Five months later,
he still did not know, and probably wouldn't have cared if he had.
After being photographed and fingerprinted in the Federal courthouse in
Mobile, Coleman was handed over to the US Marshals and put in a holding
cell pending his arraignment before a US Magistrate that afternoon.
Apart from a telephone conversation with Joseph L. Boohaker, the
Lebanese-American attorney he had befriended in Birmingham, Alabama,
while setting up his latest mission to Beirut, he had not been allowed
to make any calls. And although he couldn't mention it to anybody, as a
matter of extreme urgency, he needed to confer with Control at Arlington
Later that morning, he was visited in his cell by a pre-trial services
officer for a routine interview to determine his history and
circumstances. As the officer explained, his job was to verify Coleman's
personal details and prepare a report that would help the court to
decide on such matters as eligibility for bail.
Coleman brightened a little. If he were bailed out quickly and could
recover his passport, he might yet be able to save the mission. Though
under standing orders never to reveal his DIA affiliation to anyone, he
could certainly tell enough of the truth about himself to satisfy the
court as to his reliability and standing in the community.
It certainly proved enough to satisfy the pre-trial services officer,
whose report forms part of the court record in US vs. Lester Knox
The subject is a white male who
stands 5' 8" tall and weighs 175 pounds [he wrote]. He has blue eyes and
brown hair, mixed with gray. He is presently wearing a beard and
mustache, both of which are also graying.
Although Mr. Coleman's employment history sounds quite improbable [the
report went on], information he gave to the Pretrial Services Officer
has proven to be true. Coleman is a freelance journalist, specializing
in the Middle East, who has also worked as an undercover investigator
for the Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States. NBC News
Foreign Correspondent Brian Ross contacted this office on May 3, 1990,
to verify Coleman's relationship with NBC News. He also indicated that
Coleman has worked for other news agencies as well. Ross indicated
Coleman has contributed stories regarding Middle East terrorism and drug
trafficking to NBC News numerous times throughout the 1980s. They have
interviewed him on air, on NBC Nightly News, as an expert in terrorism
and drug production in the Middle East. Ross also verified that Coleman
has testified before Senate committees on these same subjects.
Ray Tripiccio, an agent with DEA in Washington, D.C., verifies that
Coleman has formerly worked in a relationship with the Drug Enforcement
Administration. The only information he could give on this secret
activity is that Coleman was deactivated as a contract consultant as of
Coleman indicates that he is currently working on a book, and that he
was attempting to make arrangements to return to the Middle East in
order to do more research. (It is noted that Coleman has gone to
Jefferson County Probate Court in Birmingham to have his name legally
changed to Thomas Leavy. Joseph Boohaker, the subject's attorney,
verifies that this was accomplished sometime in April. The present
charge from Chicago apparently predates the legal name change.) Coleman
states that he needed a passport in a different name because his name is
known to drug traffickers in the Middle East.
The name change
had allowed Coleman to take out some life insurance as Thomas Leavy in
case anything happened to him while he was traveling under that name. He
had no wish to leave Mary-Claude and the children destitute while she
tried to claim on his existing life insurance in the name of Coleman.
'I have no indication that Mr. Coleman owns any property that would be
available for posting bond,' the report concluded, 'and it appears that
he is presently somewhat low on funds.'
That was putting it mildly. Since being reactivated six months earlier
for Operation Shakespeare, his monthly salary of $5000 had been paid
into Barclays Bank, Gibraltar -- scheduled as his first stop on the way
By the end of the interview, if it had been up to the pre-trial services
officer, Coleman would probably have been released on the spot, but the
Justice Department had other ideas. After his arraignment before US
Magistrate William H. Steele, Coleman was consigned to the squalor of
the city jail along with the pimps, pushers, muggers, drunks and
assorted criminal riff-raff swept off the streets every night by the
For the next three days, he shared a cell with three drug traffickers
awaiting trial on Federal charges, watching every word in case he
fatally let slip his former connection with the DEA.
As Special Agent Lesley Behrens explained when she called to see him
with her clipboard and a new form to fill out, he was there because the
county jail and the cells in the Federal building were all full. With
that, she produced three sticks of fake dynamite, wired to an
old-fashioned alarm clock, which the agents had found under the seat of
his Mazda van.
'Would you mind telling me what this is?' she asked.
Coleman laughed. 'That's my Beirut alarm clock,' he said. 'Scared the
shit out of you, right?'
'Where did you get it?'
'A buddy of mine gave it to me in Lebanon.' His smile faded. 'It's a
joke, okay? A practical joke?'
'You mean you brought it back on an airplane?'
'Oh, God,' he said.
That was Tuesday.
On Friday, they put him in leg-irons and handcuffs and delivered him
back to the Federal courthouse for a bail hearing before Magistrate
Steele, who had the pre-trial services officer's report in front of him.
