Part two in the sequel of investigatory articles on the Lockerbie Bombing.
By Roger Cottrell, PhD
“For three years now, I’ve had a feeling that if Chuck (McKee) hadn’t been on that plane it wouldn’t have been bombed.”
- Bulah McKee to Rob Rowan in Time magazine, 2001.
“You know my reputation. If you try to connect me in any way to the Lockerbie bombing it does exactly what it says on the tin.”
- Angolan War Criminal and Celebrity Mercenary, Dave Tomkins, in an e-mail to this author, 2015
A little over 30 years ago, on December 21, 1988, a bomb detonated onboard Pan Am 103, The Maid of the Seas, over Lockerbie in Southern Scotland. In all, 243 passengers, mostly American, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground were killed. It was and remains the worst act of mass murder in Scottish legal history.
Thirty years later, as the case against Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the deceased Libyan sanctions buster convicted of the bombing, collapses the question begs to be asked who really bombed the plane and why?
In this second article in this series we will look at what happened to Iran Contra after Operation Black Eagle and the Contra Northern Command were shut down in 1984. In particular, we will be looking at how the Counter Terrorism Command of the CIA’s Directorate of Special Operations came to be established, in 1986, and the role of Monzer al Kasser within it. Finally, we’ll look at why Les Aspin turned against his former employer and the circumstances of his own suspicious death roughly two years after he signed his Iran Contra affidavit – and within months of the bombing of Pan Am 103 taking place.
Operation Black Eagle
As we saw in the previous article, Operation Black Eagle was set up at the US embassy in 1092 and based largely in the UK. This was as direct payback for the role that the CIA had played in securing Thatcher’s victory in the Falklands conflict and thus in her election victory of 1983. A year later, during the miners’ strike, Hilda Murrell would be murdered at her home near Shrewsbury in Shropshire because MI5 believed (falsely) that Naval Intelligence Officer Bob Green had handed information pertaining to the sinking of the Admiral Belgrano to his aunt.
Someone who was recruited to Operation Black Eagle from the very outset was former Angolan war criminal John Banks, already connected to Monzer al Kasser since his involvement in the massacre at Tel al Zaatar in North East Beirut in 1975. Although Banks is scarcely the most reliable of sources (as we shall see) this part of his story is independently corroborated not least by Les Aspin’s Iran Contra affidavit of 1989. It’s also corroborated in an excellent article in The New Yorker, by Patrick Radden-Keefe on February 10, 2010. It would seem that on his release from prison in the UK, serving a conviction for extortion described in the previous article, Banks was driven straight to the US embassy in London by his Special Branch handler, Ray Tucker, and recruited to Black Eagle on the spot. Specifically, he was recruited by the then head of CIA station in London, William Mott, who would subsequently prove instrumental both in the establishment of the Counter Terrorism Committee of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (which was also partly based in London) and in the Lockerbie cover up following the bombing of December 21, 1988.
Suffice to say that both Tucker and Mott feature prominently in our subsequent story. On the one hand, Tucker helped get Banks quietly released when, in 1985, he was busted onboard the Seven Seas out of Southampton Harbour (see below). On retirement from the police, moreover, Tucker found work with KMS, the deeply sinister private army that was up to its neck in war crimes in Nicaragua (and elsewhere). On the other, Mott was directly connected to rogue CIA agent Robert Booth Nichols, for whom he’d helped set up BCCI’s Black Unit in 1977, and CIA Director William Casey, who’d been in on the original October Surprise deal in 1980.
Booth Nichols had since helped set up FIDCO, in Lebanon, to launder drug revenues both for the Columbian Cali Cartel and al Kasser himself and sold the stolen PROMIS software to a corrupt cabal of KGB officers using Jeffrey Epstein and Robert Maxwell as intermediaries. Mott had met regularly with Casey, who had been nominated as CIA Director by his predecessor, George HW Bush, during Casey’s direct dealings with Oleg Godieksky, who would have informed Casey that the KGB head of station in London, Alexander Lebedev, was in fact corrupt. This enabled Booth Nichols to sell the PROMIS software to the cabal, who included Vladimir Putin in Dresden, in the knowledge that they were already taking money out of the USSR and planning for its destruction.
The basic mechanics of Operation Black Eagle were exposed in an important article in Rolling Stone magazine in 1988. Aspin and Banks arranged arms shipments to the Contra Northern Command via SETCO airlines, linked to the Columbian Cali and Mexican Guadalajara Cartels, purchased using Israeli end user certificates. These, in turn, were provided by MOSSAD agent Rafi Eitan, who’d also been involved in October Surprise.
The same SETCO aircraft shipped drugs out. Where Banks is lying, among other things, is in his claim that he was operationally involved in the military arm of Operation Black Eagle, where it was David Walker’s KMS who conducted war crimes in Nicaragua that included the bombing of Managua harbor. When this was exposed, during the 1980s, by Nick Davies and World in Action, Operation Black Eagle started to become unraveled and it was at this point that the level of British involvement started to become apparent. As for Banks, according to his sometime friend and associate, Dave Tomkins, the fellow Angolan war criminal, safe cracker and explosives expert, who became al Kasser’s bodyguard and confident, Banks has never seen actual military combat in his life.
