December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb built into Toshiba radio cassette player. All 259 people on board were killed, along with 11 residents of the Scottish town.
The book tells the story of its co-author Lesier Coleman. Originally a journalist, in the mid-Eighties he began to work as a contract consultant for the DEA's Cyprus office. At that time Cyprus was the nerve center of efforts to monitor drug production in Lebanon. It was no ordinary assignment because Coleman was simultaneously employed by the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the ultra-secretive military spooks. According to Coleman, the DEA was desperate for information about Lebanon, but it also wanted to keep a discreet eye on the DEA and CIA, both of which it viewed with suspicion.
By the time Coleman arrived in Cyprus, the flow of drugs out of Lebanon was so great that the best the DEA could hope for was to monitor where it was going to in the US to catch the dealers there. In order to do this, he claims, he relied on a technique called controlled delivery. This involves an agent, or informant, carrying a specially marked bag containing drugs. The shipment is monitored by the DEA and, through cooperation with other countries, is allowed to pass through security and customs unhindered.
Trail Of The Octopus claims that the controlled deliveries provided the CIA with its fig leaf. Not only that, but the DEA allowed its network of informants to double as the CIA's eyes and ears in Lebanon. It was this mixing of roles, Coleman asserts, that proved fatal. The informants were not trained agents; worse still, he believes, some of them were reporting back to the Syrian backed terrorists. Security, thus, was a sham. Coleman insists that he tried to raise the issue with the head of the DEA Cyprus, Michael Hurley, but was ignored. Tension between the two men grow and Coleman eventually left the island in May 1988. Before departing, he claims to have warned Hurley, in a taped telephone conversation that the security situation was a disaster waiting to happen. Hurley has accused Coleman of editing in the phrase, and says that Coleman was sacked by the DEA for unsatisfactory behavior.
Despite his avowed prophecy, Coleman says that it was not until months after Lockerbie that he realised the disaster might be connected to drug-trafficking. He claims the realization was triggered by the discovery that Khalid Jafaar was among the victims. "The kid was one of those I saw coming through the office in Cyprus," he says, "I knew from the conversations around me in 1988 that he was involved in controlled deliveries -- there's no doubt in my mind about that at all." The DEA denies any connection with Jafaar.
Coleman was not the first to hint at the alternative version. In the days after the disaster rumors were rife that Jafaar had been duped into carrying the bomb. The rumors were fueled by the fact that large quantities of heroin were found among the debris. These finds were later denied by the British and American authorities.
In 1990 the ceiling fell in on Coleman's world. He was arrested by the FBI and charged with passport fraud. Although he admitted applying for a passport under the name Thomas Leavy, he maintains that he was acting under orders from the DIA, which he says, had just reactivated him for an undercover assignment. When he tried to call his DIA contact numbers, he says, the numbers were dead. Then the anonymous death treats started. Rather then waiting around for a trial, he decided to flee to Sweden. On arrival, he became the first American citizen to apply for political asylum since the Vietnam war.