Ken Dornstein

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Person.png Ken Dornstein Amazon IMDBRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(author, film producer)
Ken Dornstein.jpg
RelativesDavid Dornstein (Lockerbie victim)

Ken Dornstein is a television producer and author who lives near Boston, Massachusetts and works for the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).[1]

Ken Dornstein's elder brother David was killed on 21 December 1988 when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland. In 2006, he wrote a book about the Lockerbie bombing entitled "The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky"[2] and in September 2015 produced the PBS Frontline film "My Brother's Bomber" which was broadcast in America the following month.[3] The 90-minute film was shown on BBCFour on Monday, 2 November 2015.[4]

Synopsis of the film

For some 25 years, Ken Dornstein had been haunted by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland - a "terrorist" act that killed 270 people, including his older brother David. Only one person was ever convicted of the plot - who else was involved remained an open case.

In this emotional and suspenseful documentary, Dornstein sets out to find the men responsible for one of the worst attacks on Americans before 9/11. From the ruins and chaos of post-Gaddafi Libya, Dornstein hunts for clues to the identities and whereabouts of the suspects, who he tracks for almost five years across the Middle East and Europe. He encounters new witnesses and unearths fresh evidence that brings him closer to the truth about what really happened.

This is a rare, real-life spy thriller, but also a meditation on loss, love, revenge and the nature of obsession.

Watching closely

Speaking on Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive programme in October 2015, Dornstein said he’ll be watching closely to see what happens next:

"I have a lot of confidence in the Scottish justice that I saw on display at the original trial that took place in the Netherlands. I was very impressed with the judges in that case and with what I thought was the rigour with which they pursued the evidence and the truth in that case. And I’m sure they’re acting as aggressively and responsibly as they can. And I’m just watching to see if they can come up with some tangible result here."[5]

"Getting away with murder"

When Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was granted compassionate release from prison in Scotland in August 2009 film producer Ken Dornstein "couldn’t suppress the feeling that Megrahi was literally getting away with murder." Dornstein suspected that other perpetrators remained at large in Libya. To assist Dornstein's investigation, former SIO Stuart Henderson gave him a list of ten names of people described as Megrahi's “unindicted co-conspirators” who had never been put on trial. Thought to be included in that list were former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Swiss businessman Edwin Bollier whose firm MEBO manufactured electronic timers.[6]

The Libya Dossier

Top of Henderson's list was Gaddafi's former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, who was convicted in Tripoli of "crimes against humanity" in July 2015, and sentenced to death. The remaining seven were:

Nasser Ali Ashour, the Armourer. A "smooth, cultured" spy who supplied Semtex and guns to the Provisional IRA for Gaddafi in the 1980s. Adrian Hopkins, the Irish skipper who helped smuggle the arms, told French police: "He spoke English with a very distinguished accent. He never looked you in the face, likes to parade, has small feet, wears Italian shoes, drinks whisky but does not smoke." He managed Libya's network of agents in the Mediterranean and hunted down Libyan dissidents throughout Europe. Now aged 68, his whereabouts are unknown.
Mohammed Abouagela Masud (aka Abu Agila Mas’ud), the Technician. Introduced to a CIA undercover agent as an airline technician, he worked with Megrahi and Fhimah in Malta where the bomb was allegedly planted on a feeder flight in an unaccompanied Samsonite suitcase. The evidence against Mas'ud is thought to have been the subject of secret court hearings held behind closed doors in Valletta in 2012, at the request of the Crown Office. His whereabouts are unknown.
Said Rashid, the Assassin. A former head of JSO's operations section and close friend of Gaddafi who went on to become a powerful government figure. He was killed in a shoot-out with rebels in February 2011 following a speech by the dictator's son, Saif. In 1983, Rashid was arrested in France in connection with the murders of Libyan dissidents in London, Bonn and Rome, but later released.
Ezzadin Hinshiri, the Diplomat. Another senior JSO figure who became a top official and one of Gaddafi's most loyal lieutenants. He was killed along with 52 other regime supporters in an infamous massacre at a seafront hotel in Sirte in the final days of the uprising in April 2011.
Badri Hussan, the Businessman. Set up a front company with Megrahi and rented an office in Zurich from Mebo, the Swiss firm linked to the timers used in the bombing. The firm's co-founder, Edwin Bollier, told the Lockerbie trial that he delivered a suitcase from Hussan to Hinshiri in Tripoli on December 17, 1988 - just days before the terror strike. Whereabouts unknown.
Mohamed Marzouk and Mansour Omran Saber, the Missing Links. Arrested at Dakar airport in Senegal in February 1988 with Semtex, TNT and bomb triggers. They were released without charge. In 1991, a "brilliant, young" CIA analyst realised the triggers matched those used in the Lockerbie bombing, changing the entire course of the investigation. Whereabouts unknown.[7]

