Gaddafi’s spy chief could be executed before revealing Libya’s terror past

Abdullah al-SenussiA group of American, British and Irish citizens are pressuring their respective governments to prevent the impending execution of Libya’s former intelligence strongman. Abdullah al-Senussi, 65, led Libya’s intelligence services during the regime of the country’s late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. Last week, however, he was sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli for his role in “inciting genocide” during the 2011 civil war that toppled Gaddafi’s regime. American, British and Irish officials are being urged to intervene to stop Senussi’s execution, so that he can help shed light on Libya’s role in international terrorist plots in the 1980s and 1990s.

Senussi rose rapidly through the ranks of Gaddafi’s regime in the 1970s after marrying the Libyan leader’s sister-in-law. Eventually, he became one of Gaddafi’s most trusted aides, escorting him on most international trips and seeing to the medical needs of the dictator. Throughout that time he is believed to have led at various times Libya’s internal security agency, its external spy organization, and the country’s military intelligence agency. It is unclear however, whether he actually held any official posts in the Libyan government, especially after 1977, when Gaddafi abolished official titles and declared that his country was a Jamahiriya —a “state of the masses” not ruled by officials, but by “revolutionary” popular councils and communes.

During Senussi’s reign, especially in the 1980s, Libya deepened its connections with militant groups in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, prompting some European and American officials to describe him as “the world’s most wanted man”. On Tuesday of last month, Senussi was among nine former Gaddafi aides and officials to be sentenced to death by a court in the Libyan capital. They include one of Gaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, as well as the late Libyan dictator’s Prime Minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. Ironically, the sentence imposed on Gaddafi’s son cannot be implemented, as he is being kept prisoner by a militia in western Libya, which has refused to surrender him to the central government in Tripoli since 2011. Senussi however, is being held in Tripoli, having been captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in Mauritanian in March 2012 in what is believed to have been a successful French-led intelligence operation.

Critics of Libya’s past dealings with terrorist groups believe that the jailed former spy director is aware of crucial details relating to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people in 1988. He is also thought to possess information relating to Libya’s support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The militant group is said to have received training, weapons and cash from the Libyan government in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims of IRA operations and their families have continued to pressure London to intervene to prevent Senussi’s execution since his extradition to Libya from Mauritania in 2013. The Libyan government has said that it intends to execute Senussi in September.

Former Libyan oil minister found dead in Vienna [updated]

The former Prime Minister of Libya, who defected from the government of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi last summer during the peak of the Libyan civil war, has been found dead in Vienna, Austria. Shukri Ghanem, a former member of the General People’s Committee of Libya, had for years been a close friend and trusted aide of Colonel Gaddafi. Having previously served as a Director of Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation, he was appointed Prime Minister of the country in 2003. In 2006, he assumed the post of undersecretary at the Ministry of Petroleum —arguably Libya’s most powerful government ministry— from which he resigned in 2009. In May of 2011, he made international headlines when he abruptly appeared in Tunisia, saying he had defected from Libya. Soon afterwards, on June 1, he reappeared in Rome, Italy, where he held a press conference and announced that he was joining the Libyan rebel Transitional National Council. His public defection delivered a heavy blow to the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, which was eventually brought down a few months later. Ghanem was one of Libya’s most internationally recognizable government officials. He held advanced degrees in international law and economics from American universities and had lived and worked in Vienna, Austria, for years, as Director of Research for the international secretariat of the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries. Following his defection, he ended up back in Vienna, where he owned an apartment from his days working for OPEC. He was employed as a consultant for energy companies. But on Sunday, the high-profile Libyan defector was found dead in the Austrian capital. Vienna police spokesman Roman Hahslinger told Austrian media that Ghanem’s body was found “floating in the river Danube” in the early morning hours of Sunday. Read more of this post

Libya’s spy chief was lured by French-Mauritanian intelligence trap

Abdullah al-SenussiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| |
The arrest of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s spy chief in Mauritania last week was the culmination of a carefully planned French intelligence operation, which was secretly aided by the Mauritanian government, according to informed insiders. Abdullah al-Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, who used to head the Mukhabarat el-Jamahiriya, Libya’s intelligence agency, was captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in the Mauritanian capital on March 17. He was detained as soon as he arrived there on a chartered flight from Mali. He had previously entered Mali from Niger, and was reportedly under the government’s protection. But the ongoing uprising of the pro-Gaddafi Tuareg in the north of the country, which has now resulted in a military coup in Bamako, caused the former Libyan spy chief to seek refuge elsewhere. According to a well-researched article by Reuters news agency, al-Senussi was gradually convinced to travel to Mauritania by the al-Me’edani clan, a pro-Gaddafi nomadic tribe that had previously worked for the Libyan security agencies and whose members had been given Libyan nationality by Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. The clan, says the Reuters article, was persuaded to turn its back on al-Senussi as part of a behind-the-scenes agreement between French and Mauritanian intelligence agencies. The deal was struck after a high-level agreement between the Nicolas Sarkozy government in Paris and the Mauritanian government of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. A career soldier and high-ranking officer, Abdel Aziz assumed power in the country in a 2008 military coup that was widely condemned by international bodies, including the United Nations. But the military regime in Nouakchott was pleased to see Paris engineer a thaw in relations between the two countries in 2009. Ever since then, the French government has publicly praised the regime of President Abdel Aziz as a “key partner” in combating terrorism. Mauritania’s decision to help France capture al-Senussi was a repayment to the country’s former colonial master for its support after the 2008 military coup, according to Reuters. Following his arrest, al-Senussi is believed to be held at the headquarters of the Mauritanian intelligence service in Nouakchott. Read more of this post