After conferring briefly with Boohaker, who had driven five-and-a-half
hours from Birmingham to be present, Coleman went on the witness stand
and testified that he had indeed worked for the Drug Enforcement
'And what did you do for them?' Boohaker asked.
'I was a contract consultant involved in narcotics intelligence
gathering and analysis in the Middle East,' he replied.
The young Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) representing the government
winced, and looked around at the FBI agents at the back of the
'And what were you doing at the time of your arrest?' Boohaker went on.
'I was preparing to go back to the Middle East,' said Coleman.
'For the US government?'
He hesitated. If he couldn't break the rules, he felt entitled to bend
them a little.
'I'm not at liberty to answer that,' he said.
When Boohaker had finished, the AUSA was plainly in a quandary, but he
still opposed bail, on the grounds that Coleman, with his overseas
experience and connections, was an obvious flight risk.
In reply, Boohaker argued that, besides being a citizen of repute with
no criminal record, Coleman was a resident of Alabama, held an Alabama
driver's license, and that his family lived there. In those
circumstances, and as the charge could be tried as readily in Alabama as
in Illinois, Boohaker could see no reasonable grounds why his client
should be sent back to Chicago or why bail should be refused.
Magistrate Steele could hardly disagree. But he set bail at $25,000,
plus a $75,000 surety, and ordered that Coleman's passport be withheld.
It was a relief to get the leg-irons off -- but a $100,000 bond for a
passport violation? They were definitely out to get him. But why?
Mary-Claude and the children were waiting outside the courthouse.
Through Boohaker, Coleman had arranged for a Lebanese-American friend to
collect his family from the beach-house and drive them to Mobile, where
they stayed in a hotel the first night and then, when his bail hearing
was postponed until Friday, at their friend's house for the second
The separation had been an ordeal for them both. Knowing how terrified
Mary-Claude had been by his arrest -- inevitably a prelude to something
far worse in her own country -- and how vulnerable she must have felt
with three babies to look after, Coleman had worried so much about her
that he had scarcely had time to consider his own position.
The same was true for Mary-Claude. After three days of sleepless anxiety
about him, she had almost reconciled herself to the idea of never seeing
him again -- although she had remembered to bring along a change of
clothes. Untangling themselves from each other, they went off to an
oyster bar for his first decent meal since the previous Monday night.
He then tried his DIA contact number, and was not much surprised to get
a disconnected signal. At heart, he had known all along that as soon as
the agency found out what had happened -- assuming it had not had a hand
in setting him up in the first place -- he would cease to exist as far
as the DIA was concerned.
He had no hard feelings about that. It had been understood from the day
he signed on that if he were ever discovered, or if his activities as a
spy ever threatened to embarrass the DIA, then Arlington Hall would
disown him. Those were standard conditions of employment for any
intelligence agent anywhere. It was just hard to accept that the rules
applied at home as well as overseas, and to deliberate sabotage by an
agency of his own government.
Not sure what to do next, he drove the family up to Birmingham to stay
with his mother. And in a final request for guidance, particularly as he
still had the DIA's video camera and other equipment that he was
supposed to have taken with him to Beirut, he encoded a written message
to Control and sent it off to his DIA Post Office mail drop in Oxenhill,
Two months later, a letter was delivered to his mother's house,
postmarked San Antonio, Texas, 16 July, and franked United States Air
Force, Official Business. The address was in his own handwriting.
Written as the return address on the envelope of his original coded
message to Control, it had been cut out and pasted on the envelope.
Inside was a slip of paper with two sets of handwritten numbers:
332-22476 and 121-31323. Nothing else. And nothing else was necessary.
Decoded, the message read: DEA-Cairo.
Coleman's suspicions had been confirmed. On being seconded to the DEA in
Cyprus, he had been told to give Micheal Hurley copies of his
alternative identity papers, including a copy of his CIA/Thomas Leavy
birth certificate. If the DIA message meant anything, it meant that the
DEA had used those papers, without consultation or authorization, as a
cover identity for one of its people in Egypt. If a passport had already
been issued in the name of Thomas Leavy, then his own application for a
passport in the same name, with the same particulars, would presumably
have triggered an investigation leading to his arrest.
The only remaining question was whether this had been done deliberately
or was just the consequence of another ill-considered act by Hurley's
cowboy operation in Nicosia.
Not that it made much difference. Either way, he was on his own. And
after two months of brooding about it, making due allowance for the
paranoia inseparable from intelligence work, he seriously doubted if
there was anything unplanned in what had happened. Every time he visited
his new pre-trial services officer in Birmingham and saw the puzzlement
in his face; every time Boohaker expressed astonishment at the bail
conditions and the government's conduct of the case; every time he woke
up at night with the sure conviction that Hurley had him in his sights,
the more he raked back over the past for some inkling of why they were
out to get him.
