Spies need more oversight, not new powers

Published on www.politics.co.uk, and Huffington Post UK.

Following the awful murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last week, the political securocrats who claim to represent the interests of the British intelligence services have swung into action, demanding yet further surveillance powers for MI5 and MI6 “in order to prevent future Woolwich-style attacks”.

As I’ve written before, it was heartening that the UK Prime Minister said in the aftermath of the attack that there would be no knee-jerk security reaction. However, that has not deterred certain intelligence sock-puppets from political opportunism – they stridently call for the resurrection of the draft Communications Data Bill that was earlier this year kicked into the long grass. If the hawks are successful, the new law would have implications not only for our freedoms at home, but also for our policy and standing abroad.

Recently the civil liberties camp acquired a surprising ally in this debate, with MI5 unexpectedly entering the fray.  And rightly so. There is absolutely no need for this new legislation, the requisite powers are already in place. Senior security sources have argued that those citing the Woolwich attack to promote the snoopers’ charter are using a “cheap argument”.

As I said in this recent BBC radio interview, all the necessary laws are already in place for MI5 either to passively monitor or aggressively investigate persons of interest under the original terms of IOCA (1985) and updated in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA 2000).

There now appears to be little doubt that the two Woolwich suspects were well and truly on the MI5 radar. It has been reported that they had been targets for at least 8 years and that Michael Adebolajo had been approached to work as an agent by MI5 as recently as 6 months ago.

One of his friends, Abu Nusaybah, recorded an interview for BBC’s Newsnight programme last week, only to be arrested by counter-terrorism police immediately afterwards. He stated that Adebolajo had been tortured and threatened with rape after his arrest in Kenya en route to Somalia, and that this treatment may have flipped him into more violent action. Indeed, the tale gets ever murkier, with reports yesterday stating that Adebolajo was snatched by the SAS in Kenya on the orders of MI5.

Other information has since been released by the organisation CagePrisoners indicating that Adebolajo’s family and friends had also been harrassed to pressurize him into reporting to MI5.

All of which obviates the early claims that Adebolajo was either a “lone wolf” or a low-priority target. It certainly indicates to me that MI5 will have at the very least been monitoring Adebolajo’s communications data, especially if they were trying to recruit him as a source. If that indeed turns out to have been the case, then without doubt MI5 will also have been intercepting the content of his communications, to understand his thinking and assess his access. Anything less would have been slipshod – a dereliction of duty – and all this could and should have been done under the existing terms of RIPA.

So what are the chances of some real oversight or answers?

If we’re talking about an independent inquiry, the chances are slim: the Inquiries Act (2005) passed little noticed into law, but it means that the government and the department under investigation can pretty much determine the scope and terms of the inquiry to which they are subject.

However, might we nail the flag of hope to the mast of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) – the committee tasked with overseeing the work of the UK intelligence agencies? The new DG of MI5, Andrew Parker, has already submitted a written report about Woolwich and will be giving evidence to the ISC in person next week about whether MI5 missed some vital intelligence or dropped the ball.

Th ISC of Parliament was established as part of the Intelligence Services Act (1994) – the law that finally brought MI6 and GCHQ under the umbrella of notional democratic oversight. MI5 had already come into the legal fold with the Security Service Act (1989).

As I have written before, initially the ISC was a democratic fig-leaf – its members were appointed by the PM not Parliament, it reported directly to the PM, and its remit only covered the policy, finance and administration of the UK’s intelligence agencies.

Until this year the ISC could not investigate operational matters, nor could it demand to see documents or question top spooks under oath. Indeed, it has been well reported that senior spies and police have long evaded meaningful scrutiny by being “economical with the truth”.

Former MI5 DG Sir Stephen Lander in 2001 said “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the committee early on“; a more recent DG, Sir Jonathan Evans, had to admit in 2008 that MI5 had lied about its involvement in torture; and Lord Blair, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had to apologise in 2008 for misleading the ISC about the number of thwarted terrorist attacks on his watch.

However the current Chair of the ISC, Sir Malcom Rifkind, has pursued a more muscular oversight role. And it seems he has at least won some battles. The one good element to have come out of the contentious Justice and Security Act (2013) appears to be that the ISC has more direct accountability to Parliament, rather than just to the PM (the devil is expressed in the detail: the ISC is now “of” Parliament, rather than “in” Parliament…).

