Sweden's idea of a
refugee camp would not look out of place in any prosperous, middle-class
suburb. Nor does its scale of support for refugees fall short of the
minimum standard of life it underwrites for its own citizens. Indeed,
the generosity with which the Swedish government treats the displaced
and persecuted, and the numbers given asylum in relation to the
country's population and economy, speak of a genuinely civilized society
that, without setting out to do so, serves as both an example and a
reproach to the rest of the world.
The Colemans' 'camp' was a modern apartment complex in a landscaped
setting on the edge of town, with its own medical centre and children's
nursery. While their claims for asylum are considered, newcomers are
temporarily housed there in circumstances that, even by American
standards, are little short of luxurious. Accustomed to a gulf between
theory and practice in most Western professions of virtue, Coleman was
"They put us up in a three-bedroom
apartment with brand-new appliances, including a TV and a computerized
refrigerator, and completely furnished, down to the bedsheets. It was
summer, so we bought a used bicycle to go to the market, and every other
Thursday, we'd stand in line outside the office to receive our stipend,
which amounted to about £700 a month.
"It was amazing. People arrive, exhausted and demoralized, expecting
workhouse charity at best, and it's a shock, not to be greeted as a
problem, as a bureaucratic nuisance. The Swedes never toot their horn
about it, but they really care. They do all this for genuinely humane
reasons. Outwardly, they may not seem a very emotional people, but they
express their feelings in practical ways. They take everybody very
slowly -- you have to prove yourself. But once they accept you as a
friend, you're a friend for life."
Even so, the
Colemans were in exile. Despite the hospitality and protection of their
hosts, there were endless adjustments to make in the business of
day-to-day living, to differences in outlook, culture and language, and,
not least for a Southerner like Coleman and his Mediterranean wife, to a
change of climate as drastic as their change of status. Above all, there
was an underlying sense of impermanence that nothing could dispel. The
shabby pretext for issuing a fugitive warrant was proof enough that the
octopus was still out there, waiting.
Having agreed to offer the Colemans sanctuary while their application
for permanent asylum was considered, the Swedish government was clearly
in no hurry to arrive at a decision. 'Refugees can wait for years,
unable to work or live a normal life, the uncertainty gnawing away at
you day by day,' says Coleman. 'They call it "living in splendid
'After a year in the camp, when it became clear to everybody that the
passport charge was a phony, the police moved us into a modern apartment
in town for our own protection. The rent and utilities were paid for,
and they gave us a grant of 50,000 kronor to furnish it. Not a loan --
grant. At that time, before the recession really hit, we also got 600
hours of free language tuition, bus tours all over the place, picnics,
computer classes, and access to all the social services open to Swedish
citizens. And that's remarkable, when you remember the cost was borne by
a country of only eight million people with all kinds of economic
problems of their own. But even so, we were still in limbo, still
awaiting a decision.'
Meanwhile, the FBI had tried to get at him through his mother. On 26
March 1992, Special Agent Robert Sleigh (pronounced 'sly') of the FBI's
CI-3 counter-intelligence section stopped by her house in Birmingham,
Alabama, for a chat. After Syrian George had been debriefed by the DIA,
Coleman had turned him over to Sleigh so that the FBI could determine
his eligibility for a resident's visa.
Introducing himself politely, Sleigh proceeded to ask Margie Coleman a
series of questions about her son.
Did she know where he was?
'Me?' she said. 'You're the FBI. Don't you know where he is?'
Well, they thought he was in Sweden. Did she know if he planned to come
'I don't know,' she said. 'Is there any reason why he shouldn't?'
Well, that was up to him. Did her son love America?
'A whole lot more than America loves him,' she said. 'After serving his
country the way he has, he deserves better than this from you people.'
Well, would he renounce his American citizenship?
'Does he have a choice?' she asked. 'You better ask him yourself.'
Well, they certainly would like to talk this over with him. Could she
give them his number?
'I don't think he wants to talk to you,' she said. 'Goodbye.'