Both Banks and Les Aspin, who’d also been connected to each other since Angola, were paid a stipend out of drug revenues held in a BCCI account controlled by Oliver North in person. Again, this much is corroborated both by Aspin’s own Iran Contra affidavit and the afore mentioned New Yorker article by Patrick Radden Keefe. Monzer al Kasser was also paid a substantial amount of money, out of the account, on top of what he was earning from the drug deal at the heart of Operation Black Eagle, from the arms shipments and from his own stake in the Syrian controlled drug production operation in the Beqa’a Valley. Where Banks is once more lying is his claim that he was only working for al Kasser’s network as an agent of the DEA station in New York. Rather, it was Aspin who was now working, not for the DEA but for Customs, and for reasons which I will disclose shortly.
In fact, a quick scan of the account provided by Arrons and Loftus reveals that most of the exploits claimed by John Banks, during this period were in fact those of Aspin. For example, Banks suffered a fairly serious injury during his training in the Paratrooper Regiment at Aldershot, in the 1960s, when a parachute failed to open. Indeed, he’d have been invalided out of the army were he not fluent in Arabic (having grown up an army brat in the Middle East) and had a strong flair for languages, making him useful in other more covert ways.
I don’t know what Banks got up to in Aden and the then South Yemen Protectorates but he ended up in Warminster Military Prison and was dishonorably discharged as a private. Ergo, during the time that he claims to have been with Pathfinder Division in Vietnam, he was actually serving his sentence and being recruited as a low level operative for British Intelligence, being periodically transferred to a safe house in Ashford (which is where the Army Intelligence Corps was then Based) and learning to drive an HGV truck at the Royal Corps of Transport depot next door. By contrast Aspin was with the SAS in Vietnam, before his recruitment by the CIA, and before he was arrested as an IRA gun runner near Heathrow Airport in the early 1970s.
Rather significantly, as regards Banks’ later story, it was Aspin who later burned Kenneth Littlejohn as an MI6 agent in Dublin and arranged the recruitment of Monzer al Kasser from MI6 to the CIA in 1975. Both Aspin and Banks were in Lebanon at the time of the Tel al Zaatar massacre in 1975, with Robert Booth Nichols, and several of al Kasser’s criminal associates who congregated in the Casino de Libre. In the intervening years, Banks had indeed run Trans Asia Express for British Intelligence during the first Iran-Iraq war to 1975 and also been involved in a couple of mercenary recruitment escapades conducted in the media spotlight that fairly reeked of being black propaganda stunts deliberately set up to fail.
As an example of the above, Banks was recruiting white mercenaries supposedly to fight for Kenneth Kaunda and the Zimbabwe resistance movement. In fact, this was a black propaganda exercise to scupper peace talks between Kaunda and Ian Smith and legalise the UDI regime in “Rhodesia” as the then Heath government wanted. When Banks was involved with SAS founder David Stirling and the CIA to recruit mercenaries for a coup plot in Libya, this was almost certainly also a black propaganda stunt as Langley had absolutely no assets on the ground, at that point, to carry out a coup.
This also, in my view, raises questions about Banks involvement with John Stockwell’s CIA Angolan Task Force, often seen as the precursor to Operation Black Eagle. At its simplest, how could Aspin have convinced Stockwell that Banks of all people could supply former members of the SAS to fight for the FNLA? In reality, what Banks provided, for a great deal of money, were psychopaths and road sweepers with no military training at all. What this almost looks like to me is a psychological warfare operation that ended up making William Colby, the CIA Director, look bad and it is a fairly open secret that the Angolan debacle played a major role in his demise.
Appointed post Watergate, William Colby was committed to cleaning up the CIA and also refused to back a military coup plot against Harold Wilson in the United Kingdom. He was lured into supporting the FNLA in Angola by John Stockwell, who projected it as a “third force” independent both of the Cuban and Soviet backed MPLA and Joseph Savimbi’s UNITA, in the south of the country, which was well known to be a proxy army of South Africa.
Colby was also concerned to curb Chinese influence over the FNLA.
In fact, the FNLA were a rag-tag tribally based militia whose leader, Holden Roberto, was the son in law of Zaire’s then dictator, Mobutu, and was later described by Stockwell himself as a “cocktail cowboy,” partying hard in Kinshasa while the actual fighting took place west of the Congo River. The military commander of the FNLA, “Colonel Callan,” was later described as a “raving psychopath” by Stockwell and the quality of Banks’ recruits was poor. In all, the campaign was a disaster from the start.
After the FNLA campaign folded, Colby was replaced as CIA Director by George HW Bush, who had no problem backing either a military coup plot in the UK or UNITA. Robert Booth Nichols, meantime, closed down his previous covert fund run through the Nugen Hand Bank (the precursor to BCCI’S Black Unit) and tried to frame Colby for murder. Colby died under suspicious circumstances in Rhode Island in 1996.
