The Libyan Connection: The United State's Restoration of Relations with the Regime of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi Was a Coup for the CIA

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THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S restoration of diplomatic relations with Libya after more than a quarter of a century of often violent confrontation is largely the result of several years of painstaking and largely secret diplomacy between senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers and Colonel Muammar Gadaffi's security chiefs, much of it unreported.

The US move, which will take Libya off the State Department terrorism blacklist, provides the embattled Bush administration, desperate for friends--and oil--in the Middle East, with a high-profile diplomatic success in the region and opens up Libya to US oil companies again. But its real importance may be that it will also yield an important intelligence lode by allowing the Americans to plug into Libya's intelligence network and, given Gadaffi's abhorrence of Islamist extremists, to expand US counterterrorism capabilities in North Africa. The CIA has been steadily building alliances with other regimes in the region with which it has quarrelled in the past, such as Sudan and Algeria.

Congressman Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, welcomed the US move, announced on 15 May, "as a means to expand US-Libyan collaboration against humanity's common enemy, terrorism".

Given Gadaffi's involvement in international terrorism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was a certain irony in that statement. But the rapprochement has been widely seen as inevitable since Gadaffi surrendered two of his intelligence officers for trial in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people, mostly Americans, were killed.

The Libyan leader, who seized power in a September 1969 military coup that toppled the pro-western monarchy, then surprised the world on 19 December 2003 by publicly abandoning his clandestine nuclear weapons programme. The nuclear decision stemmed from a largely unheralded US intelligence operation as well as Gadaffi's fears that the US, having invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, might go after him next.

Nine months earlier, in March 2003, one of Gadaffi's closest associates, Muse Kusa, the much-feared head of Libya's foreign intelligence service, the Iamahariya Security Organisation (ISO), and Saif Al Islam, Gadaffi's son, had contacted the British to say that his father was ready to come clean about his weapons of mass destruction programmes in exchange for assurances his regime would not be attacked.

Gadaffi's eventual decision to abandon his nuclear ambitions was not altogether altruistic. He only did so after the Americans presented him with a compact disc made by the US National Security Agency of an intercepted conversation between the head of Libya's nuclear programme, Maatouq Mohammed Matouq, and Abdul Qadeer Khan, the now discredited head of Pakistan's nuclear programme, who ran a clandestine black market in nuclear equipment.

Kusa played a key role in the rapprochement between the US and Libya, enemies for much of the last two decades. He had been expelled as Libya's ambassador to Britain in 1980 after publicly admitting that he had orchestrated the liquidation of Libyan dissidents abroad, Gadaffi's 'stray dogs'. …