Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers” — the Gaddafi Plot chapters

Excerpts from the book.….

The MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy, Part 1

The MI6-fund­ing of Islam­ic extrem­ists and Al Qaeda mem­bers to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi, is the main reas­on why Dav­id Shayler finally left MI5.  It is the real ‘case that made [him] quit’.  To quote David:

Although I knew about the plot before mak­ing my decision to leave — I believed at the time that it was more MI6 ‘Boys Own’ stuff — I was nev­er­the­less phys­ic­ally sickened by the fact that MI6 wanted to spon­sor Islam­ic extrem­ists to carry out ter­ror­ism.  At around the time I was debat­ing wheth­er to leave because of the Vic­tor­ia Brit­tain invest­ig­a­tion, MI6’s Dav­id Wat­son told me he had in fact sup­plied his agent with $40,000 to buy weapons to execute the oper­a­tion to assas­sin­ate Gaddafi.

I joined the ser­vices to stop ter­ror­ism and pre­vent the deaths of inno­cent people, not to get involved in these despic­able and cow­ardly acts.  I still can­not believe that the Prime Min­is­ter has refused to take my evid­ence or invest­ig­ate this mat­ter as this decision has sent out a clear mes­sage to the intel­li­gence ser­vices that they can fund ter­ror­ism; con­spire to murder people with impun­ity; and take enorm­ous risks with our security. 

After all, would you give an indi­vidu­al you hardly know — who has admit­ted to con­nec­tions with Al Qaeda — an enorm­ous sum to carry out a ter­ror­ist attack, when you know the group he is lead­ing is opposed to the val­ues of West­ern soci­ety?  It is dif­fi­cult to ima­gine a great­er dis­reg­ard and con­tempt for the lives and secur­ity of the Brit­ish people.”

Key points

  • The fol­low­ing issues arise from David’s whis­tleblow­ing about MI6 sup­port for Al Qaeda:
    Con­trary to mis­in­form­a­tion pub­lished in some news­pa­pers, the fol­low­ing account was not ‘bar-room gos­sip’.  David’s MI6 coun­ter­part, PT16/B Dav­id Wat­son, briefed him offi­cially on the plot as it unfol­ded.  As MI5 officers both Dav­id and I knew the ser­i­ous threat the fund­ing of Al Qaeda posed at the time. 
  • Des­pite the then For­eign Sec­ret­ary Robin Cook’s deni­als in 1998, I have now found out that intel­li­gence officer,                           , was MI6’s man Tun­worth.  He is a mem­ber of the Islam­ic Fight­ing Group (IFG) aka the Mil­it­ant Islam­ic Group, an Al Qaeda affil­i­ate based in Libya.
    French intel­li­gence has also estab­lished that lead­ing mem­bers of the IFG like Tun­worth are also mem­bers of Al Qaeda. 
  • The MI6 agent Tun­worth admit­ted his con­nec­tions with Islam­ic extrem­ists and Al Qaeda mem­bers dur­ing a debrief with his MI6 hand­ler Dav­id Wat­son, in late 19952 so MI6 can­not deny it did not know what it was enter­ing into.
  • At the very least, MI6 failed to real­ise that it had pri­or intel­li­gence about an Al Qaeda coup in Libya.  If suc­cess­ful, MI6 would have allowed Al Qaeda to take over an oil-rich state in North Africa, put­ting the lives of Brit­ish and US cit­izens, in par­tic­u­lar, at far great­er risk.
  • By the time MI6 paid the money, Osama Bin Laden’s organ­isa­tion was already known to be respons­ible for the 1993 World Trade Centre bomb­ing and MI5 had set up G9C, a sec­tion ded­ic­ated to the task of defeat­ing Bin Laden and his affiliates.
  • Under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, the real James Bonds do have a licence to kill or immunity for crim­in­al acts car­ried out abroad in the course of their work, provided they gain the per­mis­sion of the For­eign Sec­ret­ary.  But without that per­mis­sion they are break­ing the law, should they become involved in a con­spir­acy to murder and to cause ter­ror­ism.  In this case, they did not even seek that permission.
  • MI6 gave money to indi­vidu­als who posed a great­er threat to our lives and secur­ity — Al Qaeda — to assas­sin­ate an indi­vidu­al who posed a less­er threat, Col­on­el Gad­dafi.  It just doesn’t make any logic­al sense.  In fact, it demon­strates that MI6 was motiv­ated by revenge on Gad­dafi, rather than any desire to pro­tect Brit­ish lives and nation­al secur­ity, because he nation­al­ised the Liby­an oil industry in 1976 at the expense of BP3

How Dav­id was briefed on the conspiracy

In sum­mer 1995, at the height of the illeg­al invest­ig­a­tion into Vic­tor­ia Brit­tain, Dav­id was first briefed on the plot.  Dav­id Wat­son, David’s coun­ter­part in MI6, asked to meet to dis­cuss an unusu­al case which he could not men­tion over the phone.  At the sub­sequent meet­ing, PT16/B told Dav­id that:

A seni­or mem­ber of the Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence ser­vice had walked into the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to meet the res­id­ent MI6 officer.

The Liby­an ‘walk-in’ had asked for funds to lead a group of Islam­ic extrem­ists in an attemp­ted coup, which would involve the assas­sin­a­tion of Col­on­el Gad­dafi, the head of the Liby­an state.

Although the Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer led the group, he had said he was not an Islam­ic extrem­ist himself.

The Liby­an had a brief MI6 record, which PT16/B thought was enough to con­firm that the Liby­an did have the access to the régime that he claimed.

In exchange for MI6’s sup­port, the Liby­an offered to hand over the two Lock­er­bie sus­pects after the coup.  Get­ting them to the UK for tri­al had at the time been one of MI6’s object­ives for about three years but there is no guar­an­tee that the coup plot­ters could have done this.  It is debat­able wheth­er the coup plot­ters would have had either the resources or expert­ise required to track down the sus­pects after their planned coup.  At first, Dav­id was scep­tic­al to the point of ennui.  After all, MI6 officers had often claimed that the Lock­er­bie two were about to be handed over or that Gad­dafi was about to die or be toppled but noth­ing had come of this sup­posedly keen and reli­able intelligence. 

In the fol­low­ing weeks, PT16/B told Dav­id that the Liby­an was code­named Tun­worth.  At some point in the fol­low­ing weeks Dav­id briefly saw the prin­tout of MI6’s record of him.  It con­tained around two or three sep­ar­ate men­tions.  They sup­por­ted his claim to be a seni­or mem­ber of Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence but were not detailed.  Dav­id checked the Libyan’s name against Durbar and Star, MI5’s records, but the ser­vice had no trace of him.  Dav­id did not make any effort to remem­ber the name because he believed that the whole thing would come to noth­ing as oth­er MI6 plots had done.  Wat­son also issued at least two CX reports detail­ing intel­li­gence provided by Tun­worth at his meet­ing with the res­id­ent MI6 officer in Tunis4.  Dav­id remem­bers it con­cerned changes in per­son­nel in the Liby­an régime.  MI5 had col­lat­er­al for it so G9 assessed that Tun­worth had some access to the régime.  Dav­id takes up the story:

Through­out this pro­cess, I briefed my line man­ager, G9A/1 — Jerry Mahoney until Decem­ber 1995, Paul Slim, after that — about these devel­op­ments.  As the oper­a­tion was in its infancy when Mahoney left, I don’t believe that I told him any­thing oth­er than the bare basics.  When brief­ing his suc­cessor, Paul Slim, I told him that this might be more ‘Boys’ Own stuff’ on the part of MI6 and that we shouldn’t take it too ser­i­ously although we agreed to review this in the light of new information. 

It is incon­ceiv­able that G9A/1 did not think an MI6-fun­ded plot to engin­eer a coup in Libya was worthy of men­tion­ing to his line man­ager, G9/0, Peter Mitchell.  In turn, it is unthink­able that G9/0 did not raise the mat­ter with his line man­age­ment who would have informed his boss until the DG her­self had been made aware.  I won­der if it was included in the first draft of Dame Stella’s book and removed on the orders of the authorities.”

