Aviv: Fabricator or Smear Victim?

America Radio Works Report, American Public Media/February 3, 2007

Juval Aviv is a dual US-Israeli citizen. He says he was an agent for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, from 1968 to 1978, before opening his private New York firm, Interfor. Aviv has worked as a consultant on terrorism and other security issues for large corporations and several US government agencies, including the IRS, the FDIC and the FBI.

"I was a consultant to the FBI for over ten years on anti-terrorism matters," Aviv says. "Once I...pointed the finger at the government, I became persona non grata, my arrangements with the FBI were canceled. I just became a government enemy."

Aviv's controversial role in the Lockerbie case began in 1989. Relatives of those killed on Pan Am 103 sued the airline for negligence in allowing the bomb onto the plane. Pan Am and its insurance company hired Aviv to investigate who bombed Flight 103 and how the bombers got their lethal baggage past security. Aviv says he tapped sources in the intelligence services of several countries and in terrorist groups themselves.

"I really got the information from the horse's mouth, from people who were involved directly and indirectly in the information," Aviv claims.

His 27-page report for Pan Am makes remarkable claims. In 1987, Aviv writes, US agents discovered and began monitoring a heroin-smuggling route from the Middle East to the United States, via Frankfurt, run by a Syrian drug- and arms-dealer named Monzer al-Kassar. Al-Kassar had ties to Hizbollah terrorists who held Western hostages in Beirut. US agents agreed to let al-Kassar's heroin operation run – through Frankfurt and London's Heathrow airports – in return for al-Kassar's promise to help free hostages.

Aviv claims Khalid Jaafar, a young Lebanese-American killed on Pan Am 103, was a regular courier for al-Kassar's operation. Ahmed Jibril of the Syria-based PFLP-GC knew of al-Kassar's successful drug route when he began plotting with his sponsors in Iran to avenge the Vincennes shoot-down, the report asserts. It says Jibril, after considering other US carriers, ultimately decided to blow up Pan Am 103 by, in effect, horning in on al-Kassar's government-controlled smuggling operation. The PFLP-GC used Turkish members of extremist groups who worked as baggage handlers at the Frankfurt airport to replace Jaafar's heroin bag with a bomb-laden suitcase, according to Aviv's scenario.

In response to Aviv's report, and investigative news stories based on them, government officials launched an attack on Aviv that went well beyond simple denials. In letters to newspaper editors and on network TV, diplomatic and intelligence officials called Aviv a "fabricator" who had lied about his entire background.

Asked recently to back up that characterization, Hurley, formerly of the DEA, faxed us a letter dated May, 1990. The letter, signed by Yigal Carmon, "Israeli Prime Minister's Advisor for Countering Terrorism," says Juval Aviv never worked for Israeli intelligence and was fired from a low-level job with El-Al airlines for "dishonesty."

The letter is on plain white paper, not Israeli government letterhead. We faxed it to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC. A spokeswoman said the letter did not have the look of a letter sent from the Office of the Prime Minister. When reached at an office in Tel Aviv, Yigal Carmon said he "did not know of anyone called Juval Aviv" and refused to discuss the contents of any letter with us.

A spokesperson for El-Al Airlines in Tel Aviv said he was unaware of any such incident of "dishonesty" by Juval Aviv, or of any firing of Aviv.

Aviv, for his part, produces several documents that he's entered into court refuting the accusation that he lied about his background. The documents include an FBI memo about Aviv from 1982, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and a contract between Aviv and the US Justice Department, dated 1984. Both refer to Aviv's past association with Israeli intelligence. As late as 1993, an FBI agent wrote to Aviv asking for assistance in a tax-recovery investigation, even as other government officials were publicly calling Aviv a fabricator.

In public attacks against Aviv in the mid-1990's, government officials also pointed out that he'd been arrested for alleged mail and wire fraud. The fraud charge was filed in 1994 after an investigation by the FBI. The charge: that Aviv had defrauded a corporate client, General Electric Capital, in a small contract a few years earlier – that he'd claimed to interview people on a fact-finding trip in the Caribbean whom he'd never really interviewed.

But at the trial in 1995 in the Southern District of New York, Aviv produced records showing that he had in fact conducted all the interviews for which he'd billed GE. The jury deliberated for just 90 minutes before acquitting Aviv.

After the verdict, the presiding district judge, Louis Stanton, wondered aloud in the courtroom why the FBI had gone out of its way to prosecute Aviv given that the alleged victim, GE Capital, had filed no complaint. In fact, GE representatives testified that they'd been entirely satisfied with Aviv's work. Stanton also pointed out that the fraud charges resulted from an investigation by two agents who were working on aspects of the Lockerbie case. The judge said those circumstances led him to infer that the fraud charge against Aviv "was generated from some other source, and the only source in the record so far for which any such purpose could be ascribed is the report in the other case, in the Lockerbie case."

Clearly, none of the government's behavior toward Aviv proves that Aviv's claims about the Lockerbie bombing are true. Aviv insists that from the start he's been willing to listen to proof that his report is all wrong. But Scottish police investigating Lockerbie have never interviewed him or asked him for his sources.

"I was never told directly that [my report] was wrong," Aviv says. "I was always attacked as the messenger, as somebody who was a fabricator, a lunatic, whatever."

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