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Posted at 8:36 PM ET, 04/12/2010

FBI agent dismisses CIA spy’s claim of Iran ties to Pan Am 103 bomb

By Jeff Stein

Retired Special Agent Richard Marquise, who headed the FBI’s investigation into the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, says there is no credible evidence for former Iranian double agent Reza Kahlili’s claim that Iran downed the plane.

Moreover, Kahlili's claim that his CIA handlers weren’t interested in hearing what he knew about it is ridiculous, Marquise said in an interview.

Kahlili (the name is a pseudonym) makes the claims in a memoir, "A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran," which has generated a lot of attention since it was published April 6. Its general theme is that Washington has underestimated the Iranian threat.

“I have read the parts about Lockerbie and did not see anything which was more than pure speculation on his part,” says Marquise, who headed the FBI task force on the bombing and later wrote a book about the probe.

”He said his info came from some guy he met in London after the attack. He never mentions anything about having knowledge of the attack before, and no information that would substantiate how it could have happened. “

Kahlili’s allegations aren’t nearly as specific in his book as they are in his interviews promoting it.

One news report summarizes Kahlili saying the CIA “didn’t seem interested in [his] information, which included details on the type of radio transmitter used in the bomb and other details not publicly known.”

But in the book, Khalili makes no claim of knowing technical details about the bomb, much less that the CIA wasn’t interested in what he knew.

In interviews, however, he has expanded on the theme.

“Shortly after the Pan Am incident I was in Europe on a mission and I had met with Iranian agents somewhere in Europe …” he told Roger L. Simon, the Hollywood writer and head of the Pajamas Media web site.

“We talked about the incident, they verified that Rafsanjani had ordered the Pan Am bombing and the retaliation for the Iranian airliner incident and they talked about a Palestinian suspect and the transistor — that the bomb was in the transistor radio. … In my conversation with them I was convinced that this was an Iranian act. It was delivered, as promised, through their proxies.”
Kahlili continues:
“I reported my findings to the CIA, gave the names of the agents. They were traced — their travels were traced; where they were before, what countries they had visited. I told them of their connection to the Iranian hierarchy and so that’s where we left it off.”
Kahlili said he “expected a follow-up,” but “nothing happened.”

“The new US administration, President Bush Senior, made an assessment that Hashimi Rafsanjani, the new president, is ready for a change in diplomatic relations…,” he writes. George H.W. Bush wanted to move on

Twenty years later, U.S. intelligence is still covering up the Iranian role in the Pan Am bombing, Kahlili hints darkly.

“In August 2009,” he writes in his book, “Scottish authorities freed Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted for downing the plane, just when his legal team was ready to present U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency documents implicating Iran.”

It's true that DIA sources did report, soon after the plane went down, that Iran orchestrated the bombing through Syria and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, or PFLP-GC.

And the FBI’s Marquise, now retired, does acknowledge that Iran was first suspected of carrying out the bombing, because U.S. fighters had mistakenly downed an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf five months before.

But investigators eventually discounted the reports for lack of evidence, he said.

Amid the debris, Marquise recounted, an investigator found the main piece of evidence that eventually led to Libya’s authorship of the crime: a piece of the circuit board that set off the bomb.

The FBI traced it to the head of a Swiss firm, who told them he had made only “20 or 21” of the type, “all of which were delivered to Libyan officials,” Marquise said.

All the physical evidence pointed to Libya.

“Nothing ties Iran to the evidence,” he declared. “There is no evidence, nothing that could be used in court, that ties Iran to those timers.”

Asked for comment, Kahlili repeated the main points in his book and said, "I think the lack of investigation of Iran's involvement into Pan Am bombing and behind the scene negotiations between Rafsanjani and President Bush were related."

The December 1988 explosion high over Scotland killed all 270 aboard, including 190 Americans.

Last year Al-Megrahi was welcomed home a hero in Tripoli, following his release on medical grounds. Libyan leader Qadaffi also accrepted responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing, paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the victim's famlies.

The CIA approved Kahlili's book for publication, but on Monday it had no comment on his PanAm 103 allegations.

