The Independent on Sunday’s sensational revelations offer further insight into what Libya is really all about.
Today’s IoS story of close and warm cooperation between Gaddafi’s security thugs and MI6 is yet another episode in the slow unravelling of what the strategic story behind UK/Libyan relations have been over the last twelve years. As well as going some way towards vindicating the Slog’s ‘Moussa Koussa double-agent’ scoop of the Spring, it remains highly likely that everything from the Blair/Brown rivalry to Hackgate impinge on the full story of this extraordinary example of murky espionage.
When The Slog alone ran a story last April 1st fingering Libyan ‘defector’ Moussa Koussa as an MI6 double agent, a well-known former Fleet Street figure emailed me to ask whether I thought many people would get that it was an April Fool stunt. An online magazine publisher rang me with the same line later the same day, and this time I asserted vigorously that the story was bona fide. “I think you make this stuff up,” he said. I’ve not heard from him since.
But the story I offered – that Moussa Koussa was an agent coming ‘in from the cold’ – was well-sourced. Not BBC, three-snouts-without-collusion sourced….but based on the assertion of a former diplomat who had only one agenda that I could fathom. Following this weekend’s revelations from the Independent on Sunday newspaper, my source looks as reliable as ever.
I was buoyed at the time by Huffington Post’s decision to censor all my comment threads relating to the Mouusa Koussa saga there at the time. The reason, I suspect, was simple: the revelation stood every chance of being acutely embarrassing for long-time US ally and banker’s best friend Tony Blair. If so, then this was only a stay of execution: the IoS this morning makes it clear that Teflon Tone was, to say the least of it, capable of a fair amount of double-dealing himself.
‘Britain helped to capture one of the leading opponents of the Gaddafi regime before he was sent back to be tortured in Libya, according to a secret document discovered by The Independent on Sunday in the offices of Moussa Koussa, then Muammar Gaddafi’s spymaster,’ the paper writes this morning, adding, ‘So close had the [UK/Libya security] relationship become that several Western European intelligence agencies were using the services of MI6 to approach the Libyans for help with their own terrorist suspects. The Swedish, Italian and Dutch services sought the help of the UK agency in liaising with Tripoli. A sign of the warmth of the relationship between British intelligence and their Libyan counterparts is shown in the stream of letters from London to Tripoli, headed “Greetings from MI6” and “Greetings from SIS”.
My source continues to insist that Moussa Koussa had long since convinced Gaddafi of the importance of ‘appearing to be friendly’ with MI6, when in fact he was already working for the British security agency. In the history of espionage coups, this sting may yet go down as one of the all-time Greats.
The anti-Gaddafi agent identified by the IoS as Abdel-Hakim Belhaj was, it is alleged, sent back to Libya to be tortured. It seems likely in fact that he was a pawn in the game by which British intelligence had to convince the Libyans that they were ‘for real’ in helping the Libyan dictator. This is supported by the fact that Belhaj miraculously survived his ordeal….and was then sent back into Libya by the Americans as a sort of Lenin to Gaddafi’s Tsar Nicholas.
Tony Blair, says my source, wanted this rapprochement with Gaddafi purely to get a War on Terror ‘result’ with George W Bush. But I remain unconvinced about this. I think my source’s one agenda was to dump on Blair, for whom he has nothing but disdain. (Blair cut the FCO out of much espionage work during his Premiership, because he quite rightly regarded them as incompetent. This has been largely reversed by Hague and Cameron….with disastrous results.)
Gaddafi’s subsequent renunciation of WoMD was seen as something of a breakthrough at the time, but Blair and MI6 were almost certainly playing a longer game wherein the main goal was geopolitical. I’d be lying if I said I know more than hazily what that game was: but I am certain that neither Blair nor his spooks took Gaddafi’s non-violent stance seriously for a moment. My suspicion is that their main aim was to dilute Russian influence.
Lest we forget, other events that came later are also related to (even part of) this riddle. There is the as yet unclear subject of Gordon Brown’s blackmail of Tony Blair in 2006 in order to grasp the Crown from his ‘partner’. There is the ‘discreet’ sending of al Megrahi back to Tripoli that turned into such a PR disaster for Brown himself once he had gained power – and revealed him (for the umpteenth time) as a liar. There is the closeness of News International employee Andy Hayman to Blair at the time. There is the continuing suggestion of a security element to the Hackgate affair. And there is the very severe ‘hands off’ warning given to the Met Police (by Downing Street and MI6) when Moussa Koussa turned up in London.
I’m also sure (again from sources) that Hague, the FCO and MI6 were caught on the hop by the emergence of a Libyan rebel movement earlier this year. Blair’s ‘realpolitik’ was based on the low likelihood, in his view, of Gaddafi falling from power.
I have little doubt that further developments will follow…until it all gets too near the Blair/Murdoch relationship. We shall see.