Henderson told Dornstein that if he could get to Libya it might be possible to track down the men who could then be brought to trial. Over the course of three trips to Libya starting in 2011, Dornstein sought out the eight men on the list, finally revealing that Abu Agila Mas’ud was his main suspect.[8]


John Ashton

On 4 October 2015, in a review of Dornstein's film in the Sunday Herald, John Ashton wrote:

Now it (the prosecution’s Lockerbie narrative) has been breathed new life into by a three-part documentary for the US Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline series. Trailed by a lengthy article in the New Yorker, the film suggests that Megrahi was, after all, involved in the bombing as an accomplice to a man called Abu Agila Mas’ud. I was a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production, but I disagree with its conclusions.[9]
The fear is that the Frontline film’s claims will provide the Crown Office with a smokescreen, from behind which it can brief that Megrahi was guilty all along and that its failures were therefore immaterial. They were anything but and, until it is held to account for them, they will remain a terrible stain on Scottish justice.[10]

Ashton, who helped Dornstein to make the documentary, had earlier told the Scottish Daily Mail:

This is another piece of the jigsaw and that’s to be welcomed. Mas’ud appears to have been a bad guy, if what Ken has uncovered is accurate. I would welcome him being out on trial so this evidence can be tested.

But Ashton said Dornstein’s research hinges on the claim that Megrahi launched the bomb from Malta, which Ashton strongly disputes. And Ashton said the documentary fails to address a number of other issues which suggest that Megrahi was innocent.[11]

Morag Kerr

On 17 October 2015, interviewed by presenter Isobel Fraser on BBC Radio Scotland's programme Good Morning Scotland, Morag Kerr said she also considers the renewed focus on the two Libyan suspects a smokescreen:[12]

Isobel Fraser (24’24’’): That was Jason Pack who is president of the website Well listening to that is Dr Morag Kerr who wrote the book Adequately Explained by Stupidity: Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies. Good morning Dr Kerr. Can I first of all just get your reaction to the developments this week?
Morag Kerr (24’43’’): Well, as your last interviewee said, this isn’t news. The two individuals that have been named were known to the police as far back as 1991. And this isn’t something that has just been discovered. What has just happened is that Ken Dornstein’s films have been shown in America. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen them because they are region-barred in Scotland. But these films have brought this matter to the attention of the public and it appears that our Crown Office feels that it has to be seen to be doing something as a result.
IF (25’23’’): It’s really that simple: you think they need to be seen to be doing something rather than the fact that it’s taken the actions of a civilian investigator to move the FBI and the Crown Office into action?
MK (25’31’’): Well of course the civilian investigator was given the information by the FBI and the Crown Office in the first place. But as I think he said himself he had somewhat more freedom than officials would have had to move around Libya. But, as far as I understand it, nothing new has come out of this. These individuals were always part of the original Lockerbie investigation. And since Megrahi’s release there’s always been this subtext about ‘we want to find his accomplices’. In my personal view, that’s by and large a smokescreen because it takes attention away from the very serious doubts and disquiet that surround the original conviction of Megrahi.
IF (26’24’’): So as far as you’re concerned this is a bit of a wild goose chase then? If Megrahi’s conviction wasn’t sound, and we’re looking at two suspects linked to him, then it’s a bit of a waste of time?
MK (26’34’’): Well that’s exactly it. Any case against Senussi and Mas’ud would be based on the same essential evidence that was used to convict Megrahi in the first place. But that evidence has been systematically dismantled and discredited over a number of years. If that were to be tested in court then against new suspects, I’m afraid I would be very doubtful it would even get to court.
IF (27’01’’): So where, if they shouldn’t be looking in Libya, where should they be looking?
MK (27’04’’): Well that’s…that’s not the question for now. Until we have the official recognition of what really happened here, the point is the modus operandi the original investigation became convinced the bomb was introduced on Malta. Everything they have done has been predicated on this Malta assumption. Until that Malta assumption is put to bed – because it’s frankly chasing red herrings down blind alleys – until they accept they missed the clear and obvious evidence of the bomb being introduced at Heathrow, then there is no possibility of being able to do a proper investigation and identify the real culprits.
IF (27’50’’): Why do you think then that the authorities are so intent on keeping Malta the focus and keeping Libya as the prime suspect?
MK (27’59’’): Well you only have to look at what happened over the past twenty five years. I mean there comes a point when mistakes are made that they have been set in stone. Hillsborough was an example. The scandal of Hillsborough became not so much the mistakes made at the time, but the subsequent cover-up. Because they are in blood-steeped so far that to go on where it leads – or whatever the quote is – it’s so far down the line. That so much has happened on the basis of the Malta assumption, that two people were indicted because they were in Malta that day, Libya itself was put under punitive sanctions which destroyed the country’s economy in the following eight years. We can see where that has led us. Millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money were spent on a show trial at a specially constructed court in the Netherlands. We’ve had the whole carry-on with Megrahi’s compassionate release, then the vilification of Scotland as a result. All of this has happened as a result of the Malta assumption.
IF (29’09’’): So they’re too embarrassed to admit they were wrong and go back: is that it? It’s all down to a cock-up rather than a cover-up?
MK (29’11’’): Well I think there comes a point where cock-up turns into cover-up. And who actually understands how wrong they were and who are simply closing their eyes and ears to the evidence of how wrong they were. It’s not really for me to say. That’s for the people involved to say.
IF (29’33’’): Dr Morag Kerr, thank you very for your time this morning. Morag wrote the book Adequately Explained by Stupidity: Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies. (29’37’’)[13]

