Pan Am 103 Why Did They Die?

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"FOR THREE YEARS, I've had a feeling that if Chuck hadn't been on that plane, it wouldn't have been bombed," says Beulah McKee, 75. Her bitterness has still not subsided. But seated in the parlor of her house in Trafford, Pennsylvania, the house where her son was born 43 years ago, she struggles to speak serenely. "I know that's not what our President wants me to say," she admits.

George Bush's letter of condolence, written almost four months after the shattered remains of Pan Am Flight 103 fell on Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, expressed the usual "my heart goes out to you" sorrow. "No action by this government can restore the loss you have suffered," he concluded. But deep inside, Mrs. McKee suspects it was a government action gone horribly awry that indirectly led to her only son's death. "I've never been satisfied at ( all by what the people in Washington told me," she says.

Today, as the U.S. spearheads the U.N.-sanctioned embargo against Libya for not handing over two suspects in the bombing, Mrs. McKee wonders if Chuck's background contains the secret of why this plane was targeted. If her suspicions are correct, Washington may not be telling the entire story. Major Charles Dennis McKee, called "Tiny" by his Army intelligence friends, was a burly giant and a superstar in just about every kind of commando training offered to American military personnel. He completed the rugged Airborne and Ranger schools, graduated first in his class from the Special Forces qualification course, and served with the Green Berets. In Beirut he was identified merely as a military attache assigned to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). But his hulking physique didn't fit such a low- profile diplomatic post. Friends there remember him as a "walking arsenal" of guns and knives. His real assignment reportedly was to work with the CIA in reconnoitering the American hostages in Lebanon and then, if feasible, to lead a daring raid that would rescue them.

McKee's thick, 37-page Army dossier contains so many blacked-out words that it's hard to glean the danger he faced. Surviving the censor's ink was his title, "Team Chief." Under "Evaluation," it was written that he "performs constantly in the highest-stress environment with clear operational judgment and demeanor . . . Especially strong in accomplishing the mission with minimal guidance and supervision . . . Continues to perform one of the most hazardous and demanding jobs in the Army."

For Beulah McKee the mystery deepened six months after Chuck's death, when she received a letter from another U.S. agent in Beirut. It was signed "John Carpenter," a name the Pentagon says it can't further identify. Although the letter claimed that Chuck's presence on the Pan Am plane was unrelated to the bombing, Carpenter's message only stirred her suspicions. "I cannot comment on Chuck's work," he wrote, "because his work lives on. God willing, in time his labors will bear fruit and you will learn the true story of his heroism and courage."

Chuck had given no clues about his work. Back home in November for Thanksgiving three weeks before he perished, he wouldn't even see his friends. "I don't want to mingle, so I don't have to answer any questions," he told his mother. "Anyway, he didn't have time," she recalls. "He stayed up till 3 every morning studying reports. And when he flew back to Beirut, all he said was, 'Don't worry, Mom. Soon I'll be out from under all this pressure.' "

Almost immediately after the Pan Am bombing, which killed the 259 people aboard the plane and 11 more on the ground, the prime suspect was Ahmed Jibril, the roly-poly boss of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (P.F.L.P.-G.C.). Two months earlier, West German police had arrested 16 members of his terrorist organization. Seized during the raids was a plastic bomb concealed in a Toshiba cassette player, similar to the one that blew up Flight 103. There was other evidence pointing to Jibril. His patron was Syria. His banker for the attack on the Pan Am plane appeared to be Iran. U.S. intelligence agents even traced a wire transfer of several million dollars to a bank account in Vienna belonging to the P.F.L.P.-G.C. Iran's motive seemed obvious enough. The previous July, the U.S.S. Vincennes had mistakenly shot down an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf, killing all 298 aboard.

Suddenly, last November, the U.S. Justice Department blamed the bombing on two Libyans, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. The scenario prompted President Bush to remark, "The Syrians took a bum rap on this." It also triggered an outcry from the victims' families, who claimed that pointing the finger at Libya was a political ploy designed to reward Syria for siding with the U.S. in the gulf war and to help win the release of the hostages. Even Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA's investigation of the bombing, told the New York Times it was "outrageous" to pin the whole thing on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

A four-month investigation by Time has disclosed evidence that raises new questions about the case. Among the discoveries:

-- According to an FBI field report from Germany, the suitcase originating in Malta that supposedly contained the bomb may not have been transferred to Pan Am Flight 103 in Frankfurt, as charged in the indictment of the two Libyans. Instead, the bomb-laden bag may have been substituted in Frankfurt for an innocent piece of luggage.

-- The rogue bag may have been placed on board the plane by Jibril's group with the help of Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian drug dealer who was cooperating with the U.S.'s Drug Enforcement Administration in a drug sting operation. Al- Kassar thus may have been playing both sides of the fence.

< -- Jibril and his group may have targeted that flight because on board was an intelligence team led by Charles McKee, whose job was to find and rescue the hostages.

Investigators initially focused their efforts on examining the procedures in the baggage-loading area at Frankfurt's international airport. But risking the transfer of an unaccompanied, bomb-laden suitcase to a connecting flight did not jibe with the precautions terrorists usually take. Security officers using video cameras routinely keep watch over the area. An intricate network of computerized conveyors, the most sophisticated baggage-transfer system in the world, shunts some 60,000 suitcases a day between loading bays. Every piece of luggage is logged minute by minute from one position to the next, so its journey through the airport is carefully monitored. The bags are then X-rayed by the airline before being put aboard a plane.

But the U.S. government's charges against al-Megrahi and Fhimah don't explain how the bronze-colored Samsonite suitcase, dispatched via Air Malta, eluded Frankfurt's elaborate airport security system. Instead, the indictment zeroes in on two tiny pieces of forensic evidence -- a fingernail-size fragment of green plastic from a Swiss digital timer, and a charred piece of shirt.

Even though investigators previously thought the bomb was probably detonated by a barometric trigger (considered much more reliable, especially in winter, when flights are frequently delayed and connections missed), a Swiss timer was traced to Libya. The shirt, which presumably had been wrapped around the bomb inside the suitcase, was traced to a boutique in Malta called Mary's House. The owner identified al-Megrahi as the shirt's purchaser, although he originally confused al-Megrahi with a Palestinian terrorist arrested in Sweden.

It was the computer printout produced by FAG, the German company that operates the sophisticated luggage-transfer system, that finally nailed down the indictment of the two Libyans. The printout, discovered months after the bombing, purportedly proved that their suitcase sent from Malta was logged in at Coding Station 206 shortly after 1 p.m. and then routed to Gate 44 in Terminal B, where it was put aboard the Pan Am jet. But a "priority" teletype sent from the U.S. embassy in Bonn to the FBI director in Washington on Oct. 23, 1989, reveals that despite the detailed computer records, considerable uncertainty surrounded the movement of this suitcase.

TIME has obtained a copy of the five-page FBI message, which states, "This computer entry does not indicate the origin of the bag which was sent for loading on board Pan Am 103. Nor does it indicate that the bag was actually loaded on Pan Am 103. It indicates only that a bag of unknown origin was sent from Coding Station 206 at 1:07 p.m. to a position from which it was supposed to be loaded on Pan Am 103."

The FBI message further explains that a handwritten record kept by a baggage handler at Coding Station 206 was even less specific about what happened to the suitcase. "It is noted," the teletype continues, "that the handwritten duty sheet indicates only that the luggage was unloaded from Air Malta 180. There is no indication how much baggage was unloaded or where the luggage was sent." The FBI agent's report concludes, "There remains the possibility that no luggage was transferred from Air Malta 180 to Pan Am 103."

Also described in the teletype is an incident that "may provide insight into the possibilities of a rogue bag being inserted into the baggage system." On a guided tour of the baggage area in September 1989, it was disclosed, detective inspector Watson McAteer of the Scottish police and FBI special agent Lawrence G. Whitaker "observed an individual approach Coding Station 206 with a single piece of luggage, place the luggage in a luggage container, encode a destination into the computer and leave without making any notation on a duty sheet." This convinced the two investigators that a rogue suitcase could have been "sent to Pan Am 103 either before or after the unloading of Air Malta 180."

Lee Kreindler, the lead attorney for the victims' families, who are suing Pan Am for $7 billion, says he can prove that the suitcase from Malta was put aboard Flight 103. He charges that a gross security failure by Pan Am, which went bankrupt in January 1991 and later folded, contributed to the disaster.

But it was the rogue-bag theory that was pursued by Pan Am's law firm, Windels, Marx, Davies & Ives, representing the airline's insurers. To piece together their version of how the bomb was planted, Pan Am's lawyers hired Interfor, Inc., a New York City firm specializing in international intelligence and security. If it hadn't been for the government's implausible plottings revealed during the Iran-contra hearings, Interfor's findings might be dismissed as a private eye's imagination run amuck -- especially considering the controversial background of the company's president, Juval Aviv.

Now 45 and an American citizen, Aviv claims to have headed the Mossad hit squad that hunted down and killed the Arab terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Israeli and U.S. intelligence sources deny that Aviv was ever associated with Mossad. However, working for Pan Am, he spent more than six months tracking the terrorists who the airline now alleges are responsible for the bombing. While his report has been written off as fiction by many intelligence officials, a number of its findings appear well documented.

The central figure emerging from the Interfor investigation is a 44-year-old Syrian arms and drug trafficker, Monzer al-Kassar. His brother-in-law is Syria's intelligence chief, Ali Issa Duba, and his wife Raghda is related to Syrian President Hafez Assad.

Al-Kassar has many passports and identities. Most important, he was part of the covert network run by U.S. Lieut. Colonel Oliver North. During the Iran- contra hearings, it was revealed that al-Kassar was given $1.5 million to purchase weapons. Questioned about al-Kassar, former U.S. National Security Adviser John Poindexter said, "When you're buying arms, you often have to deal with people you might not want to go to dinner with."

It was through al-Kassar's efforts, or so he claimed, that two French hostages were released from Lebanon in 1986 in exchange for an arms shipment to Iran. The deal caught the eye of a freewheeling CIA unit code-named COREA, based in Wiesbaden, Germany. This special unit was reported to be trafficking in drugs and arms in order to gain access to terrorist groups.

For its cover overseas, COREA used various front companies: Stevens Mantra Corp., AMA Industries, Wildwood Video and Condor Television Ltd. Condor paid its bills with checks drawn on the First American Bank (account No. 2843900) in Washington, D.C., which was subsequently discovered to be a subsidiary of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

According to Aviv, agents in COREA's Wiesbaden headquarters allowed al- Kassar to continue running his smuggling routes to American cities in exchange for help in obtaining the release of the American hostages being held in Lebanon. At about the same time, al-Kassar's drug-smuggling enterprise was being used by the U.S.'s DEA in a sting operation. The DEA was monitoring heroin shipments from Lebanon to Detroit, Los Angeles and Houston, which have large Arab populations, in an attempt to nail the U.S. dealers.

By the fall of 1988, al-Kassar's operation had been spotted by P.F.L.P.-G.C. leader Ahmed Jibril, who had just taken on the assignment from Tehran to avenge the U.S. downing of its Airbus. A CIA undercover agent in Tripoli reported that Jibril also obtained Gaddafi's support. According to Mossad, Jibril dined with al-Kassar at a Paris restaurant and secured a reluctant promise of assistance in planting a bomb aboard an as yet unselected American transatlantic jet.

Al-Kassar's hesitancy was understandable. He wouldn't want anything to disrupt his profitable CIA-assisted drug and arms business. Presumably he was also worried because West German police had just raided the Popular Front hideouts around Dusseldorf and Frankfurt. Among those arrested: the Jordanian technical wizard and bombmaker Marwan Khreesat.

The bomb that ended up on the Pan Am jet could have been assembled by Khreesat. However, last month the Palestine Liberation Organization reported that it was built by Khaisar Haddad (a.k.a. Abu Elias), who is also a member of Jibril's Popular Front. Haddad purchased the detonator, the P.L.O. said, on the Beirut black market for more than $60,000.

The detonator, in fact, is considered one of the main keys to the bombing puzzle. Thomas Hayes, a leading forensics expert, did the main detective work on a minute piece of timer recovered from the wreckage by Scottish authorities. In a recent book about the Lockerbie investigation, On the Trail of Terror, British journalist David Leppard reports that "Hayes is not prepared to commit himself publicly on whether the bomb that blew up Pan Am 103 was originally made by Khreesat and subsequently modified by timers of the sort found in possession of the Libyans." In fact, adds Leppard, "his authoritative view is that not enough of the bomb's timing device has been recovered to make a definite judgment about whether it was a dual device containing a barometric switch and a timer, or a single trigger device, which was activated by just a timer."

James M. Shaughnessy, Pan Am's lead defense lawyer, has tried to drive a wedge into this opening left by Hayes, thereby casting further doubt on Libya's responsibility for the bombing. Britain's High Court ruled that Pan Am's lawyers could depose Hayes. However, in a last-minute legal maneuver by the Scottish authorities, the deposition was blocked for reasons of national security. Pan Am's lawyers are now appealing that decision.

But regardless of the bomb's design, al-Kassar still didn't know how and when Jibril planned to use it. A Mossad agent, according to Aviv, first tipped off U.S. and West German intelligence agents that a terrorist attack would be made on an American passenger plane departing from Frankfurt on or about Dec. 18. Al-Kassar quickly figured out that Pan Am Flight 103 was the most likely target and, playing both sides of the fence, notified the COREA unit. His warning corroborated an earlier bomb threat, involving an unspecified Pan Am flight from Frankfurt, telephoned to the U.S. embassy in Helsinki.

Precisely how a rogue bag containing the bomb eluded the Frankfurt airport security system, Aviv doesn't know. Presumably this required the help of baggage handlers there. So in January 1990 he and a former U.S. Army polygraphist flew to Frankfurt, accompanied by Shaughnessy. At the Sheraton Conference Center, adjoining the airport, the polygraphist administered lie- detector tests to Pan Am baggage handlers Kilin Caslan Tuzcu and Roland O'Neill. Pan Am had determined that they were the only ones who were in a position to switch suitcases and place the bomb-laden bag aboard Flight 103.

Tuzcu took the test three times, and O'Neill took it twice. As the polygraphist later testified before a federal grand jury in Washington, Tuzcu "was not truthful when he said he did not switch the suitcases." The polygraphist also told the grand jury, "It is my opinion that Roland O'Neill wasn't truthful when he stated he did not see the suitcase being switched, and when he stated that he did not know what was in the switched suitcase." The two men continued to claim ignorance of a baggage switch.

After flunking their lie-detector tests, both were sent on a bogus errand by Pan Am to London, where it was assumed they would be arrested. But British authorities refused to even interrogate the pair. According to Leppard, Tuzcu and O'Neill were simply "scapegoats" and were never "considered serious suspects." They returned to Frankfurt that same night.

If the bomb-laden luggage replaced an innocent bag, what happened to the displaced suitcase? On Dec. 21, 1988, the day of the bombing, one of Pan Am's Berlin-based pilots was about to head home to Seattle, Washington, for Christmas when he received orders to fly to Karachi first. He had with him two identical Samsonite suitcases full of presents. At the Berlin airport, he $ asked Pan Am to send them directly to Seattle. "Rush" tags, marked for Flights 637 to Frankfurt, 107 to London and 123 to Seattle, were affixed to the bags.

It so happened that the flight from Berlin to Frankfurt was delayed. While all the passengers ultimately made the connection to London, 11 suitcases, including the pilot's two bags, remained behind in Frankfurt. They were entered into the airport computer system and rerouted via the Pan Am flight. But only one of the pilot's suitcases was recovered at Lockerbie. The other had been mysteriously left behind in Frankfurt, and arrived safely in Seattle a day later. That story, which TIME has corroborated, doesn't prove Pan Am's claim that terrorists used al-Kassar's drug pipeline to pull a suitcase switch in Frankfurt. But it does support the theory that a rogue bag was inserted into the automated baggage-control system, as the secret FBI report indicates was possible.

TO GATHER FURTHER EVIDENCE that the bomb was not contained in an unaccompanied bag from Malta, Pan Am lawyer Shaughnessy recently interviewed under oath 20 officials who were in Malta on Dec. 21, 1988, including the airport security commander, the bomb-disposal engineer who inspected all the baggage, the general manager of ground operations of Air Malta, the head loader of Flight 180 and the three check-in agents. Their records showed that no unaccompanied suitcases were put aboard the flight, and some of the staff Shaughnessy interviewed are prepared to testify under oath that there was no bag that day destined for Pan Am Flight 103.

Although Shaughnessy subpoenaed the FBI, CIA, DEA and four other government agencies for all documents pertaining to both the bombing of Flight 103 and the narcotics sting operation, he has been repeatedly rebuffed by the Justice Department for reasons of national security. Even so, with the help of investigators hired after Aviv, he has managed to obtain some of the documents needed to defend Pan Am's insurers in the trial scheduled to begin April 27 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The stakes are enormous, and the incentive is high for Shaughnessy to demonstrate the government's responsibility for the bombing. In addition to defending against the compensation claims of $7 billion, he is bringing a claim against the government for failing to give warning that Pan Am had been targeted by the terrorists.

The man who has been Shaughnessy's key witness in these proceedings is hiding in fear of his life in a small town in Europe. His real name is Lester Knox Coleman III, although as a former spy for the dia and DEA he was known as Thomas Leavy and by the code name Benjamin B. A year ago, the stockily built, bearded Coleman filed an affidavit describing the narcotics sting operation that Shaughnessy claims was infiltrated by Jibril.

It wasn't until July 1990, when Coleman spotted a newspaper picture of one of the Pan Am victims and recognized the young Lebanese as one of his drug- running informants, that he realized he might be of assistance to Pan Am. He was also looking for work. Two months earlier he had been deactivated by the DIA after being arrested by the FBI for using his DIA cover name, Thomas Leavy, on a passport application. Coleman claims that the DIA instructed him to do this. "But such trumped-up charges are frequently used to keep spooks quiet," says A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a Pentagon whistle-blower and a director of the Fund for Constitutional Government in Washington, which has been looking into Coleman's case.

Coleman spent three days in jail. His official pretrial services report, filed with the U.S. District Court of Illinois for the Northern District, began, "Although Mr. Coleman's employment history sounds quite improbable, information he gave has proven to be true."

Raised in Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia, Coleman, now 48, was recruited by the dia and assigned to the still classified humint (Human Intelligence) MC-10 operation in the Middle East. In early 1987 he was transferred from Lebanon to Cyprus, where he began his work for the DEA. However, he says he was instructed not to inform the DEA there of his role as a DIA undercover agent. By this time even the DIA suspected that the freewheeling narcotics sting operation was getting out of hand.

In Nicosia, Coleman saw the supposedly controlled shipments of heroin, called kourah in Lebanon -- inspiration for the CIA operation's code name COREA -- grow into a torrent. The drugs were delivered by couriers who arrived on the overnight ferry from the Lebanese port of Jounieh. After receiving their travel orders from the DEA, the couriers were escorted to the Larnaca airport by the Cypriot national police and sent on their way to Frankfurt and other European transit points. The DEA testified at hearings in Washington that no "controlled deliveries" of drugs through Frankfurt were made in 1988.

