Lester Knox Coleman III is an American who was the co-author of the 1993 book Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie – Inside the DIA, in which he claimed that a secret drug sting enabled terrorists to evade airport security in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan American World Airways Flight 103. Coleman claimed he was at one point employed by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Coleman further alleged that a compromised American covert drug-operation allowed Iranian-backed terrorists – the PFLP-GC, led by Ahmed Jibril – to slip a Semtex bomb aboard the plane.  On September 11, 1997, Coleman stated to a New York Federal court that "...he lied when he claimed that a secret drug sting enabled terrorists to evade airport security in the bombing..." In a plea agreement, Coleman was sentenced to time served, which was five months, and six months' home confinement under electronic monitoring. Conspiracy theories alleging that the federal convictions of Lester Coleman were an effort to silence him and to hide the truth about Pan Am Flight 103 circulated around the internet.
Coleman's hometown was Panama City, Florida. Coleman, who lived in Alabama, once served as a news director for WSGN radio in Birmingham, and White House Correspondent for RKO Network, before joining CBS News in Beirut in 1984. In the 1970s and early 1980s Coleman worked in several local newspaper and television departments. In 1985 he worked as a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network in the Middle East. CBN later closed its Beirut bureau, and Coleman was no longer employed by CBN. He also worked as a public relations employee of the Boy Scouts of America in Chicago.
According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist Ron Martz, in the 1980s, Lester Coleman frequently traveled through Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East and worked as a journalist, primarily in television. Coleman had a Lebanese wife. According to Martz, Coleman frequently used the pseudonym "Collin Knox" while publishing some works. Tom Silewski, the managing editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine, said that Coleman used the alias Colin Knox when writing two stories for the magazine. Michael Hurley, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) operations in Nicosia, Cyprus, said that Coleman worked as an overseas informant for the DEA. Joe Boohaker, a Birmingham, Alabama man who served as Coleman's defense attorney, said that Coleman worked for Defense Intelligence Agency and checked on the DEA's operations.
Pan American 103 statements
Although the Time magazine article on the crash of Pan Am Flight 103, "Pan Am 103 Why Did They Die?," states that Coleman was a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) agent, a later article in the American Journalism Review disputes that he ever worked for that agency. Coleman has said that he ran a DIA covert operation backing a Christian militia in Lebanon, known as the Lebanese Forces (Samir Ghea Ghea), during the Lebanese Civil War.
Coleman said he left the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus in 1988 and claims in his book that he was not engaged by the DIA again until 1990. According to him, he was told to apply for a passport using a former false identity used primarily for work with the DIA. That identity was to be a man named Thomas Leavy. In May 1990, as he prepared for his unknown job, Coleman was arrested by the FBI and charged with applying for a false passport.
In 1990 Coleman was a resident of Mobile, Alabama. During that year a Chicago, Illinois grand jury indicted Coleman on passport fraud charges. The government accused Coleman of gaining a passport under the name of a newborn baby who died years prior to the application. According to Redding Pitt, a federal government attorney from Montgomery, Alabama, Coleman missed the bail hearing and appeared in Europe. While away from the United States, Coleman lived in a village in Sweden. Coleman accused the federal government of prosecuting him to try to silence Coleman's knowledge of the crash of Pan Am Flight 103.
ABC and NBC programs and TIME article
In October 1990, ABC News and NBC News broadcast programs that used Coleman's version of the Pan Am incident. Their stories at that time did not identify any sources by name, but 18 months later, on April 20, 1992, TIME published a story on Pan Am 103, titled "Pan Am 103 Why Did They Die?," using Coleman's version of the events and directly naming Coleman as a source. After the publication of the article, Steven Emerson, an investigative reporter for CNN, wrote a story for the Washington Journalism Review criticizing the Time story. The Time article that used Coleman's thesis included a photograph of Michael Schafer, a 39-year old man from Atlanta; Coleman said that the photograph of Schafer represented a CIA double agent, David Lovejoy. Schafer had worked for Coleman in Beirut for six months in 1985, and Schafer was the best man at Coleman's wedding. After Schafer was recognized, Coleman said that he was trying to expose Schafer as being the same person as Lovejoy. As a result of the publication of the photograph, a $26 million libel suit was filed against the magazine.
