Behind the politics and dirty tricks that demonised Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi
By David Guyatt
“It’s an easy hit.” The voice of Lester Coleman, former Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) operative and joint author of the explosive book Trail of the Octopus, echoed hollowly down the line. Lester answered my question in four simple words. I had asked him why the US continues blaming Libya’s Qadaffi for all the woes in the world. Since his enforced “exile,” Lester has become something of an expert on Libya.
“Listen David,” he continued, “It’s all domestic politics.” Libyan skulduggery plays to the “Red-necks” who inhabit middle America. Lester, an accomplished linguist launched into a humorous back-woods drawl to emphasise his point. Most Americans believe anything they’re told about “Ay-rabs” he said, particularly at politically sensitive times or during an election year. One reason, perhaps, why the US had threatened to use a nuclear weapon against Libya in spring of 1996.
I was told this latter piece of gossip by Sir Teddy Taylor, Conservative Member of Parliament. Sir Teddy had consented to an interview to provide background on the assassination of WPC Yvonne Fletcher and also on the downing of Pan Am flight 103, over Lockerbie. The MP had a special interest in both cases. Somehow, I had missed picking up the US nuclear threat on the news. When Sir Teddy mentioned it, my jaw dropped with a jowl-shuddering “clunk.” I later confirmed the story from American media sources. In the event it was just bluster. 1996 has proved a peculiarly good year for Libya. For the second time in a decade, it got shunted into the political back woods by Presidential warlords. Instead the mad Ayatollah’s of Iran took centre-stage as America’s arch-demon in this election year. But by all accounts it was touch and go whether Libya or Iran would be awarded the honour of the black boot this time around.
Les Coleman is the first DIA operative to have gone public and blown the whistle. His book blew the lid on the Lockerbie story. Because of his inside knowledge, he was inundated with death threats from the intelligence community and fled with his family to Europe for safety. Originally given temporary political asylum in Sweden, two years later he was forced to move on. Most recently he was residing in Spain.
When I spoke to him, he was planning his return to the US after years of exile. Now penniless and unsettled, we spoke about his chances of arrest on an old charge of obtaining a passport in a false name – something he did under DIA instruction as a field operative. In any case, Les hoped the forthcoming Presidential election might insulate him from prosecution, but was going to return “home” no matter what. His family had, understandably, grown tired of their nomadic life and missed “home”.
Unsurprisingly, word of his return to the USA had leaked out. A short while before finalising his flight plans he was attacked by four men and beaten to a pulp. He arrived in the US in a wheelchair on 17 October 1996, arrested and placed in custody on Federal charges. His book, due to be published in the US has been now been suppressed. US distributors for Signet Books, say the publication date is “indefinitely postponed.”
Les was one of many people I spoke to in an attempt to get a clear understanding of the nonsensical US position on Libya. For the better part of twenty years Libya and its leader Muammar Qaddafi has been hoisted atop America’s most hated nation list. It was a form of political vilification that Europe didn’t share, until the murder of Yvonne Fletcher, to which I shall return.
Upon taking power, the Reagan administration immediately commenced a bitter campaign against Qaddafi, principally under the guidance of Director of Central Intelligence, Bill Casey – a gruff, no nonsense financial street-fighter who’s lack of political eloquence was matched by a well used black-jack. Casey had been Ronald Reagan’s Campaign Manager and carried Reagan to victory on the back of the “October Surprise” issue of 1980. President Carter’s re-election chances were dashed by the intransigence of both the Iranians and US officials who – unknown to him – had concluded a secret deal to delay the release of US hostages, held by Tehran, in exchange for battlefield weapons. Reagan romped home to a landslide victory and immediately announced that the hostages would be released. It is now clear that Casey was one of the central architects who negotiated the deal with the Iranian Ayatollahs.
A virulent pro-market, anti-Communist, Casey shared his views with British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher – a close personal friend. Thatcher was one of the few Prime Ministers who took an active interest in the machinations of the intelligence community. She went out of her way to attend Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) meetings and insisted on being regularly briefed. Her interest in these exotic areas may have been whetted by many of her ardent supporters, like Airey Neave, who possessed intelligence backgrounds.
Casey also had a “thing” about Qaddafi, who he saw as a lowlife rebel-rouser who bankrolled the globe’s terrorists. Along with other administration hard-liner’s, Casey set out to destabilise Libya and over-throw Qaddafi in true CIA fashion.
