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CIA memos reveal doubts over 'key' Lockerbie witness

A Walter Mitty type convinced the Americans he was a Libyan intelligence agent when he worked in the agency's garage

A Libyan "double agent" who was central to the CIA's investigation into the Lockerbie bombing exaggerated his importance in Tripoli's intelligence apparatus and gave little information of value, yet is still living at the US taxpayers' expense in a witness protection programme, according to previously unseen CIA cables.

Five months before the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988, 27-year-old Majid Giaka turned up at the US embassy in Malta and "expressed a desire to relocate ... in return for sensitive information on Libya", in the words of a cable sent by a CIA case officer to his headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the same day. Mr Giaka claimed he was an agent of Libya's feared Jamahiriya security organisation, but it later turned out that he worked in the agency's garage.

More than 60 cables, uncovered in a BBC investigation, detail the relations between the Americans and a man later described in court as a real-life Walter Mitty. Mr Giaka, who said that he worked for Libyan Arab Airlines at Malta's Luqa airport as a cover, told the CIA that he wanted to remain in Malta. He promised he would co-operate fully with the CIA – in return for money.

At the time Libya was public enemy number one. But the CIA had few sources of information on the country, and Mr Giaka was put on the payroll. In return for information about Libyan officials coming and going from Malta, he received $1,000 a month and gifts. His handlers even agreed to fund $6,000 of fake surgery on his arm, so that he could avoid military service back home.

In the summer of 1989, the Lockerbie investigation was uncovering evidence which pointed to a Libyan connection, and the FBI believed the suitcase which blew up Pan Am flight 103 had started its journey from Luqa airport. The CIA hoped its Libyan agent would have inside knowledge, but the case officers reported back: "Giaka does not believe explosives hidden in an unaccompanied suitcase could be inserted into the handling process at Luqa International Airport."

The Libyan mole acknowledged that it could have been theoretically possible for officials in Tripoli to bring explosives on to the island via the diplomatic pouch, but "because Giaka believes he had the best contacts of LIA [Luqa International Airport], he does not think this type of operation could have been slipped by him".

The case officers cabled: "It is clear that Giaka will never be the penetration of the ESO [Libyan External Security Organisation] that we had anticipated ... unfortunately, it appears that our assisting him in scam surgery on his arm to avoid military service has had the reverse result that we had intended – it has also allowed him to avoid further service with the ESO, Giaka's true intention from the beginning".

But even after it turned out that he had only worked in the ESO garage, he was the only Libyan agent the CIA had in Malta, so it kept him on. By the autumn of 1989, a former Libyan Arab Airlines security official, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, was chief suspect for having planted the bomb on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt (where it was transferred on to a Pan Am flight via London). But Mr Giaka "had no further information" on his one-time colleague.

Mr Giaka eventually returned to Tripoli in 1990 after the CIA money dried up. But the agency kept in touch with him and finally persuaded him in 1991 to come to America. Nine years later, Majid Giaka arrived at the Lockerbie bombing trial in the Netherlands. He described how he had seen Megrahi and his co-accused, Khalifa Fhimah, at Luqa airport before the bombing with a large brown suitcase. But the CIA cables confirm that nearly two years before, Mr Giaka didn't remember anything.

At the Lockerbie trial, the four judges described some of his evidence as "at best grossly exaggerated and at worst simply untrue" and concluded he was "largely motivated by financial considerations".

Guy Smith is producer of 'The Conspiracy Files: Lockerbie,' (BBC2, 9pm tonight)