Patrick Haseldine

On 4 November 2015, in a comment headed "Problems with Dornstein's film", Patrick Haseldine posted on Facebook:

"One problem with Ken Dornstein's film is that he blindly accepts the word of a Libyan double agent, Musbah Eter, who used to work for the CIA in Malta, to accuse Abdullah al-Senussi and Abu Agila Mas'ud of assisting Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to carry out the Lockerbie bombing.

"Another, bigger problem is that Megrahi didn't do it. And Libya was not responsible.

"As we all know by now, it was the CIA's proxy, apartheid South Africa, that targeted UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, on Pan Am Flight 103.

"End of story!"[14]

Neil Berry

On 21 November 2015, journalist Neil Berry wrote in the Arab News:

The explosion of the Russian Airbus over the Sinai Desert had sombre echoes of Lockerbie, the destruction in 1988 above the Scottish town of that name of Pan Am Flight 103 by a terrorist bomb. The issue of Lockerbie has been revived by a film recently broadcast by the PBS television network in the US and in the UK by BBC4. Hugely emotive, "My Brother’s Bomber" is the work of the American journalist, Ken Dornstein, who lost his older brother at Lockerbie and who has spent years investigating the attack. Dornstein takes for granted that the Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of murdering 243 (mostly American) people at Lockerbie, was guilty as charged. But his film points an accusing finger at two possible accomplices, Abdullah al-Senussi, the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s security chief, and Abu Agila Mas'ud, the alleged bomb-maker. It conveys that the latter was also behind the 1986 attack on the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, popular with US servicemen, which led to the US bombing of Libya, for which Lockerbie was presumed vengeance. Currently imprisoned in Libya, the two men are now being treated as Lockerbie suspects by Scotland’s prosecuting authority.

The striking thing about Dornstein’s film is the one-eyed fixity of its gaze. Those unfamiliar with the tangled Lockerbie story could hardly grasp from it the disquiet about Megrahi’s conviction felt by British people of conscience, among them Dr Jim Swire, who, notwithstanding the loss of his daughter at Lockerbie became Megrahi’s friend, and the authors, John Ashton and Morag Kerr. They believe that the three Scottish judges who convicted Megrahi at a special court in the Netherlands perpetrated a gross miscarriage of justice. They question the credibility of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who testified that Megrahi bought clothes from him that were wrapped round the Lockerbie bomb; they insist that the claim that the bomb originated in Malta has to be set against strong indications that it was planted in London; and they point out that the timer attached to the bomb, a key piece of evidence in the prosecution of Megrahi, proved not to belong to a batch of timers sold to Libya by a Swiss firm.

Swire and his fellow sceptics believe that Megrahi’s conviction would not have survived the appeal he was preparing when, in 2009, diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was released by Scotland’s devolved government to return to Libya to die. Public outrage at his release was matched by that of the political establishments of London and Washington. Yet one may wonder if this official fury was not in some measure theatrical. An appeal might well have unveiled politically embarrassing matters: the lavish efforts made by the US to look after Tony Gauci; the CIA’s black propaganda war against Libya; the grounds for suspecting that the Lockerbie attack was orchestrated by Iran.

Swire figures fleetingly in "My Brother’s Bomber". The film shows him going to pay his last respects to Megrahi in Tripoli, with Dornstein in attendance. Kitted out with concealed recording equipment, Dornstein hoped to accompany Swire into the dying man’s home but was politely refused entry and ended up writhing with frustration outside.

"My Brother’s Bomber" plays to the familiar stark binary narrative of terrorised West versus demonic Arab world. It may be felt that Dornstein shares with the US media and public opinion a visceral resistance to challenges to this narrative. In truth, there has never been much chance of the mainstream western media lending credence to alternative versions of the Lockerbie story. Now, in the poisonous, furiously polarised aftermath of the Paris massacre, the freedom of people like Jim Swire to question the official story could become more circumscribed than ever.[15]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Call for US to give update on fourth Lockerbie suspectArticle18 December 2022Kathleen NuttFormer Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill: "Britain and America know everything. I want the UK and US to be more open. Libya have offered up Abu Agila Masud. But Masud is smaller beer. The Lord Advocate should find out what progress is being made on bringing Abdullah Senussi to court."
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