Trail of the Octopus
Coleman and Donald Goddard co-wrote Trail of the Octopus, which received its United Kingdom publication in 1993 and its first United States publication in 2009. Coleman wrote that terrorists had infiltrated a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation outside of the United States and, because of incompetence on part of the DEA, were able to smuggle a bomb on Pan Am 103. Coleman said "No one knows what is really going on. If they ever did, it would make Watergate look like Alice in Wonderland." In the book Coleman accused Hurley of being the primary figure of responsibility of a coverup of the actual causes of the crash; Coleman also accused Martz and another Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist, Lloyd M. Burchette, Jr., of being involved in a coverup. In the book Coleman also claims he sought, and was granted, political sanctuary in Sweden and further claims in the book that after he was under Swedish protection he provided Pan American World Airways with a civil affidavit which cleared Pan Am of full responsibility for the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing.
Bloomsbury published Coleman's book in the United Kingdom. Christopher Byron of New Yorker said that Coleman chose to have the book published in the UK because "negative publicity ruined the book market for him in the U.S." Byron said that attempts by Bloomsbury to sell the book in the United States "seem to have failed." A spokesperson for Bloomsbury stated that she had "complete confidence" in Coleman's statements. According to Byron, after a series of interviews with people mentioned in the book, he could not find any who had been contacted by Bloomsbury about their role in the book.
Hurley sued Bloomsbury in a London court. The DEA head and the book's publisher agreed to settle. The settlement papers of the publishers stated that remaining copies of the book had been destroyed. In addition, The Mobile Register stated that the book publishers admitted that Coleman's statements against Hurley had no truth and paid Hurley's legal fees and an additional undisclosed sum.
Pan Am civil suit
In 1991, as part of a civil suit between Pan American World Airways and the families of Flight 103 victims, Lester Coleman made a sworn statement accusing the Drug Enforcement Administration of allowing PA103 to be bombed; his allegations were reported internationally. The federal court imposed a gag order on the defendants and plaintiffs in the Pan Am case. Christopher Byron of New York magazine said that members of the defense "appear to have repeatedly" violated the court-imposed gag. Byron argued that the Pan Am Time magazine story was possibly a leak. The lawyers of the plaintiffs complained, saying that the Time story was leaked in violation of the gag order. Lee Kriendler, the lawyer for the plaintiffs accused the defense of using the Time story to influence the jury. On July 11, 1992, the federal jury ruled that Pan Am was guilty of misconduct, in favor of the plaintiffs. In court Pan Am did not specifically mention the Coleman drug theory during the court proceedings. Kriendler said this was because "[t]hey knew we would have taken them apart if they had."
Perjury charges, extradition, plea agreement
The U.S. government indicted Coleman on perjury charges, accusing him of making false statements in an affidavit supporting Pan Am's claims against the Federal Government of the United States in a Pan Am 103 civil suit. Joe Boohaker, Coleman's defense attorney, said that the filing of criminal charges based on the course of a civil suit was "the most unusual thing" he had ever encountered.
Tam Dalyell, a Labour Party Member of Parliament from Linlithgow, asked the Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, to grant diplomatic immunity to Lester Coleman so he could give evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial in Scotland. Allan Stewart, a former Office Minister of Scotland and a Conservative Party MP for Eastwood, also said that Coleman should be granted immunity so he could testify in Scotland. The Lord Advocate rejected Dalyell's plea, saying that the Home Office and the English courts have the jurisdiction over the demand of the U.S. government's extradition demand regarding Coleman, and that the Crown Office and the Scottish Office had no authority over the case. According to Redding Pitt, Coleman called Governor of Alabama Fob James, an acquaintance of Coleman from the 1970s, for help in his case. James helped arrange Coleman's State of Alabama-paid voluntary return to the United States. Boohaker said that James apparently knew Coleman from his radio days. Upon Coleman's return, federal agents in Atlanta, Georgia arrested Coleman.
On Thursday September 11, 1997, Coleman pleaded guilty to the five counts of perjury and signed a public apology. Coleman's plea agreement stated that his claim that the U.S. defense and intelligence agencies authorized him to obtain a false passport was not true, that he lied in his Pan Am testimony in order to bolster his image as an international security and terrorism consultant and to obtain money, and that he wanted revenge against the DEA because the DEA had fired him. Coleman's prosecutors recommended a sentence of time served, five months in prison, and six months of home confinement. Coleman's highest possible sentence could have been 25 years in prison. In 1998 he was sentenced to three years of supervised release. In addition federal district court judge Thomas Platt fined Coleman $30,000 ($43407.51 in today's currency). By that year Coleman became a morning talk show host in a Lexington, Kentucky radio station.
