TSG IntelBrief: Libya: Mousa Kousa’s Escape, a Classic Intelligence Operation?
March 31, 2011
The defection of Mousa Kousa from Libya to the UK bears the fingerprints of a classic intelligence operation. The timing of his flight – literally – is also noteworthy as it came the day after the expulsion of five Libyan diplomats from the UK on the grounds they represented a threat to UK national security.
Those individuals who would be activated by Tripoli to try to locate Mousa Kousa in the UK were therefore on a flight out as he was on a flight in.
The circumstances surrounding his departure from Libya clearly demonstrate careful planning on his part: he travelled by car across the border to Tunisia, from whence he then flew by private jet to the business airport at Farnborough in southern England.
The UK has denied that it has played any role in his defection. William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, said Mr Koussa had flown to the UK of his own free will late on Wednesday .
This statement is probably for public consumption both here and in international media; there is an old saying in intelligence circles, which says: ‘never believe anything until it is officially denied.’
We noted that the British government is being deliberately tight-lipped about whether or not Mousa Kousa was accompanied by his family. Our view is that he must have taken appropriate steps to protect his nearest and dearest before leaving Libya.
He will be only too aware of the likely reprisals visited upon them by the Qadhafi regime once he had left for what will be viewed as enemy territory. Our view is that they have probably accompanied him to England and are now in a safe house under 24-hour guard.
The Hidden Links of the Chain
By the nature of his previous positions, role, and importance in the negotiations over Libya’s weapons of mass destruction, as well as his involvement in negotiations over the Lockerbie atrocity, Mousa Kousa has had ample opportunity to fill his phone’s memory with useful political, diplomatic and intelligence contacts.
We find it difficult to believe that he did not manage to pass a message to the UK outlining his intentions.
The years of patient negotiation between Libya and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) – popularly known as MI-6 – brought him into contact with a number of senior UK intelligence officers.
These included Sir Mark Allen who was personally deeply involved in the negotiations to bring Libya in from the cold and rid itself of its weapons of mass destruction. Following his departure from the intelligence service Sir Mark went to work as an adviser for BP, which has significant oil interests in Libya.
There is likely to be much speculation in the press whether or not Mousa Kousa was in fact an SIS “asset”. We think this is unlikely.
Although such a senior member of the Libyan apparatus would be a tempting target for recruitment – his possible involvement in illegal acts would make it difficult for the SIS to acquire the requisite approval from the legal authority to recruit him as an agent in place.
That is not to say that Mousa Kousa has not been a most valuable contact over the last few years. Typically intelligence officers of all nations maintain a discreet dialogue with their counterparts.
It is one of the methods that governments use quietly to pass information to each other especially over acutely sensitive matters when the more public process of politics and diplomacy do not serve that purpose.
Mousa Kousa is likely to be debriefed for a significant period of time by skilled intelligence officers who may already know him well.
The 15 years he spent between 1994 and 2009 as head of the Libyan intelligence service have given him access and unparalleled insight to the extent of the networks of the Libyan intelligence service, its key agents, their targets and their activities.
Such information is likely to be priceless, and will in due course allow the international community better to understand the extent to which the Libyan intelligence service may have been operating against them.
He will also be able to give his questioners a detailed insight into Col Qadhafi’s activities across Africa, where his supporters are, and the extent to which they may be prepared to offer him support.
Given the depth and extent of Qadhafi’s investments and political activities across Africa, we believe that he may possess the ability to take action against individuals or organisations from nations in the coalition who are located in Africa.
Unsurprisingly, the Libyan government has sought to play down the importance of the defection of such a high-ranking official. This afternoon a government spokesman suggested that Mousa Kousa was a tired, frail old man who had gone to the UK to recover his health, and the Libyan government hoped that he would do just that.
The reality is that the departure of Mousa Kousa for the UK is an extremely serious blow to the regime both operationally and from a propaganda perspective. Although not a blood relative of Qadhafi, and therefore not in the innermost circle of confidantes, Mousa Kousa’s long service and access will have made his memory a goldmine which the international intelligence community will be keen to plunder and to exploit.
The End Game
The UK government has made it extremely clear that it has not offered Mousa Kousa immunity from prosecution. This raises the possibility of his being questioned by the Scottish police with regard to Lockerbie, and indeed held also raises the possibility of the US seeking access to Mousa Kousa for questioning over his participation (if any) in the Lockerbie bombing.
Mousa Kousa must have known this would be the case. Yet he still chose to board the flight for the UK. It is therefore possible to draw the conclusion that whatever lies ahead of him in the West is viewed as more acceptable than what lay potentially ahead of him in North Africa.
This may well be a calculation others are currently making.
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