Monday, January 25, 2010


A Small-Screen Production Assists the Transition
[Pan Am 103 Series]
Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
January 25 2010

The first I heard about this program was in Allan Frankovich’s 1994 film The Maltese Double Cross: “In 1993, Air Malta wins its libel suit against Granada television. Granada, in a docudrama, had claimed the bomb had been placed in an unaccompanied bag on an Air Malta flight.” [MDC 1:24:45] A fuller explanation, describing its provocative Malta link, can be found in Paul Foot's Lockerbie: The Flight From Justice:
"The programme focused on a bakery in Malta and a Palestinian cell based there. The programme made the same connection as the Sunday Times had done a year earlier – between the fact that the clothes in the bomb suitcase were bought in Malta and the less certain fact that an unaccompanied bag from Malta was loaded onto a Pan Am feeder flight from Frankfurt to London and thence to Pan Am 103. To illustrate this hypothesis, the programme showed a sinister-looking Arab checking in a bag at Malta airport and then sliding surreptitiously away while the plane took off.

This was too much for Air Malta, who sued Granada for libel. Norton Rose, the London commercial solicitors, compiled a huge dossier detailing almost everything about the flight from Malta to Frankfurt on the day of the Lockerbie bombing and proving that all 55 bags checked in on the flight could be ascribed to passengers, none of whom travelled on to London. The evidence was so powerful that Granada settled the action before it got to court. They paid Air Malta £15,000 damages and all the costs of the case. The only time these matters had been tested in a legal action, the Maltese connection to the bomb suitcase was comprehensively demolished."
[Foot p 7]

One should note that the Malta link was not new to this film, but aired a year earlier in the Sunday Times, presumably David Leppard's fabled late-1989 series I still need to find. From what I hear around, these managed to fuse popular assumptions of guilt, the PFLP-GC and Abu Talb and Iran, with bits of the emerging Libya narrative, which he would write in book form in 1991 as that became official. The evidence that pointed to Malta emerged during 1989; first was the clothing, discovered during the winter and spring, and in August the Frankfurt printout pointed there again by showing that item 8849. This was followed swiftly by talks with the Gauci family, who apparently sold the clothes, from 1 September onwards. Leppard seeded this crucial mental picture - an origin on little old Malta - widely by the end of 1989, and within a year Granada had made the TV movie version.

On further inspection the program was produced in 1990, jointly, by Granada Television for the ITV network, HBO for America's audiences, and Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (for German airing?). First screened in UK as TV movie "Why Lockerbie?" 26 November 1990, then in the US by HBO as "The Tragedy of Flight 103: The Inside Story." [source: wikipedia] There is currently a trailer for the the HBO version viewable online (screen caps throughout). External link (too unreliable to embed):
Director: Leslie Woodhead
Writer: Michael Eaton
Starring: Ned Beatty as C. Edward Acker, Peter Boyle as Fred Ford, Sean Pertwee as Oliver Koch, Vincent Gardenia as Harry Pizer, Michael Wincott as Ulrich Weber, and Sasson Gabai as then-popularly-suspected bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat. Other featured characters include Ali Akbar Mohteshemi, Hafez Dalkomoni, and Abu Talb. No Libyans are involved. There is a "Maltese shopkeeper," presumably of the bakery Leppard was on about, and not Tony Gauci. Runtime: 86 minutes.
[source: IMDB]

Ned Beatty as Pan Am CEO C. Edward Acker, seen at right, always backed with prominent slat blinds (metaphorical? Subtle?) I'm not an expert on Pan Am's history, but Acker ran the company from the early 1980s, apparently on promises of revitalizing it and making it profitable again. He was replaced in early 1988, so only set up the culture lading to their alleged failure. When guys in suits are the villains, the motive is always money, and no exception here; a drive for profits led to their selective, perhaps criminal, and deeply tragic security blindness.