Having shown Agent Sleigh the door, she went around to a neighbour's
house and telephoned Coleman from there, just in case her line was
After thinking things over, Coleman informed the Swedish police, who
advised him to report the incident in writing to the attorney who was
helping him with his affairs.
"It is quite interesting [he
wrote], that Agent Sleigh should appear at my mother's home within weeks
after you and I were told by Swedish Immigration that the evidence I
have presented in my claim for political asylum may be verified by the
Swedish Foreign Office. ..
"I must conclude that the Swedish government is making inquiries in the
USA about me, and this has alerted the FBI CI-3, whose job is to monitor
foreign governments in the USA.
"I am sure the Swedish Foreign Office is aware that their secure cable
and voice traffic is being monitored by the FBI. The bottom line is that
the FBI now believes that I am in Sweden and is asking some very
political questions about my patriotism."
disturbing call was from Joseph L. Boohaker, the Lebanese-American
attorney who had arranged bail after his arrest on the passport charge.
Somebody had contacted Boohaker to ask about him, and the circumstances
were sinister enough for Boohaker to write this report on the incident
while it was still fresh in his memory:
"On Thursday, 11 June 1992, at approximately 3:00 P.M. (CDT), I received
an anonymous phone call from an individual who identified himself only
as a person calling from Washington, D.C. The individual had a message
for me to convey to my 'friend living in the North country'. The
message, roughly, was as follows:
"'Mr. Boohaker, tell your friend living in the North country that Monzer
al-Kassar was arrested today in Barbados and that among his belongings
was found a picture of your friend. Tell your friend to take extra
"When I asked for the person's identity, he refused to give it. When I
asked him, 'Should my friend from the North country ask where I got the
information, what should I tell him?'
"The anonymous caller said, 'Just tell him that it comes from a reliable
source, and he will figure out who I am.' He continued, 'Also contact
Sly [sic] and Strike 6 in Birmingham, and give him the same message.'
"I asked, 'Who is Sly and Strike 6? Is it FBI?'
"He replied, 'I can't tell you. You will have to find out for yourself.'
"I contacted Mr. Coleman, who gave me the identity of Sly. I contacted
Sly and we met in my office on Friday, 12 June 1992. At that time, I
gave Mr. Bob Sly the same message related hereinabove. I also related to
Mr. Sly that my wife had indicated Thursday evening that the same
anonymous caller had called my home looking for me and that his call was
directed to my office.
"Mr. Sly was very gracious. He explained that the FBI was interested in
my friend only as a fugitive from US justice. He also indicated that he
wished to talk to my friend regarding Pan Am 103.
"I provided Mr. Sly with a copy of the Time magazine article written by
Mr. Rowan that featured an interview with my friend and that also
referenced Mr. al-Kassar. I told Mr. Sly that the article would tie
together the entire matter. Mr. Sly asked for a copy of the article and
I provided him with mine.
"I expressed concern that an anonymous caller would call my home and
asked Sly if he could tell me anything about what was going on. He did
not know. However, he took a description of the caller from me and said
that the telephone company may be able to trace the origin of the call.
I gave him permission to find out. He called later and said that the
phone company could not trace the call to the individual number that had
placed it, but he did say that if I got another such call to notify
When he heard what had happened, Coleman asked Boohaker to do the same
thing, because there was not enough there for him to 'figure out' who
the 'reliable source' really was.
'Boohaker also told me that Sleigh wanted to talk about Flight 103,' he
recalls, 'and did I want to talk to him? No, I said. "Well, he seems
friendly enough," said Boohaker. "And he says he remembers you as being
rather a nice fellow."
"'I'm sure he does," I said. "If he calls again, tell him I'm thinking
It was the first time that anybody, British or American, concerned with
the official investigation had shown any interest in talking to him
about the Flight 103 disaster. After thinking about it for almost a
month, curiosity got the better of him.
"I decided, well, what the hell
... I had one of those USA direct number directories in my wallet, and
one day I placed a call from here to the USA direct number in Austria
and called Sleigh collect. So when the operator got on the line to the
FBI, she offered a call from Mr. Coleman in Austria.