In Decem­ber 1995, James Wor­th­ing, R/ME/C at MI6, cir­cu­lated CX95/ 534526 report to White­hall and oth­er address­ees, warn­ing of a poten­tial coup in Libya.  It con­firmed that a mem­ber of the rebel group gave detailed intel­li­gence to his MI6 hand­ler in anti­cip­a­tion of help from Bri­tain.  The report clearly demon­strated that Wat­son knew that Tun­worth was plan­ning ter­ror­ism and his group had already been involved in attempts on Gaddafi’s life:

In late Novem­ber 1995 [Tunworth’s iden­tity removed]7 described plans, in which he was involved, to over­throw Col­on­el Gad­dafi. […]  The coup is sched­uled to start at around the time of the next Gen­er­al People’s Con­gress on Feb­ru­ary 14, 1996.  Coup will start with unrest in Tripoli, Mis­ra­tah and Benghazi.” […]
“The coup plot­ters were respons­ible for the death of [blank ‑Names removed to pro­tect security-————————blank] was about to take up the pos­i­tion as head of Mil­it­ary Intel­li­gence when he was forced off the Tripoli-Sirte road and was killed.  The 2 coup plot­ters involved escaped unhurt.  In August 1995, 3 army cap­tains who were part of the coup plot attemp­ted to kill Col­on­el Gaddafi.”

The report then lis­ted Liby­an install­a­tions that would be attacked and described sup­port­ers in Libya’s prin­cip­al cit­ies and their occu­pa­tions.  The start of the coup was to be sig­nalled through coded mes­sages on tele­vi­sion and radio.  It also said that at least 250 Brit­ish-made weapons were dis­trib­uted among the plotters.

Tun­worth also told his MI6 hand­ler that:

plot­ters would have cars sim­il­ar to those in Gaddafi’s secur­ity entour­age with fake secur­ity num­ber plates. They would infilt­rate them­selves into the entour­age in order to kill or arrest Gaddafi…

One group of mil­it­ary per­son­nel were being trained in the desert area near Kufra for the role of attack­ing Gad­dafi and his entour­age.  The aim was to attack Gad­dafi after the GPC [Gen­er­al People’s Con­gress], but before he had returned to Sirte.  One officer and 20 men were being trained for this attack.”

Dav­id also remem­bers anoth­er MI6 CX report being issued about the plot in early 1996.  It was a shop­ping list of the group’s require­ments to carry out the coup, includ­ing the sup­ply of weapons and basics like jeeps and tents.

Around the same time, Christ­mas 1995, Wat­son told Dav­id that he had met Tun­worth, in Geneva and paid him $40,000.  Jack­ie Bark­er, who had replaced Sue Thomas as G9A/15, told him that Wat­son had told her the same inform­a­tion ‘in con­fid­ence’.  Dur­ing routine G9/PT16 meet­ings around this time, officers occa­sion­ally men­tioned the plot.  Wat­son then met Tun­worth on two fur­ther occa­sions early in 1996 in Geneva.  Dav­id does not know of any fur­ther details except that Wat­son men­tioned that he had paid ‘sim­il­ar sums’ to Tun­worth on each occa­sion.  Although PT16/B nev­er spe­cific­ally men­tioned it, it was tacitly under­stood that Wat­son was work­ing with the approv­al of his dir­ect line man­ager, PT16, Richard Bartlett.

Lack of gov­ern­ment sanction

At some point — Dav­id can’t be sure when exactly — Wat­son men­tioned that the ‘sub­mis­sion’, MI6 jar­gon for the let­ter request­ing per­mis­sion from the For­eign Office for oth­er­wise illeg­al oper­a­tions, was going to go “all the way to the top”.  In about Janu­ary 1996, Wat­son told him that the sub­mis­sion had been suc­cess­ful, indic­at­ing that the For­eign Sec­ret­ary him­self had signed the doc­u­ment per­mit­ting the operation.9  When Dav­id briefed Paul Slim on the details of the plot, he spe­cific­ally drew atten­tion to the fact that the ser­vice only had Watson’s word for this.  He urged his boss to task seni­or MI5 man­age­ment to raise the mat­ter form­ally, to check that the oper­a­tion was legal.

Then, in either Feb­ru­ary or March 1996, Dav­id read two, pos­sibly three intel­li­gence reports quot­ing inde­pend­ent sources — the Egyp­tian and Moroc­can intel­li­gence ser­vices.  They all stated that an attack had been made on Col­on­el Gad­dafi in Sirte, Libya.  Two of the reports indic­ated that the attack­ers had tried to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi when he was part of a motor­cade but had failed as they had tar­geted the wrong car.  As a res­ult of the explo­sion and the ensu­ing chaos in which shots were fired, civil­ians and secur­ity police were maimed and killed.

At a meet­ing shortly after, PT16/B ven­tured to me in a note of tri­umph that Tun­worth had been respons­ible for the attack.  “Yes that was our man.  We did it” was how he put it.  He regarded it, curi­ously, as a tri­umph even though the object­ive of the oper­a­tion had not been met and report­ing indic­ated there had been civil­ian cas­u­al­ties.  Des­pite that, I very much got the impres­sion that this was regarded as a coup for MI6 because it was play­ing up to the repu­ta­tion that the real James Bonds wanted to have.  I then promptly passed the inform­a­tion on to my line man­ager, G9A/1.  Although ini­tially reluct­ant, he said he would deal with the mat­ter.  I’ve no idea wheth­er he did.  In later months, I asked Wat­son sev­er­al times what had happened to Tun­worth, but was not giv­en answers.”

By this time, Dav­id had already decided to leave the ser­vice and was act­ively look­ing for jobs in the private sec­tor.  As a res­ult of MI6 fund­ing Al Qaeda, on top of the gen­er­al ineptitude and bungling I had wit­nessed, I also decided I no longer wanted to work for intel­li­gence ser­vices who had ceased to pro­tect demo­cracy and instead fun­ded our ter­ror­ist enemies.  The ser­vices are sup­posed to pro­tect us, not put our lives at great­er risk from ter­ror­ist attack.  It was time to leave. 

The MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy, Part 2

Dav­id had briefed the MoS with the bare bones of the plot in the sum­mer of 1996 and again when pre­par­ing the dis­clos­ures of 24 August 1997.  How­ever, giv­en the con­tro­ver­sial and sens­it­ive nature of the mater­i­al, he had always wanted to sub­mit it to the gov­ern­ment for invest­ig­a­tion.  Since then, min­is­ters and oth­er respons­ible agen­cies like the PM’s ISC and the Cab­in­et Office have con­sist­ently refused to take pos­ses­sion of David’s evid­ence con­cern­ing the plot. Des­pite his repeatedly writ­ing to them to inform them that ele­ments of the ser­vices were oper­at­ing out­side the law.

As the author­it­ies had shown no interest in tak­ing his evid­ence, in early Decem­ber 1997 Dav­id gave Mark Urb­an, at the time the BBC’s Defence and Dip­lo­mat­ic Cor­res­pond­ent, a full, recor­ded inter­view about the MI6/Al Qaeda plot.  Then, after he had entered into nego­ti­ations, Dav­id again tried to give his evid­ence to the Brit­ish author­it­ies, but they repeatedly refused to take it.  By June 1998, Urb­an had stood up key aspects of the story.  Although Dav­id urged Urb­an to sub­mit the doc­u­ment­ary to the author­it­ies for imme­di­ate clear­ance under the injunc­tion, BBC man­age­ment appeared reluct­ant to face the gov­ern­ment and the intel­li­gence ser­vices head-on.  They sat on the pro­gramme, while they debated it internally.

By July 1998 the gov­ern­ment had shown no real will to come to a nego­ti­ated set­tle­ment with Dav­id.  In frus­tra­tion at the government’s fail­ure to dis­charge its demo­crat­ic duties by tak­ing his evid­ence and at the same time faced with BBC iner­tia, in July 1997 Dav­id told the MoS that he was look­ing into set­ting up an Inter­net site to ensure that the crimes of the intel­li­gence ser­vices could be prop­erly exposed. 

Noth­ing will threaten the secur­ity of MI5 agents or staff,” he said, “or com­prom­ise its work­ing meth­ods.  But there are vital mat­ters that need a pub­lic air­ing and the Inter­net is the way to do it.” 

Dav­id hoped the art­icle would prompt min­is­ters to take his evid­ence.  As there was no response after a week, Dav­id again told the MoS that he inten­ded to pub­lish his dis­clos­ures  with due care for nation­al secur­ity  on the Inter­net in the US, where it would be pro­tec­ted under the first amendment. 

I don’t see how the Gov­ern­ment can com­plain,” said Dav­id, “when I’ve been try­ing to talk to them for months.”