Somewhat more pertinently, the ISC can now investigate operational matters, demand papers and witnesses, and it appears they now have a special investigator who can go and rummage around the MI5 Registry for information.

It remains to be seen how effective the ISC will realistically be in holding the intelligence agencies to account, even with these new powers. However, Sir Malcolm Rifkind has good reason to know how slippery the spies can be – after all, he was the Foreign Secretary in 1995/6, the years when MI6 was funding Al Qaeda associates to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi of Libya.  The attack went wrong, innocent people were killed and, crucially, it was illegal under UK law, as MI6 had not requested the prior written permission for such a plot from the Foreign Secretary, as required under Section 7(1) of the aforementioned ISA (1994). Rifkind has always claimed that he was not told about the plot by MI6.

So, in the interests of justice let us hope that the Rifkind and the other members of the ISC fully exercise their powers and that MI5’s new DG, Andrew Parker is somewhat more frank about the work of his agency than his predecessors have been. It is only through greater honesty and accountability that our intelligence agencies can learn from the mistakes of the past and better protect our country in the future.

MI6 “ghost money”

Here’s the full article about MI6 “ghost money”, now also published at the Huffington Post UK:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has recently been criticised for taking “ghost money” from the CIA and MI6. The sums are inevitably unknown, for the usual reasons of “national security”, but are estimated to have been tens of millions of dollars. While this is nowhere near the eyebleeding $12 billion shipped over to Iraq on pallets in the wake of the invasion a decade ago, it is still a significant amount.

And how has this money been spent?  Certainly not on social projects or rebuilding initiatives.  Rather, the reporting indicates, the money has been funnelled to Karzai’s cronies as bribes in a corrupt attempt to buy influence in the country.

None of this surprises me. MI6 has a long and ignoble history of trying to buy influence in countries of interest.  In 1995/96 it funded a “ragtag group of Islamic extremists”, headed up by a Libyan military intelligence officer, in an illegal attempt to try to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi.  The attack went wrong and innocent people were killed.  When this scandal was exposed, it caused an outcry.

Yet a mere 15 years later, MI6 and the CIA were back in Libya, providing support to the same “rebels”, who this time succeeded in capturing, torturing and killing Gaddafi, while plunging Libya into apparently endless internecine war. This time around there was little international outcry, as the world’s media portrayed this aggressive interference in a sovereign state as “humanitarian relief”.

And we also see the same in Syria now, as the CIA and MI6 are already providing training and communications support to the rebels – many of whom, particularly the Al Nusra faction in control of the oil-rich north-east of Syria are in fact allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq.  So in some countries the UK and USA use drones to target and murder “militants” (plus villagers, wedding parties and other assorted innocents), while in others they back ideologically similar groups.

Recently we have also seen the Western media making unverified claims that the Syrian regime is using chemical weapons against its own people, and our politicians leaping on these assertions as justification for openly providing weapons to the insurgents too. Thankfully, other reports are now emerging that indicate it was the rebels themselves who have been using sarin gas against the people. This may halt the rush to arms, but not doubt other support will continue to be offered by the West to these war criminals.

So how is MI6 secretly spending UK taxpayers’ money in Afghanistan? According to western media reporting, it is being used to prop up warlords and corrupt officials. This is deeply unpopular amongst the Afghan people, leading to the danger of increasing support for a resurgent Taliban.

There is also a significant overlap between the corrupt political establishment and the illegal drug trade, up to and including the president’s late brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.  So, another unintentional consequence may be that some of this unaccountable ghost money is propping up the drug trade.

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of heroin, and the UN reports that poppy growth has increased dramatically. Indeed, the UN estimates that acreage under poppy growth in Afghanistan has tripled over the last 7 years.  The value of the drug trade to the Afghan warlords is now estimated to be in the region of $700 million per year.  You can buy a lot of Kalashnikovs with that.

So on the one hand we have our western governments bankrupting themselves to fight the “war on terror”, breaking international laws and murdering millions of innocent people across North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia while at the same time shredding what remain of our hard-won civil liberties at home.

On the other hand, we apparently have MI6 and the CIA secretly bankrolling the very people in Afghanistan who produce 90% of the world’s heroin. And then, of course, more scarce resources can be spent on fighting the failed “war on drugs” and yet another pretext is used to shred our civil liberties.

