Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer for MI5, the UK Security Service, who resigned in 1996 to blow the whistle on the spies’ incompetence and crimes with her ex-partner, David Shayler.
Excerpt from her book ‘Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers: MI5 and the David Shayler Affair‘
The MI6-funding of Islamic extremists and Al Qaeda members to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi, is the main reason why David Shayler finally left MI5. It is the real ‘case that made [him] quit’. To quote David:
“Although I knew about the plot before making my decision to leave — I believed at the time that it was more MI6 ‘Boys Own’ stuff — I was nevertheless physically sickened by the fact that MI6 wanted to sponsor Islamic extremists to carry out terrorism. At around the time I was debating whether to leave because of the Victoria Brittain investigation, MI6’s David Watson told me he had in fact supplied his agent with $40,000 to buy weapons to execute the operation to assassinate Gaddafi.
“I joined the services to stop terrorism and prevent the deaths of innocent people, not to get involved in these despicable and cowardly acts. I still cannot believe that the Prime Minister has refused to take my evidence or investigate this matter as this decision has sent out a clear message to the intelligence services that they can fund terrorism; conspire to murder people with impunity; and take enormous risks with our security.
“After all, would you give an individual you hardly know — who has admitted to connections with Al Qaeda — an enormous sum to carry out a terrorist attack, when you know the group he is leading is opposed to the values of Western society? It is difficult to imagine a greater disregard and contempt for the lives and security of the British people.”
- The following issues arise from David’s whistleblowing about MI6 support for Al Qaeda:
Contrary to misinformation published in some newspapers, the following account was not ‘bar-room gossip’. David’s MI6 counterpart, PT16/B David Watson, briefed him officially on the plot as it unfolded. As MI5 officers both David and I knew the serious threat the funding of Al Qaeda posed at the time.
- Despite the then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s denials in 1998, I have now found out that intelligence officer, , was MI6’s man Tunworth. He is a member of the Islamic Fighting Group (IFG) aka the Militant Islamic Group, an Al Qaeda affiliate based in Libya.
French intelligence has also established that leading members of the IFG like Tunworth are also members of Al Qaeda.
- The MI6 agent Tunworth admitted his connections with Islamic extremists and Al Qaeda members during a debrief with his MI6 handler David Watson, in late 19952 so MI6 cannot deny it did not know what it was entering into.
- At the very least, MI6 failed to realise that it had prior intelligence about an Al Qaeda coup in Libya. If successful, MI6 would have allowed Al Qaeda to take over an oil-rich state in North Africa, putting the lives of British and US citizens, in particular, at far greater risk.
- By the time MI6 paid the money, Osama Bin Laden’s organisation was already known to be responsible for the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing and MI5 had set up G9C, a section dedicated to the task of defeating Bin Laden and his affiliates.
- Under the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, the real James Bonds do have a licence to kill or immunity for criminal acts carried out abroad in the course of their work, provided they gain the permission of the Foreign Secretary. But without that permission they are breaking the law, should they become involved in a conspiracy to murder and to cause terrorism. In this case, they did not even seek that permission.
- MI6 gave money to individuals who posed a greater threat to our lives and security — Al Qaeda — to assassinate an individual who posed a lesser threat, Colonel Gaddafi. It just doesn’t make any logical sense. In fact, it demonstrates that MI6 was motivated by revenge on Gaddafi, rather than any desire to protect British lives and national security, because he nationalised the Libyan oil industry in 1976 at the expense of BP3.
How David was briefed on the conspiracy
In summer 1995, at the height of the illegal investigation into Victoria Brittain, David was first briefed on the plot. David Watson, David’s counterpart in MI6, asked to meet to discuss an unusual case which he could not mention over the phone. At the subsequent meeting, PT16/B told David that:
A senior member of the Libyan military intelligence service had walked into the British embassy in Tunis and asked to meet the resident MI6 officer.
The Libyan ‘walk-in’ had asked for funds to lead a group of Islamic extremists in an attempted coup, which would involve the assassination of Colonel Gaddafi, the head of the Libyan state.