Coleman's DEA front in Nicosia, called the Eurame Trading Co. Ltd., was located on the top floor of a high-rise apartment near the U.S. embassy. He says the intelligence agency paid him with unsigned Visa traveler's checks issued by B.C.C.I. in Luxembourg. Additionally, the DEA country attache in Cyprus, Michael Hurley, kept a drawer full of cash in his office at the embassy, which he parceled out to Coleman and to a parade of confidential informants, known by such nicknames as "Rambo Dreamer," "Taxi George" and "Fadi the Captain." Hurley admitted in a Justice Department affidavit that he paid Coleman $74,000 for information.

The informants, Coleman reported, were under the control of Ibrahim el-Jorr. "He was a Wild West character who wore cowboy boots and tooled around in a Chevy with expired Texas plates," he says. "I was told ((by el-Jorr)) that in the Frankfurt airport the suitcases containing the narcotics were put on flights to the U.S. by agents or other sources working in the baggage area. From my personal observation, Germany's BKA ((Bundeskriminalamt, the German federal police)) was also involved, as was Her Majesty's Customs and Excise service in the United Kingdom."

After deciding to become a witness for Pan Am, Coleman phoned a friend, Hartmut Mayer, a German intelligence agent in Cyprus, and asked if he knew how the bomb got aboard Flight 103. Mayer suggested calling a "Mr. Harwick" and a "Mr. Pinsdorf," who Mayer said were running the investigation at the Frankfurt airport. "I spoke with Pinsdorf," says Coleman. "From his conversation I learned that BKA had serious concerns that the drug sting operation originating in Cyprus had caused the bomb to be placed on the Pan Am plane." Mayer and Pinsdorf gave depositions last year at the request of Pan Am. But the German Federal Ministry of the Interior ruled they couldn't discuss law-enforcement matters relating to other nations. Mayer did say he knew Coleman.

"It took three informants just to keep tabs on al-Kassar," claims Coleman. He said the informants reported that al-Kassar and the Syrian President's brother Rifaat Assad were taking over drug production in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, under protection of the Syrian army. Coleman also says he learned that the principal European transfer point for their heroin shipments was the Frankfurt airport.

In December 1988 al-Kassar picked up some news that threatened to shut down his smuggling operation. Charles McKee's counterterrorist team in Beirut that was investigating the possible rescue of the nine American hostages had got wind of his CIA connection. The team was outraged that the COREA unit in Wiesbaden was doing business with a Syrian who had close terrorist connections and might endanger their planned rescue attempt.

Besides McKee, a key member of the team was Matthew Gannon, 34, the CIA's deputy station chief in Beirut and a rising star in the agency. After venting their anger to the CIA in Langley about al-Kassar, McKee and Gannon were further upset by headquarters' failure to respond. Its silence was surprising because Gannon's father-in-law Thomas Twetten, who now commands the CIA's worldwide spy network, was then chief of Middle East operations based in Langley. He was also Ollie North's CIA contact.

MCKEE AND GANNON, joined by three other members of the team, decided to fly back to Virginia unannounced and expose the COREA unit's secret deal with al- Kassar. They packed $500,000 in cash provided for their rescue mission, as well as maps and photographs of the secret locations where the hostages were being held. Then the five-man team booked seats on Pan Am 103 out of London, arranging to fly there on a connecting flight from Cyprus.

McKee's mother says she is sure her son's sudden decision to fly home was not known to his superiors in Virginia. "This was the first time Chuck ever telephoned me from Beirut," she says. "I was flabbergasted. 'Meet me at the Pittsburgh airport tomorrow night,' he said. 'It's a surprise.' Always before he would wait until he was back in Virginia to call and say he was coming home."

Apparently the team's movements were being tracked by the Iranians. A story that appeared in the Arabic newspaper Al-Dustur on May 22, 1989, disclosed that the terrorists set out to kill McKee and his team because of their planned hostage-rescue attempt. The author, Ali Nuri Zadeh, reported that "an American agent known as David Love-Boy ((he meant Lovejoy)), who had struck bargains on weapons to the benefit of Iran," passed information to the Iranian embassy in Beirut about the team's travel plans. Reported to be a onetime State Department security officer, Lovejoy is alleged to have become a double agent with CIA connections in Libya. His CIA code name was said to be "Nutcracker."