This is a lucrative economic model for the burgeoning military-security complex.

However, it is a lose-lose scenario for the rest of us.

RT article about MI6’s Afghan “ghost money”

Here’s a link to my new article, published exclusively today on RT’s Op-Edge news site.

I discuss the recent news that MI6, in addition to the CIA, has been paying “ghost money” to the political establishment in Afghanistan, other examples of such meddling, and the probable unintended consequences.

Interview on the Abby Martin show, RT America

My recent interview on “Breaking the Set”, Abby Martin’s show on RT America, discussing all things whistleblowing:

Secret Agent Turns Whistleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

Part One of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:

Libya, MI6, and torture – interview on Press TV

Libya, MI6, torture, and more happy subjects discussed recently on “Africa Today” on Press TV. 

The programme was interesting, informed and balanced.  Do have a watch:

Libyans caught between a rock and a hard place

This article in today's New York Times, particularly these following two paragraphs, sent a shiver down my spine for the fate of the Libyan people:

Abdelhakim-Belhaj"The most powerful military leader is now Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the former leader of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.The growing influence of Islamists in Libya raises hard questions about the ultimate character of the government and society that will rise in place of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s autocracy…..

….Mr. Belhaj has become so much an insider lately that he is seeking to unseat Mahmoud Jibril, the American-trained economist who is the nominal prime minister of the interim government, after Mr. Jibril obliquely criticized the Islamists."

The Libyans, finally free of Gaddafi's 42-year dictatorship, now seem faced with a choice between an Islamist faction that has stated publicly that it wants to base the new constitution on Sharia – a statement that must have caused a few ripples amongst Libya's educated and relatively  emancipated women – or a new government headed up by an American-trained economist. 

Shock_DoctrineAnd we all know what happens to countries when such economists move in: asset stripping, the syphoning off of the national wealth to transnational mega-corps, and a plunge in the people's living standards.  If you think this sounds extreme, then do get your hands on a copy of Naomi Klein's excellent "Shock Doctrine" – required reading for anyone who wants to truly understand the growing global financial crisis.

Of course, this would be an ideal outcome for the US, UK and other western forces who intervened in Libya. 

Mr Belhaj is, of course, another matter.  Not only would an Islamist Libya be a potentially dangerous result for the West, but should Belhaj come to power he is likely to be somewhat hostile to US and particularly British interests.  

Why?  Well, Abdul Hakim Belhaj has form.  He was a leading light in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a terrorist organisation which bought into the ideology of "Al Qaeda" and which had made many attempts to depose or assassinate Gaddafi, sometimes with the financial backing of the British spies, most notably in the failed assassination plot of 1996.

Of course, after 9/11 and Gaddafi's rapprochement with the West, this collaboration was all air-brushed out of history – to such an extent that in 2004 MI6 was instrumental in  kidnapping Belhaj, with the say-so of the CIA, and "extraordinarily rendering" him to Tripoli in 2004, where he suffered 6 years' torture at the hands of Libya's brutal intelligences services.  After this, I doubt if he would be minded to work too closely with UK companies.

So I'm willing to bet that there is more behind-the-scenes meddling from our spooks, to ensure the ascendency of Jibril in the new government.  Which will be great for Western business, but not so great for the poor Libyans…..

Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly classified intelligence documents was recently discovered in the abandoned offices of former Libyan spy master, Foreign Minister and high-profile defector, Musa Kusa.

These documents have over the last couple of weeks provided a fascinating insight into the growing links in the last decade between the former UK Labour government, particularly Tony Blair, and the Gaddafi regime.  They have displayed in oily detail the degree of toadying that the Blair government was prepared to countenance, not only to secure lucrative business contracts but also to gloss over embarrassing episodes such as Lockerbie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assassination plot against Gaddafi.

