Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie – Inside the DIA
by Lester Knox Coleman (Author), Donald Goddard (Contributor)
Lester Knox Coleman is the first American citizen since the Vietnam War to seek political asylum in another country. Hounded by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and Middle East heroin traffickers, Coleman is a victim of the biggest international cover-up in modern times. In the spring of 1988, Coleman was on a mission for the world’s most secretive and well-funded espionage agency – the Defence Intelligence Agency. Coleman had been ordered to spy on the DEA in Cyprus which, along with the CIA, was running a series of “controlled deliveries” of Lebanese heroin through the airports of Frankfurt and London en route to America. Coleman discovered that security of this “sting” operation had been breached and warned the American Embassy that a disaster was waiting to happen. It was ignored. Seven months later, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie. Among the dead was a DEA courier. Over the last four years Washington has ensured that the blame for the bombing rests with Libyan terrorists and negligent Pan Am officials. With Pan Am and their insurers fighting this version all the way, it was never likely that Coleman’s experiences in Cyprus would go unnoticed. In 1991 America’s state security apparatus – the octopus – made its move. Donald Goddard is the author of “Joey”, “The Last Days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer”, “All Fall Down”, “Undercover” and “The Insider”.
Paperback: 364 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (Aug. 13 2009)
All governments lie, some more than others. To protect themselves or ‘the national interest’, American governments lie more than most.
The story of Washington’s blackest lie in modern times began, typically, with a bureaucratic blunder. In the spring of 1988, Special Agent Michael T. Hurley, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s attache to the American Embassy in Cyprus, was given a clear warning by an American intelligence agent that security had been breached in a ‘sting’ operation the DEA had mounted against Lebanese drug traffickers running heroin into the United States via Nicosia, Frankfurt and London.
Seven months later, on 21 December 1988, a bomb exploded in the cargo hold of Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to New York, killing all 259 passengers and crew. Eleven more people died on the ground as the wreckage of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, Maid of the Seas, rained down on the Scottish border town of Lockerbie.
Among the victims were at least two, possibly five or more, American intelligence agents, who had disregarded standing orders by choosing to fly home from Beirut on an American-flag airline, and a DEA Lebanese-American courier who had previously carried out at least three controlled deliveries of heroin to Detroit as part of the ‘sting’.
Those involved in this operation, along with those who had authorized, condoned or used it for other purposes, recognized at once that their neglect of the warning in May had cost 270 lives, that terrorists had slipped through the reported breach in security and converted a controlled delivery of heroin into the controlled delivery of a bomb — probably in revenge for the 290 lives lost in July when the US cruiser Vincennes had shot down an Iranian Airbus ‘by mistake’.
The US government would lie about that catastrophic blunder, too, but the more immediate problem was the Lockerbie disaster. Like a woodlouse sensing danger, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rolled up in an armour-plated ball to protect its bureaucratic arse.
This worked, more or less, for two years, but the problem refused to go away. When the DEA’s obduracy began to attract as many embarrassing questions as it deflected, the agency started to lie, with the grudging connivance of the intelligence community and the ungrudging assistance of the Bush administration.
It lied to the media and the public, of course, but it also lied to Congress. And the more it lied, the harder it got to keep the story straight.
For one thing, there was the problem of the intelligence agent who had warned Hurley about the disaster waiting to happen months before the downing of Flight 103. Like most of his colleagues in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lester Knox Coleman III had found little to admire in the work of the DEA overseas.
And for another thing, there was the problem of Pan Am and its insurers, who had commissioned their own investigation into the disaster. The more they picked up about the DEA connection, the less they felt inclined to pick up what was beginning to look like a $7-billion tab.
For those watching the situation from Washington, a recurring nightmare was that these two problems might come together like match and tinder; that Coleman would meet up with Pan Am’s attorneys and tell them what he knew. Because if that happened, they might between them start a fire that would blacken the reputation, not just of the DEA, but of the United States itself. If the truth came out, it would not only undermine America’s role as moral and political exemplar to the world, but inflict intolerable damage on its policy objectives in the Middle East.
The risk was simply not acceptable. The ‘national interest’ now required the DEA sting never to have happened, and Lester Knox Coleman III not to exist — at least as a credible witness.
