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“The truth is out there.” The catch phrase from the popular television show “The X-Files” could well be the motto for Mark Zaid’s legal practice. Since graduating from Albany Law School of Union University in 1992, the 33-year-old Zaid has turned an interest in history, particularly the Kennedy assassination, into an unusual practice, consisting of quirky, quixotic and, increasingly, successful battles against government secrecy. “My practice is like a kid’s dream,” says Zaid, who is of counsel to Washington, D.C.’s Lobel, Novins & Lamont. “I have litigated the famous historical cases that I’ve studied.” Sometimes, Zaid finds himself in the middle of the stories. He is one of the lawyers suing Libya on behalf of 40 families of passengers killed on Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. He also sued to get federal judges to turn over their financial disclosure forms to the Internet news site APBnews.com. At other times, he is like the man with the umbrella in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, on the periphery of historical events but hard to ignore. He represents Mohamed Al Fayed in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. government, seeking documents to prove that Princess Diana and Fayed’s son Dodi were murdered by British intelligence on the orders of Britain’s royal family. And when he had been out of law school a few years, he tried, unsuccessfully, to have John Wilkes Booth dug up to test an old theory that someone else occupied the grave of Lincoln’s assassin. Make no mistake, Zaid is not as paranoid as “The X-Files” show’s famously conspiracy-minded FBI Agent Fox Mulder. But if Agent Mulder ever needed a lawyer, Zaid would be his man. In the wake of the recent criminal conviction of one of the two defendants in the Pan Am 103 bombing case, the civil case against Libya is in the limelight. But if not for Zaid’s relentless networking, there might not have been any civil case. Zaid (rhymes with “maid”) was studying history at the University of Rochester in December 1988 when a terrorist bomb brought the airliner down over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground. That spring, he had interned at Parliament in London, and like a lot of American students that year, he flew Pan Am. Two of the bombing victims were University of Rochester students. In 1992, in law school and with Pan Am still on his mind, Zaid helped organize a conference on aviation security and terrorism in Albany, N.Y., and invited Allan Gerson, a lawyer then in private practice, who had been counsel to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations from 1981 to 1985. Gerson says that he was reluctant, but Zaid told him he didn’t need to prepare, just show up. “It was the best conference I ever attended,” says Gerson. SUING LIBYA The conference got Gerson thinking about using the courts to recover money for victims of terrorism. He wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times, urging President George H.W. Bush to press Libya to compensate the victims’ families. The article, in turn, led to Gerson’s filing a lawsuit against Libya on behalf of a man whose wife was killed on Pan Am 103. A year later, recently admitted to the bar and looking for a Washington job, Zaid called Gerson. As it happened, Gerson had left his firm when his representation of the Pan Am 103 client conflicted with the firm’s representation of the Libyan government. Gerson asked Zaid to help on the case. Early on, the idea of suing Libya drew a chilly reception from other lawyers representing the Pan Am 103 families, whose strategy was to focus on Pan Am’s liability. And it looked as if they were right. A federal district judge dismissed the suit against Libya. The case looked like a loser. Then the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 put terrorism on the front burner. Pan Am 103 families joined with Oklahoma City families in pressing for a right to sue foreign governments for state-sponsored terrorism. Zaid spent many uncompensated hours successfully lobbying to get such a provision included in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Gerson and Zaid, joined now by lawyers for other Pan Am 103 families, refiled their suits under the new law, claiming more than $10 billion from Libya. “It wouldn’t have happened without Mark,” says Gerson. Now, after several years litigating the refiled cases, the Pan Am 103 families are waiting for the inevitable appeals of the criminal conviction to be decided before the cases are likely to move forward. Zaid says that the criminal prosecution gave the civil cases a boost both legally and politically. First, he says, the conviction of Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi ties Libya to the bombing as a factual matter. Second, it heightens pressure on Libya to compensate victims’ families before it can normalize relations with the United States. The civil suits provide the perfect vehicle for Libya to do so, says Zaid. While his work on Pan Am 103 grew out of inviting Gerson to the 1992 conference, much of the rest of Zaid’s work can be tied to his Kennedy assassination contacts. Zaid hates being called an “assassination buff,” as he is aware that many equate the term with “kook.” Asked about the Kennedy assassination in an interview, Zaid’s position is mostly mainstream, which is to say out of step with a lot of the people who immerse themselves in the controversy. “Conspiracies are generally incompetence, CYA” — i.e., cover your ass — “or unbelievable coincidences,” says Zaid. “Fourth and seldom are the few actual conspiracies.” Who killed J.F.K.? “Oswald.” Did he act alone? “I don’t know.” Agnosticism on this second question places him on the rational fringe of amateur students of the assassination and has gotten him accused of being an FBI or a CIA plant among them. He once wrote a paper debunking a theory that the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was not disciplined for catching a venereal disease while in the Marines is evidence that he enjoyed CIA protection. (According to Zaid, the policy at the time was not to punish Marines who had contracted VD but otherwise had followed regulations.) J.F.K. CASES Zaid’s Kennedy connections have gotten him cases. He sued unsuccessfully to have the Zapruder film of the assassination placed in the public domain. And he represented one of J.F.K.’s secret service agents, who sued for defamation when a writer claimed that the agent had accidentally fired the fatal shot. He represented an official of the Defense Intelligence Agency whom he met at a Kennedy assassination conference. And he says that he has represented authors of J.F.K. books pro bono or for small fees. In many of his cases, in fact, Zaid says he began by offering his services free, to get experience and to work on interesting matters. For example, while at law school, Zaid offered to help a local Holocaust education group take on Fred A. Leuchter Jr., a Holocaust denier and self-styled expert in death-row equipment who was the subject of the 1999 film documentary “Mr. Death,” by the award-winning director Errol Morris. Leuchter, who analyzed samples of brick and mortar that he had smuggled from Auschwitz and Birkenau in 1988, claimed that tests of the material showed that the Germans did not gas Jews at the camp, in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. Zaid did some research. He discovered that Leuchter, who claimed to be an engineer but who didn’t have a degree in the field, was violating the law of Massachusetts, his home state, by making the false claim. The Albany group, the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Network, persuaded Massachusetts authorities to prosecute. In the John Wilkes Booth case, Zaid contacted the Maryland lawyer who was originally trying to get the corpse disinterred, offering his legal research skills and knowledge of a similar effort to dig up Lee Harvey Oswald. Zaid eventually inherited the case. MONEY MATTERS With all this unpaid legal work, how does Zaid pay the bills? “All my relatives and friends think I’m making all this money,” he says, laughing. Although his cases are frequently in the press, he does not have a lavish income, he says. But the pro bono cases have given him exposure and have drawn paying cases, including a wrongful death settlement in favor of a 16-year-old girl killed in 1997 by a Georgian diplomat who was driving drunk. In addition, Zaid represents servicemen who were court-martialed for refusing to submit to anthrax vaccinations. And he is suing to try to prevent the federal government from using polygraph results to turn down job applicants. Another Freedom of Information Act case aims to open up the oldest documents classified by the U.S. government — a handful of World War I-era papers on Germany’s use of disappearing ink. The case was filed by the James Madison Project, a nonprofit set up by Zaid in 1998 to promote government accountability and to reduce secrecy. “Secrecy begets questions and wrong conclusions,” Zaid says.

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