These documents have also apparently revealed direct involvement by MI6 in the “extraordinary rendition” to Tripoli and torture of two Libyans.  Ironically it has been reported that they were wanted for being members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the very organisation that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The secular dictatorship of Col Gaddafi always had much to fear from Islamist extremism, so it is perhaps unsurprising that, after Blair’s notorious “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gaddafi regime used its connections with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been endlessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The torture  victims, one of whom is now a military commander of the rebel Libyan forces, are now considering suing the British government.  Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stating that he could not be expected to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no – part of the job description of Foreign Secretary is indeed to oversee the work of MI6 and hold it to democratic accountability, especially about such serious policy issues as “extraordinary rendition” and torture.  Such operations would indeed need the ministerial sign-off to be legal under the 1994 Intelligence Services Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the current government about how the Gibson Torture Inquiry will get to the bottom of these cases, but we all know how toothless such inquiries will be, circumscribed as they are by the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gibson himself has for years been “embedded” within the British intelligence community and is hardly likely to hold the spies meaningfully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was particularly intrigued to hear that the the cache of documents showed the case of David Shayler, the intelligence whistleblower who revealed the 1996 Gaddafi assassination plot and went to prison twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a subject of discussion between the Libyan and UK governments in 2007. And, as I have written before, as late as 2009 it was obvious that this case was still used by the Libyans for leverage, certainly when it came to the tit-for-tat negotiations around case of the murder in London outside the Libyan Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the British government was all too ready to crush the whistleblower rather than investigate the disclosures and hold the spies to account for their illegal and reckless acts.  I have always felt that this was a failure of democracy, that it seriously undermined the future work and reputation of the spies themselves, and particularly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whistleblower).

But it now appears that the British intelligence community’s sense of omnipotence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think mentality that participates in “extraordinary rendition” and torture?

One has to wonder if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of documents behind in his abandoned offices as an “insurance policy”, just in case his defection to the UK were not to be as comfortable as he had hoped – and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been questioned about the Lockerbie case.

But whether an honest mistake or cunning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of British government lies and double dealing vis a vis Libya….

Lawyers challenge integrity of UK spy torture inquiry

Gareth_Peirce_1It was widely reported today that a number of well-respected British lawyers and civil liberties organisations are questioning the integrity of the much-trumpeted inquiry into UK spy complicity in torture.

And about time too.  One hopes this is all part of a wider strategy, not merely a defensive reaction to the usual power play on the part of the British establishment.  After all, it has been apparent from the start that the whole inquiry would be questionable when it was announced that Sir Peter Gibson would be chairing the inquiry.

Gibson has certain form.  He was until recently the Intelligence Services Commissioner – the very person who for the last five years has been invited into MI5, MI6 and GCHQ for cosy annual chats with carefully selected intelligence officers (ie those who won't rock the boat), to report back to the government that democratic oversight was working wonderfully, and it was all A-OK in the spy organisations.

After these years of happy fraternising, when his name was put forward to investigate potential criminal complicity in torture on the part of the spies, he did the publicly decent thing and resigned as Commissioner to take up the post of chair of the Torture Inquiry.

Well, we know the establishment always like a safe pair of hands….  and this safety has also been pretty much guaranteed by law for the last six years. 

Ever since the Inquiries Act 2005 was pushed through as law, with relatively little press awareness or parliamentary opposition, government departments and intelligence agencies have pretty much been able to call the shots when it comes to the scope of supposedly independent inquiries.

Malcolm_RifkindInterestingly, Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary who now chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, has also weighed in to the debate.  On BBC Radio 4's Today programme he stated:

"I cannot recollect an inquiry that's been proposed to be so open as we're having in this particular case. When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 – the prime minister has made quite clear – can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evidence?"

This from the senior politician who has always denied that he was officially briefed about the illegal assassination plot against Colonel Gaddafi of Libya in 1996; this from the man who is now calling for the arming of the very same extremists to topple Gaddafi in the ongoing shambles that is the Libyan War; and this from the man who is also loudly calling for an extension of the ISC's legal powers so that it can demand access to witnesses and documents from the spy organisations. 

No doubt my head will stop spinning in a day or two….

UK Intelligence and Security Committee to be reformed?

The Guardian's spook commentator extraordinaire, Richard Norton-Taylor, has reported that the current chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) in the UK Parliament, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, wants the committee to finally grow a pair.  Well, those weren't quite the words used in the Grauny, but they certainly capture the gist.

If Rifkind's stated intentions are realised, the new-look ISC might well provide real, meaningful and democratic oversight for the first time in the 100-year history of  the three key UK spy agencies – MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, not to mention the defence intelligence staff, the joint intelligence committee and the new National Security Council .