It is after this that Aspin’s career and that of John Banks start to diverge. In 1977, when Aspin was training with William Buckley at Fort Bragg, in anticipation of his full blown induction into the CIA, Banks was working as an informant and agent provocateur for Ray Tucker, trying to sell surplus mortars from the Angolan fiasco to the IRA. The idea was to entrap Martin McGuiness on gun running charges but instead they fitted up a hapless Sinn Fein member and fantasist from Luton during a trial in which Banks perjured himself in court.
By now, Banks’ sometime friend Dave Tomkins had published his own book on Angola and Banks was sounding out Corgi to go to Lebanon (where he’d already been involved in the massacre at Tel al Zaatar) to sound out Carlos the Jackal to write his memoir. In fact, Carlos and Leila Khaled of the PFLP were at that point based at the same training camp near Nabatea where Les Aspin had established connections in the early 1970s and where the Provisional IRA were also being trained. The idea that Banks sold to Tucker was to photograph IRA members who were training at the camp in Nabatea, during his interviews with Carlos. But Banks also offered his services to somebody else (possibly MOSSAD) to assassinate Carlos and Leila Khaled. In the end, Banks got the photographs, which led to several arrests of IRA members in the North of Ireland, but barely escaped with his life when the assassination attempt failed.
Quite possibly, Aspin, Banks and Tomkins were all three involved in the murder of an arms dealer in Switzerland, who was actually a burned former CIA asset linked to Edwin Wilson. By 1979, however, when Banks was in prison on extortion charges, following a further fiasco involving Nicaragua, Aspin and William Buckley (who had trained together at Fort Bragg) were storming a mosque in Saudi Arabia as part of a major counter terrorism operation. They may also have served together in Afghanistan. What is important to remember is that Aspin and Buckley were close friends, both when Monzer al Kasser set up the bombing of the US embassy in Lebanon in 1983 and arranged the abduction, torture and murder of Buckley in Beirut ac year later.
All of this is salient to how Les Aspin eventually ended up working against al Kasser. By 1985, al Kasser had falsely identified Mohammed Kadladdah, a cleric linked to Hezbollah, as the mastermind behind the US embassy bombing. This then led to a CIA operation, which al Kasser set up, in which Aspin personally led a group of Christian militia (who were also part of al Kasser’s drug operation) to kill said cleric in reprisal. The resulting car bomb explosion killed 80 civilians in Beirut while the cleric survived. Imagine how Aspin might have responded if he discovered not only that he’d murdered 80 innocent for nothing but that the actual perpetrator of the US embassy bombing was his own boss who had also arranged the abduction, torture and murder of his friend.
What then becomes crucial to remember, and as John Ashton and Ian Ferguson remind us, is that Aspin’s brother Michael now worked not for the DEA but for Customs. Indeed, Michael Aspin was the handler for Cyrus Hashimi, who was Adnan Karshoggi’s original business partner in the 1980 arms deal with Iran, but whom al Kasser and Karshoggi had cut out of the loop when those arms sales resumed in 1984. In fact, according to John Banks, Karshoggi would be murdered by radiation poisoning when he died, under suspicious circumstances, of cancer in London in 1980 – but not before Aspin arranged for John Banks to be busted on The Seven Seas.
The Contra Southern Command
By 1985, two factors had led to the closing down of Operation Black Eagle and of the Contra Northern Command operation in Honduras. The first was the capture of a US mercenary pilot, alive, in Nicaragua, that led to important disclosures in a Lebanese newspaper for which Lester Coleman later claimed credit. The second was the exposure of the role played by KMS, in the bombing of Managua Harbour by Nick Davies and World in Action. Almost immediately, however, the Contra Southern Command opened up out of John Hull’s ranch in Costa Rica.
Described in detail in an important book by Leslie Cockburn, the new arrangement dispensed with the services of SETCO. Instead, drugs from John Hull’s ranch were flown directly to the US airbase in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, onboard military aircraft, before being shipped to a CIA controlled drug factory in San Francisco. Here, the cocaine was cooked as crack before being sold on the streets of Los Angeles.
The shift to the Southern command also saw an intensification of the war itself. At one point, Oliver North lucidly considered t bombing the US embassy in Costa Rica, and blaming it on the Contras, in an attempt to get the Boland Ruling lifted. Although this didn’t happen an attempted assassination of Eden Pastora did.
Al Kasser now needed to arrange a major arms shipment from Southampton to Costa Rica on board the Seven Seas. However, before he did so he needed to know how much information the DEA had on his Latin American operation. To this end, al Kasser arranged for the abduction, torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in Guadalajara, Mexico, by members of the local cocaine cartel who were deeply involved in Iran Contra. But local police and political figures were also involved in this squalid torture murder. In particular, former DEA homicide investigator Hector Berellez, sometimes referred to as “the Wyatt Earp of the DEA,” remains adamant that it was CIA agent Felix Rodriguez who led the torture of Camarena and finished him off with a killer blow using a crowbar.