Although the Libyan military intelligence officer led the group, he had said he was not an Islamic extremist himself.
The Libyan had a brief MI6 record, which PT16/B thought was enough to confirm that the Libyan did have the access to the regime that he claimed.
In exchange for MI6’s support, the Libyan offered to hand over the two Lockerbie suspects after the coup. Getting them to the UK for trial had at the time been one of MI6’s objectives for about three years but there is no guarantee that the coup plotters could have done this. It is debatable whether the coup plotters would have had either the resources or expertise required to track down the suspects after their planned coup. At first, David was sceptical to the point of ennui. After all, MI6 officers had often claimed that the Lockerbie two were about to be handed over or that Gaddafi was about to die or be toppled but nothing had come of this supposedly keen and reliable intelligence.
In the following weeks, PT16/B told David that the Libyan was codenamed Tunworth. At some point in the following weeks David briefly saw the printout of MI6’s record of him. It contained around two or three separate mentions. They supported his claim to be a senior member of Libyan military intelligence but were not detailed. David checked the Libyan’s name against Durbar and Star, MI5’s records, but the service had no trace of him. David did not make any effort to remember the name because he believed that the whole thing would come to nothing as other MI6 plots had done. Watson also issued at least two CX reports detailing intelligence provided by Tunworth at his meeting with the resident MI6 officer in Tunis4. David remembers it concerned changes in personnel in the Libyan regime. MI5 had collateral for it so G9 assessed that Tunworth had some access to the regime. David takes up the story:
“Throughout this process, I briefed my line manager, G9A/1 — Jerry Mahoney until December 1995, Paul Slim, after that — about these developments. As the operation was in its infancy when Mahoney left, I don’t believe that I told him anything other than the bare basics. When briefing his successor, Paul Slim, I told him that this might be more ‘Boys’ Own stuff’ on the part of MI6 and that we shouldn’t take it too seriously although we agreed to review this in the light of new information.
“It is inconceivable that G9A/1 did not think an MI6-funded plot to engineer a coup in Libya was worthy of mentioning to his line manager, G9/0, Peter Mitchell. In turn, it is unthinkable that G9/0 did not raise the matter with his line management who would have informed his boss until the DG herself had been made aware. I wonder if it was included in the first draft of Dame Stella’s book and removed on the orders of the authorities.”
In December 1995, James Worthing, R/ME/C at MI6, circulated CX95/ 534526 report to Whitehall and other addressees, warning of a potential coup in Libya. It confirmed that a member of the rebel group gave detailed intelligence to his MI6 handler in anticipation of help from Britain. The report clearly demonstrated that Watson knew that Tunworth was planning terrorism and his group had already been involved in attempts on Gaddafi’s life:
“In late November 1995 [Tunworth’s identity removed]7 described plans, in which he was involved, to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. […] The coup is scheduled to start at around the time of the next General People’s Congress on February 14, 1996. Coup will start with unrest in Tripoli, Misratah and Benghazi.” […]
“The coup plotters were responsible for the death of [blank -Names removed to protect security-————————blank] was about to take up the position as head of Military Intelligence when he was forced off the Tripoli-Sirte road and was killed. The 2 coup plotters involved escaped unhurt. In August 1995, 3 army captains who were part of the coup plot attempted to kill Colonel Gaddafi.”
The report then listed Libyan installations that would be attacked and described supporters in Libya’s principal cities and their occupations. The start of the coup was to be signalled through coded messages on television and radio. It also said that at least 250 British-made weapons were distributed among the plotters.
Tunworth also told his MI6 handler that:
“plotters would have cars similar to those in Gaddafi’s security entourage with fake security number plates. They would infiltrate themselves into the entourage in order to kill or arrest Gaddafi…
“One group of military personnel were being trained in the desert area near Kufra for the role of attacking Gaddafi and his entourage. The aim was to attack Gaddafi after the GPC [General People’s Congress], but before he had returned to Sirte. One officer and 20 men were being trained for this attack.”