FigleafFor many long years I have been discussing the woeful lack of real democratic oversight for the UK spies.  The privately-convened ISC, the democratic fig-leaf established under the aegis of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act (ISA), is appointed by and answerable only to the Prime Minister, with a remit only to look at finance, policy and administration, and without the power to demand documents or to cross-examine witnesses under oath.  Its annual reports are always heavily redacted and have become a joke amongst journalists.

When the remit of the ISC was being drawn up in the early 1990s, the spooks were apoplectic that Parliament should have any form of oversight whatsoever.  From their perspective, it was bad enough at that point that the agencies were put on a legal footing for the first time.  Spy thinking then ran pretty much along the lines of "why on earth should they be answerable to a bunch of here-today, gone-tomorrow politicians, who were leaky as hell and gossiped to journalists all the time"?

So it says a great deal that the spooks breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief when the ISC remit was finally enshrined in law in 1994.  They really had nothing to worry about.  I remember, I was there at the time.

This has been borne out over the last 17 years.  Time and again the spies have got away with telling barefaced lies to the ISC.  Or at the very least being "economical with the truth", to use one of their favourite phrases.  Former DG of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, has publicly said that "I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the committee [ISC] early on…".  Not to mention the outright lies told to the ISC over the years about issues like whistleblower testimony, torture, and counter-terrorism measures.

But these new developments became yet more fascinating to me when I read that the current Chair of the ISC proposing these reforms is no less than Sir Malcolm Rifkind, crusty Tory grandee and former Conservative Foreign Minister in the mid-1990s.

For Sir Malcolm was the Foreign Secretary notionally in charge of MI6 when the intelligence officers, PT16 and PT16/B, hatched the ill-judged Gaddafi Plot when MI6 funded a rag-tag group of Islamic extremist terrorists in Libya to assassinate the Colonel, the key disclosure made by David Shayler when he blew the whistle way back in the late 1990s.

Obviously this assassination attempt was highly reckless in a very volatile part of the world; obviously it was unethical, and many innocent people were murdered in the attack; and obviously it failed, leading to the shaky rapprochement with Gaddafi over the last decade.  Yet now we are seeing the use of similar tactics in the current Libyan war (this time more openly) with MI6 officers being sent to help the rebels in Benghazi and our government openly and shamelessly calling for regime change.

Malcolm_RifkindBut most importantly from a legal perspective, in 1996 the "Gaddafi Plot" MI6 apparently did not apply for prior written permission from Rifkind – which they were legally obliged to do under the terms of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act (the very act that also established the ISC).  This is the fabled, but real, "licence to kill" – Section 7 of the ISA – which provides immunity to MI6 officers for illegal acts committed abroad, if they have the requisite ministerial permission.

At the time, Rifkind publicly stated that he had not been approached by MI6 to sanction the plot when the BBC Panorama programme conducted a special investigation, screened on 7 August 1997.  Rifkind's statement was also reported widely in the press over the years, including this New Statesman article by Mark Thomas in 2002.

That said, Rifkind himself wrote earlier this year in The Telegraph that help should now be given to the Benghazi "rebels" – many of whom appear to be members of the very same group that tried to assassinate Gaddafi with MI6's help in 1996 – up to and including the provision of arms.  Rifkind's view of the legalities now appear to be somewhat more flexible, whatever his stated position was back in the 90s. 

Of course, then he was notionally in charge of MI6 and would have to take the rap for any political fall-out.  Now he can relax into the role of "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?".  Such a relief.

I shall be watching developments around Rifkind's proposed reforms with interest.

Libya: my enemy’s enemy is my friend, until he becomes my enemy again…

UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, reportedly made the startling statement recently that the military intervention in Libya "unlike Iraq, is necessary, legal and right". 

Blair_takes_the_oathWould it not be wonderful if he could take the next logical step towards joined-up thinking and consider sending our esteemed Middle East Peace Envoy, a certain Mr T Blair, over for a spot of porridge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague?  After all, Cameron has now clearly implied that the Iraq war was "unnecessary, illegal and wrong"…..

But back to Libya.  With the ongoing crisis – now war – much is being written about how the previous UK government collaborated with the Gaddafi regime in the last decade – while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coalition government where, no doubt, similar levels of cooperation and back-slapping and money-grubbing were going on at the highest levels to ensure the continuing flow of oil contracts to the UK.