"'Well, hi,' he says. 'How'ya doing? Where are you? What's going on?'
"'You tell me,' I said. I reminded him of the Syrian George episode and
asked him if he'd realized I was working for the DIA at the time.
"'Well, no,' he says, like it was big news. 'No, I didn't know that. But
that's not what I want to talk to you about. I want to talk about the
passport charge and this Flight 103 business.'
"'Left it a bit late, haven't you?' I said. 'I'll call you back in five
"So I hung up and called him again, this time through the Swedish direct
''I can call you from Bangladesh next,' I said. 'In fact, we can play
this game all day if you like.'
"'No, come on,' he says. 'We know where you are. Let's talk about Flight
103. Let's see if we can't figure out some way to clear up this mess.'
"'Sure,' I said. 'I'll talk about it. You get that US attorney up in
Chicago to drop his phony charge against me and I'll talk all you want.
But I guarantee you, he won't do it.'
"'Well, it's not as easy as that,' he says. 'You know how it works. He's
going to be looking for some kind of a deal here.'
"'I already know what kind of a deal he's looking for. He wants a deal
to stop me talking about Flight 103. Otherwise you guys are going to be
tied up in hearings from now until Doomsday.'
"'And what about you?' he says. 'You got a wife and kids. Are you being
fair on them? Unless you cut some kind of a deal, you're going to be on
the run for the rest of your lives. You can't just walk away from this,
you know. They won't let you.'
"'Then you better come and get me,' I said. 'If you know where I am, you
can have me extradited. We'll have a public hearing in a neutral court,
and talk about all the juicy little details, and we'll see what an
impartial judge thinks about it.'
"'Don't kid yourself, Les,' he says. 'This is the United States
government you're talking about, and that you can't beat. Nobody can. If
they want you bad enough, they're going to get you -- we both know that.
So why don't you make your peace? Now. While you still got the chance.'
"'First drop the charge,' I said. 'Then pull the warrant. After that we
"And I guess that must have sounded pretty final because he just sighed
and said, 'Okay. I'll run it up the flagpole. If anything comes back,
we'll contact your attorney in Chicago.'
"And that was it. I never heard from my attorney in Chicago."
Coleman knew in his bones that Sleigh was right. They would never leave
him alone, although the chances that the FBI would resort to direct
methods of the Fawaz Younis type seemed remote. It was one thing to
snatch somebody in international waters, from Mexico or from a Central
American banana republic and quite another to operate on Swedish soil.
Besides being logistically difficult, the diplomatic fallout would be
out of all proportion to the likely gain. But if force was ruled out,
and probably extradition, there was still plenty of pressure that
Washington could exert on the Swedish government to have him deported as
Trying hard to resist the claims of paranoia, and equally to avoid
displeasing his hosts, Coleman signed up for his story to be told in a
There was no other way he could think of to defend himself against the
octopus, against that ruthlessly powerful, self-protective oligarchy of
senior intelligence, military and law-enforcement bureaucrats who were
convinced they knew best, regardless of what the politicians had to say,
and who cynically manipulated the machinery of government to cover their
As it lived away from the light and worked best in secret, Coleman felt
he might be safer out in the open.
Stranded in Sweden, he also needed the money. If he restored his
reputation, there was still an outside chance that he could pick up the
threads of his former career, perhaps as a writer and journalist.
In the late summer of 1992, that prospect was all but extinguished by
the flat-out assault on his character by Byron and Emerson in New York
magazine and the Washington Journalism Review. Coleman was a soft
target, as there was no risk of his responding with a libel suit, but it
had an unexpected side effect. Until then, not a word about his
application for asylum had appeared in Sweden, but now the country's
national afternoon newspaper iDAG picked up the reference to his
whereabouts in Byron's article and traced him through the immigration
He was interviewed in the conference room of his local police station.
The superintendent served coffee and biscuits. And on 19 October 1992,
the paper came out with this front- page banner headline:
"USA AGENT SEEKS ASYLUM IN SWEDEN
Speaks Out on Murder Threat From His Hiding Place"
Outlining how Coleman had been driven into exile, a two-page inside
spread with pictures described him as 'The Man Who Knows the Truth About
the Lockerbie Catastrophe'.
