In the early 1990's, Time magazine and TV networks on both sides of the Atlantic produced major stories exploring that claim. Their most important source: a private investigator who'd been hired by Pan Am to find out who blew up Flight 103 and how they did it. The investigator, Juval Aviv, emerged from his probe with a remarkable claim: that members of the PFLP-GC took advantage of a controlled drug-smuggling route involving US agents to slip the bomb on the Pan Am jet. Government officials vehemently denied the assertion, and still do.
In response to Aviv's report, Pan Am filed subpoenas with several US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, seeking documents to confirm or refute the private investigator's findings. The government refused to release the documents on grounds of national security.
Some government officials attacked Aviv's credibility, calling him a fabricator who had lied about his background. The specifics of that accusation against Aviv don't appear to stand up to scrutiny.
Appearing on Britain's Channel Four in 1994, former FBI Director of Investigations "Buck" Revell was asked if US agents ran operations in cooperation with Middle East drug dealers around the time of the Pan Am attack. "There was intelligence being gathered," Revell replied. "DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] assets were tasked by orders from the National Security Council to try to develop intelligence information on the American hostages in Lebanon. They were not used in conjunction with Pan Am 103. That entire operation had been closed down."
But it appears defense lawyers at the Lockerbie trial may try to prove otherwise – that the DEA was running a covert drug operation on Pan Am flights through the Frankfurt airport in late December, 1988.
Two men who were high-ranking security managers with Pan Am at the time told us they've given statements to the defense team claiming that they were told of a US government drug operation on their airline, through Frankfurt, at the time Pan Am 103 was destroyed.
Jim Berwick was the London-based Manager of Corporate Security for Pan Am in 1988. He says at a quarterly meeting a couple of months before the bombing of Pan Am 103, Phillip Connolly approached him during a break. Connolly was one of the highest-ranking investigators in British Customs and a 20-year acquaintance of Berwick's.
"And it was at that time that [Connolly] gave me the indication that he had been the British Customs representative at a meeting in Germany, where there were representatives of German Customs and also DEA, and where it became known to Phil that Pan Am in actual fact was being used as a conduit or a route on which drug shipments were being allowed from Europe to the U-S."
Another Pan Am security manager at London's Heathrow Airport, Mike Jones, says he too was present when Connolly told the story.
Jones says Connolly then phoned a few days after Pan Am 103 blew up and asked if Jones had considered the possibility that 'the bag' had been switched at the Frankfurt airport.
"And I took that to mean – it was a gentle hint – that, had we thought about a substitution of the controlled drugs bag," Jones says.
The man whom Jones says made that call, Phillip Connolly, is now retired from British Customs. We couldn't reach him for comment. A source close to lawyers for the Libyans says Connolly has given a deposition and may be called as a witness at the trial.
Spokespersons for British Customs in London declined to comment on the claims by Berwick and Jones. A US Justice Department spokesman said the department would not respond to questions about drugs on Pan Am 103.
"If there was...even a smell of government involvement in [the bombing of] Pan Am 103, I'd be the first one up snitching on the government," says Michael Hurley, who was the DEA's top official in Cyprus in 1988. Even if government agents were running a controlled drug route from the Middle East through the Frankfurt airport, he says, that would not create an opportunity for terrorists. "When you do a controlled delivery, you have control of the drugs from the point of origin to the destination," Hurley says.
Support for the drug claims, however, comes from one more surprising direction. A senior source responsible for overseeing the Lockerbie investigation for the German government told us that if we wanted to get closer to the truth about Lockerbie, we should "go back and look at the drugs." The source spoke on the condition that he not be named. The remark is striking given that the German government, according to the claims by Aviv and others, cooperated with US and British agents in the controlled drug operation through Frankfurt. So the Germans would share in any embarrassment if it were discovered that such an operation helped to facilitate the bombing of Pan Am 103.