Three days later, his www​.shayler​.com site was hacked, before it was even up and run­ning.  Verio aka Tab­net, the ser­vice pro­vider in the US, said that the hack­ing was done by a pro­fes­sion­al, after the pass­word to gain access to the site was inter­cep­ted en route to David’s com­puter.  There is no actu­al evid­ence to indic­ate that the intel­li­gence ser­vices were respons­ible but they are the like­li­est cul­prits.  Hack­ers do not nor­mally attack anti-estab­lish­ment web­sites, par­tic­u­larly when they are not yet up and running.

On 31 July 1998, Dav­id and I met the MoS in Par­is, in an effort get the MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy out to a wider audi­ence.  On the strict under­stand­ing that the news­pa­per sub­mit­ted the story to gov­ern­ment, Dav­id gave the paper the details of the plot (without men­tion­ing the names of intel­li­gence officers).  Min­is­ters refused the paper per­mis­sion to pub­lish the inform­a­tion in any mean­ing­ful form, while also deny­ing the story.  Dav­id also met Nick Rufford and Dav­id Lep­pard of The Sunday Times and gave them a brief­ing on the plot, with the same caveat.  Dav­id comments:

The deni­al and cen­sor­ship do not add up12.  Either the dis­clos­ure is untrue, in which case the gov­ern­ment can­not cite nation­al secur­ity reas­ons for sup­press­ing the inform­a­tion.  Or the dis­clos­ure is true, in which case the gov­ern­ment has a duty to invest­ig­ate exactly how Brit­ish intel­li­gence officers came to use tax­pay­ers’ money to fund ter­ror­ism and murder inno­cent civil­ians.  The gov­ern­ment has used the injunc­tion and the 1989 OSA to restrain the free­dom of the press, in order to pro­tect itself from embar­rass­ment rather than pro­tect nation­al security.”

David’s arrest in con­nec­tion with the Plot

Unbe­known to Dav­id and me, a couple of hours after he had legally13 sub­mit­ted his very ser­i­ous evid­ence to min­is­ters, those self-same min­is­ters sent an urgent request to extra­dite Dav­id for his ori­gin­al dis­clos­ures which had appeared almost a year earli­er in the MoS.  Dav­id says:

In these cir­cum­stances, it is dif­fi­cult to see how any­one could believe that our over­sight arrange­ments work.  Indeed, the act of impris­on­ing an indi­vidu­al who uses a leg­al route to report ter­ror­ism on the part of MI6, is hardly likely to encour­age oth­er indi­vidu­als to use the sys­tem.  It has all the hall­marks of des­pot­ism and tyranny.”

The next day, 1 August 1998, the French DST, the equi­val­ent of MI5 and Spe­cial Branch, arres­ted Dav­id in the foy­er of our hotel when he returned from watch­ing his foot­ball team, Middles­brough, lose 1–0 on Sky to Empoli in a pre-sea­son friendly.  He was held for over 24 hours in the Pal­ais de Justice — most of the time in sol­it­ary — and denied access to a law­yer.  The day after, he was trans­ferred to La Santé pris­on in Paris’s 14th arron­disse­ment.  At the instig­a­tion of the Brit­ish author­it­ies, he was held under dra­coni­an secrecy legis­la­tion and first saw a law­yer over two days after he had been arres­ted.  He con­tin­ued to be denied access to all oth­er vis­it­ors for most of his time in prison. 

But for David’s quick think­ing, I would not have known what had happened to him.  He would have van­ished.  The DST asked him for his papers.  Know­ing I was wait­ing for his return in our hotel room, he told them his pass­port was in his bag upstairs (it was not).  I there­fore only knew he had been arres­ted when the DST came knock­ing on my door.  I was not to see him again for over two months.

Two days after Dav­id was arres­ted, The Daily Tele­graph splashed on dis­clos­ures he had giv­en to its intel­li­gence cor­res­pond­ent Michael Smith, a few weeks before, about secur­ity blun­ders con­cern­ing the IRA main­land bomb­ing cam­paign.  The Tele­graph included some details of the fail­ures but was blocked by the injunc­tion from reveal­ing how a num­ber of attacks could have been pre­ven­ted.  Rather curi­ously, the paper — then edited by Charles Moore – called for Dav­id to be ‘horse­whipped’ in its lead­er column for provid­ing inform­a­tion about secur­ity fail­ures, which The Tele­graph pub­lished in its news section.

David’s soli­cit­or John Wadham said:

It’s a strange coin­cid­ence that before this import­ant story about this assas­sin­a­tion attempt was going to break, the Gov­ern­ment ensured that Dav­id was arres­ted and incommunicado.”

The New York Times breaks the story

While Dav­id lan­guished in a pris­on cell, and while the dis­clos­ure had been injunc­ted in the Brit­ish press, a pub­lic-spir­ited indi­vidu­al passed the details of the MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy to The New York Times.  On 5 August 1998, it repor­ted that the Brit­ish media had been banned from report­ing the plot.

Did the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment try to assas­sin­ate Col Mum­mar Gad­dafi, the Liby­an lead­er, in Feb­ru­ary 1996 by plant­ing a bomb under his motor­cade?  And did the plan go awry because agents from MI6, the for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vice, put the bomb under the wrong car, killing sev­er­al Liby­an bystand­ers?” it asked. […]

A sweep­ing injunc­tion has barred news­pa­pers and tele­vi­sion news pro­grammes from pub­lish­ing the embar­rass­ing alleg­a­tions about the inner work­ings of Britain’s secur­ity ser­vices, brought up by a dis­gruntled former officer.  The media have been forced to dis­cuss the alleg­a­tions without actu­ally say­ing what the alleg­a­tions are.  ‘I’ve known these things for some­thing like 16 months, and I am not allowed to pub­lish any of it,’ said Jonath­an Hol­borow, edit­or of The Mail on Sunday.”

The paper added that the gov­ern­ment had told the press it could report the alleg­a­tions as long as it did not men­tion details, like the pay­ment to Islam­ic extrem­ists of around £100,000.

The Pan­or­ama programme

The BBC began intense nego­ti­ations with the gov­ern­ment for per­mis­sion to show David’s inter­view with Mark Urb­an.  Only after threat­en­ing to chal­lenge the tem­por­ary injunc­tion through the courts, did the gov­ern­ment back down.  Two days after the pub­lic­a­tion of The New York Times art­icle, the BBC was per­mit­ted to broad­cast more details of the con­spir­acy in a Pan­or­ama spe­cial presen­ted by Mark Urb­an.  He con­firmed that the Islam­ic group involved was the Mil­it­ant (or Fight­ing) Islam­ic Group, led by Abdul­lah Al-Sad­iq.  Cam­ille Taw­il, an Arab journ­al­ist based in Lon­don, told the pro­gramme that shortly after the attack in Feb­ru­ary 1996, he received a fax from the group, claim­ing respons­ib­il­ity for the attack and nam­ing the mem­bers of its team who had died in the attack: 

I felt it was cred­ible inform­a­tion giv­en to me but I wanted to veri­fy the story.  I con­tac­ted oth­er Liby­an groups and they gave me a sim­il­ar account of what had happened.  This is why I decided to pub­lish the story.”

Pan­or­ama also reported:

Libya has pub­licly accused Bri­tain of giv­ing refuge to the lead­er of the Mil­it­ant Islam­ic Group.  In response to our enquiry, the For­eign Office said it does not know wheth­er Abdul­lah Al Sad­iq is in this country”.

The pro­gramme also con­firmed that MI6 did not get the vital per­mis­sion from its min­is­ters to carry out the attack — which is a leg­al require­ment so the officers involved have immunity under Eng­lish law.

Two well-placed people have told me that the Tory min­is­ters run­ning the depart­ment at the time gave no such author­isa­tion.  […]  In short, that means Britain’s intel­li­gence ser­vice was oper­at­ing com­pletely out of control.”

Urb­an concluded:

It is true of course that Shayler’s know­ledge of this affair depends entirely on what the SIS man, PT16/B, told him at their meet­ings.  But cer­tain pieces of this Liby­an jig­saw can­not eas­ily be argued away by SIS.  There was an assas­sin­a­tion attempt.  Numer­ous Liby­an sources con­firm it.  Bri­tain did have a rela­tion­ship with Tun­worth.  Any inquiry into Dav­id Shayler’s alleg­a­tion will be able to find the key CX report which detailed the plot against Gad­dafi, so show­ing Tunworth’s inside knowledge. […] 

Only a thor­ough going inquiry would stand a chance of get­ting to the bot­tom of wheth­er some intel­li­gence officers played fast and loose with the rules.  Dav­id Shayler has provided Pan­or­ama with oth­er details about the Liby­an oper­a­tion and the people con­nec­ted with it.  Com­bined with our own inform­a­tion, it sug­gests that SIS have a very ser­i­ous case to answer”.