It was a job for what Coleman had come to think of as ‘the octopus’ — America’s state security apparatus.
The number of DEA-controlled deliveries of heroin down the pipeline to the United States had increased noticeably during the winter as a result of Fred Ganem’s special knowledge of the Lebanese communities in Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles. Members of the Jafaar clan and other DEA couriers would arrive at Larnaca with suitcases full of high- grade heroin, white and crystal, and be met off the bo3t from the Christian-controlled port of Jounieh by officers of the Cypriot Police Narcotics Squad, who then drove them up to the Eurame office in Nicosia.
Greeted there by El-Jorr , they would gossip over coffee until summoned to the embassy to receive their instructions from Hurley. After that, the Cypriot police would take them out to the airport and put them on flights to Frankfurt, where the bag-switch routine used by ‘legitimate’ smugglers was employed to bypass the airport’s security arrangements and load the ‘dirty’ suitcases on to trans-Atlantic flights.
On arrival in New York, Detroit, or points west, the DEA ‘mules’ would be met by DEA agents in the baggage claim area and escorted through Customs, the loads being kept under continuous surveillance until deals were struck and the heroin changed hands.
Hoping to enlist Coleman as an ally in his grievances against Hurley, which were many and various, EI Jorr lost no time in describing his own experiences during the Christmas holidays in a ‘sting’ operation against drug dealers in Southern California. Posing as a Lebanese cocaine buyer, he had flown to Los Angeles with a suitcase full of counterfeit US currency provided by DEA Nicosia and checked into a room booked for him by the DEA at the Sheraton Universal hotel.
Ten days later, when the agents moved in to round up their targets,El-Jorr checked out and returned to Cyprus, charging the hotel bill to his American Express card as instructed. But when he presented the bill to Hurley for reimbursement, Hurley refused to pay, insisting the DEA field office in Los Angeles should pick up the tab. And when El-Jorr sent the bill to them, they, too, refused to pay, claiming that most of the charges on it were unauthorized. Meanwhile, tired of waiting for its money, American Express cancelled his card.
It was a serious blow. El-Jjorr felt the loss as keenly as he would have mourned his cowboy boots or his 4 X 4 Chevy with the Texas plates – the card was a basic prop of his all-American image. When Coleman tried to console him, suggesting that the DEA had a reputation for screwing its informants, he was immediately overwhelmed with supporting case histories. Sometimes informants and subsources in Lebanon had to go for weeks without pay because of budget cuts and red tape, EI Jorr complained, citing names, chapter and verse. Then, when word got out that Hurley again had a drawerful of money to pay for information, everybody in Beirut would try to get in on the act, making things up if they had to. And who got squeezed? EI-Jorr, of course. And all the people who worked for him.
Coleman naturally lent a commiserative ear, and was soon able to provide Donleavy with a complete run-down on the DEA’s network of informants in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. Warmed by Coleman’s sympathy, EI-Jorr made a point of introducing him to all the CIs and ‘mules’ who arrived at Eurame on their way back and forth along the pipeline, including him in the conversation as they brewed up endless cups of Lebanese coffee.
Among the informants he met in this way was a Lebanese Army officer known as ‘The Captain’, with close connections to the Jafaar clan. Sami Jafaar’s nephew, Khalid Nazir Jafaar, was a subsource of his, and one of whom EI Jorr seemed particularly proud as he was the favourite grandson of the drug clan’s patriarch, Moostafa Jafaar.
A strongly built, blue-eyed young man who had chosen to live with his father in Detroit rather than stay with his mother and grandfather in the Bekaa, Khalid Nazir was a regular commuter between Beirut and Detroit. In the two months Coleman spent at Eurame, he met him there three times, including one occasion when ‘Nazzie’ volunteered the information that he was on his way to Houston with a load.
When not debriefing EI Jorr’s subsources and evaluating intelligence data to meet Hurley’s insatiable appetite for maps and quadruplicate reports, Coleman kept track of the other uses to which the pipeline was put. He had first reported to Donleavy on the use of counterfeit money for DEA stings during the 1987 season, after Dany Habib had produced a sample from his desk drawer, but it was soon clear from what he observed at Eurame that this, too, had become standard operating procedure in his absence.
