A theory for which no evidence has been produced suggests that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had set up a protected drug route from Europe to the United States—allegedly called Operation Corea—which allowed Syrian drug dealers, led by Monzer al-Kassar (who was involved with Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal) to ship heroin to the U.S. using Pan Am flights, in exchange for intelligence on Palestinian groups based in Syria.
The CIA allegedly protected the suitcases containing the drugs and made sure they were not searched. On the day of the bombing, as the theory goes, terrorists exchanged suitcases: one with drugs for one with a bomb.
Another version of this theory is that the CIA knew in advance this exchange would take place but let it happen anyway, because the protected drugs route was a rogue operation, and the American intelligence officers on PA 103 – Matthew Gannon and Maj. Charles McKee – had found out about it, and were on their way to Washington to tell their superiors.
The former version of the protected-suitcase theory was suggested in October 1989 by Yuval Aviv, the owner of Interfor Inc., a private investigation company based on Madison Avenue, New York. Aviv was a former Mossad officer who led the "wrath of god" team that assassinated a number of Palestinians who were believed to have been responsible for a massacre in 1972, when 11 Israeli Olympic athletes were killed by the Black September Palestinian group in Munich. Aviv sold his story to Canadian journalist George Jonas, who published it in 1984 as Vengeance, later made into a movie entitled The Sword of Gideon and in 2005 used as the basis for Stephen Spielberg's movie Munich.
After PA 103, Aviv was employed by Pan Am as their lead investigator for the bombing. He submitted a report (the Interfor report) in October 1989, blaming the bombing on a CIA-protected drugs route (Barrons December 17, 1989). This scenario provided Pan Am with a credible defense against claims for compensation by relatives of victims, since, if the U.S. government had helped the bomb bypass Pan Am's security, the airline could hardly have been held liable. The Interfor report alleged inter alia that Khalid Jafaar, a Lebanese-American passenger with links to Hezbollah, had unwittingly brought the bomb on board thinking he was carrying drugs on behalf of Syrian drug dealers he supposedly worked for. However, the New York court, which heard the civil case lodged by the U.S. relatives, rejected the Interfor allegations for lack of evidence. Aviv was never interviewed by either the Scottish police or the FBI in connection with PA 103.
In 1990 the protected-suitcase theory was given a new lease of life by Lester Coleman in his book Trail of the Octopus. Coleman by his own admission was a self-proclaimed former freelance journalist-turned-informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Cyprus. Coleman claimed to have seen Khalid Jafaar in the DEA office in Nicosia, Cyprus once again implying that Jafaar was a drugs mule, but this time for the DEA instead of Syrian drug dealers.
Despite no evidence being advanced to support Coleman's claims, the theory gained some credence when British journalist Paul Foot wrote a glowing review of Coleman's book for the London Review of Books. But on March 31, 2004—four months before his death—Foot reverted to the orthodox Iran/PFLP-GC theory in an article he wrote for The Guardian entitled "Lockerbie's dirty secret."
A 1994 documentary film The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie, which included interviews with Lester Coleman and Yuval Aviv, seemed to favour a hybrid version embracing both the CIA-protected suitcase and the drugs mule versions of the theory. Shortly after the film was broadcast by Channel 4 television on May 11, 1995 Aviv was indicted on fraud charges. Aviv was quick to claim that these were trumped-up charges, and in due course they were dropped.