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Monday, September 05, 2011 

Don't worry, Peter Gibson will get to the bottom of it.

Well, at least we now know why Moussa Koussa was allowed to leave our septic isle so swiftly. When he arrived here at the end of the March having defected from Gaddafi's regime, one of the few things that he wasn't accused of was of a long-term convivial relationship with MI6, let alone being on such friendly terms with the secret intelligence service that it appears he and Sir Mark Allen were the equivalent of best mates. It would have always been bad form to encourage someone to defect only then to charge them with some sort of offence once they arrived; it's now apparent there was never any chance of something like that happening, despite our glorious coalition intimating that all options were open. Koussa, interestingly, left for Qatar, one of the few Arab nations to provide direct military assistance to the rebels, more than suggesting he has friends in high places there also.

The collapse of dictatorships will naturally mean a certain amount of unpleasantness for those overseas both in government and business who set aside any qualms they had about human rights to deal with such nations, but they can always reassure themselves with the knowledge that they did so only to indirectly help the poor people trapped under totalitarian regimes. That's clearly the only thing Sir Mark Allen had in mind when he went in one hop from head of counter-terrorism at MI6, resigning after he was overlooked for the top job, to special adviser at BP, who subsequently signed a massive oil exploration deal with Libya. MI6 had after all played a major role in successfully persuading Gaddafi to abandon his WMD programmes; as the Iraq war has taught us, only countries without such material get bombed or invaded. Such victories requiring mutual understanding, respect, and sharing of intelligence.

It's hardly a surprise then to learn that both the CIA and MI6 quickly became bosom buddies with the self-same individuals who previously had been among their chief antagonists. We already knew that the CIA especially had been co-operating most assiduously with their counterparts in Libya, having allowed one of their previously most prized detainees, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, to return to his native land, where he sadly "committed suicide" in the notorious Abu Salim prison two years ago. Neither is it really earth-shattering that MI6 were happy to assist in the rendition of Abu Munthir, former deputy emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, from Hong Kong. Allegiances in the world of intelligence shift by the day: that, according to David Shayler (when he was credible, it should be stressed), MI6 had funded the group's attempt to assassinate Gaddafi in the 90s only to later turn over some of those it must have had contact with is just the way these things go.

Much more shocking are the allegations that the Libyans were being provided with details of the activities of dissidents in this country, with all the potential implications that has for any relatives back home. Much was being made earlier in the year of how those taking part in demonstrations against the crackdown in Syria were being photographed by diplomats, with their families coming under pressure from the regime as a result. It's one thing for a regime's overseas intelligence agency to keep tabs on dissidents; it's quite another for their host country to do it for them. What's more, it breaches the very code, not to mention law which our security services keep insisting they have consistently abided by: Sir John Sawers said last year that if they believed action taken by themselves will lead to torture they would not do so, even if it meant terrorist activity would take place as a result. That certainly doesn't seem to have impeded the passing of such information in this instance.

We can of course only guess at what would be uncovered if our intelligence archives were opened up in their entirety in a similar manner, and not just provided to establishment historians to give clean bills of health to (surely to independent academics who have reached entirely appropriate conclusions based on the evidence before them? Ed.). In any case, we have the next best thing: the Gibson inquiry.


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