But, yes, we should be dissecting the Labour/Gaddafi power balance.  Gaddafi had New Labour over the proverbial (oil) barrel from the late 1990s, when MI5 whistleblower David Shayler exposed the failed and illegal MI6 assassination plot against Colonel Gaddafi, using as fall-guys a rag-tag group of Islamic extremists.  The newly-elected Labour government's knee-jerk response at the time was to believe the spook's denials and cover-up for them.  Perhaps not so surprising, as the government ministers of the day were uncomfortably aware that the spies held files on them.  But this craven response did leave the government position exposed, as Gaddafi well knew.

MoS_G_Plot-credible_1997The CIA was fully cognisant of this failed plot at the time, as were the French intelligence services.  The Gaddafi Plot is once again being referenced in the media, including the Telegraph, and a recent edition of the Huffington Post.  The details are still relevant, as it appears that our enterprising spooks are yet again reaching out to a rag-tag group of rebels – primarily Islamists and the Senussi royalists based around Benghazi. 

The lessons of the reckless and ill-thought out Gaddafi Plot were brushed under the carpet, so history may yet again be doomed to repeat itself.  Yes, Gaddafi has been one of the biggest backers of terrorism ever, and yes he has brutalised parts of his own population, but if he were deposed how can the West be sure that those stepping into the power vacuum would not be even more dangerous?

Musa_Kousa_Hillary_Clinton_NY_2010The Libyan government continued to use the 1996 MI6 assassination plot as leverage in its negotiations with the New Labour government right up until (publicly at least) 2009.  Musa Kousa, the current Foreign Minister, played a key role throughout.  For many years Kousa was the head of the Libyan External Security Organsiation and was widely seen as the chief architect of international Libyan-backed terrorism against the USA, the UK and France. 

Another apparent example of this moral blackmail caught my eye recently – this report in the Daily Mail.  Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was afforded MI6-backed protection when he was finally allowed into the UK in September 2002 to study at the LSE. 

The timing was particularly interesting, as only months earlier Saif had won a libel case against the UK's Sunday Telegraph newspaper.  A grovelling apology was made by the newspaper, but Saif refrained from asking for "exemplary damages" – which he would almost certainly have won.  The resulting pay-off for this restraint appears to be that a mere five months later he was welcomed into the UK with MI6-facilitated protection.

Saif's relations with the UK had not always been so rosy. As background to this case, in 1995 the Sunday Telegraph had fallen hook, line and sinker for a MI6 classic propaganda operation.  As The Guardian reported, the secretive MI6 media manipulation section, Information Operations, (I/Ops), had successfully spun a fake story to hapless spook hack, Con Coughlin, that Gaddafi Junior was involved in currency fraud.  This story was fake, but the paper trail it produced was used by the spies as a pretext to prevent Saif from entering the UK at the time. 

Saif_Prince_AndrewBy 2002 this was all old history, of course.  Saif was welcomed to the UK, officially to study for his MA and PhD at the London School of Economics (and showing his gratitude to that august institution with a hefty donation of £1.5 million – it makes the new tuition fees for UK students seem better value for money), and unofficially to chum up to various Establishment enablers to end Libya's pariah status, open up lucrative trade channels, and get the SAS to train up Libya's special forces

The UK military must be just loving that now…..

So I get the feeling that the UK government has over the last decade indeed "danced with the devil".  After decades of viewing Libya and Colonel Gaddafi as a Priority One JIC intelligence target, the UK government fell over itself to appease the Gaddafi regime in the wake of the bungled assassination attempt in 1996 and the libelling of his son.  These were the sticks Gaddafi used; the carrots were undoubtedly the Saif/MI6-facilitated oil contracts

Of course, all this is now pretty much a moot point, following Dave Cameron's "necessary, legal and right" military intervention.  If the wily old Colonel manages to hang on grimly to some semblence of power (and he has an impressive track-record of surviving against the odds), then I doubt if he'll be happy to cooperate with British oil companies in the future.  At the very least. 

Gaddafi has already threatened "vengeance" against the West, and it was reported today that MI5 is taking this all-too-preditable risk seriously.

If Gaddafi is deposed, who can realistically predict the intentions and capabilities of those who will fill the power vacuum?  We should have learnt from Afghanistan and Iraq: my enemy's enemy is my friend – until he becomes my enemy again…..