As Leslie Cockburn was to reveal, Rodriguez was no stranger to extreme violence and criminality in Latin America. Part of the squad that ambushed Che Guevara in Bolivia, on George HW Bush’s instruction, that also included Oswald Le Winter, Rodriguez kept his own grizzly trophies from Che’s torture and murder. While Le Winter kept Guevara’s bloodstained poncho as a memento at the hotel he owned at the Franco-German border, Rodriqguez used his watch as a paperweight and played tapes of Che’s tortured screams to entertain his guests in Miami.
When it came to the torture and murder of Kiki Camarena, the first thing one notices is the distinct parallel with what had happened to William Buckley, also on instruction from al Kasser, a year previously. Both men were pumped full of amphetamines to keep them conscious during their torture. Given the circumstances of Camarena’s torture and murder it is particularly grotesque that John Banks should claim that he, too, was a DEA agent and that they worked together. In the most benign of scenarios they never met. However, it was only after the DEA agent was tortured and murdered that the Seven Seas set sail out of Southamton with John Banks on board.
What happened next was that Les Aspin tipped off the French authorities, about the arms shipment, and it was seized as soon as it left UK territorial waters. Banks was arrested on board as reported in The Observer at the time. However, Banks was also later quietly released due to the intervention of Ray Tucker. Meanwhile, the circumstances of the Southern Seas bust were such that a young backbench MP from Islington asked questions about the extent of Britain’s involvement in Iran Contra. That backbench MP was Jeremy Corbyn. Another consequence of the Southern Seas bust was that Les Aspin had now started to expose himself inside al Kasser’s organization and returned to the UK to sign an affidavit for the John Kerry Commission in 1987. That said, Aspin was only killed in 1989, in Norwich, after the Lockerbie bombing and after he met with a lawyer representing the Pan Am 103 victims.
That the lawyer also died under suspicious circumstances tells itsown story.
Enter the CTC
By any reckoning, the attempted car bomb murder of Sheikh Mohammed Fadladdah, in which Les Aspin was directly involved, was an unmitigated disaster for the CIA. Already, CIA agent Robert Baer, who’d been deployed in Beirut following the embassy blast, was of the opinion that “Islamic Jihad” didn’t actually exist, that al Kasser’s intelligence was bogus and this was later backed up by analysis in the prestigious Middle East Report. Moreover, 80 Beirut civilians were murdered in the reprisal CIA car bomb, putting blood on Les Aspin’s hands, in a failed attempt to kill Fadladdah, only for it then to be discovered that the cleric had no connection to terrorism whatsoever. After this, even the Regan administration demanded that the CIA re-think its strategy on fighting terrorism in the Middle East.
The result, in 1986, was the formation of the Counter Terrorism Committee of the CIA’s Directorate of Special Operations which, like Operation Black Eagle before it, was to be based both at Langley and the US Embassy in London. However, William Casey, who had been George HW Bush’s nominated successor as Director of the CIA, was an Iran Contra insider as was William Mott, the head of CIA station in London. Indeed, within a year of the CTC being formed, Casey would have to die of cancer in order to escape indictment over Iran Contra itself. And in 1986 the man appointed to head the CTC was none other than Duane Clarridge, who had been present at the notorious October Surprise meeting in Paris in 1980 and who finally admitted that October Surprise was real, on his death bed, according to an important interview he gave with Newsweek magazine decades later.
That the CTC was formed in response to the failed assassination attempt against Sheikh Fadladdah in Beirut is more or less accepted as given in all credible histories of the CIA. It did, however, and as Ashton and Ferguson tell us, have another agenda from the start. This was to link Qaddafi’s Libya and, by association, the Soviet Union (to which Qaddafi was tentatively linked) to European terrorism in an operational way. What must be remembered here is that parallel with Casey’s involvement, and that of Mott, with Iran Contra, they were also in contact with Oleg Godiefsky and closely monitoring the deeply corrupt Alexander Lebedev, head of the KGB station in London. During the same time frame, obviously connected, Robert Booth Nichols was using Robert Maxwell and his then business associate, Jeffrey Epstein, to sell the PROMIS software stolen by Rafi Eitan to the corrupt KGB cabal of which Lebedev was a part.
In short, by the mid 1980s, Ronald Reagan may well have been schmoozing Gorbachev and wanting the USSR to enter into GATT trade talks. The cabal who put him in office, however, together with their new corrupt playmates in the KGB, had very different ideas.
Trying to link Qaddafi, directly, to terrorist activity in Europe would be no mean feat, for all that the FBI’s head of counter terrorism, Robert Mueller, had been gunning for the Libyan regime since at least 1980. Qaddafi had briefly armed both Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups in the North of Ireland in the 1970s, then stopped, then resumed arming the IRA after the H Block Protests and Hunger Strikes. This support would be intermittent and contrary, however, until after the Operation Eldorado Canyon airstrike on Libya that will be described below. Mueller, meantime, had been determined to link Qaddafi, operationally, to European terrorism since he failed to capture and convict the disavowed CIA asset Edwin Wilson, in 1980, linked in turn to the arms dealer in Switzerland, murdered by Les Aspin and his associates. In the 1980s, a World in Action documentary did indeed link Wilson to Libyan backed terrorism in Africa. Although in later life, Mueller would more or less exonerate himself in helping to expose the crimes of Donald Trump, his obsession with Libya would serve the Iran Contra cabal well when it came to the Lockerbie bombing on December 21, 1988.