The Pan­or­ama pro­gramme estab­lished that MI6 had oper­ated out­side the con­trol of its polit­ic­al mas­ters.  In oth­er words, unac­count­able intel­li­gence oper­at­ives were decid­ing Brit­ish for­eign policy, not a demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted gov­ern­ment.  When you think about it, this means that middle rank­ing intel­li­gence officers have the power of life and death over an indi­vidu­al without being account­able for their actions16.  While that is all very well in a James Bond film, in the real world intel­li­gence officers are now required to oper­ate with­in the law.

Sep­ar­ate sources con­firm the story

On 9 August 1998, the MoS added still fur­ther con­firm­a­tion of the plot and the pay­ments.  It reported:

Dav­id Shayler’s rev­el­a­tions that MI6 tried to blow up Col­on­el Gad­dafi were giv­en strong cre­dence by US intel­li­gence sources yes­ter­day.  They insisted that, des­pite claims to the con­trary, the Brit­ish secret ser­vice was fin­an­cing the group behind the attempt on the Liby­an leader’s life.  [Accord­ing to the US] the Brit­ish ser­vice [MI6] turned to the Fight­ing Islam­ic Group [FIG] and its lead­er, Abu Abdul­lah Sad­iq, who was liv­ing in London.” 

A sep­ar­ate source, a former seni­or ana­lyst with Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence, told the paper:

I’m sure that Brit­ish intel­li­gence has all the plaus­ible deni­ab­il­ity that it needs.  Cer­tainly there were con­tacts between MI6 and FIG.”

Yet anoth­er source in Wash­ing­ton told the paper that MI6 had provided ‘vari­ous kinds of sup­port’ to FIG, includ­ing fin­an­cial help.

The same day, The Sunday Times repor­ted that it had iden­ti­fied one of the per­pet­rat­ors of the attack as Abd Al Muhay­meen.  Accord­ing to the paper, he was a Liby­an ‘fun­da­ment­al­ist’ or Islam­ic extrem­ist, to use MI5 phras­eo­logy, who had trained and fought in Afgh­anistan.  On the day, he also chose the tim­ing of the attack. 

He waited in ambush with a group of feday­deen from a force known as the Islam­ic Fight­ing Group. […]  The group appeared to be gain­ing in strength and dar­ing, mostly due to the expert­ise of Afghan vet­er­ans such as Al Muhay­meen. […]  As the con­voy approached, Al Muhay­meeen gave the word and the sounds of battle erup­ted.  When it was over, Gad­dafi had sur­vived yet again.  So had Al Muhay­meen.  But sev­er­al of their men lay dead on each side.  So did bystanders.”

For­eign Secretary’s comments

On 9 August 1998, Robin Cook, the then For­eign Sec­ret­ary, told the BBC’s Break­fast with Frost programme:

The tale about the MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi is pure fantasy.  First of all, let’s be clear about this claim that Shayler can bring down the gov­ern­ment, [the claim appeared in The Sunday Times, but Dav­id nev­er made it] the alleg­a­tions are about some­thing that is alleged to have happened not under this gov­ern­ment but under our pre­de­cessor.  […] I have pur­sued these alleg­a­tions.  I am abso­lutely sat­is­fied that the pre­vi­ous For­eign Sec­ret­ary did not author­ise any such assas­sin­a­tion attempt.  I am per­fectly sat­is­fied that SIS nev­er put for­ward any such pro­pos­al for an assas­sin­a­tion attempt, nor have I seen any­thing in the 15 months I have been in the job which would sug­gest that SIS has any interest, any role or any exper­i­ence over the recent dec­ade of any such escapade.  It is pure fantasy.

I have already made my own enquir­ies.  I have sat­is­fied my mind.  I see no basis for the reports in today’s papers about any forth­com­ing enquiry.  There was no SIS pro­pos­al to do it and I am fairly clear that there has nev­er been any SIS involve­ment.  I do wish people would recog­nise that what is being said here is that there is some­body who has left anoth­er ser­vice, not SIS, was nev­er in SIS, is mak­ing alleg­a­tions no doubt for his own reas­ons.  We would like to see him back in Bri­tain in order that we can pur­sue those charges that have been made against him.

I am clear these alleg­a­tions have no basis in fact and secondly I am quite clear that the SIS oper­a­tions that I have author­ised have noth­ing remotely to do with the kind of fantasy that has been pro­duced over the last two days.”

Without ever both­er­ing to take David’s evid­ence, Cook repeated from The Sunday Times an alleg­a­tion that Dav­id had nev­er made: that he could ‘bring down the government’17, a tac­tic that Straw had used in the first use of the sub­mis­sion pro­cess in Octo­ber 1997. 

Cook also unequi­voc­ally denied the exist­ence of any MI6 oper­a­tion at all; “The tale about the MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi is pure fantasy.”  There is no men­tion here that Cook is claim­ing that aspects of the story may be fantasy – such as the pay­ments, which the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Office (FCO) later and wrongly claimed were the sub­ject of the ‘pure fantasy’ jibe.

Without both­er­ing to hold a prop­er enquiry, he was uncrit­ic­ally put­ting out the MI6 line, adding: “I am clear these alleg­a­tions have no basis in fact.”  Min­is­ters can­not leg­ally ban inform­a­tion that is fantasy.  After all, min­is­ters had already indic­ated in off-the-record brief­ings at the time of the Israeli Embassy dis­clos­ure that dis­clos­ures on the part of former officers, which they accept to be untrue, could not harm nation­al security.

Indeed, when Cook said: “I am abso­lutely sat­is­fied that the pre­vi­ous For­eign Sec­ret­ary did not author­ise any such assas­sin­a­tion attempt”, he merely con­firmed a key aspect of the Pan­or­ama invest­ig­a­tion; that MI6 did not have the per­mis­sion of min­is­ters to carry out the attack, mak­ing any actions by MI6 a crim­in­al offence.  Although Cook then claimed he was ‘fairly clear’ that there had nev­er been any MI6 involve­ment and ‘per­fectly clear’ there was no basis in fact, he did not relate how exactly he had estab­lished this or why he was ‘per­fectly clear’ of one pos­i­tion but only ‘fairly clear’ about another. 

Des­pite his claims, he obvi­ously hadn’t had time to organ­ise and carry out a full inquiry, even though there were officers in MI5 who had been briefed about the plot, and who could have been inter­viewed.  In fact, it appears that Cook – in the same way that Straw had done before him — went to the head of the agency con­cerned (in this case, MI6) and asked if it had been involved in ter­ror­ist fund­ing and murder.  Not sur­pris­ingly, the lat­ter appears to have denied it.

After the Pan­or­ama pro­gramme was shown, Mark Urb­an offered his evid­ence to Robin Cook, who refused to take pos­ses­sion of it, inform­ing him that the mat­ter was closed.  As this was an alleg­a­tion of murder and ter­ror­ist fund­ing, Cook should have dis­charged his leg­al duty and imme­di­ately referred the mat­ter to the police to investigate. 

Libya con­firms plot

On Wed­nes­day 25 Novem­ber 1998, Liby­an TV broad­cast foot­age of the assas­sin­a­tion attempt.  It showed Gad­dafi lean­ing out of his open-topped car to greet the crowds, then ming­ling with the crowd, then it showed an object fly­ing through the air, Gad­dafi look­ing down, then sud­denly being sur­roun­ded by body­guards, who hustled him away.  The TV zoomed in on the face of a man in the crowd, and his face was circled in red.  Liby­an TV named the assail­ant as Abdul­lah Rad­wan, a part­ner of Abu Abdul­lah Sad­iq, the lead­er of the Islam­ic Fight­ing Group.  Accord­ing to the report:

Abdul­lah Rad­wan suc­ceeded in reach­ing the front ranks and threw a gren­ade when the broth­er lead­er left the car.”

