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How US, British intelligence worked to bring Qaddafi's Libya in from the cold

Documents uncovered by Human Rights Watch in Tripoli detail how the CIA and Britain’s MI6 worked to develop warm ties with Libya's Muammar Qaddafi after he vowed to give up weapons of mass destruction.

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As well as asking for direct access to detainees after their handover, the CIA provided lists of dozens of questions to be asked during interrogations by Libyan agents. Many CIA documents were signed “Steve,” the first name of Steve Kappes, the CIA’s top operative at the time who helped supervise the controversial US rendition program, and whose home phone number was shared with the Libyans.

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  • The mechanics of rendition, and how meticulous planning was required to overcome legal and logistical obstacles from as far afield as Malaysia and Hong Kong to secretly detain suspects and deliver them to Libya.

Libyan agents accompanying an American team for the March 8, 2004, rendition of Mr. Belhadj and his pregnant wife from Bangkok, for example, were “respectfully” requested to “closely follow the instructions of the US personnel to avoid any potential problems on board the aircraft.”

The faxed letter from the CIA – labeled “Secret Release Libya Only” – asked the Libyan agents to “refrain” from bringing weapons, cameras, or recording devices of any kind, and made clear that US officers were in charge until arrival in Tripoli.

  • How the US and Britain in 2003 and 2004 used a growing series of intelligence exchanges with Libya to convince Qaddafi that his decision to work with the West was worthwhile. A fax from the CIA dated March 25, 2004, requested setting up a permanent presence in Tripoli, and noted that “we talked about it quite some time.” It added that the CIA was also “eager to work with you in the questioning of the terrorist [Belhadj] we recently rendered to your country.”

Less than two weeks later, on April 6, 2004, another faxed request from the CIA asked for swift access to Iraqi scientists believed to have information about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs. It stated that Libya’s cooperation would be “yet another opportunity to move forward to a new level in our relationship.” Already, the CIA said, “our security dialogue remains particularly robust.”

  • How US and British intelligence teams analyzed equipment from Libya’s nascent nuclear weapons program, and in late 2003 and early 2004 found traces of highly enriched uranium (HEU) purified to 92 percent – levels high enough for use in an atomic bomb, though far greater quantities would have been needed. CIA analysts determined that the HEU was “not the result of Libyan research and development,” but from contaminated units purchased abroad. The agency warned, however, that the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, “may look skeptically on claims of foreign contamination” because Iran made similar claims about similar traces of HEU.

The CIA advised, in its Feb. 5, 2004, missive: “Our recommendation is that, unlike Iran, you should be completely open with us and with the IAEA [about] how those contaminated components were acquired.”

  • How how the CIA, MI6 and the Qaddafi regime shared intelligence about Al Qaeda plots. The Americans informed the Libyans in April 2004 about a “possible Al Qaeda cell in Iraq” that had been “in contact with an operational cell within Libya,” which the CIA wrote was preparing for attacks against US interests in Libya as US-Libya relations improved. It gave the names and a phone number used by the cell, adding that they might be “at an unknown location somewhere in the Libyan desert.”

The Libyans were thanked by the British in June 2003 for the “detailed and very useful information” provided in previous meetings, and then answered questions raised by Tripoli about a Libyan militant based in Italy and arrested in the UK. That man traveled to the UK “to collect a number of forged passports,” likely meant to go to Iran, the British assessed, to facilitate the travel of Al Qaeda operatives there.

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