In trying to link Qaddafi, operationally, to European terrorism, the CTC had a further resource in the form of the al Burkhan group based in West Germany. Al Burkhan means “the volcano,” in Arabic and this particular group of Islamic fundamentalists, fully immersed with Europe’s drug underworld, had been working with the CIA since a failed coup plot against Qaddafi in the mid 1970s. In particular, as a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary called “Death in St James” was later to reveal, it was al Burkhan who murdered WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Peoples Bureau in London in 1984. Years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and looting of the STASI archives in the German capital, it would be proved that a CIA cell inside the Libyan Peoples Bureau in London had been in contact with al Burkhan at the time of Yvonne Fletcher’s murder.
Now assets of the Counter Terrorism Committee of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, the same al Burkhan group blew up La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin. Most of the victims were black US servicemen and Turkish guest workers.
Fifteen days later the Operation Eldorado Canyon airstrike was launched against Libya, from a US airbase in East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
Operation Eldorado Canyon
The purpose of the Operation Eldorado Canyon airstrike, on April 15, 1986 was essentially twofold. Its first objective was to assassinate Qaddafi himself. The second was to trigger a military coup hatched by dissident officers in Tobruk, backed by an invasion of Southern Libya from Chad. Ironically, the CIA asset who was to lead the invasion into the south of the country, Khalifa Hiftar, had formerly initiated and led Qaddafi’s own Libyan military offensive in the uranium rich and disputed northern strip of Chad, during the so called “Toyota wars.” Hiftar now runs a breakaway state in the East of Libya that is backed by Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prighozin’s private army of Wagner mercenaries.
When the Libyan airstrike failed in all its strategic objectives, beyond murdering Qaddafi’s adopted daughter, the pressure on the CTC intensified. If an actual invasion of Libya was to take place there had to be hard proof of Qaddafi’s operational involvement in terrorism in Europe. If the links didn’t exist then Clarridge, and his team, had to create them. And once again, in order to fulfill this task, Clarridge fell back on his old and familiar assets from Iran Contra, with Monzer al Kasser being prominent among them.
The Making of a Sting
In a sense, Iran-Contra had been living on borrowed time since the capture of the US mercenary pilot in Nicaragua, the exposure of KMS’ role in the bombing of Mangua Harbour, the capture of The Southern Seas, as well as Lester Coleman’s disclosures to the paper in Lebanon. This had led to the complete shutdown of Operation Black Eagle and the Contra Northern Command. By 1986, however, the Fao Peninsula had fallen to Iranian forces, meaning that Iran was now winning its war with Iraq.
In a sense, the US had always hedged its bets in the theatrical holocaust that was being played out east of the Shatt al Arab. Concurrent with Iran Contra, and probably unaware of it at the time, Henry Kissinger’s protégé, Donald Rumsfeld, had been involved in much more direct arms sales to Saddam Hussein. More important, George HW Bush had close, and deeply corrupt, financial connections to the Saudi Royal Household and political elite that were rooted in the US-Saudi Covenant sealed by David Simons, at the behest of Richard Nixon, in 1974. Indeed, the details of this covenant have since been disclosed both in a fascinating article in Bloomberg but also in a book by former CIA agent Robert Baer.
Ironically, following the disastrous October War with Israel in 1973, it was Qaddafi – a leader who had played no part in the conflict – who led an oil boycott of the US and its allies that quadrupled the price of petroleum overnight. Simons had been dispatched by Nixon to Riyadh to offer the Saudis a deal. In exchange for allowing the Saudis to invest their oil revenues in the US economy, including its banking system, they would purchase building materials and then arms (and then a lot of arms) from the US and its closest allies. Ultimately, both the deeply corrupt al Yamamah arms deal in 1987 and Britain’s arms to Iraq scandal would be a result of this.
By 1986, there was one thing that the Saudis wouldn’t countenance almost as much as any democratic mass movement in the Arab world. This was for Iran to emerge from a war with Iraq as the dominant political and military power in the Persian Gulf. Their mutually corrupt allies, both in London and Washington, agreed. As a result, both the West and the Gulf Arab States would now support Saddam Hussein as their proxy in a war with Iran. This not only led to the tanker war in the Gulf of Hormuz but to a substantial escalation, including the use of gas and the so called “war of the cities.” When Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme tried to intervene, to broker e peace between Baghdad and Tehran, he was murdered accordingly.
In this context, and with arms sales to Iran drying up, Monzer al Kasser needed a new intelligence role to provide cover to his criminal activities. This would particularly involve exploiting his strong connections to Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command. What Clarridge specifically wanted al Kasser to do, was to engineer a link between a terrorist conspiracy, involving the PFLP-GC, to Tehran, Tripoli and preferably both. There were also special reasons, by now, why Clarridge wanted such a terrorist conspiracy to be concentrated in West Germany.
