Arab Uprisings Cast Harsh Light on CIA Relationships
Saturday 19 March 2011
The heads of
WASHINGTON — There once was no American institution more hostile to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s pariah government than the Central Intelligence Agency, which had lost its deputy Beirut station chief when Libyan intelligence operatives blew up Pan Am Flight 103 above Scotland in 1988.
But with the Sept. 11 attacks came a new group of enemies. In recent years, the C.I.A. has been closely tethered to Colonel Qaddafi’s intelligence service as it hunts for information about operatives of Al Qaeda in
Now, the uprising against the Libyan leader, along with the revolts that drove out the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt and threaten other rulers, have cast a harsh light on the cozy relationships between America’s intelligence agencies and autocratic, often brutal Arab governments. The C.I.A. faces questions about whether such ties blinded it to undercurrents of dissent and may now damage
Top American officials say that the C.I.A.’s close ties to Libya brought important benefits
But Dennis C. Blair, the former top American intelligence official, said that while spy services in places like
“Not only did these intelligence relationships interfere with our ability to understand opposition forces, but in the eyes of the citizens of those countries they often identified the United States with the tools of oppression,” said Mr. Blair, who served until last May as President Obama’s director of national intelligence. He added that the recent uprisings offer an opportunity to “align our intelligence relationships with our national values.”
The seeming collision of American interests was evident in 2009, when the State Department’s human rights report on Libya was a gruesome inventory of disappearances and torture. Months earlier, however, a diplomatic cable, obtained by WikiLeaks, called the Qaddafi government a “strong partner in the war against terrorism” and declared the relationship with
A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment about the agency’s ties to foreign intelligence services. But Michael Scheuer, who spent two decades at the C.I.A. in counterterrorism operations, said it was absurd to believe that such work could be done without the help of unpalatable allies.
“Foreign policy and intelligence doesn’t have anything to do with values,” Mr. Scheuer said. “It has to do with material interests and security. We would be blind in most of the world if we only dealt with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”
Some former C.I.A. operatives believe that
“I understand that to get intelligence about bad people, you can’t just deal with nuns and Boy Scouts,” said Mr. Cannistraro. “But in the case of Qaddafi, you’re talking about dealing with a murderer.”
One cautionary tale on American dealings with both
In other countries in the region, the
In the current crisis, those close intelligence relations may offer a channel for candid communications. But this week, the same Bahraini intelligence and security officials who have worked so closely with their American counterparts have again used force to crush pro-democracy demonstrations, acting on orders from the country’s monarchy and with the backing of
Libyan and American spies had virtually no contact for two decades, until the C.I.A. in 1999 began a series of clandestine meetings with Libyan intelligence operatives in Europe to gather information about Islamic terror networks working in
In his 2007 autobiography, the former director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, said that the awkward meetings with Moussa Koussa, the Libyan intelligence chief, were “illustrative of the surreal world in which we had to operate” as C.I.A. operatives had to exchange pleasantries with the man they believed responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing, among other terrorist plots.
But Mr. Tenet cited the easing of tensions with
Paul R. Pillar, the National Intelligence Council’s top Middle East analyst from 2000 to 2005 and a member of the American team that negotiated with the Libyans over their nuclear program, said counterterrorism was one of the “most durable forms of intelligence cooperation.”
“There’s simply no substitute for working with people who are in the line of fire of some of these terrorist groups and have all kinds of advantages in language and culture and local knowledge,” he said.
Yet the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism relationship with Libyan intelligence hardly gave American officials insight into the Qaddafi government or its internal tensions and opponents, said a
“I think the C.I.A. has found it extraordinarily difficult to get intelligence on
Developing independent contacts in Libyan society was virtually impossible, he said, in part because American personnel who left the embassy were routinely accompanied by multiple Libyan security vehicles. As Libyan officials explained it, the convoys were for the Americans’ own protection.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs