Somewhere in the Central Intelligence Agency's archives lie documents that the two Libyans accused of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland believe will set them free.
Sometime within the next two weeks, the CIA is expected to decide whether or not to release the secret cables. Its choice could have a crucial impact on the marathon Lockerbie trial, under way since May in a special Scottish court in the Netherlands.
At stake is the credibility of a man billed as the prosecution's star witness, Abdul Majid Giaka - an alleged former Libyan agent who turned against Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi. But doubts have arisen about Mr. Giaka's reliability.
The court adjourned last Thursday for three weeks, to allow the CIA time to produce cables that the defense team has demanded, in the wake of revelations that the agency and the prosecution team hid relevant evidence from the Libyans' lawyers.
The two Libyans, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, are accused of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on Dec. 21 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew aboard as well as 11 people on the ground.
The men are being tried before a panel of three Scottish judges, and according to Scottish law, at a special courthouse on a former US military base in the Netherlands.
The unprecedented arrangement was negotiated between Washington, London, and Tripoli as a way to offer a fair trial in neutral circumstances, and convince Libya to hand over the two suspects after seven years of international sanctions.
The chief Scottish prosecutor, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, had planned to call Giaka to the witness stand last week. He had been expected to provide the first eyewitness evidence linking the two defendants directly to the bomb that blew up the Pan Am plane.
Giaka, said to have been a Libyan spy, approached US authorities on the Mediterranean island of Malta in August 1988, four months before the Lockerbie bombing, and became a double agent. In 1991 he fled to the United States, where he has since been living under the witness-protection program.
In June, CIA agents showed prosecution lawyers secret cables about Giaka, sent while he was spying for Washington. It emerged 10 days ago, however, that the defense team had been shown only censored versions of the cables, with passages blacked out - allegedly for national-security reasons - that the prosecution said were not relevant to the case.
Only when the CIA agreed, at the court's demand, to reveal the full versions of the cables to the defense did it discover that Giaka's CIA handlers had been dubious about their agent's credibility.
ONE cable, dated September 1989, which defense counsel Bill Taylor read into the court record last week, said it was "clear that P1 [Giaka's code name] will never have the penetration of ESO [the Libyan intelligence agency] that we had anticipated" and that "P1 has never been a true member of ESO."
Giaka's handler also wrote that "if P1 is not able to demonstrate his value or ability to give information by Jan. 1, 1990, we will stop all salary."
Giaka was being paid $1,000 a month by the CIA at the time.
"The fact that he was on the CIA payroll would make you think that his credibility and reliability were questionable," says Clare Connelly, a legal expert at Glasgow University in Scotland who is following the trial.
At the same time, it appears from the cable that Giaka had not told his handlers anything about Lockerbie by September 1989, nine months after the bombing, and that he began talking about the attack only after his US employers had begun considering cutting off his pay until he came up with useful information.
"The whole thing is a complete and utter nonsense," says Robert Black of Scotland's Edinburgh University, the professor who came up with the idea of a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands and a strong critic of the prosecution's handling of the case. "Giaka has been discredited by his own CIA handlers even before he sets foot in the witness box."
The 25 cables so far declassified contain references to other cables that are still secret; it is these that Mr. Boyd is now trying to persuade the CIA to release. "This puts the CIA in a very difficult position," says Ms. Connelly. "After showing some information to one side and not the other, then to both sides ... they have to decide whether national security takes precedence in a case that heavily affects American families."
The Libyans' defense team, however, may not need the extra cables, Connelly suggests. "They may decide they have enough already to plant a seed of doubt" in the judges' minds. Under Scottish law, the prosecution must prove its case "beyond reasonable doubt." The verdict will be by majority vote of the three judges.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society