Within months of taking office, President Reagan authorised a battle fleet to sail along Libya’s coastline. Announced to the media as a “naval exercise,” the manoeuvre was designed to challenge Libya’s recently announced sovereignty over the Gulf of Sidra - a move that extended Libya’s territorial claims well beyond the internationally recognised twelve mile coastal boundary.
Ordinarily, a territorial dispute of this nature would typically be subject to international diplomacy and discussion. In the event the Reagan administration saw it as a perfect excuse to buckle on the hip-holsters and start blasting away with a set of Texan six-guns. Qadhafi was about to get a taste Reagan’s gung-ho, go-get-‘em diplomacy – the first in a series of “police actions” that were later to lead to the invasion of Granada and Panama.
On August 19, 1981, two US Navy F-14 “Tomcats” patrolling thirty miles inside the disputed territorial waters were attacked by Libyan jets. In the melee that followed two Libyan jets were shot down. A delighted Ronald Reagan mimicked his old western movie days – for the benefit of his close aides – by drawing two imaginary six-guns and peppering an equally imaginary Qaddafi with numerous bullets. It was pure “boy’s own” stuff but backed by multi-megaton muscles.
Over the following months, numerous intelligence briefings reported that Qaddafi had ordered a revenge attack against President Reagan and other high administration officials. Quickly shown to be unfounded, the fabricated report was traced to Manucher Ghorbanifar – a shadowy Iranian arms dealer who had helped to broker the arms for hostages deal. Despite this, the “false” death threat gave Casey and other administration insiders the ammunition they needed to wage a protracted campaign against the Libyan leader.
By November, a top secret National Security Planning Group (NSPG) chaired by the President (who was known to sleep through Cabinet meetings) authorised planning for ” a military response against Libya in the event of further Libyan attempts to assassinate American officials or attack U.S. facilities.” Soon drafted, the Top Secret memo “counter-terrorist planning towards Libya” recommended the President to “immediately direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ready assets to carry out military action against Libya in self-defence, following a further Libyan provocation.” A number of retaliatory “graduated” responses were planned. Out of the main five options, four centred on air strikes against Libyan targets. Fear-stricken at these developments, Qaddafi reacted by sending an envoy to Washington, pleading that the whole thing was pure bunkum. The strategy proved successful… for the time being.
There followed a hiatus in US activity against Libya, as the CIA and Casey focused most of its resources on the Nicaraguan situation. But Qaddafi was not to be forgotten. In a tour of European Capitals in early 1984 – a US Presidential election year – US officials seeking allied co-operation against Libya returned home in bleak mood. The picture they presented of European attitudes to Qaddafi was not encouraging. The Libyan leader was generally well regarded. First he did a lot of business with Europe; he wasn’t a fundamentalist, and; a large number of European ex-pats lived and worked in Libya. Collectively, the Europeans wouldn’t sanction US hostilities. Hardly surprising when the bulk of Libya’s crude oil – almost 80% – is exported to western Europe – principally Italy, Germany, Spain and France.
With administration insiders concluding that Qaddafi would be just the “ticket” leading to a Reagan victory at the upcoming election in November, something had to be done to modify European public opinion. Within months, “fate” seemed to lend a helping hand.
Woman Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher was on duty outside London Libyan people’s Bureau, on 17 April 1984. Located in the fashionable and serene St. James Square, the Libyan Bureau building huddles in a corner of the square. It’s address is No. 5. On that day a hail of automatic gunfire disturbed the tranquillity, sending Pigeons flying in all directions. The eleven round burst – fired by a 9mm Sterling sub-machine gun – from the first floor of the Libyan building, felled a number of anti-Qadaffi demonstrators protesting outside. WPC Fletcher was killed outright. The slaying caused uproar and hit the headlines around the world. Condemned in the worlds media and Parliament, all Libyan diplomats were expelled by a furious Home Secretary. The only problem with the Home Secretary’s understandable indignation was that the Libyan gunman didn’t shoot Yvonne Fletcher.
The Fletcher killing occurred out-of-the-blue and singularly changed British political and public opinion overnight. Open season was declared on Qaddafi and Libya by the US, and most importantly, was supported by Britain. The rest of Europe kept silent and sulked – having been out manoeuvred. With the aid of a single bullet, the Reagan administration’s “destabilisation” plan against Qaddafi was back on track.