Part of the reason, no doubt, involved the controlled heroin shipments passing through Frankfurt airport, in which the Syrian government now had a substantive stake. This, however, could not be the whole story.
More salient, the PFLP-GC’s European operation was mostly based in West Germany, for all that al Kasser’s key asset in the organisation, Mohammed Abu Talb, actually lived in Stockholm. The group also had cells in Yugoslavia. Most important, it was in West Germany that the PFLP-GC had already engaged in terrorist activity, mainly against US military targets, particularly including the bombing of troop trains.
Most important, however, was the belief of Langley – shared by Washington – that West Germany’s government had become far too friendly with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, as an article in Stern magazine would later reveal, this would even extend to the BKA passing information on Kurdish dissidents living in Germany to their counterparts in Iran. The Germans, Clarridge felt, needed teaching a lesson, and what better lesson than a highly embarrassing terrorist plot with international dimensions being plotted and all but executed on German soil.
The rest of the plot would follow a familiar CIA script and playbook established in Italy, in the 1970s, via the Hyperion Language School in Paris. Here, the initial leadership of the Red Brigades was replaced by Moretti, a CIA asset, in order to carry out the abduction and murder of Aldo Moro. Now, Clarridge wanted Hafez Dalkamoni, the leader of the PFLP-GC cell in Germany, who was a true believing terrorist fiercely loyal to Ahmed Jibril himself, replaced by Mohammed Abu Talb in Sweden, as a CIA stooge.
Of course, al Kasser and the CIA already had much more direct control over the Fatah Revolutionary Council by way of a “black unit” established within Agha Assan Abedi’s BCCI bank. In fact, the group’s leader, Sabr Khalifa al Banna, the son of a privileged Palestinian family who had lost everything in the Nakba, had been an intelligence asset (first of MI6) since shortly after his failed attempt to murder Yasser Arafat and Mohammed Abbas in 1974. Al Banna was also known as Abu Nidal, i.e. as “the father of the struggle,” and it was MI6 who would cover up his involvement in the grenade attack on a pharmacy in Paris, in 1975, that was falsely blamed on Carlos the Jackal.
Abu Nidal’s recruitment to the CIA, by Les Aspin, came shortly afterwards and around the same time that Robert Booth Nichols and Monzer al Kasser were jointly involved in masterminding the Tel al Zaatar massacre in North East Beirut. Nonetheless, as Patrick Seale points out, Abu Nidal was on the CIA payroll by the time that al Kasser (and his brother Qassam) established the BCCI black unit, for Booth-Nichols, as a covert fund to replace Nugen-Hand. In other words, Abu Nidal was already operating as a CIA asset when he murdered the London representative of the PLO then orchestrated a machine gun assault on the Israeli ambassador to London, outside the Savoy Hotel in 1982, in order to precipitate the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Without doubt, Patrick Seale’s biography of Abu Nidal is by far the best but David Yallup’s tome, To the Ends of the Earth throws up some rather interesting nuggets. Yallup had already written a first rate book on the background to Robert Calvi’s murder in London when he was effectively commissioned by Brian Crozier, then Thatcher’s security advisor, to write a hatchet job linking Qaddafi to European terrorism. What bothered Yallup, however, was that when he reported Abu Nidal’s presence in Tripoli back to MI6 they weren’t the slightest bit interested. Yallup’s conclusion, in which he was actually correct, was that Abu Nidal was a protected asset of western intelligence who was not to be touched.
That said, Abu Nidal’s group didn’t fit the profile for what Clarridge and the CTC had in mind for Germany in 1986. For one thing the Abu Nidal group never had any sophisticated bomb makers. Throwing hand grenades into swimming pools and shooting up airports with machine guns was more their style. By contrast, the PFLP-GC had Mawan Khreesat, an adept bomb maker since the early 1970s, whose favourite MO was to bomb civilian aircraft and who (unbeknown to the PFLP-GC leadership in Damascus) was also an agent of Jordanian intelligence.
All of which was known to Monzer al Kasser when, at the behest of the CTC, he set up the sting itself in a bakery in Malta.
The Sting Stalls
The meeting in the bakery, in Malta, was set up by CIA assets in the Libyan Peoples Bureau in West Germany. These, in turn, were linked to the al Burkhan group who had murdered WPC Yvonne Fletcher and bombed La Belle Discotheque in Berlin, precipitating Operation Eldorado Canyon. As well as representatives of Libya’s General Intelligence Directorate members of Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command were also present at the meeting which was bugged and closely monitored by MOSSAD.
Under discussion was the bombing of multiple US civilian aircraft out of Frankfurt airport in reprisal for the Libyan airstrike.
