trial reconvenes on Tuesday. 

l The Lord Advocate stresses that it is the evidence presented to the court which matters and not "what is downloaded from the internet".

We could not agree more. Nevertheless the Bollier report was an important development in the trial and knowledge of its contents will help our readers be aware of the context of various developments, including those in the court later last week.

The existence of the Bollier report had been announced on the internet, the substance of its contents were already in the public arena. Just for the record, we did not download the information from the internet. After an exhaustive investigation, we received a full copy of the report, which was sent to us and translated for us.

Our description of the contents of the report was completely accurate. We made no attempt to judge if the report's claims were true and are not qualified to do so. Our article also pointed out, in the interests of accuracy and context, that Bollier's company was connected to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 as the source for the explosive device's timers. This effectively ruined his company and he intends to sue the FBI for around £25 million if the Libyans are cleared. 

The Lord Advocate's criticisms deserve a serious response and serious consideration. The same cannot be said for criticisms which appeared in The Scotsman newspaper on Friday. We would rather not dignify their claims with a response, but we fear that if they are left unchallenged they may enter popular currency.

Regular readers will know that the "new" Scotsman is no friend of this newspaper. It is a competitor, but it is more than that. We have regularly challenged its "new" editorial policy and the attitude of its publisher, Andrew Neil. It criticized our editorial coverage of the Lockerbie trial not through high-minded principles, but out of a desire to score cheap points. Indeed, its article on the Lord Advocate's criticisms of the Sunday Herald descended into a trans parent personal attack.

How much credence should we give to The Scotsman's attack? Ask the reporter assigned to write the knocking piece, Stewart Kirkpatrick. And, strangely, large chunks of the Scotsman article bore no relationship to the words he wrote. He asked that his name be taken off and the article ran with a fictitious by-line, Lucy Richards, who, of course, does not exist.

Like most of that paper it is a paper written and made in the image of its publisher's narrow personal agenda. Trust that? The Scottish newspaper world is a dangerous, petty place to work but there are still some issues - and we believe the Lockerbie trial is one of them - that are too important to be dragged into the mudslinging.