In 1999 The Sunday Times reported that Coleman's perjury conviction had been overturned by a United States court of appeals and that judges issued a sealed ruling so the rationale on why Coleman's perjury conviction was overturned is not visible to the public. The paper also stated that Coleman filed an action against the federal government for $10 million ($14157011.59 in today's currency).
State charges, federal and state incarceration
In 2000, the State of Kentucky charged Coleman with 36 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and one count of being a persistent felony offender. The forged instrument charges originate from the state's accusation that Coleman used his computer to print forged checks and stole money from the Central Bank and two individuals. On March 16, 2000, a jury in Fayette County, Kentucky convicted Coleman of the 36 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument; he was not convicted on the count of being a persistent felony offender. The jury recommended a four-year prison sentence.
In 2000 Coleman received a 10 year prison sentence from the state, and for that he was immediately put on state probation. Coleman was transferred into federal custody because the federal government had accused him of violating the terms of his probation regarding his perjury conviction. Lester Coleman, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)#47321-019, was released from BOP custody on December 7, 2000. In May 2003 Coleman was arrested in Panama City, Florida, his hometown. On Friday May 23, 2003, Coleman admitted in the Fayette Circuit Court that he had violated the terms of his state probation by leaving the state without the probation officer's permission and not paying restitution to his victims who individually lost over $10,000 ($13694.69 in today's currency). Thomas Clark, the circuit judge, immediately sent Coleman to prison.
In 2004 Coleman, in a federal court, sued the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Fayette County, Kentucky commonwealth attorney Ray Larson, and Mayor of Lexington "Rebecca" Isaac, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights. Coleman said that judge Clark had violated his rights by giving him 10 years instead of the jury's recommended four; Coleman did not mention the probation that the judge had included in the sentence. One week after Coleman filed the suit, Joseph M. Hood, the district court judge, dismissed Coleman's suit without taking input from any of the defendants because he found Coleman's suit to be severely deficient. Hood said that Coleman failed to demonstrate that legal necessities needed to pursue his claim had existed; a declaration from a state tribunal that Coleman's conviction was invalid or a federal writ of habeas corpus would have been filed that challenges the conviction would have fulfilled the requirement. Hood also said that Coleman failed to demonstrate how Isaac, Larson, and others had anything to do with his sentencing.
Tam Dalyell said "I had contact with Les Coleman 10 years ago. In my opinion, though he has a chequered history, I take him seriously." Daniel Cohen, the father of Pan Am 103 victim Theodora Cohen, said that Coleman was a "conman."
- O'Connor, Matt (19 September 1997). "Passport Fraud, Web Of Lies Snare Ex-u.s. Informant". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
- Coleman, Lester K; Goddard, Donald (1993). Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie – Inside the DIA. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0747515623.
- Rowan, Roy (April 27, 1992). "Pan Am 103 Why Did They Die?". Time. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
- "PanAm Scam. How two self-styled intelligence agents took the news media for a ride.". American Journalism Review. September 1992. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
- "Metro News Briefs: New York; Informer Admits Lying In Pan Am Crash Case". New York Times. 1997-09-12. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
- Martz, Ron. "CONSPIRACY THEORIES: Outlandish claims can hit close to home." Atlanta Journal-Constitution. April 30, 2000. C5. Retrieved on September 26, 2010. "Coleman, an American, seemed a good candidate. He had a Lebanese wife and had traveled widely in that country and in other parts of the Middle East." and "byline "Collin Knox," a pseudonym frequently used by Coleman." and "Coleman has since been convicted of federal charges of perjury and state charges of forgery. But the conspiracy theory lives on on the Web --- the convictions just another part of the government's effort to keep him quiet and hide the real truth about Pan Am 103." and "Coleman's primary target in the book, the head of the DEA office in Cyprus, successfully sued the British publisher and Coleman for libel in a London court. The publisher had to offer a public apology and destroy all remaining copies of the book."
- Taylor, Louise. "COLEMAN TO FINISH SENTENCE FOR FRAUD, FORMER U.S. AGENT FLED KENTUCKY WHILE ON PROBATION." Lexington Herald-Leader. May 24, 2003. B1 City&Region. Retrieved on October 25, 2010.
- "James helps arrange return of fugitive from Europe." Associated Press at the Times Daily. Friday October 25, 1996. 9 of 16. Retrieved on September 28, 2010.