To affirm his terrorist credentials, and in order to further court Ahmed Jibril, al Kasser had arranged for three of the US hostages abducted in Lebanon to be murdered in alleged reprisal for Operation Eldorado Canyon. However, if Ahmed Jibril, sometimes known as “the roly-poly terrorist,” reflecting on these events from his Damascus flat near Semenaris Square, thought that the Libyans were going to bankroll a major terrorist operation in Europe, he was soon to be disappointed. Indeed, the Libyans were not remotely interested in any direct involvement in terrorism in Europe and, for the time being at least, the sting operation was mothballed.
It is true that Libyan funding and arming of the IRA spiked in the initial aftermath of Operation Eldorado Canyon but even this was short lived. Not only did it end with the capture of the Ekmund in February 1987, there is good evidence that Libyan intelligence helped MI6 set the bust up, thereby placing pressure on Charles Haughey’s government to start doing something about the IRA now that the Anglo-Irish Agreement had been signed.
Nor was this the end of Ahmed Jibril’s woes. With EU recognition of the PLO, and the outbreak of the Intifada in December 1987, the various Palestinian splinter groups that rejected a two nations’ solution were becoming increasingly marginalized and irrelevant. This would particular be the case after the 19th Palestine National Congress followed an Arab League summit in Algiers at around this time.
Moreover, and to add insult to injury, it was after the clandestine meeting in the bakery in Malta that Qaddafi cancelled a $20-25 million contract whereby they paid the PFLP-GC to train Libyan backed insurgents in Chad. Indeed, Qaddafi now relinquished his territorial claim on the uranium rich northern strip of the country and pulled his forces out of Chad altogether.
Nor were the Libyans the only ones getting cold feet over Ahmed Jibril and threatening to cancel his milk altogether. In contrast to Qaddafi, Jibril’s Syrian sponsors did have operational links to terrorism in Europe but they had also been caught in the act. In particular, in 1986, and in direct reprisal for Operation Eldorado Canyon, a Syrian agent tried to bomb an El Al airliner out of Heathrow Airport and surrendered to police after he realized his Syrian handlers were going to kill him. Most grotesquely, he’d tried to use his pregnant Irish girlfriend to smuggle the bomb on board the plane.
Meanwhile, the controlled heroin shipments into the US continued through Frankfurt, with the collusion of the compromised DEA station in Nicosia.
A Real Life James Bond Villain
It is a testament to Monzar al Kasser’s ability to work for several intelligence agencies at once that he was under armed protection from Spanish intelligence when he plotted the hijack of the Achille Lauro within the walls of his palatial residence in Puerto Banus, near Marbella in Spain. The protection had been arranged due to al Kasser’s involvement in the GAL assassination program to murder Basque dissidents in France. What is perhaps significant is that most of the hired killers in this program were Arabs and members of the PFLP-GC in Europe. Indeed, the key to this operation, Mohammed Abu Talb, who lived in Stockholm, was also the very CIA asset that the CTC strove to place in charge of the organisation’s European network.
Ari Ben Menasche, the Israeli arms dealer and October Surprise insider isn’t the only person to suspect that the Achille Lauro hijack was a false flag operation staged on behalf of MOSSAD, just three years after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon led to the Sabra and Shatilla camp massacres. As with the Munich Olympic massacre of 1972, which also involved both German and Palestinian CIA assets, the hijack and its consequences looked sadistically ant-Semitic as if deliberately contrived to discredit the Palestinian cause. The context, however, was very different. In 1972, despite the brutal crackdown on the Black September uprising in Jordan, it was still fairly easy for Israel to project itself as the “victim” of the Middle Eastern conflict, as a brave democratic David surrounded by powerful autocratic Goliaths. As Robert Fisk would later remark, it was the massacres at Sabra and Shattila that demolished this fiction, revealing Israel as the aggressor that it was. From this point onwards, public relations, lobbying and psychological warfare became crucial to the Israeli state.
Indeed, one has only to look at the timeline to see that Menasche’s claims make perfect sense. In 1982, Abu Nidal staged a machine gun attack on the Israeli ambassador in London in order to precipitate the invasion of Lebanon. What needs to be remembered, however, is that while Bashir Jermayaal had for some time been courting the Israelis to sponsor an ethnic repartition of Lebanon, it was in 1982 that the PLO gained diplomatic recognition by the European Union. Three years later, in 1985, and the purpose of the Achille Lauro hijack was to further discredit the EU’s recognition of the PLO, which it did through the cowardly and sadistic murder of a disabled American Jewish tourist and pensioner, Leon Klinghoffer, in his wheelchair.
Monzer al Kasser’s role as mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijack, however, didn’t prevent Oliver North from paying him $1.5 million in laundered drug revenues, from a BCCI account, between 1985 and 1987. This was on top of al Kasser’s earnings as the leading heroin producer in Beqa’a Valley and from his arms sales both to the Nicaraguan Contras and Iran. It was also on top of his counterfeiting operation, also based in the Beqa’a Valley and his growing involvement in the blood diamond trade out of Sierra Leone. It was small wonder that Forbes magazine now listed al Kasser as the 50th most powerful person in the world.
