Guantanamo Files: was Bin Hamlili really an MI6 source?

My recent art­icle in The Guard­ian news­pa­per about the strange, sad case of yet another Guantanamo victim.

Guantá­namo Bay files: Was Bin Ham­lili really an MI6 source?

With dirty tricks rife in the secret ser­vice we may never know the truth about the Algerian carpet-seller’s ver­sion of events.

Another cache of intel­li­gence nas­ties has emerged, blink­ing, into the main­stream media day­light by way of WikiLeaks. This time, the inform­a­tion is drawn from offi­cial Guantá­namo reports on detain­ees, draw­ing on inform­a­tion gleaned over the years of “enhanced” interrogations.

One case that caught my atten­tion was that of Algerian car­pet seller Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Ham­lili, an alleged “al-Qaida oper­at­ive, facil­it­ator, cour­ier, kid­nap­per and assas­sin” who also appar­ently worked as an agent of CSIS (Cana­dian Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice) and our very own MI6. So was this man a double-agent, play­ing his own lonely game and caught between the demands of his al-Qaida con­tacts and his west­ern hand­lers? Or has MI6 been employ­ing its very own al-Qaida assassin?

The report states that this is Bin Hamlili’s story in his own words – no doubt freely uttered as he emerged, splut­ter­ing, from yet another inter­rog­a­tion. It appears that he entered the mujahideen world when he was a child in the 1980s, fight­ing the Soviet occu­pa­tion of Afgh­anistan. An era when the group was very much an ally of the west, fun­ded, trained and armed by the CIA and MI6 in the fight against the Soviet Union.

This could very well have led to MI6 and/or CSIS approach­ing Bin Ham­lili as a poten­tial source of human intel­li­gence. Humint sources are the crown jew­els of intel­li­gence work – able to reach parts bey­ond the range of elec­tronic sur­veil­lance. The down­side, of course, is that they are merely human and need strong sup­port and backup to sur­vive their dan­ger­ous job, year after year. This is some­thing that is not always provided to them and they can often end up feel­ing exposed, increas­ingly para­noid and in real danger, play­ing every side just to survive.

While some agents do indeed suf­fer a genu­ine revul­sion towards their earlier alle­gi­ances – the basic ideo­lo­gical shift – and try to atone by help­ing the spooks, most are entrapped by the other three points in the clas­sic spy acronym: money, ideo­logy, com­prom­ise, ego. These are more shaded, com­pelled motiv­a­tions that can lead to resent­ment and poten­tial double-dealing, and require close agent hand­ling and care. Unfor­tu­nately, this is often lacking.

So wel­come to the clas­sic intel­li­gence “hall of mir­rors”. Was Bin Ham­lili really an MI6 source? Or was this just an attempt to stop the tor­ture in Guantá­namo, how­ever tem­por­ar­ily? Per­haps he was play­ing both sides? Or per­haps he faith­fully repor­ted back to his CSIS/MI6 hand­lers but his reports were not effect­ively acted on – this hap­pens in the intel­li­gence agen­cies – and the culp­able officers brushed these mis­takes under the car­pet by claim­ing “agent unre­li­ab­il­ity” or “lack of co-operation”.

Or, more wor­ry­ingly, Bin Ham­lili might indeed have had an effect­ive work­ing rela­tion­ship with his hand­lers and was actu­ally tasked in his work as pro­vocateur or even ter­ror­ist, for some arcane intel­li­gence pur­poses. But once caught, he was deemed to be polit­ic­ally embar­rass­ing and hung out to dry.

This would cer­tainly not be the first time this has happened to intel­li­gence agents. Dirty tricks were intrinsic in the dirty war in North­ern Ire­land from the early 1970s, and agents such as Mar­tin McGart­land, Denis Don­ald­son (deceased) and Kevin Fulton have learned all too bru­tally what the phrase “hung out to dry” really means.

This was not restric­ted to North­ern Ire­land. In 1996, MI6 illeg­ally fun­ded an “al-Qaida” coup to assas­sin­ate Col­onel Gad­dafi, using as its agent a Libyan mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer. The attempt mani­festly failed, although inno­cent people were killed in the attempt. This was all hushed up at the time, but now seems rather tame as we watch our defence sec­ret­ary, Liam Fox, fly out to dis­cuss with his US coun­ter­part, Robert Gates, the overt assas­sin­a­tion of Gad­dafi using pred­ator drones. State ter­ror­ism as the new diplomacy?

I doubt we shall ever now know the truth behind Bin Hamlili’s report. The expos­ure of the Guantá­namo régime high­lights once again that tor­ture is coun­ter­pro­duct­ive – it panders to the pre­con­cep­tions of the inter­rog­at­ors and acts as a recruit­ing ground for future poten­tial ter­ror­ists. This used to be the con­sensus even within our intel­li­gence agen­cies, pre-9/11. They need to re-remember the les­sons of his­tory, and their humanity.

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