Eighteen months after Fletcher’s assassination, 40 US warplanes screamed across the night sky above Tripoli and Benghazi. Of those, eight F111 bombers had launched from bases in East Anglia, England – with the blessing of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and a still enraged British population. Each bomber carried four 2000-pound laser-guided “smart” bombs. In all, 32,000-pounds of high explosive ordnance were explicitly targeted to kill Qadaffi. Miraculously, he escaped unhurt. His fifteenth-month old daughter was killed and two adopted sons badly injured.
The Reagan administration loosed the warplanes on Libya following the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin, nine days earlier. One US serviceman and a young Turkish woman had been killed outright, and 230 people injured. The Disco was a known hangout for off-duty US servicemen.
President Reagan claimed he had irrefutable proof of Libyan sponsorship for the atrocity. Despite this claim, no evidence has been submitted by the Reagan administration to support their allegations. A host of well informed individuals and “sources” doubt any proof ever existed – except in the fevered imagination of CIA boss, Bill Casey. Conservative MP, Sir Teddy Taylor, regards the American allegations as “total rubbish.”
In April 1996, Britain’s Channel Four “flagship” documentary programme Dispatches – in a massively researched broadcast – revealed that Fletcher had been murdered by elements of British and American intelligence. The purpose of the slaying, as outlined earlier, was to “shape” public opinion and, importantly, pre-empt Parliamentary indignation for the later bombing of Tripoli by British based US warplanes. Disgracefully, these astonishing revelations went unreported by the media.
The film, made by the highly regarded Fulcrum Productions, was the subject of a debate in the House of Commons on 8 May 1996. MP’s Sir Teddy Taylor and Tam Dalyell, demanded the government initiate a full inquiry. Responding for the government, Home Office Minister of State, David MacClean, described the Dispatches programme as “preposterous trash.” In doing so, he called into question the reputations of leading ballistics experts and gun-shot specialists – and carefully avoided reference to information provided to the documentary team by well placed, and knowledgeable, intelligence sources. It was a white-knuckle statement that will hopefully, one day, boomerang back on him.
Fulcrum had learned that British and US intelligence had established a major surveillance post – adjacent to the Libyan People’s Bureau – at No. 8 St. James Square. This post had been “active” for at least six weeks prior to the shooting, with up to 40 individual intelligence officers present. On the morning of the shooting, the post was abandoned. Moreover, Dispatches also learned that the demonstration outside the Libyan Bureau was a phoney. The demonstrators belonged to a CIA front organisation.
Two additional facts were discovered: British and American intelligence knew that Col. Qaddafi had sanctioned his London Bureau to shoot at the demonstrators – they had intercepted the secret message granting authorisation. Secondly, the CIA and MI5 knew precisely the calibre of weapon to be used. Both intelligence agencies had “penetrated” the Bureau and had Libyan “sources” supplying information to them.
Crucially, Fulcrum Productions learned, beyond doubt, that the bullet that killed Fletcher had been fired from the upper floor of No. 8 St. James Square – the location of the surveillance post. Ballistics experts consulted by the documentary team, confirmed the bullets entry track to have come from No. 8. The team also learned that the bullet was adapted to fire with “Terminal Velocity.” This technique – a speciality of SAS “shooters” - is achieved by removing some of the explosive propellant from the cartridge. The result is a quieter shot – similar to using a silencer. A side effect of a bullet fired in this manner is that it flies slower and “tumbles” as it strikes the target - wrecking havoc as it rips through soft tissue. In every respect it is a “killer” shot – where chances of survival are so slim as to be negligible. The information on the bullet’s “Terminal Velocity” characteristics were also confirmed by independent experts.
A well-placed and reliable “source” interviewed by this writer, explained why WPC Fletcher was targeted. Intelligence operatives knew Qaddafi had authorised a “hitman” to let loose with a sterling automatic weapon against CIA funded demonstrators gathering outside the London Bureau. This information was gleaned with the aid of signals intercepts and human intelligence (HUMINT) sources inside the Bureau itself. The great worry amongst the secret cabal who planned the assassination, was that random killing of Arab protesters would not be sufficient to force the British Home Secretary to expel all Libyan diplomats. It was argued that a targeting a British “Bobby,” especially a Police Woman would do the trick.
