A Tale of Two Tortures

First pub­lished by Con​sor​ti​um​news​.com.

It was with some dis­be­lief that I read of two tor­ture-related stor­ies emer­ging around the same time last week. The first was about the leg­al vic­tory of Abdul Hakim Bel­haj, Liby­an dis­sid­ent, kid­nap vic­tim of MI6 and the CIA, and tor­ture vic­tim of Col­on­el Gad­dafi. UK gov­ern­ment­al apo­lo­gies were finally made and repar­a­tion paid. For once justice was seen to be done and the use of tor­ture con­demned.

Mean­while, across the pond last week the reverse side of the same coin was on full dis­gust­ing dis­play. Our Amer­ic­an chums are in the pro­cess of attempt­ing to appoint an alleged notori­ous tor­turer as the head of the CIA.

While nom­in­ee Gina Haspel had soft-ball ques­tions lobbed at her by a tame pack of sen­at­ors at her con­firm­a­tion hear­ing, retired CIA seni­or ana­lyst, former pres­id­en­tial briefer, and now justice act­iv­ist, Ray McGov­ern, who stood up and said what the Sen­at­ors knew, but would not say; namely that she super­vised — dir­ectly, on site — the water­board­ing of Al Nashiri, who had been kid­napped and brought to the first secret CIA pris­on abroad (in Thai­l­and) for “inter­rog­a­tion.” McGov­ern was dragged out by four burly police, thrown to the ground, and injured when addi­tion­al police piled on. Here is a link to the video of this assault.

By jux­ta­pos­ing these two incid­ents I am not try­ing to make the point that the UK is mor­ally bet­ter than the USA when it comes to tor­ture over the last 17 years – mani­festly it has not been – but cer­tainly in the time I served in MI5 in the 1990s the use of tor­ture was ver­boten. Partly for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but mainly because the Brit­ish Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-pro­duct­ive the use of tor­ture and illeg­al impris­on­ment could be dur­ing the early stages of the bit­ter civil war in North­ern Ire­land in the 1970s.

Unfor­tu­nately those hard-won les­sons were gen­er­a­tion­al, and that peer group began to retire in the late 1990s. As a res­ult, come the after­math of 9/11, when the USA lurched down a path of harsh mil­it­ary retali­ation, illeg­al war, kid­nap­ping and tor­ture, the com­pli­ant Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies fol­lowed hel­ter-skel­ter down the same path, all in the name of the spe­cial intel­li­gence rela­tion­ship.

So, back to the Bel­haj case. To get to the root of this I shall need to trans­port you back to 1995. Although the US-fun­ded Mujahideen in Afgh­anistan was by then morph­ing into Al Qaeda and had just about hit the radar of MI5 as an emer­gent, if region­al threat, peace seemed to be break­ing out all over the world: the Cold War was offi­cially over, a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion to the civil war in North­ern Ire­land was in the mak­ing, and there even seemed to be some pro­gress with the run­ning polit­ic­al sore that is Palestine and the Israeli occu­pa­tion, with the Oslo Accords of 1993.

How­ever, Libya – at that time a “rogue” nation – was still on the West­ern intel­li­gence hit list. Partly because it was sus­pec­ted by the UK gov­ern­ment to have been behind the Lock­er­bie bomb­ing in 1988 and the search for the per­pet­rat­ors was a top level pri­or­ity for MI6 in which it had failed for years to make any pro­gress, and partly because Gad­dafi had largely closed the huge Liby­an oil reserves to West­ern oil com­pan­ies.

So when, in 1995, a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer (sub­sequently code­named TUNWORTH) walked into the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the res­id­ent spook, MI6 leapt at the chance to get rid of Gad­dafi, solve the Lock­er­bie case, and allow Bri­tain and its allies to once again plun­der the vast Liby­an oil reserves.

TUNWORTH had a group of “rag-tag Islam­ist extrem­ists” to carry out this coup attempt, and wanted sup­port and money from MI6, which was quickly offered. The attack was illeg­al under UK law, which required a min­is­teri­al sign-off before such an oper­a­tion, it went wrong, and it killed inno­cent people. How much hein­ous could it get? Here is the full account of this failed coup attempt.

So how does this fit in with Abdul Hakim Bel­haj? Well, it turns out he was the co-founder of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group (LIFG), the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had fun­ded for this attack. As a res­ult, he was a wanted man in Libya. And after Gaddafi’s return to the inter­na­tion­al fold fol­low­ing his notori­ous deal in the desert with then-UK Prime Min­is­ter, Tony Blair, in 2004, Bel­haj was the gift from MI6 that sealed the deal.

