Don’t be fooled by Benotman’s elaborate ‘explanation’ about how he helped get Moussa Koussa out of Libya: the BBC is the victim of a security sting.
Although the media at the moment continue to talk naively about Libyan ‘defector’ Moussa Koussa as the man ‘with the electrifying key to the Megrahi affair’, this represents only a cover story – albeit quite a good one. He is no more a Libyan defector than I am, but rather an agent coming home.
It’s difficult to pin down whether MI5’s Libyan desk turned Moussa Koussa or groomed him many years ago from scratch (I suspect the latter) but either way he has been supplying the British security services with a steady stream of high-quality information for the best part of a decade.
This morning I’m even more certain about this than I was last night: for while Norman Benotman, a friend of Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, has told the BBC live on today’s morning show how he helped the high-ranking official to escape, he is acting in concert with the security services as part of a standard (albeit very bold and smart) media sting. It has one grand design: to distance Koussa from any suggestion of professional espionage.
Mr Benotman used to be a leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, but like his friend Koussa, various things have given him a radical change of heart over the decades. Today, he works for the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation – an organisation whose ‘About Us’ page tells you nothing about them at all. And never will.
Mr Koussa – who sounds more like a Turkish appetizer than a spy – is being routinely dismissed in some quarters as ‘not that important’ (and by the Gadaffi regime as ‘mentally ill’) but the current debriefing flap going on in Whitehall – coupled with David Cameron’s blunt ‘hands-off’ to the Met Police yesterday – would suggest otherwise. Relations between the Met and Downing Street are deteriorating with every day, and as the anti-Libyan feud among London’s top anti-terrorist cops goes back a long way, one might have expected Cameron to give the cops their man. But the PM’s message was clear: this man is destined for a different fate to the average IRA fit-up.
What’s also largely misunderstood is precisely what Koussa is being debriefed about. This is mainly to do with military events and internal Libyan Party politics (but not plane-bombings) for the simple reason that the British security services have known all the details about the Lockerbie bombing for years. It may well be that the Conservative dirty-tricks department has it in mind to present Koussa as ‘the man who spilt the beans on Blair’s Libyan complicity’, but this is a long way from the truth.
There are, however, two people perhaps a little disturbed about this development at the moment. One is George Galloway, and the other is Vladimir Putin. Stay tuned: this may fizzle out, but somehow I doubt it.
Footnote @ 16.08 GMT : This afternoon I made seven comments threads about the Moussa Koussa situation (with urrl link to the above piece) at The Huffington Post. I have not had a single hit as a result of them. The four I’ve managed to check so far have been censored. None of the threads were remotely offensive, and normally for a story this strong I would expect at least 140 hits from that quarter. (Huffington Slog-fan readers alone total 63 at the last count.) Now why’s that, I wonder?