Diamonds and Rust

Diamonds_and_rust_in_the_bullringSo Colonel Gaddafi of Libya has been dishing out the diplomatic gifts generously to the former US administration.  Listed in the public declaration are even such items as a diamond ring presented to former Secretary of State, Condaleeza Rice, and other gifts to the value of $212,000.

This seems a slightly uneven distribution of largesse from the Middle East to the West.  Before 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror, Gaddafi was still seen by the west as the head of a "rogue state".  Bombs, rather than gifts, were more likely to rain down on him.

However, since 2001 he has come back into the fold and is as keen as the coalition of the "willing" to counter the threat from Islamic extremist terrorists.  So now he's the new bestest friend of the US and UK governments in this unending fight. 

But that was kind of inevitable, wasn't it?  As a secular Middle Eastern dictator, Gaddafi has traditionally had more to fear from Islamists than has the West.  Particularly when these same Islamist groups have received ongoing support from those very governments that are now cosying up to Gaddafi.

Just to remind you, the reason I helped David Shayler in his whistleblowing on the crimes of MI5 and MI6 was because of just such a plot- the attempted assassination of Gaddafi in 1996 that was funded by the UK external intelligence gathering agency, MI6.  In 1995 Shayler, then the head of the Libyan section in MI5,  was officially briefed by his counterpart in MI6, David Watson (otherwise known as PT16/B), about an unfolding plot to kill Gaddafi.  A Libyan military intelligence officer, subsequently code-named Tunworth, walked in to the British embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the resident spook. 

Tunworth said he was the head of a "ragtag group of Islamic extremists" (who subsequently turned out to have links to Al Qaeda – at a time when MI5 had begun to investigate the group), who wanted to effect a coup against Colonel Gaddafi.  They needed funding to do this, and that was where MI6 came in.  As a quid pro quo, Tunworth promised to hand over the two Lockerbie supsects for trial in Europe , which had for years been one of MI6's priority targets – not to mention all those juicy oil contracts for BP et al.

Over the course of about 5 months, MI6 paid Tunworth's group over $100,000, thereby becoming conspirators in a murder plot.  Crucially, MI6 did not get the prior written permission of their political master, the Foreign Secretary, making this action illegal under the terms of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act

Manifestly, this coup attempt did not work – Gaddafi is now a strong ally of our western governments.  In fact, an explosion occurred beneath the wrong car in a cavalcade containing Gaddafi as he returned from the Libyan People's Congress in Sirte.  But innocent people died in the explosion and the ensuing security shoot-out.

So, MI6 funded an illegal, highly reckless plot in a volatile part of world that resulted in the deaths of innocent people.  How more heinous a crime could there be?  But to this day, despite a leaked MI6 document that proved they knew the existence of the proposed plot, and despite other intelligence sources backing up Shayler's disclosures, the UK government has still refused to hold an enquiry.  Quite the opposite – they threw the whistleblower in prison twice and tried to prosecute the investigating journalists.

Some people may call me naive for thinking that the intelligence agencies should not get involved in operations like this.  Putting aside the retort that the spies often conflate the idea of the national interest with their own, short-sighted careerism, I would like to remind such cynics that we are supposed to be living in modern democracies, where even the secret state is supposed to operate within the rule of law and democratic oversight.  Illegal assassination plots, the use of torture, and false flag, state-sponsored terrorism should remain firmly within the retro, pulp-fiction world of James Bond.

Spy Chiefs attack UK Police State

DearloveSir Richard Dearlove, ex-head of MI6 and current Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, has been much in the news recently after gracing the Hay on Wye book festival, where he gave a speech.  In this, he is reported to have spoken out, in strong terms, against the endemic and all-pervasive surveillance society developing in the UK. 

Ex-spy chiefs in the UK have a charming habit of using all these surveillance measures to the nth degree while in the shadows, and then having a Damascene conversion into civil liberties campaigners once they retire.  Eliza Manningham-Buller, the ex-head of MI5, used her maiden speech in the House of Lords to argue against the extension of the time limit the police could hold a terrorist suspect without charge, and even Stella Rimington (also ex-MI5) has recently thrown her hat in the ring.  They nick all my best lines these days.

Wouldn't it be great if one of them, one day, could argue in favour of human rights, proportionality and the adherence to the law while they were still in a position to influence affairs?

Dearlove himself could have changed the course of world history if he had found the courage to speak out earlier about the fact that the intelligence case for the Iraq war was being fixed around pre-determined policy.  As it is, we only know that he objected to this because of the notorious, leaked Downing Street Memo.

The Guardian newspaper reported that Dearlove even touched on the reality of obtaining ministerial permission before breaking the law.  Which, of course, is the ultimate point of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, and does indeed enshrine the fabled "licence to kill".  It states that MI6 officers can break the law abroad with impunity from prosecution if, and only if, they obtain prior written permission from their political master – in this case the Foreign Secretary.

However, according to The Guardian, he seems to have misunderstood the spirit of the law, if not the letter:

He said that the intelligence community was "sometimes asked to act in difficult circumstances. When it does, it asks for legal opinion and ministerial approval … It's about political cover". 

Momentarily putting aside the not unimportant debate about whether the spies and the government should even be allowed technically to side-step international laws against crimes up to, and including, murder, I am still naively surprised by the shamelessness of this statement:  the notion of ministerial oversight was put in place to ensure some kind of democratic oversight and accountability for the work of the spies – not to provide political cover, a fig leaf.

I think he's rather given the game away here about how the spies really view the role of  their "political masters".