In 2004 he and his preg­nant wife were tracked down and inter­cep­ted by MI6 in Kuala Lum­pur, Malay­sia. They were flown to Bangkok in Thai­l­and and held in a CIA black site, before onward trans­it to Libya. The flight took 18 hours, and both Bel­haj and his preg­nant wife were lashed to the floor of a US mil­it­ary trans­port plan for the dur­a­tion.

Bel­haj was sub­sequently held in the notori­ous Abu Selim pris­on for the next six years where he was repeatedly and hideously tor­tured. He was finally released under an amnesty brokered by Gaddafi’s son and heir, Saif al-Islam, in 2010.

All that might have been that, except the West made a cata­stroph­ic decision to once again try to depose Col­on­el Gad­dafi in 2011. This time the charge was led not by the USA but by France and its Pres­id­ent at the time, Nic­olas Sarkozy, but ably backed up by the ever-reli­able UK and USA, in a “human­it­ari­an inter­ven­tion” to pro­tect the cit­izens of Islam­ist Benghazi – which by the way was not under dir­ect threat at the time. Anoth­er fab­ric­ated excuse for a West­ern war of aggres­sion.

(As a side note, Sarkozy is cur­rently under invest­ig­a­tion for illeg­ally accept­ing fifty mil­lion euros from Gad­dafi to fund his bid for the French Pres­id­ency in the 2007 elec­tion, and in the same year Gad­dafi was awar­ded a full state vis­it to France.)

This time the West achieved openly and shame­lessly, in the gaze of the world’s media, what they had failed to do shame­fully and in secret in 1996: it toppled Gad­dafi, who was caught, bru­tal­ised and buggered with a bay­on­et, murdered, and his mutil­ated corpse  left on dis­play for days. His son, Saif al-Islam was cap­tured, tor­tured and imprisoned. He is now free and re-enter­ing the polit­ic­al fray in Libya.

In the chaos that fol­lowed the over­throw of Gad­dafi, Human Rights Watch staff made it to Libya and found a cache of doc­u­ments left in the office of notori­ous intel­li­gence chief, Musa Kusa, who had fled the coun­try ini­tially to the UK and then fled on to Qatar.

Amongst these doc­u­ments was a let­ter from the MI6 Head of Counter-Ter­ror­ism, Sir Mark Allen, dated from 2004. He had helped facil­it­ate the “deal in the desert”, and wrote a con­grat­u­lat­ory let­ter to Musa Kusa about being able to help facil­it­ate the cap­ture of Bel­haj, and effect­ively to see him as a “gift” to the Liby­an régime in 2004, as a ges­ture of good will.  Here is an excerpt from Allen’s let­ter to Musa Kusa, sub­mit­ted by Belhaj’s law­yers:

I con­grat­u­late you on the safe arrival of [Mr Bel­haj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demon­strate the remark­able rela­tion­ship we have built over recent years.….Amusingly, we got a request from the Amer­ic­ans to chan­nel requests for inform­a­tion from [Mr Bel­haj] through the Amer­ic­ans. I have no inten­tion of doing any such thing. The intel­li­gence about [Mr Bel­haj] was Brit­ish… I feel I have the right to deal with you dir­ect on this”.

Because of that good will, the Gad­dafi régime fatally trus­ted its new rela­tion­ship with the West; and a man and his preg­nant wife suffered, and the coun­try as a whole con­tin­ues to suf­fer immensely from the ensu­ing civil war that fol­lowed Gaddafi’s assas­sin­a­tion..

The court case last week in the UK was a vic­tory for them. Bel­haj him­self, des­pite suc­cess­ive UK gov­ern­ments offer­ing one mil­lion pounds to drop the case, has always stated that he only required £1, plus an acknow­ledge­ment and apo­logy from the UK gov­ern­ment about what happened to him. This week he finally received it.

For her ordeal, his wife accep­ted half of the amount offered. The three UK key play­ers – PM Tony Blair, For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw, and MI6 Sir Mark Allen nat­ur­ally have yet again not been called to account. Not a blem­ish to their repu­ta­tions….

So are we likely to see the same admis­sion of guilt from the instig­at­ors of the US tor­ture pro­gramme?

Far from it. Even if the Gina Haspel con­firm­a­tion hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton goes against her, the fact she was even con­sidered for the post of head­ing the CIA is utterly shame­less. As was the dis­gust­ing treat­ment of CIA pen­sion­er and peace pro­test­er, Ray McGov­ern.

Spies need more oversight, not new powers

Pub­lished on www​.polit​ics​.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 régime 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 régime.  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 régime 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.…

RTTV Interview: Libya — the perfect storm

My RTTV inter­view today about Libya, tor­ture, and UK double-deal­ing:

 

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 régime 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 régime in the last dec­ade — while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coali­tion gov­ern­ment where, no doubt, sim­il­ar levels of coöper­a­tion 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 régime 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 coöper­ate 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.….