David also remembers another MI6 CX report being issued about the plot in early 1996. It was a shopping list of the group’s requirements to carry out the coup, including the supply of weapons and basics like jeeps and tents.
Around the same time, Christmas 1995, Watson told David that he had met Tunworth, in Geneva and paid him $40,000. Jackie Barker, who had replaced Sue Thomas as G9A/15, told him that Watson had told her the same information ‘in confidence’. During routine G9/PT16 meetings around this time, officers occasionally mentioned the plot. Watson then met Tunworth on two further occasions early in 1996 in Geneva. David does not know of any further details except that Watson mentioned that he had paid ‘similar sums’ to Tunworth on each occasion. Although PT16/B never specifically mentioned it, it was tacitly understood that Watson was working with the approval of his direct line manager, PT16, Richard Bartlett.
Lack of government sanction
At some point — David can’t be sure when exactly — Watson mentioned that the ‘submission’, MI6 jargon for the letter requesting permission from the Foreign Office for otherwise illegal operations, was going to go “all the way to the top”. In about January 1996, Watson told him that the submission had been successful, indicating that the Foreign Secretary himself had signed the document permitting the operation.9 When David briefed Paul Slim on the details of the plot, he specifically drew attention to the fact that the service only had Watson’s word for this. He urged his boss to task senior MI5 management to raise the matter formally, to check that the operation was legal.
Then, in either February or March 1996, David read two, possibly three intelligence reports quoting independent sources — the Egyptian and Moroccan intelligence services. They all stated that an attack had been made on Colonel Gaddafi in Sirte, Libya. Two of the reports indicated that the attackers had tried to assassinate Gaddafi when he was part of a motorcade but had failed as they had targeted the wrong car. As a result of the explosion and the ensuing chaos in which shots were fired, civilians and security police were maimed and killed.
“At a meeting shortly after, PT16/B ventured to me in a note of triumph that Tunworth had been responsible for the attack. “Yes that was our man. We did it” was how he put it. He regarded it, curiously, as a triumph even though the objective of the operation had not been met and reporting indicated there had been civilian casualties. Despite that, I very much got the impression that this was regarded as a coup for MI6 because it was playing up to the reputation that the real James Bonds wanted to have. I then promptly passed the information on to my line manager, G9A/1. Although initially reluctant, he said he would deal with the matter. I’ve no idea whether he did. In later months, I asked Watson several times what had happened to Tunworth, but was not given answers.”
By this time, David had already decided to leave the service and was actively looking for jobs in the private sector. As a result of MI6 funding Al Qaeda, on top of the general ineptitude and bungling I had witnessed, I also decided I no longer wanted to work for intelligence services who had ceased to protect democracy and instead funded our terrorist enemies. The services are supposed to protect us, not put our lives at greater risk from terrorist attack. It was time to leave.
The MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy, Part 2
David had briefed the MoS with the bare bones of the plot in the summer of 1996 and again when preparing the disclosures of 24 August 1997. However, given the controversial and sensitive nature of the material, he had always wanted to submit it to the government for investigation. Since then, ministers and other responsible agencies like the PM’s ISC and the Cabinet Office have consistently refused to take possession of David’s evidence concerning the plot. Despite his repeatedly writing to them to inform them that elements of the services were operating outside the law.
As the authorities had shown no interest in taking his evidence, in early December 1997 David gave Mark Urban, at the time the BBC’s Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent, a full, recorded interview about the MI6/Al Qaeda plot. Then, after he had entered into negotiations, David again tried to give his evidence to the British authorities, but they repeatedly refused to take it. By June 1998, Urban had stood up key aspects of the story. Although David urged Urban to submit the documentary to the authorities for immediate clearance under the injunction, BBC management appeared reluctant to face the government and the intelligence services head-on. They sat on the programme, while they debated it internally.
By July 1998 the government had shown no real will to come to a negotiated settlement with David. In frustration at the government’s failure to discharge its democratic duties by taking his evidence and at the same time faced with BBC inertia, in July 1997 David told the MoS that he was looking into setting up an Internet site to ensure that the crimes of the intelligence services could be properly exposed.