He had begun to understand what Kafka was all about.
Schooled from childhood in the exotic intrigues of Beirut, Mary-Claude
'We were so sure there was more trouble coming,' she recalls, 'that we
took turns sleeping, me and him and my mother-in-law. When we went to
the market, we were sure someone was following us. At night, one of us
would keep watch for any cars going around the house. Something was
going to happen -- to hurt us, to take my husband away, to ruin our
lives. Every night, we would not sleep until four or five in the
morning, and smoke two or three packs of cigarettes.
Rather than sit home, waiting for trouble to arrive, Coleman decided to
meet it half way. He called his old friend in New York, Bernie Gavzer,
formerly of NBC News and now a contributing editor of Parade magazine.
'Hey, Les? Howaya? Howya doin'? You're supposed to be in Beirut. Why
aren't you in Beirut?'
'I got arrested, Bernie, that's why.'
'Yeah? Well, it's about time. What they get you for? White slaving?'
'No. The FBI busted me. For making a false statement on a passport
There was a brief silence at the other end.
'No kidding,' said Gavzer. Coleman had never told him about his DIA
connection but Gavzer was aware of his undercover work for the Drug
Enforcement Administration. 'Anything I can do?'
'I don't know. Maybe. I need a lawyer.'
'Hell, that's easy. I know a shitload of lawyers.'
'Yeah, but how about one with Washington connections? Plugged into the
Pentagon, maybe? Because that's what I need. Somebody who can get an
inside track on all this.'
'Okay, Sure. I'll ask around. See what I can do.'
What Gavzer did was to line up a call from Marshall Lee Miller, former
counsel to the Defense Intelligence Agency, or so Miller told Coleman
during a high-powered telephone conversation in which he offered to get
William Colby, former director of the CIA, to testify for him if
'Only it won't come to that,' he said. 'Don't worry about it. We'll get
to the bottom of this and clear the whole thing up so we don't have to
go to trial. So it never even sees the light of day.'
'Well, that'd be great. But how do you know you can do that?'
'Because I'm connected in the right places, Les -- that's how I know. I
got all kinds of contacts here. So just sit tight. I'll get back to
Coleman had a good night's sleep for the first time in weeks. This was
obviously the DIA's way of baling him out without having to show its
hand. In the best Hollywood tradition, the US Cavalry had ridden to the
rescue in the nick of time.
True to his word, Miller had William Colby talk to Coleman on the
telephone to explain the strings he could pull. If it turned out that
things had gone too far for them simply to wipe the slate clean, then
they would have the case moved to Washington. 'They don't know how to
deal with these things in Chicago,' he said.
Cheered by their confidence, Coleman decided to test his theory that it
was Hurley and the DEA who had wrecked his career. He presented himself
at the DEA's field office in Birmingham and asked to see the agent from
whom he had picked up his airline tickets and expense money before
flying out to Cyprus to join Hurley's operation two years earlier.
The agent recognized him at once and seemed astonished to hear what had
'Oh, this is crazy,' he said. 'Somebody's fucked up as usual. I'll send
a wire to Washington. Find out what the hell's going on.'
'Yeah, okay,' said Coleman. 'Only I think it's something to do with DEA
Cyprus, and the guys out there probably don't even know what's happened
-- about the FBI and the passport charge and everything. So if you tell
Mike Hurley about it, maybe he can help straighten this thing out.'
'Sure. I'll put it on the wire tonight. Just leave it with me, okay?
I'll call you as soon as I hear something.'
What the agent heard in response to his telex surprised him rather more
than it surprised Coleman.
'Hey, Les, I don't know what's going on here,' he said, when Coleman
called next day. 'I got this message back that you're a real bad egg and
we're not supposed to have anything to do with you.' He laughed
uncomfortably. 'I don't know what you did, Les, but they say to tell
you, don't try to get the DEA involved in your case.'
'Listen, I'm trying to get the DEA off my case, all right? But thanks
Now he knew who, if not why. And it was some comfort to know that
Arlington Hall had played no part in setting him up. Except in the first
shock of his arrest, he had never seriously believed that anyway. With
the profound contempt of the military for a civilian agency, the DIA
would never have connived with the DEA to destroy one of its own agents.
This had to be a combined DEA/FBI set-up, based on the DEA's
unauthorized use of his alternative identity papers.
But Coleman was still no closer to understanding why Hurley had chosen
to move against him now, more than a year after the row between them.
Marshall Lee Miller seemed unable to account for it either, although he
continued to convey the impression that he knew more about the case than
he cared to admit. Coleman was astounded, for instance, when the court
in Chicago denied their motion for the case to be moved to Washington,
but Miller, in spite of what he had said in the beginning, passed on the
news as though he had known all along what the outcome would be.