By Jeff Stein  | April 12, 2010; 8:36 PM ET
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Marquise is part of the disinformation spin.
FBI agents offered the principal witness in the Lockerbie bombing $5 million dollars to lie about the evidence google
dallas news forum scotsman lockerbie bombing witness
You can also google lockerbie bombing fbi coverup

Posted by: mabumford | April 13, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

The main and only positive point he makes is the timer fragment, aka PT/35(b), said to be found in the rubble. Two things about this fragment should be noted:
1) It fairly clearly points to Libyan JSO
2) It clearly wasn't involved in the explosion of PA103. Ask any explosives expert - look at the photos of it, 1cm perfect square, 450-680 grams Semtex H, 1.5 inches apart. Plausible? No.

Therefore this point starts falling apart:
“There is no evidence, nothing that could be used in court, that ties Iran to those timers.”

I do agree Khalili's allegations sound pretty vague, near-useless, and likely wrong. I'm not aware of any "radio transmitter" in any allegedly used bomb style. People should Google "Abu Elias," Heathrow, and "38 minutes" to get some clues that could have been brought to court (and were, by the defense).

Thanks Washington Post for discussing this important issue.

Posted by: CausticLogic | April 13, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

"He" above of course being Marquise.

A few minor corrections:
"U.S. fighters had mistakenly downed an Iranian Airbus..."

It wasn't fighters but a warship, USS Vincennes, trained to track, sort, and kill hundreds of missiles at a time, that goofed up when confronted with one civilian airliner. That it was an accident is, ultimately, an article of faith, and one the Iranians did not muster. Ergo, motive for the mirror-image Lockerbie bombing.

"killed all 270 aboard, including 180 Americans."
190, or 189 depending on source, actually. I'm not sure why the discrepancy.

"Al-Megrahi was welcomed home a hero in Tripoli"
It's quite normal to cheer a returning political prisoner (as the cheerers see it) as a hero. It's happened in Washington too.
"Qadaffi also accrepted responsibility"
But not actual guilt for the bombing. Megrahi is not acknowledged as the perpetrator, and was still not being cheered for that. Nice try, however.

Posted by: CausticLogic | April 13, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

No chance circuit boards could get from Libya to Iran? Anyway it sounds like an attempt to stir sentiment against Iran now at a time of our chosing so if they are trying to shift blame now to Iran one would have to say too liitle and too late. If it is approved by the CIA the book can only be disinformation.

Posted by: Wildthing1 | April 13, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

So shooting down an Iranian airliner full of civilian passengers is no big deal, just an honest mistake. I acknowledge we paid reparations and that is worth noting, if it was a mistake. But if it was a mistake what does that say?

Posted by: Wildthing1 | April 13, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Kahlili has a very interesting answer to Marquise on his blog here:

One of the more interesting points is:

"However, as to the Pan Am bombing, why was it that the Scottish authorities had Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi drop his appeal in exchange for his release to Libya just when his legal team was to present the court with documents from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) implicating Iran? Also documents that say some of the witnesses had been paid millions to testify and evidence on the timer used to detonate the bomb, which were withheld from the courts by certain intelligence agencies."

Seems to me that Marquise has a vested interest in challenging Kahlili. Could it be that HE has something to hide? Why didn't the FBI produce those documents? Why are they still being held back. Why is he so interested in protecting Iran?

Doesn't take rocket science to see the connection between the Iranian Airbus and Pan Am.

Iran has always retaliated. So this time they just decided to turn the other cheek when a Navy ship brings down a plane with their citizens on board?

The question is: Why is Marquise defending Iran? What has he got to hide? Why didn't he investigate the obvious?

Posted by: Chars | April 13, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Actually while the UNited States did pay reparations for the Iran Air 655 downing, they did so on an "ex gratia" basis meaning without accepting fault, and continued to lie for another 4 years by claiming that the US naval vessel that shot down the airliner was "acting in self-defense in international waters" when in fact it was acting provocatively inside Iranian territorial waters. And, the US officially blamed Iran for the incident, claiming that the Iranians had "allowed" the plane to fly over the Vincennes..which the Iranians had no idea was illegally inside Iranian waters. Oh, and lets not forget that the US armed Saddam with chemical weapons that resulted in over 60,000 casualties during the Iran-Iraq War.

Posted by: hassani1387 | April 14, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

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