“Nothing will threaten the security of MI5 agents or staff,” he said, “or compromise its working methods. But there are vital matters that need a public airing and the Internet is the way to do it.”
David hoped the article would prompt ministers to take his evidence. As there was no response after a week, David again told the MoS that he intended to publish his disclosures with due care for national security on the Internet in the US, where it would be protected under the first amendment.
“I don’t see how the Government can complain,” said David, “when I’ve been trying to talk to them for months.”
Three days later, his http://www.shayler.com site was hacked, before it was even up and running. Verio aka Tabnet, the service provider in the US, said that the hacking was done by a professional, after the password to gain access to the site was intercepted en route to David’s computer. There is no actual evidence to indicate that the intelligence services were responsible but they are the likeliest culprits. Hackers do not normally attack anti-establishment websites, particularly when they are not yet up and running.
On 31 July 1998, David and I met the MoS in Paris, in an effort get the MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy out to a wider audience. On the strict understanding that the newspaper submitted the story to government, David gave the paper the details of the plot (without mentioning the names of intelligence officers). Ministers refused the paper permission to publish the information in any meaningful form, while also denying the story. David also met Nick Rufford and David Leppard of The Sunday Times and gave them a briefing on the plot, with the same caveat. David comments:
“The denial and censorship do not add up12. Either the disclosure is untrue, in which case the government cannot cite national security reasons for suppressing the information. Or the disclosure is true, in which case the government has a duty to investigate exactly how British intelligence officers came to use taxpayers’ money to fund terrorism and murder innocent civilians. The government has used the injunction and the 1989 OSA to restrain the freedom of the press, in order to protect itself from embarrassment rather than protect national security.”
David’s arrest in connection with the Plot
Unbeknown to David and me, a couple of hours after he had legally13 submitted his very serious evidence to ministers, those self-same ministers sent an urgent request to extradite David for his original disclosures which had appeared almost a year earlier in the MoS. David says:
“In these circumstances, it is difficult to see how anyone could believe that our oversight arrangements work. Indeed, the act of imprisoning an individual who uses a legal route to report terrorism on the part of MI6, is hardly likely to encourage other individuals to use the system. It has all the hallmarks of despotism and tyranny.”
The next day, 1 August 1998, the French DST, the equivalent of MI5 and Special Branch, arrested David in the foyer of our hotel when he returned from watching his football team, Middlesbrough, lose 1-0 on Sky to Empoli in a pre-season friendly. He was held for over 24 hours in the Palais de Justice — most of the time in solitary — and denied access to a lawyer. The day after, he was transferred to La Santé prison in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. At the instigation of the British authorities, he was held under draconian secrecy legislation and first saw a lawyer over two days after he had been arrested. He continued to be denied access to all other visitors for most of his time in prison.
But for David’s quick thinking, I would not have known what had happened to him. He would have vanished. The DST asked him for his papers. Knowing I was waiting for his return in our hotel room, he told them his passport was in his bag upstairs (it was not). I therefore only knew he had been arrested when the DST came knocking on my door. I was not to see him again for over two months.
Two days after David was arrested, The Daily Telegraph splashed on disclosures he had given to its intelligence correspondent Michael Smith, a few weeks before, about security blunders concerning the IRA mainland bombing campaign. The Telegraph included some details of the failures but was blocked by the injunction from revealing how a number of attacks could have been prevented. Rather curiously, the paper — then edited by Charles Moore – called for David to be ‘horsewhipped’ in its leader column for providing information about security failures, which The Telegraph published in its news section.
David’s solicitor John Wadham said:
“It’s a strange coincidence that before this important story about this assassination attempt was going to break, the Government ensured that David was arrested and incommunicado.”
The New York Times breaks the story
While David languished in a prison cell, and while the disclosure had been injuncted in the British press, a public-spirited individual passed the details of the MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy to The New York Times. On 5 August 1998, it reported that the British media had been banned from reporting the plot.
