Arrest of British spy team in Libya reveals covert involvement
March 7, 2011 5 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
All eight members of the British military and intelligence team arrested in Libya on Friday have now been released and are en route to Malta. But what exactly is behind this news story, and what does it reveal about covert Western involvement in Libya? Those detained were part of group of around 20 Britons who landed by helicopter before sunrise on Friday, several miles from Benina International Airport, which is right outside Libya’s second-largest city Benghazi. Witnesses reported that the helicopter was met by another group on the ground. Soon after landing, the mysterious passengers split after being surrounded by heavily armed Libyan rebels; the latter managed to capture eight of them, which included six members of Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS, although some sources suggest they were from the Special Boat Service, or SBS), one British Army officer, and an operative of MI6, Britain’s foremost external intelligence agency. The Britons, all of whom were dressed in black coveralls, offered no resistance, telling their captors that they were unarmed. When searched, however, they were found to be carrying “arms, ammunition, explosives, maps and passports from at least four different nationalities”. On Sunday, Libya’s government-controlled state television aired an intercepted telephone exchange between Richard Northern, Britain’s Ambassador to Libya, and a spokesman of the rebel government in Benghazi. During the exchange, which is in the English language, Northern tells the spokesman that the team was attempting to establish contact with anti-government rebels in Benghazi. This would appear to confirm the suspicion of observers that the British team consisted of an intelligence officer (charmingly described by the British Foreign Office as “a diplomat”) and armed members of what is known as “The Increment”, a special forces unit tasked with escorting MI6 and MI5 officers in warzones. According to Abdul Hafiz Ghoqa, acting spokesman for the rebel government in Benghazi, Libyan opposition forces “refused to discuss anything with [the British detainees] due to the way they entered the country”. Reacting to the news, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it would “neither confirm nor deny the story”. But British quality broadsheet The Independent said on Sunday that the mission was part of a broader program of clandestine support for Libya’s anti-government forces, “being prepared in London, and probably Washington”. British and American intelligence operatives are “preparing to go in[to Libya] and talk to the rebels about giving them a lot more than food parcels and tents”, said the paper.