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- "Taking the Blame". London Review of Books - author, Paul Foot. January 6, 1994. Retrieved August 18, 2010.
- O'Connor, Matt. "PASSPORT FRAUD, WEB OF LIES SNARE EX-U.S. INFORMANT." Chicago Tribune. September 9, 1997. Metro Chicago Start Page 5.
- Byron, Christopher. "Conning the Media." New York Magazine. August 31, 1992. Page 36. Retrieved on September 28, 2010.
- Byron, Christopher. "Conning the Media." New York Magazine. August 31, 1992. 29. Retrieved on September 28, 2010.
- Byron, Christopher. "Conning the Media." New York Magazine. August 31, 1992. 31. Retrieved on September 28, 2010.
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- Byron, Christopher. "The Great Pretender." New York. October 4, 1993. Volume 26, No. 39. 30. Retrieved from Google Books on October 19, 2010. ISSN 0028-7369.
- Coleman, Lester and Donald Goddard. Trail of the Octopus. United States Publication, 2009. Copyright Page. Retrieved from Amazon.com on October 25, 2010. "First United States Publication 2009 First United Kingdom Publication 1993."
- Geoffrey Leslie Simons (1993). Libya: the struggle for survival. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 78. ISBN 0-312-08997-X.
- Amazon.com catalog entry for 2009 paperback editionTrail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie - Inside the DIA [Paperback]. Retrieved on December 15, 2013.
- Peterson, Helen. "CON MAN ADMITS FLIGHT 103 PERJURY." New York Daily News. Friday September 12, 1997. Retrieved on October 2, 2010.
- Byron, Christopher. "The Great Pretender." New York. October 4, 1993. Volume 26, No. 39. 26. Retrieved from Google Books on October 19, 2010. ISSN 0028-7369.
- Cohen, Nick. "Film claims stir Lockerbie row." The Independent. Sunday 6 February 2004. Retrieved on 11 August 2009.
- Tinning, William. "Immunity ruled out in Lockerbie row. Plea to Lord Advocate fails over former US intelligence agent." The Herald. August 4, 1995. Retrieved on October 11, 2010.
- "Ex-informant punished for hoax." Eugene Register-Guard. Saturday May 16, 1998. NewsDigest 2A. Retrieved from Google News (2 of 63) on October 2, 2010.
- Marcello Mega (13 June 1999). "Court clears Lockerbie claim agent". The Sunday Times (2sn ed.): Scotland News 6. Archived from the original on N/A.
- "EX-TALK SHOW HOST IS FOUND GUILTY IN CHECK FRAUD CASE." The Lexington Herald-Leader. March 17, 2000. B1 City and Region. Retrieved on October 11, 2010.
- "EX-FEDERAL AGENT SENTENCED FOR CHECK FRAUD TERM IS PROBATED BUT DEFENDANT ALSO FACES U.S. PERJURY CONVICTION." Lexington Herald-Leader. April 11, 2000. Retrieved on October 11, 2010. " Lexington's most prominent conspiracy theorist, Lester Coleman, was sentenced yesterday to 10 years for passing fraudulent checks but the prison term was probated. But Coleman -- a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who once claimed that the U.S. government allowed a bomb on the Pan Am jet that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 -- won't see freedom all that soon. He will be transferred to federal custody because he is wanted for parole violations[...]
- "Lester Coleman." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on October 11, 2010.
- "CONSPIRACY THEORIST SUES GOVERNMENTS AND PROSECUTOR, PRISON TERM VIOLATED HIS RIGHTS, HE SAYS." Lexington Herald-Leader. April 20, 2004 - B4 City&Region
- "EX-DRUG AGENT'S SUIT IS THROWN OUT OF COURT, COLEMAN KNOWN FOR PLANE-CRASH THEORY." Lexington Herald-Leader April 24, 2004 - B3 City&Region.
- McDougall, Liam. "Ex-CIA agents claim they were smeared to cover-up the truth COVER- UP: ESPIONAGE CONNECTION Former intelligence staff head to court to argue their reputations were destroyed by the CIA after they became whistle-blowers over the bombing of PanAm 103." The Sunday Herald. May 7, 2006. News Start Page 12. Retrieved on October 10, 2010. "Former Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who campaigned for a trial over the Lockerbie bombing, said: However, Dan Cohen, whose 20-yearold daughter Theodora was killed on the flight, described Coleman as a "conman"."