The Colemans' cigarette consumption began to go up again. The same eerie
feeling was coming back that they were caught in an unseen web, that
their future was being decided for them, somewhere else, without their
knowledge. Valiantly trying to retain some sense of control over his own
life, Coleman started to call all his old friends in the media,
particularly those with Washington connections, in the hope that he
might just stumble on something that would help make sense of the
nightmare, that would offer some clue as to what was happening, and why,
Among those he called was Charlie Thompson, a friend at CBS who put him
on to Sheila Hershow of ABC's 'Prime Time'. Coleman already knew her as
they had worked together on the 'Jack Anderson Show' in 1983.
In April 1989, Hershow had been chief investigator for the House of
Representatives Sub-Committee on Government Activities and
Transportation. Some two weeks before the sub-committee was due to start
hearings into the Flight 103 disaster, Ms. Hershow had been
unceremoniously fired, it was said because of a personality conflict
with sub-committee chairman Cardis Collins, but some believed because of
her tenacity in pressing, not only Pan Am, but the federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) and the airport authorities at Frankfurt and
Heathrow with awkward questions about security.
She refused to be drawn on the subject when Coleman spoke to her, but,
more than a year later, she had certainly not lost her interest in the
Lockerbie disaster. There was some connection she had not been able to
track down, she said, between the bombing and the DEA in Cyprus.
'You were out there around that time, weren't you?' she asked. 'I
remember Brian Ross, over at NBC, saying he met you in Nicosia.'
'Well, yes, that's right. They were doing a story on the Lebanese
connection -- about heroin from the Bekaa Valley, you know? And as I was
out there doing some academic research on narcotics trafficking and
Lebanese politics, we got together and compared a few notes. But that
was a while before the bombing.'
'Uh-huh. He said you did some work for the DEA as well.'
'Well, yes,' he said cautiously. 'Intelligence analysis -- that kind of
thing. Desk work. Nothing operational.'
'No, but intelligence analysis -- that must have given you a pretty good
insight into what they were doing out there, right?'
'Well, yeah. Pretty good.' It went against the professional grain to
admit even that, but he owed the DEA nothing. And besides, he was
curious. 'It's a small office. I was in and out all the time. Not a lot
went on there I didn't know about.'
'Okay,' she said. 'I'm going to send you a picture. And I want you to
tell me if you know who it is. If you ever saw him before. Will you do
that for me?'
'Sure. Why not? Is it somebody I knew out there?'
'I don't know. You tell me.'
The picture was faxed to him two days later. It was of a young man, an
Arab, about 20 years old, and, after penciling in a moustache, Coleman
recognized him at once.
'That's Khalid Nazir Jafaar,' he told Hershow. 'Nice kid. We used to
call him Nazzie.'
'Well, well,' she said. 'That's interesting. You mind telling me how you
'Nazzie was one of the boys, one of Hurley's people. The DEA had a front
operation in Nicosia, down the street from the embassy. The Eurame
Trading Company. That's where I worked. And that's where I met Nazzie.
Saw him there several times.'
'Well, well,' she said again. There was a funny note in her voice. 'The
Jafaars -- they're into heroin, right?'
'Biggest in the Bekaa. Or they were until the Syrians moved in. The
Jafaars were Lucky Luciano's heroin connection. They go back a long way
in the dope business.'
'This kid, Nazzie -- are you saying he worked for the DEA?'
'Oh, sure. And probably for the CIA as well. Seemed like the whole damn
family were CIA assets.'
'But why? I mean, why would they want to work for the US government?'
'Why? Hell, the Jafaars'll work for anybody against the Syrians -- they
hate 'em so bad. They'd do anything to get Assad off their backs.'
'Okay. So what did he do?'
'Nazzie? Well, he was under age to be an informant, so he was probably
on the DEA books as a subsource. I know for a fact he ran two or three
controlled deliveries of heroin into Detroit.'
'You mean he was a DEA courier?'
'Among other things. But how come you're interested in Nazzie?'
'You don't know?'
'No, I kind of lost touch with those people when I got back here, you
know how it is. I've no idea what he's doing now.'
'He's dead,' she said.
'Yeah? Oh. Well, I'm sorry to hear that. Like I say, he was a nice kid.
But I'm not surprised. It's a tough business.'
'Yeah. He was on Flight 103 when it went down.'
Coleman chewed that over.
'No shit,' he said.
That probably explained everything.
And when she went on to say that at least two intelligence agents had
also died with Nazzie Jafaar, having switched to Flight 103 through RA
Travel Masters of Nicosia, the DEA's travel agents on Cyprus, he knew
without a doubt that his life was in danger.
The octopus already had its coils around him.
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