Monzer al Kasser had arrived in Spain after his expulsion from the UK, for his involvement in the botched military coup plot in Syria in 1984. He immediately moved next door to his new business partner, in terms of arms deals to Iran, Adnan Karshoggi, the debauched playboy who was until then in business with Cyrus Hashemi. Karshoggi was, in turn, the brother in law of Mohammed al Fayed. Among those who also moved in the same circles as al Kasser was Princess Caroline of Monaco. At the other end of the spectrum, al Kasser’s associates among the Lebanese Maraka, out of Liberia and West Africa, were connected to John “Goldfinger” Palmer, late of the Brinks Mat robbery and his money laundering operation in Tenerife. Later, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would be al Kasser who brokered relations between his associates in the Columbian Cocaine Cartel and the Tampv Mafia group from Moscow, linked to Vladmir Putin.
Indeed, in almost every respect, al Kasser looked like a real life James Bond villain. And while Bloefeld had his cat, al Kasser had a lame toy poodle called Yogi on whom he apparently doted.
It is claimed that MOSSAD put out a contract on al Kasser, after the Achille Lauro hijack but, frankly, these claims refuse to fly. For one thing, Rafi Eitan continued to provide the end user certificates by which al Kasser continued to sell weapons both to the Nicaraguan Contras and to Iran. For another, the source of the claim that MOSSAD put a price on al Kasser’s head is none other than Dave Tomkins, the former safe cracker and explosives expert turned Angolan war criminal and now celebrity mercenary based in Basingstoke.
Tomkins is a long time associate of John Banks whom he derides as “secret squirrel” in his published memoir, Dirty Conflict, used as a source by Patrick Radden Keefe in his important New Yorker article of February 2010. By the late 1980s, however, when both Les Aspin and John Banks were working for al Kasser, selling arms to the Contras and the Iranians, and when Aspin was spooking on al Kasser for customs, Tomkins had become al Kasser’s personal bodyguard and confident.
It is from this point onwards, however, that Tomkins’ account no longer flies. According to his account, a former SAS soldier called Frank Conlon contacted Tomkins in Spain and asked him to help abduct and murder al Kasser for MOSSAD. Tomkins says that he refused, adding that he had “broken bread” at al Kasser’s table and wouldn’t betray him. He adds that he then gave Conlon 24 hours to get out of Spain
Later, according to Tomkins, al Kasser asked him to murder Frank Conlon but he refused. His very words were that only under very extreme circumstances would be kill an Englishman. We will revisit these words when we look again at Les Aspin’s suspicious death, in Norwich, and at the death threat that Tomkins sent to me by e-mail.
The first and most obvious reason why I don’t believe Tomkins’ interpretation of events is that MOSSAD never again tried to assassinate al Kasser and they do not usually give up so easily. Then there is the small issue of Rafi Eitan continuing to do business with al Kasser. However, there is an interesting footnote to all this that is worth pursuing.
In 1993, when al Kasser was on record bail during his trial for piracy, arising from the Axhille Lauro hijack, one of the prosecution witnesses was thrown from a fourth floor window while the child of another was abducted by al Kasser’s associates in the Cali Cocaine Cartel. What is interesting is that the murdered witness was an Arab cook and therefore not an Englishman, meaning that Dave Tomkins would presumably have no qualms killing him for his employer and friend. But the unpleasant connections do not end with al Kasser’s 1993 acquittal in Spain.
In 1989, Les Aspin died of a heart attack in front of his mother, at her home in Norwich where he was now living. Aspin had by now fallen on hard times, following the collapse of his marriage, was in ill health and eking a living as a used car salesman up to the point of his death. Indeed, so wretched was Aspin’s predicament that he was derided as a “Walty Mitty fantasist” in an obituary in The Independent, which they were then forced to retract in 1993 after the intervention of Aarons and Loftus in New York. What is interesting is that just prior to his death, Aspin met with a Scottish lawyer for the American Pan Am 103 victims who then died in a freak traffic accident, on a motorway, when he was supposedly hit by a runaway truck.
According to John Banks, Les Aspin was interrogated about this meeting in a hotel room somewhere in Norwich, during an ordeal in which he was hung from a window by his ankles. The thing is, according to the coroner, Aspin died of a heart attack. So, if his interrogation and torture led to the heart attack, John Banks could only know this if he was there at the time or knew somebody who was. Now, John Banks himself is a bit of a runt and while I dare say he was in better shape in 1989, before he took a bullet in Johannesburg in 2008, I don’t see him hanging anyone out of a window by his ankles.
The inference is that Aspin’s torturer was Dave Tomkins, whether he intended to “kill an Englishman” under “extreme circumstances” or not.
In 2017, after Banks and I fell out and he tried to withdraw all his testimony from this project, it was Dave Tomkins that he got to send me the death threat. Apparently, this was another “exceptional circumstance” as I have both British and Irish citizenship. What is interesting is that, only weeks before, Banks had described Tomkins as a “total cunt” because he had said, in his book, that Banks never saw actual conflict in his life. Add to that the “secret squirrel” remark and there is clearly no love lost between these aging war criminals who still face death sentences “in absentia” in Angola.
Clearly I’ve touched a nerve and in the next installment we might just find out what it is.