Liby­an TV then showed an inter­view with Has­an Al Sad­iq Al Shahh, an alleged accom­plice of Radwan:

Ques­tion­er: Who entrus­ted you with the mis­sion of enter­ing the Jamahir­iya [the People’s Repub­lic of Libya]?
Al Shahh: Abu Abdul­lah Al Sad­iq.
Q: Did he give money?
A: Yes
Q: How much money?
A: $20,000
Q: $20,000?
A: Yes
Q: What is the total amount of money you obtained from Abu Abdul­lah Al Sad­iq?
A: Per­haps, $40,000 or $41,000
Q: $41,000?
A: Approx­im­ately, yes
Q: Where did the money you got come from?
A: I do not know.  But there is a group in those coun­tries
Q: What coun­tries are these?
A: Bri­tain
Redac­ted text on orders of MI5                                                                                                                                                             
Our recent enquir­ies with Swal­low Tail, a former intel­li­gence officer who can­not be named for fear of reprisals20, have con­firmed that the man caught by the Liby­ans in the attack, was the agent Tun­worth.  This is fur­ther con­firm­a­tion that an MI6 agent, whom we know was work­ing to Wat­son in Lon­don, was involved in the plot.  The officer also con­firmed that                was either killed dur­ing the attack that Feb­ru­ary or shortly after.  This rather under­mines the claims of min­is­ters that they banned the story in order to pro­tect nation­al secur­ity, since the agent was clearly no longer at risk of repris­al and was not then provid­ing intel­li­gence to the Brit­ish services.

Oth­er than using the sub­mis­sion pro­cess to inform the PM about ser­vice abuses of power, Dav­id also wrote to min­is­ters Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Robin Cook, John Prescott and the Attor­ney Gen­er­al on sev­er­al occa­sions, ask­ing them to invest­ig­ate his dis­clos­ures of MI6’s fund­ing of Al Qaeda.  At no point did any min­is­ter hear his evid­ence.  In June 1999, Dav­id sent min­is­ters Secrets and Lies, a doc­u­ment he had pre­pared on his case to counter the mis­in­form­a­tion put out by gov­ern­ment.  It provided details of the con­spir­acy but min­is­ters still refused to call in the police or hold any kind of enquiry.  And that would have been that, if it hadn’t been for the pub­lic-spir­ited former intel­li­gence officer who obtained the CX doc­u­ment issued by MI6 in Decem­ber 1995, and put it on the Inter­net.  That officer said:
“I’ve just about had it up to here with the lies of min­is­ters.  It is dif­fi­cult to ima­gine a more ser­i­ous abuse of power than MI6 fund­ing our ter­ror­ist enemies with the res­ult that inno­cent people are murdered in cold-blood.  If there had been a leg­al way of present­ing that doc­u­ment to inde­pend­ent invest­ig­at­ors, I would have used it.  As there was not, I had to resort to the Inter­net.  Thank God for mod­ern technology.”

The MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy, Part 3

In Feb­ru­ary 2000, The Sunday Times provided cor­rob­or­a­tion that MI6 had con­spired with an agent in a plan to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi, when it repor­ted that a leaked MI6 doc­u­ment, CX95/ 53452 had appeared on the web­site www​.geo​cit​ies​.com/​b​y​a​n​y​m​e​a​n​s​n​e​c​e​s​s​a​r​y​2​000.  When inter­viewed about the doc­u­ment, the then For­eign Sec­ret­ary Robin Cook refused to con­firm that it was genu­ine.  Dav­id can though con­firm that it is the doc­u­ment sent by MI6’s R/ME/C to White­hall depart­ments and the intel­li­gence ser­vices in Decem­ber 1995.  It refuted Cook’s claims, which had caused many to believe that Dav­id had simply made the whole thing up:

The tale about the MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi is pure fantasy.
“It is pure fantasy”
“I am clear these alleg­a­tions have no basis in fact”
The MI6 report clearly demon­strated that an MI6 agent among the coup plot­ters was meet­ing his MI6 hand­ler to dis­cuss the assas­sin­a­tion of Col Gad­dafi ‘in which he was involved’:
“The coup plot­ters would launch a dir­ect attack on Gad­dafi and would either arrest him or kill him.”
“The mil­it­ary officer said that the plot­ters would have cars sim­il­ar to those in Gaddafi’s secur­ity entour­age with fake secur­ity num­ber plates.  They would infilt­rate them­selves into the entour­age in order to kill or arrest Gaddafi.”

Remem­ber, Tun­worth had already out­lined his plans and his request for fin­ance to the res­id­ent MI6 officer in Tunis in sum­mer 1995.  Dav­id Wat­son, PT16/B, had then met Tun­worth — in the full know­ledge that the lat­ter wanted to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi — to obtain details of the oper­a­tion, which were pub­lished in the CX report.  If this report had been a record of a meet­ing between a Liby­an ter­ror­ist and an IRA mem­ber plan­ning to assas­sin­ate Tony Blair, which had fallen into MI5 or police hands, it would have been accep­ted in a court of law as clear evid­ence of a con­spir­acy between the two to cause terrorism.

The MI6 intel­li­gence report also con­firmed that Sirte was the site of the attack in Feb­ru­ary or March 1996, inform­a­tion Dav­id had told Urb­an who had stood it up for the Pan­or­ama invest­ig­a­tion into the plot.  It also estab­lished that the group of coup plot­ters were at least look­ing for sup­port from the Brit­ish state.  (As a CX report going out to min­is­ters, it could not detail the illeg­al payments):

The officer was dis­clos­ing this inform­a­tion in the hope that if the coup was suc­cess­ful, the new gov­ern­ment could enlist HMG support.”

Accord­ing to the report, Tun­worth also admit­ted con­tacts between the plot­ters and Islam­ic extrem­ists, described as ‘Liby­an stu­dents’ and ‘Liby­an vet­er­ans who served in Afgh­anistan’.  As already dis­cussed, vet­er­an Liby­an Islam­ic extrem­ists who served in Afgh­anistan are con­sidered by MI5 to be de facto mem­bers of Al Qaeda.

The CX report oth­er­wise played down the agent’s con­tacts with Islam­ic extrem­ists, pre­sum­ably because the report went to min­is­ters who would have been appalled at the pro­spect of Islam­ic ter­ror­ists top­pling Gad­dafi, giv­en that the former posed a great­er threat to Brit­ish lives.  As we now know from the sexed-up dossier, it is not unusu­al for incon­veni­ent pieces of inform­a­tion to be left out of offi­cial reports. 

Dav­id is adam­ant that, when Wat­son was brief­ing him, he told Dav­id that Tun­worth was lead­ing a ‘rag tag’ group of Islam­ic extrem­ists.  Dav­id also briefed Paul Slim, his boss at the time, with this inform­a­tion and provided it in his sworn state­ment to the police.  He has not been charged with per­jury.  Oth­er media reports already quoted have estab­lished that the Islam­ic Fight­ing Group were respons­ible.  The Liby­an TV broad­cast also indic­ated that a lead­ing mem­ber of the IFG might be Tun­worth, as he led the attack in much the way that Tun­worth out­lined in the CX report.

The report also made it abso­lutely clear that the Per­man­ent Under Secretary’s Depart­ment – Sir Humphrey Appleby’s equi­val­ent in the For­eign Office — GCHQ, MI5; the Min­istry of Defence; and MI6 sta­tions in Tunis, Cairo and Wash­ing­ton knew of the assas­sin­a­tion attempt at least two months in advance.  They would there­fore have had cop­ies on file.  Did none of them both­er to brief Cook with this rather per­tin­ent inform­a­tion before he went on the Break­fast with Frost pro­gramme on 9 August 1998?  Were our Sir Humphreys and our George Smi­leys delib­er­ately keep­ing min­is­ters in the dark?  Or did Cook know about Tun­worth but think he could get away with brand­ing the plot ‘pure fantasy’ in the belief that doc­u­ments detail­ing the rela­tion­ship between Tun­worth and MI6 would nev­er see the light of day? 
We also have to ask ourselves what role the PM played in all this, as the fig­ure ulti­mately respons­ible for our ser­vices.  What did he know and when did he know it?

Julie Ann and the bul­lies in government

The gov­ern­ment had always claimed it was not in the busi­ness of pre­vent­ing legit­im­ate dis­cus­sion of the intel­li­gence ser­vices.  But on 6 March 2000, that all changed when Spe­cial Branch officers arres­ted Julie Ann Dav­ies, a stu­dent at King­ston Uni­ver­sity, under the 1911 and 1989 OSAs, dur­ing a lec­ture at the col­lege.  She was held for sev­er­al hours at King­ston Police sta­tion but was not charged.  She was later released on police bail.  The uni­ver­sity con­firmed that it had com­plied with a search war­rant, giv­ing police the right to access Davies’s com­puter at the uni­ver­sity.  Dav­ies had recently vis­ited Dav­id in France and had begun to rally sup­port for him. 