Such appalling cynicism is the hand-maiden to the intelligence community as well as heartless politicians who believe the end justifies the means. The “source” also explained that it was an “off the books” hit, and that “elements” inside the British and American intelligence community were “out of control.” But the suspicion remains that someone with power and influence gave a “nod and a wink” to the operation. It is just not credible to suppose otherwise. The key to this convoluted reasoning was the cabal’s fear that the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, would not act as required, without immense public and political pressure to jog him along. This is the rationale of someone with a developed sense of political reality.
After the shooting, Brittan immediately ordered an investigation, which has remained under lock and key ever since. Not long afterwards, sordid stories began to circulate amongst the British media that the Home Secretary had unusual sexual appetites. The rumours were fed to the satirical magazine, Private Eye, who recognised the handiwork of the security service and refused to publish the allegations. However, within a year, Leon Brittan was forced from office for his part in the Westland helicopter debacle.
With Western European objections so neatly taken care of, Qadaffi’s demonisation went in to full gear. The anachronistic Bedouin was rapidly elevated from “useful” to “primary” middle east “scapegoat.” At the same time, European governments learned as a result of the Libyan bombing, just how “hard” the US were prepared to play in pursuit of domestic politics and wider foreign policy. Tarring Qadaffi as the world’s bad boy suited the selfish interests of the political power elite in the US, and was an added bonus when other illegal CIA middle east “covert ops” went belly-up. One such operation was the CIA protected Heroin pipeline operating from the middle east to the USA.
A recurring problem for President Reagan was his inability to rescue the US hostages held in Lebanon by Hezbollah. Hanging like a dark cloud over his otherwise successful term of office, the hostage problem was turned over to Lt. Colonel Oliver North to resolve. North, a medium ranked military officer with close personal ties to the CIA’s Bill Casey, was the administrations global Mr. Fixit. He, in turn, called on the services of his old friend, Manzur El-Khassar – a Syrian born “big-time” narcotics and arms trafficker. Earlier, the Syrian had assisted North in his time of need, by brokering a large shipment of weapons to the CIA backed, Nicaragua’s Contra’s. It earned him a lot of kudos inside the administration.
Lebanon’s Bekka Valley is a fertile and productive area specially suited to growing Opium poppies. Rifat Assad, the brother of Syria’s President Hafez Assad was widely known to have been in charge of Syria’s narcotics enterprise. As the “Supremo” of the Bekka Valley’s massive Opium industry, he was also a paid “asset” of the CIA and was being “groomed” to succeed his elder brother as Syrian President. He was also an extremely close friend to El-Khassar. It is widely believed that the influx of 30,000 Syrian troops in to the Bekka Valley during the eighties, had as much to do with protecting the lucrative Opium fields as with separating Lebanon’s warring factions.
El-Khassar agreed to negotiate on behalf of the US for the release of the US hostages. His side of the deal was to get an agreement that the US would protect the Syrian drugs pipeline that shipped through Frankfurt airport to the USA. The CIA allegedly established a group – known as “CIA One” – who would oversee and protect the drugs route. If publicly discovered, the response was to say that the “protected” drugs shipments were part of a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) “sting” operation, dedicated to tracking distribution networks inside the USA.
Unknown to North and his cahoots, there was also a secret five-man Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) team working in Lebanon. The team, headed by Major Charles “Tiny” McKee was independently tasked with locating and rescuing the US hostages. During the course of his work, McKee, stumbled across El-Khassar’s “CIA One” protected Heroin network. Reporting his “discovery” to CIA HQ at Langley, and outraged at the lack of response, McKee booked his team on a flight home. At this point, El’Khassar learned of McKee’s activities and was also informed of his flight plans. Anxious that McKee would put a stop to his activities, he contacted his CIA One handlers who, in turn, communicated with their “control” in Washington.