In a curious way, it made him feel less isolated, less like an object of
no one's concern. Besides generating public awareness of his plight --
Sweden had lost two of its citizens in the Flight 103 disaster -- the
iDAG interview also made it seem less likely that he would be targeted
for covert action, authorized or not. To that extent, he felt more
secure, particularly as the story carried the implicit endorsement of
the Swedish police.
It also had the effect of dispelling his inhibitions about possibly
embarrassing the Swedish government by drawing public attention to
himself. Now that everybody knew he was there, the appearance of a book,
with its attendant publicity, would serve only to underline his need for
And that seemed to be getting more acute. As Special Agent Sleigh had
made plain, the octopus was still probing for him. From a contact in
Washington, Coleman had learned that the American Embassy in London was
inquiring through Interpol about his status in Sweden, to see if Swedish
law provided for the possibility of deportation. Now, through another
contact in the Justice Department, Coleman obtained a copy of a
confidential FBI 'Investigative Summary', dated 30 March 1992, setting
out the basis for the passport violation charge and the subsequent issue
of a fugitive warrant.
It was the 'smoking gun' he had always hoped to find.
The charge had been rigged as a plea-bargaining counter for the
government to exchange for his silence. No great care had been taken in
framing it as there had never been any intention of going to trial. That
would have defeated the object. But now Coleman had escaped from
American jurisdiction, it was necessary to patch over some of the holes
so that the charge held at least enough water to persuade the Swedish
authorities that there was a real case for him to answer.
To do that, the Justice Department first had to get around the fact that
Coleman had held a birth certificate in the name of Thomas Leavy since 1
March 1982, when it was given to him by the government itself. The other
big obstacle it had to gloss over was that a copy of that birth
certificate had already been misappropriated by the DEA, apparently to
obtain a passport for one of its people in Egypt.
As no inkling of this could be revealed to Interpol or the Swedes
without the frame-up becoming self-evident, there was only one thing to
do, and that was to dissemble.
"This investigation was instituted
on February 7, 1990 [the FBI summary began], when New London,
Connecticut Resident Agency, New Haven Division, reported that they had
been notified by the New London Bureau of Vital Statistics that a person
identifying himself as Thomas Leavy had requested a copy of his birth
certificate. Leavy's date of birth (DOB) was listed July 4, 1948, his
parents were listed as John and Mary Leavy, and Thomas Leavy's address
was listed as 416 County Line Road, Barrington, Illinois. A computer
check of the Bureau of Vital Statistics records revealed that the real
Thomas Leavy had died in New London, Connecticut, two days after his
"On April 6, 1990, Richard Beckman, Chicago Passport Office ... advised
the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Chicago that he had a possible
passport violation. An application submitted by a Thomas Leavy on March
26, 1990, at the Arlington Heights Post Office, had a number of
indicators that pointed to a violation.
"The first indication was the birth certificate for the dead baby. Other
indicators were recently issued driver's license and Social Security
on the surface, this raised or begged as many questions as it tried to
If Coleman already had a Thomas Leavy birth certificate, issued 1 March
1982 (and still had photocopies), why would he need another one?
And why, if he did, would he apply to the New London Bureau of Vital
Statistics when Connecticut's official authority for issuing birth
certificates is located in the state capital of Hartford?
And why, if he did, would the New London Bureau go ahead and give
Coleman, posing as Thomas Leavy, a copy of Thomas Leavy's birth
certificate if a computer check revealed that he had been dead for 42
And why, if it did, could Ms. Gloria Hatfield, clerk of the Records
Office in New London, later find no record of the alleged death of
Thomas Leavy on 6 July 1948? (When asked about his alleged birth on 4
July she explained that a birth record required the presentation of
documents which the researcher did not have.)
And how did Richard Beckman in the Chicago Passport Office know that the
Thomas Leavy birth certificate was for a dead baby, and thus 'the first
indication' of a 'possible passport violation'?