Dur­ing that meet­ing I became con­vinced that the man was genu­ine and so I felt the need to do some­thing about his situ­ation,” she said at the time. 

The day after the CX doc­u­ment appeared on the Inter­net, Dav­ies cir­cu­lated an e‑mail to fel­low cam­paign­ers and journ­al­ists.  In it, she stated:

You have prob­ably heard about the doc­u­ment on the web that appears to back up Dav­id Shayler’s alleg­a­tions of an MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gaddafi.”

It is also clear from the con­text of the ques­tions that police asked her that Spe­cial Branch sus­pec­ted her of put­ting the CX doc­u­ment on the Inter­net.  Under ques­tion­ing, Dav­ies denied hav­ing any­thing to do with this.  After keep­ing her on police bail for a num­ber of months without char­ging her, Spe­cial Branch even­tu­ally dropped the invest­ig­a­tion.  As a res­ult of the police action, she was forced to drop out of her uni­ver­sity course.  She is cur­rently suing police for wrong­ful arrest.  As a res­ult of dis­clos­ure in this case, police have provided her with the ‘evid­ence’ which led to her arrest.  It con­sists only of three anonym­ous let­ters claim­ing that she put the doc­u­ment on the Inter­net.  As they are anonym­ous, they would not be con­sidered admiss­ible evid­ence in a court of law. 

Mr Peter Scott, King­ston Uni­ver­sity vice chan­cel­lor, said:

The uni­ver­sity, as an insti­tu­tion com­mit­ted to free­dom of expres­sion, would be par­tic­u­larly con­cerned if it turned out that a dis­cred­ited piece of legis­la­tion like the OSA was being used to sup­press legit­im­ate journ­al­ist­ic invest­ig­a­tion and the public’s right to know about alleged abuses by the secur­ity services.”

The arrest of Julie Ann Dav­ies proved once again that min­is­ters were rather more con­cerned with intim­id­at­ing David’s sup­port­ers and pro­tect­ing the intel­li­gence ser­vices from prop­er scru­tiny, includ­ing crim­in­al invest­ig­a­tion, than free speech, one of the corner­stones of demo­cracy.  It was also a clear example of bul­ly­ing.  The Sunday Times, which had pub­lished the ori­gin­al art­icle about the report and quoted from the doc­u­ment, had not been invest­ig­ated, nor had any of its journ­al­ists been arres­ted in con­nec­tion with the mat­ter. 
This is also clear evid­ence that mater­i­al from CX reports can be pub­lished without caus­ing dam­age to nation­al secur­ity, as the gov­ern­ment did not pro­sec­ute the paper or its journ­al­ists under s5 of the 1989 OSA, where the Crown has to prove dam­age, for pub­lish­ing and quot­ing from the report.  But the bul­ly­ing was set to continue. 

The Observ­er taken to court

Hav­ing used the OSA to intim­id­ate one of David’s sup­port­ers for try­ing to expose ter­ror­ism fun­ded out by MI6, Blair’s gov­ern­ment then turned its sights on the ele­ments of the press who were bravely try­ing to expose the con­spir­acy.  Comedi­an and journ­al­ist Mark Thomas had agreed to deliv­er his evid­ence about the conspiracy23 to the Brit­ish Embassy by hand in Novem­ber 1999.  As Straw did not even both­er to reply, Dav­id briefed Mar­tin Bright of The Observ­er.  In Feb­ru­ary 2000, he repor­ted that Straw had done noth­ing to ensure that there was a crim­in­al invest­ig­a­tion into PT16/B’s activities. 

The art­icle also revealed for the first time in pub­lic that Tun­worth was a seni­or mem­ber of Liby­an intel­li­gence, who had walked into the Brit­ish Embassy in Tunis, and that reports quot­ing Moroc­can and Egyp­tian intel­li­gence sources had con­firmed the assas­sin­a­tion attempt, shortly after it took place in Feb­ru­ary 1996. 

A For­eign Office spokes­man changed the offi­cial pos­i­tion on the con­spir­acy, try­ing to play down Robin Cook’s claim that the tale about the MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi was ‘pure fantasy’:

We have nev­er denied know­ledge of coup attempts against Col Gad­dafi,” he told the paper.  “We always described alleg­a­tions of involve­ment as fantasy25.  We have noth­ing to add or subtract”.

If the For­eign Office and Cook had been hon­est when the dis­clos­ure was first made, they would have said at the time:

We are aware of a con­spir­acy to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi in early 1996.  We are still mak­ing enquir­ies about any MI6 involvement.”

Tun­worth was after all an MI6 agent who had by the time of the attack met Dav­id Wat­son, an MI6 officer, at least twice to dis­cuss his plans.  On that evid­ence alone, we can con­clude that MI6 was involved.  How­ever, Tun­worth could not have gone ahead with the plot without the back­ing of MI6, fin­an­cial or oth­er­wise.  As we have seen, sep­ar­ate sources have con­firmed pay­ments were made to the IFG, the group Tun­worth belonged to. 

On 14 March 2000, both The Observ­er and The Guard­i­an were taken to court by the author­it­ies.  Spe­cial Branch sought a court order to seize any note­books and browse through The Observer’s com­puter for fur­ther evid­ence of breaches of the OSA on David’s part.  It sought from The Guard­i­an the ori­gin­al of a let­ter Dav­id had writ­ten, which was pub­lished in news­pa­per on the 17 Feb­ru­ary 2000.  As Nick Cohen, The Observer’s colum­nist put it:

No one would dream of telling a news­pa­per about offi­cial cor­rup­tion, incom­pet­ence or crime, if they thought the police – or in this case, the secret police – might read every jot­ting and e‑mail.” 

A couple of days later, Detect­ive Ser­geant John Flynn, from the fin­an­cial invest­ig­a­tions unit of Spe­cial Branch, told The Guard­i­an that there were ‘reas­on­able grounds’ for pro­sec­ut­ing Mar­tin Bright and Roger Alton, the edit­or of The Observ­er, under s5 of the OSA

A month later, judge Mar­tin Steph­ens ruled that the papers had to hand over any mater­i­al, even though he admit­ted that the let­ter to The Guard­i­an con­tained noth­ing that had not already been prin­ted.  Dav­id said at the time:

The gov­ern­ment is adopt­ing the tac­tics of a total­it­ari­an state by attack­ing the press in this way.  If they really believe I have doc­u­ments that could dam­age nation­al secur­ity, why don’t they come and talk to me about them, rather than intim­id­ate journalists.”

Even the then For­eign Sec­ret­ary Robin Cook and the For­eign Office min­is­ter Peter Hain were repor­ted to be hor­ri­fied at such an attack on press free­dom.  But we have to won­der why they chose to speak out at this point.  Did Cook know that if the doc­u­ments were handed over then Dav­id might be pro­sec­uted for dis­clos­ing details of the MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy, allow­ing Cook’s ‘pure fantasy’ lies to be examined before a court?

On 19 July 2000, Mr Justice Igor Judge heard the case for Spe­cial Branch to access The Observer’s com­puter.  He over­turned the decision of the lower courts in his ringing defence of press freedom:

The Gad­dafi Plot is either true or it is false, and unless there are reas­ons of com­pel­ling nation­al secur­ity, the pub­lic is entitled to know the facts, and as the eyes and ears of the pub­lic, journ­al­ists are entitled to invest­ig­ate and report the facts, dis­pas­sion­ately and fairly, without pre­judge­ment or selectivity […]

If true, it is dif­fi­cult to over­es­tim­ate its enorm­ity: a con­spir­acy to murder the head of anoth­er state, res­ult­ing not in his death, but in the deaths of inno­cent people who were not its inten­ded tar­gets.[…]  Again, if true, the cir­cum­stances in which such a plan was con­ceived and developed, and the iden­tity of those who were informed about and approved it, or turned a blind eye to it, and equally those who were delib­er­ately kept in ignor­ance, raise crit­ic­al pub­lic issues about the activ­it­ies of the secur­ity ser­vices and those respons­ible for them” 
In the middle of all this, a new devel­op­ment neatly poin­ted to the impot­ence of the ser­vices and the inef­fect­ive­ness of cur­rent legis­la­tion in pro­tect­ing state secrets in the age of the Inter­net.  Por­tuguese intel­li­gence expert Fre­derico Duarte pub­lished the names of Dav­id Wat­son and Richard Bart­lett, PT16/B and PT16 respect­ively in Tal & Qual, the Por­tuguese equi­val­ent of Private Eye.  As the names were also avail­able on the Inter­net, they could be accessed from Bri­tain.  As they were now in the pub­lic domain, they could be repeated in the Brit­ish media, although only the Cam­paign for Press and Broad­cast­ing Free­dom dared to actu­ally pub­lish the names of the two MI6 ter­ror­ists involved.