Against this insidious backdrop, other, unrelated covert plans were being hatched. Following the July 1988 shoot-down of an Iranian Airbus by the US Navy battle-cruiser Vincennes, hard-line Iranian Ayatollah’s demanded swift retaliation for the 290 lives lost. They hired the Syrian based Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command (PFLP-GC) for a tit-for-tat attack. Led by Ahmed Jibril – and with a $10 million Iranian bounty – the PFLP-GC searched for a suitable target. An expert at bombing aircraft, Jibril soon learned of El-Khassar’s Frankfurt based dope pipeline and persuaded El-Khassar to place a bomb inside the Heroin laden suitcase. Pan Am flight 103 was scheduled for destruction.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Federal Police, the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), received a warning that a bomb was to be substituted for the dope shipment aboard flight 103. They alerted CIA One, who passed the information on to their Stateside “Control.” The reply came back: “Don’t worry about it. Don’t stop it. Let it go.” On December 21st 1988, Pan Am’s Jumbo 747 “Maid of the Seas” exploded high above the Scottish village of Lockerbie. All 259 passengers perished. A further eleven people died as wreckage from the aircraft hurtled down to earth.
Within hours, a host of CIA agents arrived at the crash scene. It is thought that the CIA search team arrived via helicopter from a US Special Forces facility located at Machrihanish, on the Mull of Kintyre. The speed of their arrival suggests they had foreknowledge of the bombing. In any case the CIA agents, dressed in Pan Am overalls, set about ransacking the crash sight in a desperate search for incriminating evidence. For two days they searched for the luggage of the dead DIA team and frantically sought the suitcase containing the heroin shipment. One suitcase was recovered, flown out and later returned empty, to be “re-discovered” by the forensic team scouring the wreckage. It belonged to Major Charles McKee. Curiously, one unidentified body was snatched from the wreckage and never returned.
Les Coleman believes it would be wrong to blame the CIA in to for the Lockerbie atrocity. Intelligence outfits do not work as cohesively as many outsiders believe. There is a great deal of rivalry and fragmentation at work. DCI Bill Casey, had plenty of detractors inside the monolith he directed. Some worked hard feeding unattributed information to their favourite journalists that was designed to damage him and, hopefully, lead to his removal. Others are known to operate as part of small and secretive core that has variously been identified as the “Enterprise” or the “Octopus.” The latter is said to operate with organised crime and leading politicians who covertly traffic in guns, drugs laundered money and any other commodity that can generate massive profits. Whether the proceeds of these illegal activities are siphoned back into the “black” budgets of the CIA, or fill the pockets of participants – or both – isn’t entirely clear.
Despite Coleman’s caution, the CIA’s infamous history – stretching over fifty years – clearly suggest that US foreign policy and private gain “coalesce” in to a game-plan that benefits various parties. Some intelligence “watchers” point to the wealth of some long-term CIA officers and ask how they amassed their fortunes based on salaries of $60,000 a year? It is a valid question that can be equally addressed to former and serving politicians and senior government bureaucrats.
By attributing the responsibility of Lockerbie on Qaddafi, the US administration was following in the well-worn foot-steps of many predecessors in similar situations. It’s a technique as old as the hills. Caught virtually red-handed in massive illegality, the first thought is to cast round for a suitable scapegoat. As Lester Coleman said when I first spoke to him, Qaddafi is an easy target. Independently minded and unwilling to align himself with US middle eastern policy, he became a target in the US. His past bankrolling of “terrorist” causes – and one-time expansionism – also did him no favours. It’s a case of if you’re not for us, you’re against us.
Sitting on vast reserves of oil is also a significant factor for Libya’s treatment at the hands of the US. The fact that most of this oil flows to western European oil companies, clearly doesn’t cut much ice with the US. Rivalry between the European and US business elite is as intense as ever. US oil companies can’t be pleased that they are effectively out of the picture. In that sense Qaddafi was, as Les Coleman said, an “easy hit.”
Perhaps more telling than anything else, British support for the US anti-Libyan “campaign” clearly demonstrates the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the British political process. That those in power manipulated the British judicial system and continue to lie to the families of the Lockerbie victims is sinister enough. That they not only tolerated, but connived in the murder of an innocent woman police officer – to further American political designs – says more than any party political manifesto could begin to utter. All power corrupts, but the continued exercise of raw, unadulterated power of this magnitude is the very antithesis of a participatory democracy.
In researching this article I spoke with many different individuals. Some agreed to speak on the record, whilst others requested anonymity. One well placed and knowledgeable source summed up the situation with these words: “There is no democracy. There is no free press.” That source remains a leading Member of Parliament.
©1996 – David Guyatt