Research: Spies increasingly using Facebook, Twitter to gather data

Spying on social networkingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence. But are we at a point where we can speak of a trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence collection? This past week saw the publication of a new research paper (.pdf), which I co-authored with Micah-Sage Bolden, entitled “Social Networking as a Paradigm Shift in Tactical Intelligence Collection”. In it, we argue that recent case studies point to social networking as the new cutting edge in open-source tactical intelligence collection. We explain that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social networking platforms are increasingly viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information acquisition. We base our findings on three recent case studies, which we believe highlight the intelligence function of social networking. The first case study comes out of the Arab Spring, which, according to one report, “prompted the US government to begin developing guidelines for culling intelligence from social media networks”. We also examine NATO’s operations during the 2011 Libyan civil war (Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR), when Western military forces systematically resorted to social networking media to gather actionable intelligence, by utilizing open sources like Twitter to pinpoint targets for attack. Finally, we examine the sabotage by Israeli security services of the 2011 “Welcome to Palestine Air Flotilla” initiative, a campaign organized by several European groups aiming to draw worldwide attention to the travel restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on the Occupied Territories. Read more of this post

Maltese government secretly helped British spy operations in Libya

Libya and MaltaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
In the 1980s, Malta was one of the world’s closest allies with the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. For this reason, during the recent Libyan civil war, it was generally presumed that the island nation’s strong cultural and strategic links with Tripoli would prevent it from joining other European nations in actively supporting the Libyan opposition. But internal British government documents, which have been acquired by the BBC, show that Malta was secretly supportive of Western efforts to undermine the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, and went so far as to help smuggle British intelligence operatives into Libya. According to a recent exposé aired by the BBC’s flagship factual program Newsnight, the Maltese government took advantage of its active role as a hub for distributing United Nations humanitarian and logistical assistance to Libyan civilians during the war. In one specific case, Malta offered to work with British external intelligence agency MI6, to fly a group of British intelligence officers to an unspecified location in Libya. The British operatives’ ultimate goal was to meet up with leading members of the opposition Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), at a predetermined location near Libya’s second-largest city of Benghazi. According to the BBC, the Maltese government secretly authorized the transportation of the MI6 officers into Libya, using a Chinook helicopter, which took off in the middle of the night from Maltese territory. Unfortunately for the British, the mission was intercepted by NTC forces at the Benina International Airport, near Benghazi. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #671

Pablo Neruda (right) and Salvador AllendeBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►German ‘spies’ detained in Pakistan. Three alleged German spies have been detained in Pakistan by police and released to German diplomats, according to reports. The men were detained last Saturday in the northeastern city of Peshawar by officers who accused them of belonging to “an unauthorized liaison office of the German embassy”. A Pakistani official said counterintelligence authorities had been observing the three Germans “for months”.
►►Was poet Pablo Neruda murdered? Pablo Neruda, Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, died exactly 12 days after the brutal coup that ended the life of his close friend, socialist President Salvador Allende. The official version was that he died of natural causes brought on by the trauma of witnessing the coup and the lethal persecution of many of his friends. But now Neruda’s body might be exhumed for testing to address long-simmering suspicions that the poet was poisoned.
►►Britain’s secret mission to beat Gaddafi. British efforts to help Libyan rebels topple Colonel Gaddafi were not limited to air strikes. On the ground –and on the quiet– British special forces soldiers were blending in with rebel fighters. The BBC’s Newsnight program has produced a report on the subject. The report includes information on E Squadron, which has not hitherto been discussed publicly. It was formed in 2007 to work closely with MI6, and is mainly involved in missions “where maximum discretion is required”.

News you may have missed #633

Abdullah al-Senussi


►►Is Britain secretly assisting the CIA’s drone campaign? In the latest casualties from America’s hidden war in Pakistan, two British nationals, Ibrahim Adam and Mohammed Azmir, have reportedly been killed by drone missiles. The death of two men already known to UK authorities raises serious questions about the role that the British intelligence services are playing in the CIA’s unmanned drone war.
►►Gaddafi’s intelligence chief captured. Libya’s interim authorities have captured the last totem of the Gaddafi regime, seizing former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi in the country’s southern desert. The arrest means that all leading figures from the Gaddafi regime have now been killed, captured or driven into exile.
►►South Korea says it caught North spy. A North Korean spy has been arrested after arriving in South Korea posing as a refugee, according to South Korean authorities. The latter claim to have found during a routine background check that the man, surnamed Kim, was assigned to the North’s military intelligence command and had received espionage training.


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