The delayed police investigation

In March 2000, John Wadham and I had hand-delivered a state­ment — which Dav­id had pre­pared and indic­ated he was pre­pared to swear to under oath — to the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch at New Scot­land Yard.  The police then refused to invest­ig­ate the plot claim­ing that con­spir­acy to murder did not amount to a crime in Bri­tain.  Again, this demon­strates what would have happened if Dav­id had viol­ated the 1989 OSA s1 and approached the Met dir­ectly with his dis­clos­ures in 1997. 

Finally in Decem­ber 2000, two and a half years after Dav­id had made the ori­gin­al dis­clos­ure, he was finally giv­en per­mis­sion by the author­it­ies to give evid­ence to the police.  DS Gerry Mackin­non and Detect­ive Supt Lewis Ben­jamin work­ing for SO1 of the Met, inter­viewed him and pre­pared a sworn state­ment, which he signed in early 2001.  SO1 then under­took the first ever police invest­ig­a­tion into the activ­it­ies of MI6.  You don’t have to be a cyn­ic to point out that by this time, MI6 had had plenty of time to des­troy or tamper with the evid­ence.  Dav­id and I have every con­fid­ence that the police in this case did their job thor­oughly and pro­fes­sion­ally but by then, we believe, it was too late.

In Feb­ru­ary 2001, SO1 sent a report to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice.  Pro­sec­u­tion sources said the author­it­ies had decided there was a prima facie case, mer­it­ing fur­ther investigation29.  In all, the enquir­ies took nine months.  In Novem­ber 2001, the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police con­firmed that the MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy was not ‘pure fantasy’:

As you know, the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Ser­vice under­took an assess­ment of the avail­able mater­i­al and sub­mit­ted two reports to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice, an inter­im report in Feb­ru­ary 2001 and a final report in Septem­ber 2001.  The police enquiry has been extremely thor­ough, examin­ing all rel­ev­ant material.”

This clearly con­firms that the police have gathered evid­ence – ‘rel­ev­ant mater­i­al’ — about the MI6 con­spir­acy, which con­firm there is ‘a basis in fact’ for David’s dis­clos­ures refut­ing Robin Cook asser­tion that: “The tale about the MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi is pure fantasy. [with] no basis in fact”.  At the same time, neither the police nor the CPS sought to arrest Dav­id or bring charges for per­jury or wast­ing police time, indic­at­ing that detailed sworn state­ment was hon­est, reli­able and true.  On these avail­able facts, any reas­on­able observ­er can only con­clude that Cook is lying and Dav­id telling the truth.  In fact, we have chal­lenged Cook to sign a sworn state­ment say­ing that the MI6/Al Qaeda plot was ‘pure fantasy [with] no basis in fact’.

The CPS did con­clude that there is not enough evid­ence to secure a con­vic­tion.  But it took them two months to come to this decision after the nine-month invest­ig­a­tion.  Even then, the CPS sought to mis­rep­res­ent the find­ings of the enquiry:

Final advice from the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice has now been received, say­ing that the mater­i­al does not sub­stan­ti­ate the alleg­a­tion made by Dav­id Shayler.”

The work of the police and the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice is not to ‘sub­stan­ti­ate […] alleg­a­tions’ or oth­er­wise.  (Any­way, Dav­id made a num­ber of alleg­a­tions, not just one).  Its job is to judge wheth­er there is enough evid­ence to secure a con­vic­tion in front of a jury bey­ond any reas­on­able doubt.  That is a very high stand­ard of proof.  The usu­al test of proof for Par­lia­ment­ary or judi­cial enquir­ies is ‘the bal­ance of probabilities’.

At the time, Dav­id commented:

This is the first time that the police have invest­ig­ated an alleg­a­tion against MI6, partly because MI6 had a de facto immunity from invest­ig­a­tion into alleg­a­tions of crime on the part of the ser­vice under the Roy­al Prerog­at­ive.  It demon­strates why MI6 was put on a leg­al foot­ing in the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.  The invest­ig­a­tion was not of course ideal.  The police were only look­ing to gath­er admiss­ible evid­ence, which could be used to secure a con­vic­tion of the two MI6 officers who planned and car­ried out the plot, rather than try­ing to assess all rel­ev­ant mater­i­al, includ­ing intelligence.” 

This whole pro­cess once again calls into ques­tion the over­sight arrange­ments for the ser­vices and the abil­ity of min­is­ters and offi­cials to dis­charge their leg­al duties.  In the future, we will be seek­ing per­mis­sion to have the record­ing — on which David’s sworn testi­mony was based — pub­lished so that the Brit­ish people and, it is hoped, Par­lia­ment can see for them­selves the truth of his words. 

Fur­ther con­firm­a­tion of the plot

That, again, might have been that but for a book pub­lished by two French journ­al­ists, shortly before Dav­id went to tri­al in Octo­ber 2002.  Guil­laume Dasquié, pub­lish­er of Intel­li­gence On-line, and Jean-Charles Bris­ard, a former adviser to French Pres­id­ent Jacques Chir­ac who worked for the French intel­li­gence ser­vices, pub­lished For­bid­den Truth.  The book con­firms that the Islam­ic Fight­ing group was the Liby­an Al Qaeda cell respons­ible for the attempt on Gaddafi’s life.  The book added that the Islam­ic Fight­ing Group also included Anas al-Liby, a lead­ing Al Qaeda mem­ber who is wanted for his involve­ment in the Afric­an embassy bomb­ings and remains on the US government’s most wanted list with a reward of $25 mil­lion for his cap­ture.  Al-Liby was with Osama bin Laden in Sudan before the Al Qaeda lead­er returned to Afgh­anistan in 199632.  Dasquie said:

Bin Laden wanted to settle in Libya in the early 1990s but was hindered by the gov­ern­ment of Muam­mar Gad­dafi.  Enraged by Libya’s refus­al, bin Laden organ­ised attacks inside Libya, includ­ing assas­sin­a­tion attempts against Gaddafi.”.

This provides yet more con­vin­cing evid­ence that Tun­worth was involved with Al Qaeda.  At the very least, MI6 and MI5’s under­stand­ing of Al Qaeda was so lim­ited that neither ser­vice real­ised the implic­a­tions of Tun­worth’s pro­posed coup in Libya: by assas­sin­at­ing Gad­dafi the West would have lost a valu­able ally in the battle with Al Qaeda and instead would have had to face the threat of an Al Qaeda in con­trol of Liby­an oil.

Giv­en the tim­ing of the MI6 pay­ments– along with the close rela­tion­ship between the IFG and bin Laden – it appears that Brit­ish tax­pay­ers’ money was used to fund Al Qaeda attacks in Libya.  Ashur Sha­mis, a Liby­an expert on Islam­ic extrem­ism, also added sup­port to David’s allegation:

There was a rise in the activ­it­ies of the Islam­ic Fight­ing Group from 1995 [around the time of the first pay­ment],” he said, “but many in Libya would be shocked if MI6 was involved.”.

Issues raised by the MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy

Nearly all experts who work in counter-ter­ror­ism — as opposed to people on the “out­side” — believe that assas­sin­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly in the case of heads of state only serve to destabil­ise a region.  This was a view held by the US Nation­al Secur­ity Coun­cil until George W Bush became pres­id­ent.  Although cer­tain Third World lead­ers do not share our stand­ards of demo­cracy, they do provide a cer­tain amount of sta­bil­ity to their coun­try and region.  Remove such a lead­er from power by assas­sin­a­tion and you will only cre­ate a vacu­um, which will lead to unrest and viol­ence as fac­tions com­pete for power. 

Under inter­na­tion­al law, assas­sin­a­tion oper­a­tions are illeg­al.  The only mor­al argu­ment for assas­sin­at­ing any dic­tat­or or ter­ror­ist is that such action would lead to con­sid­er­ably few­er deaths, than leav­ing him in power to con­tin­ue to sup­port viol­ence against the West.  By 1996, Gad­dafi had ceased to sup­port the IRA or indeed any ter­ror­ism.  There were, though, a few uncon­firmed reports that he had provided funds to Palestini­an res­ist­ance move­ments in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, ter­rit­or­ies illeg­ally occu­pied by Israel and sub­ject to UN res­ol­u­tions.  In this con­text, Gad­dafi was fund­ing organ­isa­tions fight­ing for their own free­dom, not terrorists.