Lawyer Shaughnessy uncovered similar evidence. His affidavit, filed with the federal district court in Brooklyn, New York, asserts that in November and ; December 1988 the U.S. government intercepted a series of telephone calls from Lovejoy to the Iranian charge d'affaires in Beirut advising him of the team's movements. Lovejoy's last call came on Dec. 20, allegedly informing the Iranians that the team would be on Pan Am Flight 103 the following day.

In his book, Lockerbie: The Tragedy of Flight 103, Scottish radio reporter David Johnston disclosed that British army searches of the wreckage recovered more than $500,000 cash, believed to belong to the hostage-rescue team, and what appeared to be a detailed plan of a building in Beirut, with two crosses marking the location of the hostages. The map also pinpointed the positions of sentries guarding the building and contained a description of how the building might be taken.

Johnston also described how CIA agents helicoptered into Lockerbie shortly after the crash seeking the remnants of McKee's suitcase. "Having found part of their quarry," he wrote, "the CIA had no intention of following the exacting rules of evidence employed by the Scottish police. They took the suitcase and its contents into the chopper and flew with it to an unknown destination." Several days later the empty suitcase was returned to the same spot, where Johnston reported that it was "found" by two British Transport Police officers, "who in their ignorance were quite happy to sign statements about the case's discovery."

Richard Gazarik, a reporter for the Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Tribune- Review, spent many months probing the major's secret mission. He found, hidden inside the lining of McKee's wallet, which was retrieved from the Pan Am wreckage and returned to his mother, what he assumes was McKee's code name, Chuck Capone, and the gangster code names (Nelson, Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde) of the other team members.

The theory that Jibril targeted Flight 103 in order to kill the hostage- rescue team is supported by two independent intelligence experts. M. Gene Wheaton, a retired U.S. military-intelligence officer with 17 years' duty in the Middle East, sees chilling similarities between the Lockerbie crash and the suspicious DC-8 crash in Gander, Newfoundland, which killed 248 American soldiers in 1985. Wheaton is serving as investigator for the families of the victims of that crash. "A couple of my old black ops buddies in the Pentagon believe the Pan Am bombers were gunning for McKee's hostage-rescue team," he says. "But they were told to shift the focus of their investigation because it revealed an embarrassing breakdown in security." The FBI says it investigated the theory that McKee's team was targeted and found no evidence to support it.

Victor Marchetti, former executive assistant to the CIA's deputy director and co-author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, believes that the presence of the team on Flight 103 is a clue that should not be ignored. His contacts at Langley agree. "It's like the loose thread of a sweater," he says. "Pull on it, and the whole thing may unravel." In any case, Marchetti believes the bombing of Flight 103 could have been avoided. "The Mossad knew about it and didn't give proper warning," he says. "The CIA knew about it and screwed up."

The CIA may still be trying to find out more information about why McKee and Gannon suddenly decided to fly home. Last year three CIA agents, reportedly following up on their hostage-rescue mission, were shot dead in a Berlin hotel while waiting to meet a Palestinian informant.

Beulah McKee has given up trying to find out if Pan Am's bombers were after her son, although she says, "The government's secrecy can't close off my mind." Twice she called and questioned Gannon's widow Susan, who like her husband and her father Tom Twetten worked for the CIA. "The last time, I was accused of opening my mouth too much," says Mrs. McKee.

Yet memories die hard, and mothers never quite get accustomed to losing a child. Beulah McKee keeps her son's bedroom all tidied up, as if she still expected him to come home. His pictures, diplomas, miltary awards, even his chrome-plated bowie knife, decorate the walls. In a cardboard carton under the made-up bed are the heavily censored service records of her son, which may contain the secret of why Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over Scotland.