Thus committed to a piece of pure invention (reflecting no great credit
on its author's imagination), the rest of the FBI's 'Investigative
Summary' was concerned to ice the cake by putting a false construction
on the admitted facts of the application, but even here it stumbled from
one improbability to another.
'The home and work addresses on the application,' for instance, 'came
back to two separate mail drop locations ... Another indicator was that
the contact person listed on the application was a relative. The contact
is Lestre Colman [sic] 416 West County Line Road, Barrington Illinois
... listed as a brother-in-law.
'Investigation at Chicago revealed that the owner of one mail drop and
the office manager of the second identified the photo from the passport
application as Lester Knox Coleman.'
But if Lester Coleman, or anybody but an imbecile, had wished to obtain
a Thomas Leavy passport for his own unauthorized use, is it likely that
he would have rented two mail drops in his real name?
Or, if the passport was for his own unauthorized use, is it even
remotely probable that he would have given his own name and address as a
Nor did the FBI or the prosecutor anywhere suggest a motive for the
application. Why would Coleman want a Thomas Leavy passport for his own
unauthorized use if he already had a perfectly good one in his own name?
The only motive ever proposed was the one he had himself suggested at
the time of his arrest, when he was still concealing his identity as a
DIA agent. He was returning to the Middle East to research a book, he
had told the FBI, and needed a new passport because his real name was
known to Arab drug dealers -- but he had never seriously expected anyone
to swallow that. Anybody proposing to visit an Arab country for such a
purpose would normally be at pains to avoid using a Jewish-sounding name
like Leavy. If Operation Shakespeare had gone ahead, the intention had
been to travel on the Leavy passport only as far as Israel.
With the frame-up exposed in the FBI's own document, Coleman was not
overly concerned that the Swedish authorities would take the charge at
its face value or see it as grounds for deportation. But the octopus had
long tentacles, and putting himself in the shoes of those who were
probably now regretting that, out of deference to another agency, they
had not gone for a Casolaro-type solution, Coleman approached the second
anniversary of his arrival in Sweden with a growing apprehension that
some new and more serious charge against him might be in the works.
If the risk of covert action had diminished, the possibility of perhaps
some sort of treason-related case, properly constructed this time and
backed by impeccably manufactured evidence of a kind the Swedes could
not ignore, began to seem more likely. It was not a comfortable feeling
for a family man, to know in his bones that Washington would prefer him
to be dead.
His country had certainly not forgotten him. To mark the fourth
anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster, Mike Wallace, for CBS in New
York, returned to the attack by interviewing Juval Aviv in the 20
December edition of the network's flagship news programme '60 Minutes'.
CBS News had tried to inveigle Coleman into appearing also but, now wise
in the ways of the octopus, he had prudently declined. Any programme
produced with the help of Vincent Cannistraro, late of the CIA,
Christopher Byron, fresh from setting out the government's stall in New
York magazine, and Steven Emerson was hardly likely to deal objectively
with anything he might have to say.
And he was right. Referring to the judgment against Pan Am in the civil
liability suit a few months earlier, Wallace opened the proceedings by
saying: 'It is not surprising that Pan Am and its lead insurer, US
Aviation Underwriters, would appeal that verdict. What is surprising,
perhaps, is that they would hire a private detective like Juval Aviv to
help them avoid paying huge damage claims.'
Anyone who had not been following the case closely -- that is, all but a
handful of viewers -- might have assumed from this that Pan Am and its
insurers had hired Aviv after the judgment against them in an effort to
avoid the consequences, that '60 Minutes' was about to report a new
development. In fact, there was no connection at all between the verdict
and the hiring of Juval Aviv. The juxtaposition of the two was simply to
create the illusion of a news peg in order to justify a rerun of the
charges already ventilated in New York magazine. Wallace was well into
the programme before he acknowledged that Aviv had resigned from the
case on 31 May 1990 -- two and a half years earlier.
After summarizing the always questionable construction that Aviv had
placed on the intelligence data in his Interfor Report, Wallace invited
Lee Kreindler, lead attorney for the victims' families, to comment on
the 'brutal shock' his clients received when Aviv's findings were leaked
to the media (in 1989!).