Some controversy was aired early on about the curious "Helsinki Warning" of early December being buried and somehow missed by Ulrich Weber, Frankfurt Airport Security administrator, until Dec 22. In the film, the narrator explains the response: "Other than screening Finnish passengers, Pan Am's procedures at Frankfurt Airport remained unchanged. There was no briefing of security personnel to update them on threat information." Mr. Weber is further quoted in the film dismissing a larger threat yet, the October discovery of multiple airliner bomb radios in existence in Germany. Speaking with an underling, Oliver Koch, who is prophetically worried about "that cell and terrorist setup in Neuss. Something about bombs in tape recorders."
"Ulrich Weber: Pan Am didn't expect us to do anything special with that one.
Oliver Koch: I recommend it should be on today's agenda.
Ulrich Weber: You are going beyond your competence, Koch! This is not in your job description!
Oliver Koch: I recommend that we take the batteries off of every single radio cassette player we find, okay?
Ulrich Weber: We tell our people to go loose on the passenger's private property and smash half the things they touch? We'd go broke paying the damage claims.
Ulrich Weber: Oliver, you've got to lighten up, pal. It's almost Christmas. When all is said and done, air travel is still safer than crossing the road."
[source: IMDB]

Some clips featuring Michael Wincott as Weber were posted on Youtube, by a fan of the actor, apparently. Here, he shows great confidence and a greasy pony tail that usually indicate "confidence artist." He's arrogant, and tragic in his swagger. He should worry more, a lot more... dun dun.... Recall these were real people, then in court over their culpability over the tragedy, struggling for survival, accused of a mammoth failure to catch the bomb that got onto PA 103, when the most coherent evidence actually indicates an introduction 400 miles away in London. Ulrich Weber had nothing to do with the suitcase John Bedford saw.

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Release Timing
The film’s airing in the UK and US in late November and early December 1990 is interesting. As noted above, it helped further ingrain a year-old idea of a Maltese bomb bag slipping through three airports. It was released approximately one year after several lines of questionable intelligence had converged overwhelmingly on Malta in late 1989 – 16 months after the printout showed it as item 8849, 15 months after starting a dialog with Tony Gauci. 12 months after Paul Gauci first changed stories and suggested a December 7 purchase was likely. Six months after Thurman’s identification of a Libyan timer fragment. One year before a formal indictment would be issued of agents not even hinted at in this portrayal.

Also, the release happened to lines up well with the announcement to all international investigators, in the run-up to the second anniversary, that US and UK investigators had decided that Maltese bag was their big lead, and it pointed to Libya, not Syria, not Iran, not any Palestinians. In his 2006 memoir, Marquise writes of an early December 1990 conference (apparently on the 6th?) of investigators in Sweden, bringing Swiss police in for the first time.
“The night before the formal conference, Henderson and I convened the other police officials in a private room above the main dining area. The Swiss were introduced and the new direction of the investigation was discussed. Because the formal agenda had been drawn up in advance, much of it was devoted to the PFLP-GC cell in Germany. However, we had always said evidence would drive the investigation, not speculation. Now the evidence had pointed away from Dalkamouni and his PFLP-GC cell. Everything we saw pointed directly at Libya.” [Marquise, p 73]
The Germans were “relieved,” Marquise recalled, but the Maltese, who were on bad terms with the investigation at the time, “were not as ready to accept the new scenario,” and “adopted the same philosophy which the Germans had employed for a time.” “Evidence [which] showed the bomb bag … had originated in Malta,” that was a year old already, “had not yet been proven to the satisfaction of Maltese officials.” But the next day’s conference went smoothly enough, and “not one word of what was discussed at the meeting was ever leaked to the media, proving that this group of law enforcement officials was trustworthy."

Three days later, however, HBO would re-air half of that new direction, the bag that Maltese authorities still couldn't see even after the first UK airing of Why Lockerbie? just days before the conference. Air Malta would of course take the issue to court as we started out, but Maltese investigators just acquiesced; on December 10, the day after the American re-broadcast as The Tragedy of Flight 103 in case that matters, "Henderson reported the Maltese were ready to let us back in to work, possibly as soon as December 17." [Marquise, p 73]

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