In addi­tion, MI6 had giv­en its bless­ing to an indi­vidu­al who was lead­ing a group of Islam­ic extrem­ists with links to the Al Qaeda net­work.  If Tun­worth, the indi­vidu­al the Liby­ans caught in the act, had suc­ceeded in assas­sin­at­ing Col­on­el Gad­dafi, his sup­port­ers would in all prob­ab­il­ity have set up an Islam­ic Extrem­ist state in North Africa, fur­ther destabil­ising a region already sub­ject to viol­ence from Islam­ic fundamentalists. 

Once Al Qaeda had Libya, it would have been all too easy for the group to take con­trol of neigh­bour­ing states like Sudan, Tunisia, Alger­ia and Egypt, which already have their own intern­al prob­lems with Al Qaeda.  In con­trol of a state like Libya or a region like North Africa, Al Qaeda would have had:

  • Ready access to Liby­an funds, run­ning into £bil­lions. 
  • Con­trol of the Liby­an oil industry, destabil­ising world oil prices.
  • The abil­ity to launch many more attacks like Septem­ber 11th, killing and maim­ing thou­sands of UK and US citizens. 
  • A land bor­der with Israel and there­fore a greatly increased capa­city to attack the state of Israel. 
  • The means to destabil­ise world secur­ity on an enorm­ous scale. 

In fact, we only have to look at the cur­rent prob­lems in Iraq to see what could have happened, had the MI6/Al Qaeda con­spir­acy suc­cess­fully led to Gaddafi’s assas­sin­a­tion.  In the absence of West­ern mil­it­ary and secur­ity forces in a post-coup Libya, Al Qaeda would have had an even freer rein than it now has in post-war Iraq.  At the very least, MI6 failed to real­ise the implic­a­tions of Tunworth’s admit­ted asso­ci­ation with Islam­ic Extrem­ists or his inten­tions, a coup lead­ing to an Al Qaeda state in Libya.  That in itself would be of enorm­ous con­cern, for which MI6 deserves to roundly be cen­sured.  But, the truth is, the agent duped MI6 officers into fund­ing that poten­tial Al Qaeda takeover.  Dav­id explains:

This was an act of ter­ror­ism, in which Bri­tain became a state spon­sor of Islam­ic extrem­ism.  To put this in con­text, the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA tries to avoid harm­ing civil­ians on the basis that it pro­duces bad pub­li­city (although inev­it­ably civil­ians are maimed and murdered when bombs go off on our streets).  Islam­ic extrem­ists and Al Qaeda have no such restraint.  MI6 con­sciously sup­por­ted ter­ror­ists who pose a great­er threat to the nation­al secur­ity of the UK than the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA ever did.

Although my boss, Paul Slim did not seem to want to know, I made it clear to him that it was his respons­ib­il­ity to take it up the man­age­ment chain.  This whole oper­a­tion was clearly a viol­a­tion of the rule of law that my recruit­er had told me the ser­vices must observe.

I could also clearly see that the rela­tion­ship between Tun­worth and MI6 was flawed.  MI5 had no secur­ity record of Tun­worth and MI6 had only a couple of traces or brief men­tions.  Yet less than six months later, after a hand­ful of meet­ings, MI6 had giv­en him £100,000 of tax­pay­ers’ money to assas­sin­ate a for­eign head of state.  There was no way that MI6 could in that time have estab­lished a close enough rela­tion­ship with him to make any real­ist­ic assess­ment of his char­ac­ter and reli­ab­il­ity – he really could have been anybody.”

If this sort of MI6 activ­ity only went on abroad and did not affect Brit­ish cit­izens, it might be less fright­en­ing for us.  How­ever, MI6 routinely oper­ates in the UK.  In addi­tion to IOPs35, UKG (now PT16B/OPS) ran agents in the UK and UKZ car­ries out surveillance.

If our elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives are not allowed to access MI6 doc­u­ments about the con­spir­acy then per­haps they should try using the US Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act to obtain final con­firm­a­tion of MI6 fund­ing Tun­worth and the IFG and Al Qaeda.


As Dav­id went on the record pre­cisely because of the MI6 fund­ing of Al Qaeda, it is worth look­ing at what he would have said in his defence in court, had he been allowed one:

Cov­er-up: There is over­whelm­ing evid­ence to indic­ate that the then For­eign Sec­ret­ary Robin Cook was ‘eco­nom­ic­al with the truth’.  His state­ment pro­tec­ted mur­der­ers in the intel­li­gence ser­vices and ensured that Dav­id was thrown in pris­on with a view to extra­di­tion.  The media has been slow to put this to Cook and the head of Britain’s intel­li­gence ser­vices, Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair.  Once the MI6 doc­u­ment appeared on the Inter­net and the police recovered rel­ev­ant mater­i­al, it must have been clear to the Prime Min­is­ter that his For­eign Sec­ret­ary had not told the whole truth to the Brit­ish people.  In that situ­ation, he had a simple choice under the min­is­teri­al code: either cor­rect the state­ment of his min­is­ter or enter into the.  This is a cov­er up of monu­ment­al pro­por­tions.  Its implic­a­tions for our demo­cracy and the rule of law are enormous.

Justice: Although the deaths of a few Liby­ans may not carry as much weight with news­pa­per edit­ors as the deaths of Brit­ish cit­izens, they are still somebody’s sons and daugh­ters.  They are human beings and not ‘col­lat­er­al dam­age’ as some com­ment­at­ors have sug­ges­ted.  Brit­ish min­is­ters have a duty to pro­tect life.

Law and order: Any attempt to assas­sin­ate a for­eign head of state is an act of ter­ror­ism, banned by inter­na­tion­al law under the Pro­tec­tion of Priv­ileged Per­sons Act 1869.  How can we con­demn Libya for bomb­ing flight PA 103 over Lock­er­bie or assas­sin­at­ing WPC Yvonne Fletch­er, if we resort to the same ter­rible tactics?

Ter­ror­ism: Remov­ing Col­on­el Gad­dafi would have led to a more extreme des­pot tak­ing over in Libya, which would in all prob­ab­il­ity have led to attacks on Brit­ish, US, European and Israeli cit­izens.  Al Qaeda mem­bers, enemies of the West then and now, car­ried out the attemp­ted coup.  By this time, MI6 knew that Al Qaeda was respons­ible for the attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993.  At the same time, MI5 had set up a sec­tion, G9C, in 1995, spe­cific­ally to invest­ig­ate Islam­ic extrem­ist groups, par­tic­u­larly Al Qaeda.  It was there­fore the height of neg­li­gence (some might say stu­pid­ity) for MI6 to give up to £100,000 of tax­pay­ers’ money to the lead­er of such a group.

Fail­ure of account­ab­il­ity and over­sight: Under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, MI6 could have sub­mit­ted the plot to the For­eign Sec­ret­ary for per­mis­sion.  With that per­mis­sion, they would have been immune from pro­sec­u­tion.  By not sub­mit­ting, MI6 officers were decid­ing Brit­ish for­eign policy towards Libya, not the demo­crat­ic­ally account­able For­eign Sec­ret­ary.  After David’s return to the UK, we approached the police to invest­ig­ate the plot.  They ini­tially refused to take pos­ses­sion of David’s evid­ence, allow­ing those involved in the mean­time to per­haps doc­tor the evidence. 

Lack of trans­par­ency: If we can only main­tain our repu­ta­tion for demo­cracy through lying, cheat­ing and obsess­ive secrecy then I sug­gest we are not really a lib­er­al demo­cracy at all.  If you want to live in the sort of coun­try in which the intel­li­gence ser­vices are allowed to work in abso­lute secrecy and lit­er­ally get away with murder, I sug­gest you go and live in Iran. 
Cor­rup­tion: If you want to live in a func­tion­ing demo­cracy, you have a mor­al and demo­crat­ic duty to ensure that the laws of the land are upheld and that they apply equally to every cit­izen of that coun­try.  When the Prime Min­is­ter and the For­eign Sec­ret­ary give MI6 officers a de facto immunity by refus­ing to take evid­ence of their con­spir­ing to murder, they send a very clear mes­sage to MI6.  And that mes­sage is: “You are above the law.  You can get away with it now and can get away with it in the future.  In fact, you enjoy the same rights as KGB officers in the former Soviet Union”.

Waste of money: In the attack, MI6 wasted £100,000 of tax­pay­ers’ money.  These funds could have been bet­ter spent on school­books and medicines.