One of them, he said -- 'I love her dearly, she'd lost her husband, a
wonderful lady and she said, "Lee," she said, "how do I renounce my
American citizenship? The CIA killed my husband." All this is pure
fabrication. Out of the mind of Juval Aviv.'
Vincent Cannistraro agreed.
As far as he was concerned, it was 'a transparent attempt to get Pan Am
off the hook, which has, as its only purpose, to blame anyone else other
than Pan Am for the crash of Pan Am 103'. There was never any CIA
involvement with an undercover drug operation at Frankfurt airport, he
said. 'No such element ever existed, no such "sting" operation existed
at Frankfurt airport.' Nor was the plane targeted because of the five
CIA agents aboard, returning home to blow the whistle on a rogue CIA
'Completely false,' Cannistraro declared. 'First of all, there weren't
five CIA agents on that plane. There were two CIA agents on that plane.
And they made their travel arrangements at the absolute last minute, and
therefore there was no way that they could have been targeted, or that
flight could have been targeted in advance.' (He did not reveal that the
agents had changed their plans on Cyprus, using the DEA's travel agents,
RA Travel Masters. This had always suggested to Coleman the possibility
that Hurley had told them it was all right to fly Pan Am 103 as it was a
controlled delivery flight.)
Wallace then turned to Aviv's claim that he was a former member of the
Mossad, a claim rejected by an Israeli source who had described him as
'a junior security officer for El Al'.
'You were fired in April, 1984, after less than eighteen months of
work,' said Wallace, 'because you were, quote, "unreliable and
dishonest", close quote. And [the statement] goes on to say that after
that, you had been, quote, "involved during the years in various acts of
fraud and impersonation". So they're lying about you?'
'I'm not saying anything,' replied Aviv. 'I do not discuss. They are
free to say whatever they say. I know what I am, and I will not get into
Wallace conceded that some law firms Aviv had worked for had praise for
him, 'but others had charged him with everything from ripping off
clients for tens of thousands of dollars for spurious investigations, to
originally trying to sell his services to the families of those who were
killed in the plane bombing ...' (Two years earlier, Aviv's colleague
and attorney, Daniel Aharoni, had explained to Barron's that 'our heart
was with the families, but the problem was there were 270 victims, and
families with all levels of sophistication. How do you report to 270
different clients? And Pan Am was very clear that they wanted the truth.
They said, "Let the chips fall where they may".')
Kreindler's recollection was different. According to Wallace, 'he was
appalled that Pan Am and the insurers would hire a man like Juval Aviv,'
and Kreindler confirmed this on camera.
'They embraced this character, Juval Aviv,' he said. 'The slightest
checking on their part would have shown that he was a fraud.' (In the
same Barron's article, James Shaughnessy had stated that 'we asked him
for references from other law firms ... They checked out in glowing
At this point, Wallace set up Aviv for a face-to-face confrontation with
'You've ever talked with him?' he asked Aviv.
'Well, he says -- Cannistraro told us -- your theory is -- is totally
wrong. He says, a tissue of fabrication.'
'Well, that's his opinion. As ex-CIA, he has to do the party line. He's
not going to simply come out and say, Now that I left, I was involved in
maybe cover-up. He will not say that. He can't say that.'
'So you would like to talk to Cannistraro, let's say.'
'I would talk to -- well, Cannistraro, I would like to talk to
'We're going to make that possible for you right now,' Wallace
interrupted. 'Vince? Come on in.'
The results of this ambush, perhaps more appropriate to 'This Is Your
Life' than a serious news programme, were not particularly illuminating.
'Almost everything you said is completely fabricated,' said Cannistraro.
'What you're doing right now -- you don't discuss the issues,' Aviv
replied. 'You're attacking me again.'
'Wait a minute,' said Wallace, intervening as they both started to talk
at once. 'We're talking about Pan Am 103. What you have said, Juval
Aviv, is that the United States government -- that the United States
government knew about that bag that was going aboard this particular
flight, did nothing to stop it.'
