Malta was a “primary launching point” for Libyan intelligence and terrorist teams transiting Europe, according to a recent compilation of declassified CIA cables dating between 1988 and 1991.
But campaigners for justice in the Lockerbie bombing case have slammed such claims, describing the CIA’s main informant as a “money-grubbing fantasist” who led the CIA by the nose.
The informant quoted extensively in the 255-page document (taken predominantly from declassified CIA cables released in 2008 and compiled by an international organisation) is Abdul Majid Giaka, whose testimony, as an informant, was pivotal in convicting Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, despite the court having cast doubts on Mr Giaka’s credibility and reliability as a witness.
According to Lockerbie campaigner Robert Forrester, the recently compiled cables are so heavily redacted that any effort to corroborate the veracity of intelligence is impossible.
“Giaka was showered with US tax dollars in return for nothing of substance,” he told The Times.
Mr Forrester – who forms part of a group of Lockerbie victim family members who believe Mr al Megrahi was wrongly convicted – also criticised the CIA for showing no indication of having tried to independently corroborate any of the “so-called intelligence”.
“It really does look like [the CIA] swallowed it all, hook, line and sinker, until it finally dawned on them that he was worthless,” he said.
“These additional papers detailing the CIA’s relationship with Mr Giaka, add little to what is already known and to the doubts which have always hung over this case... Malta has absolutely no reason to think that these documents taint the island’s good name any more than it has been.”
However, he added that it is up to the Maltese government to take “concrete steps” to lift the cloud of Lockerbie which hangs over the island.
“The evidence is there which proves that there is no evidence to support this conviction.”
The connection with Malta and subsequently with Mr Al-Megrahi was made when police recovered from the wreckage items of baby clothing bearing the label ‘Yorkie’ made by a Maltese company. The clothing, traced to a Sliema shop, was found in the suitcase believed to have been carrying the bomb. Though the courts decided that the bomb left from Malta, another theory was that it had been placed on board a London-bound plane at Frankfurt airport before reaching the Pam Am jet that was bound for New York. Some still believe Iran, and not Libya, was behind the bombing.
Mr Giaka, the informant who is also referred to as “P/1” in the intelligence reports, was a Libyan working for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta who decided to cooperate with the CIA in 1988 because he wanted to be relocated and given money to start a new life with his Maltese wife.
In return for months of information gathering and supplying intelligence, he got the CIA to help him get mock-surgery to exempt him from military service back in Libya.
One of the intelligence reports claims that Maltese immigration and airport officials helped Libyan intelligence agents “monitor suspected Libyan oppositionists” in exchange for regular gifts. (Names are not being published for legal reasons.) They were “especially helpful” in helping officials and contacts of Libya’s External Security Organisation (ESO) travel from Malta to Libya without a trace, it was claimed.
Meanwhile, a Libyan living in Malta was used as a conduit to “Maltese Labour Union (a likely reference to the Labour Party) leaders and influential members of the Maltese Nationalist Party”.
The CIA first described Mr Giaka as “intelligent, serious and fairly well composed” as well as committed and capable of passing terrorist-type intelligence on a timely basis.
But the CIA later began to question Mr Giaka’s commitment, saying his financial situation became a major motivating factor in meeting. “[His] procrastination beyond reasonable limits is testing patience,” one report comments.
In his meetings with the CIA, Mr Giaka spoke about the visits to Malta of Mr Al Megrahi and other suspicious Libyan agents. He also speaks about orange-coloured explosives which arrived in Malta while Mr Al Megrahi was here, which were kept stored in a drawer at a Valletta apartment.
In 1991, he was described as “shattered”. He is quoted as having bluntly noted that the Maltese would do anything for money and those at the top of the current government would gladly turn him over if it meant making some cash.
Ultimately, Mr Giaka is described as “a defector from a sensitive position who has served faithfully since his walk-in in 1988” and the CIA concurred that staying in Malta would be very dangerous.
The cables also quote an anonymous Libyan businessman who says the Libyan intelligence presence in Malta would increase significantly in 1989, including personnel within both the ESO and the Libyan military intelligence service. The ESO had recruited a Maltese national employed as a vendor at Luqa airport to assist in acquiring information on persons of interest to the Libyan service, according to the cable.
“This individual prepares biographic and assessment information on personnel of interest to the ESO and forwards his reports to ESO headquarters in Tripoli via a Libyan Arab Airlines courier.”