Working with the Secret Service station at the American Embassy in Athens, DEA Nicosia now regularly employed huge sums of counterfeit US currency to make drug buys in Europe, the US and Mexico. When Coleman looked into this, DIA assets in Lebanon reported that much of it was being printed there, with large numbers of genuine $1 bills being bleached to provide the right paper for phony $100 bills. Fakes of even better quality, however, were coming out of Iran, where forgers had the advantage of using presses sold originally to Shah Reza Pahlevi’s government by the us Mint.
Most of the counterfeit currency used by the DEA was supplied by Monzer al-Kassar, who received no separate payment for this service as it was covered by his regular CIA stipend deposited to his credit at the Katherein Bank, Vienna (A/c No. 50307495) and at the Swiss Bank Corporation in Geneva (A/c No. 510230C-86). From Hurley’s point of view, this was a vast improvement on the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo required to obtain cash for flash rolls and drug buys from DEA headquarters. After a successful sting, like EI- Jorr’s in Los Angeles, the DEA agents would turn the counterfeit currency over to the Secret Service and both could claim credit for the seizure.
Thinking back, Coleman often wonders how many of Hurley’s confidential informants in Lebanon were, in fact, paid with funny money.
The business of Eurame was not just drugs and cash, however.
During the previous summer, Coleman had acted as technical adviser to the Cypriot Police Force Narcotics Squad (CPFNS) and helped train its officers in the use of communications, surveillance and other electronic gear paid for by the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC). On returning to Cyprus that spring, he found that the march of technology had continued in his absence and that all the CPFNS field offices had been hooked into a central computerized database installed by Link Systems, Ltd, a US government ‘cut-out’ company set up to carry out the contract for UNFDAC.
At CPFNS headquarters, he saw several of the officers he had worked with unpacking software from boxes marked PROMIS Ltd, Toronto, Canada. Sensing another Hurley enterprise that would interest Donleavy, Coleman poked around discreet1y and discovered that Eurame had supplied, or was in process of supplying, copies of this software to othcr national police and military forces in the region, including those of Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Israel, Jordan, Iran and Iraq.
Puzzled as to why the DEA and CIA would choose to do this through a front operation in Nicosia rather than through official channels, Coleman duly reported all this activity to Control, but the response was so muted he could only conclude that the DIA knew about it already.
(Much later, he discovered that PROMIS had been developed for the US Department of Justice by Inslaw, Inc. of Washington, D.C., as an information system for law-enforcement agencies and government prosecutors with heavy workloads to keep track of their cases. The systems sold through Eurame, however, were bootleg copies, made without the knowledge of lnslaw, to which a ‘backdoor’ software routine had been added. No matter how securely the front door might be barred with entry (.~odes and passwords, American operators, holding the key to the secret back door, could break into the PROMIS systems operated by Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Israel, Jordan, Iran and Iraq whenever they wished, access the data stored there and get out again without arousing the slightest suspicion that the security of those systems had been breached – an incalculable advantage, not only in collecting and verifying intelligence data from those countries, but also in assessing the actual, as opposed to the professed, level of cooperation extended by their governments.)
Coleman had already transmitted to Control his first HOTSIT (hot situation report) to the effect that NARCOG and the Eurame operation, like everything else connected with DEA Nicosia, was coming unravelled. With Hurley’s indifference to security, Coleman felt personally at risk.
It was open house [he recalls]. From first thing in the morning until we closed at night, there were people drifting in and out all the time.
We’d get Cypriot narcotics cops stopping by for a free cup of coffee or to make a call to their relatives in England on Uncle Sam’s nickel. We’d get the day’s batch of informants from Lebanon, picked up in Larnaca off the morning ferry. We’d get all kinds of weird people.
From Asmar’s reports, I knew that some of them were into arms trafficking as well as dope and that meant they had to have close ties with Syrian-supported terrorist groups like the PFLP-GC.
It was crazy. With El-Jorr coming off the wall from working both sides of the street, it was only a matter of time before the whole operation came unglued. And I didn’t want to be around when that happened. In the Middle East, you can get yourself killed that way. So what did Control advise? ‘Communicate your concern to NARCOG Director Hurley.’