'Totally false,' said Cannistraro. 'Your report, which I have read very
carefully, alleges the existence of a CIA element, which you call CIA-1,
at Frankfurt airport. Totally false. Completely false. Today, Mr. Aviv
has only speculation, rumours and theory that has not been supported by
one scintilla of material evidence. I would like to see it before we
continue this discussion.'
Again, they both started to talk, and Wallace cut through to say: 'No,
no, no -- with all respect, Mr. Cannistraro, you're ex-CIA.'
'It has to be suggested that perhaps a former CIA man is not going to
point the finger at his own government, at his own agency.'
'Well, I assure you, CIA is probably not very happy that I'm appearing
on television, saying these kinds of things. But I had personal friends
on that plane who died. And I assure you that I wanted to find the
perpetrators of that disaster as much as anyone wanted to. And I really
resent people like Juval Aviv and all the other shysters that were
involved in constructing this government conspiracy theory blaming
everyone else other than Pan Am for the negligence that resulted in that
'And the fact is,' added Wallace, cutting away, 'that in a letter dated
June 1990, the lead lawyer for Pan Am's insurers, James Shaughnessy,
wrote to Juval Aviv that despite probably hundreds of thousands of
dollars given him, Aviv had failed to come up with, quote, "a single
piece of admissible evidence" for the Pan Am case. It was at that point
that Aviv finally went off the insurers' payroll. (A moment's reflection
on Wallace's part -- or anybody's part -- might have suggested that
Shaughnessy's letter reflected, not 'a transparent attempt to get Pan Am
off the hook', but a transparent conviction that Pan Am's case could be
supported by admissible evidence.)
'Even after that, though,' Wallace went on, 'Pan Am kept pushing its
case in the courts and in the press, kept pushing the idea of
conspiracy, focusing now on the US Drug Enforcement Agency instead of
the CIA, despite vehement denials from the US government.'
He sounded aggrieved, as if defending a lawsuit were somehow perverse.
"Where did Pan Am's DEA evidence
come from? [he asked]. One key source. This man -- Lester Coleman, who
claims to have been a key undercover agent for the US DEA. But according
to the DEA, Coleman was little more than a low-level informant for a
couple of years. He was ultimately fired for, quote, 'lack of integrity
and a propensity for fabrication' -- a description we heard repeated by
many who have known Coleman over the years.
"Currently, he is in Europe avoiding arrest on passport fraud charges in
the United States. And who helped him get out of the US to Europe, from
where he supplied an affidavit in support of Pan Am's charge?
"Pan Am flew him there, free of charge."
It was a typical
Byronesque shot, right down to the sleazy implication that Pan Am had
helped a wanted criminal escape.
At the end of the programme, Wallace would thank Christopher Byron for
his help in sustaining the reputation that CBS had already earned in the
trade as the Cheap Broadcasting System, but first he had a word with Tom
Plaskett, board chairman of Pan Am at the time of the bombing.
'Aviv, who is charged with being an imposter; Coleman, fleeing the
United States on passport fraud charges -- these are two of the lead
investigators for Pan Am?' Wallace suggested.
'I don't think it's proper to characterize them as "lead
investigators",' Plaskett replied. 'In the first place, in intelligence
and in the world in which some of these people operate, you simply don't
have a diploma hanging on the wall which certifies their credibility.'
'Would you hire Aviv again?' asked Wallace.
'I don't think so,' said Plaskett. (And who could blame him, with media
coverage like this?)
At this point, Wallace interpolated a comment from none other than
Steven Emerson, who, he said, had written 'about the various parties
who, he charges, knowingly bought into Aviv and Coleman's fabrication'.
'They knew they were being conned,' said Emerson, 'but they went along
because they had a constellation of the same interests [sic]. The
insurance companies wanted to avoid paying out. Pan Am wanted to avoid
being accused of being negligent. And the media wanted a good story.'
Not unexpectedly, the principal culprits turned out to be ABC, NBC and
Time magazine, who, if Emerson's remarks meant anything, must have been
surprised to hear that they shared a common interest in helping the
insurance companies to avoid paying out and Pan Am to avoid being
accused of negligence.
Cutting back to Plaskett, Wallace quoted from a memo written by Bob
Alford, former head of the claims department of the lead insurers, who
was 'highly critical of the tactics used by his former employers to
avoid paying those big damage claims to the families of Pan Am 103'.
'This man, Alford,' said Wallace, 'senior vice president of your own
insurers, says, quote, "These families should have been compensated two
years ago. The money that has been spent litigating this case is
outrageous." And you acknowledge it's tens of millions.'
'Mike, it has been a very long and difficult process,' Plaskett replied,
'and I certainly have great empathy for the families in waiting so long.
But no one has proven how the bomb got on the airplane. The act of
wilful misconduct, on which the jury based its verdict, we do not
believe will be sustained in a court of appeals.'
With this, Wallace returned to Cannistraro for his 'last word' on the
conduct of Pan Am and the insurance companies.
It was 'reprehensible'. And 'despicable'.
'By the way,' added Wallace, in conclusion, 'we, like many in the media,
were briefly taken in by Juval Aviv a few years back. We paid him no
money but we did provide him with a letter indicating he was checking
into certain stories for "60 Minutes". A mistake.'
This was a necessary admission, for Aviv had kept a copy of the letter.
It had been written, not 'a few years back' but on 11 April 1991 -- long
after Aviv's 'fabrication' had been leaked to the media and
'discredited'; long after Pan Am's 'reprehensible' conduct had been
denounced in the media; long after ABC and NBC had knowingly allowed
themselves to be 'conned' by Lester Coleman, and months after Emerson
had 'unmasked' Coleman on CNN television as a 'low-level DEA informant'.
With all this information at his disposal, Wallace had written:
"Dear Juval Aviv,
"This letter will confirm that you will be working with myself and
[producer] Barry Lando as a consultant on numerous assignments for '60
CBS News/60 Minutes"
' .... surprising, perhaps, that they would hire a private detective
like Juval Aviv to help them ...?'
' ... when the slightest checking on their part would have shown that he
was a fraud?'
It would be interesting to know what additional information had come
Wallace's way between April 1991 and December 1992 to cause him to
change his mind so completely about the competence and credibility of
Aviv as an investigator. He certainly did not confide it to his viewers
or, indeed, tell them anything new. In fact, with the families having
already won their case against Pan Am, it was hard to see any point to
the programme at all except that, like Byron's New York magazine
article, it served the government's purpose in helping to create a
climate of opinion hostile to any further questioning of the official
line on Flight 103.
So who was 'conned'?
ABC, NBC and Time by Pan Am, Aviv and Coleman?
Or Mike Wallace by the government, Cannistraro and Byron/Emerson?
In the days when CBS News enjoyed a reputation for independence and
responsible reporting, '60 Minutes' might well have been more interested
in examining the substance of Pan Am's appeal than questioning its right
to appeal. For Coleman, watching the programme in Sweden and remembering
the days of Ed Murrow and Walter Kronkite, it was a dispiriting
experience, all too consistent with the standards of television
journalism that had driven him into the coils of the octopus eight years
It was a bad time in any case.
On 6 January 1993, his father died. So far away, Coleman found that hard
to grasp. He would have liked to have been there when his father's ashes
were scattered on the lake. He would have liked to have felt, and to be,
closer to his mother, and his children by his former marriage. His son
was growing up and he had missed his daughter's marriage. There was
something dream-like still in not really belonging anywhere, in waiting
endlessly in exile for something to happen.
In February 1993, he heard on the grapevine that the Department of
Justice had empanelled a Federal grand jury in the Eastern District of
Virginia and was trawling through his record, calling witnesses who had
known him in his six-year spell with the DIA.
Clearly, there was to be no forgiveness for anyone who had tried to
bring out the truth about Flight 103 and the tragedy at Lockerbie. Among
the grand jury's other targets were Juval Aviv and James M. Shaughnessy.
Then in March, just two months short of the second anniversary of the
family's arrival in Sweden, Coleman heard that his application for
permanent residence had been denied.
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