Did the British government try to assassinate Col Mummar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, in February 1996 by planting a bomb under his motorcade? And did the plan go awry because agents from MI6, the foreign intelligence service, put the bomb under the wrong car, killing several Libyan bystanders?” it asked. […]
“A sweeping injunction has barred newspapers and television news programmes from publishing the embarrassing allegations about the inner workings of Britain’s security services, brought up by a disgruntled former officer. The media have been forced to discuss the allegations without actually saying what the allegations are. ‘I’ve known these things for something like 16 months, and I am not allowed to publish any of it,’ said Jonathan Holborow, editor of The Mail on Sunday.”
The paper added that the government had told the press it could report the allegations as long as it did not mention details, like the payment to Islamic extremists of around £100,000.
The Panorama programme
The BBC began intense negotiations with the government for permission to show David’s interview with Mark Urban. Only after threatening to challenge the temporary injunction through the courts, did the government back down. Two days after the publication of The New York Times article, the BBC was permitted to broadcast more details of the conspiracy in a Panorama special presented by Mark Urban. He confirmed that the Islamic group involved was the Militant (or Fighting) Islamic Group, led by Abdullah Al-Sadiq. Camille Tawil, an Arab journalist based in London, told the programme that shortly after the attack in February 1996, he received a fax from the group, claiming responsibility for the attack and naming the members of its team who had died in the attack:
“I felt it was credible information given to me but I wanted to verify the story. I contacted other Libyan groups and they gave me a similar account of what had happened. This is why I decided to publish the story.”
Panorama also reported:
“Libya has publicly accused Britain of giving refuge to the leader of the Militant Islamic Group. In response to our enquiry, the Foreign Office said it does not know whether Abdullah Al Sadiq is in this country”.
The programme also confirmed that MI6 did not get the vital permission from its ministers to carry out the attack — which is a legal requirement so the officers involved have immunity under English law.
“Two well-placed people have told me that the Tory ministers running the department at the time gave no such authorisation. […] In short, that means Britain’s intelligence service was operating completely out of control.”
“It is true of course that Shayler’s knowledge of this affair depends entirely on what the SIS man, PT16/B, told him at their meetings. But certain pieces of this Libyan jigsaw cannot easily be argued away by SIS. There was an assassination attempt. Numerous Libyan sources confirm it. Britain did have a relationship with Tunworth. Any inquiry into David Shayler’s allegation will be able to find the key CX report which detailed the plot against Gaddafi, so showing Tunworth’s inside knowledge. […]
“Only a thorough going inquiry would stand a chance of getting to the bottom of whether some intelligence officers played fast and loose with the rules. David Shayler has provided Panorama with other details about the Libyan operation and the people connected with it. Combined with our own information, it suggests that SIS have a very serious case to answer”.
The Panorama programme established that MI6 had operated outside the control of its political masters. In other words, unaccountable intelligence operatives were deciding British foreign policy, not a democratically elected government. When you think about it, this means that middle ranking intelligence officers have the power of life and death over an individual without being accountable for their actions16. While that is all very well in a James Bond film, in the real world intelligence officers are now required to operate within the law.
Separate sources confirm the story
On 9 August 1998, the MoS added still further confirmation of the plot and the payments. It reported:
“David Shayler’s revelations that MI6 tried to blow up Colonel Gaddafi were given strong credence by US intelligence sources yesterday. They insisted that, despite claims to the contrary, the British secret service was financing the group behind the attempt on the Libyan leader’s life. [According to the US] the British service [MI6] turned to the Fighting Islamic Group [FIG] and its leader, Abu Abdullah Sadiq, who was living in London.”
A separate source, a former senior analyst with American intelligence, told the paper:
“I’m sure that British intelligence has all the plausible deniability that it needs. Certainly there were contacts between MI6 and FIG.”
Yet another source in Washington told the paper that MI6 had provided ‘various kinds of support’ to FIG, including financial help.
The same day, The Sunday Times reported that it had identified one of the perpetrators of the attack as Abd Al Muhaymeen. According to the paper, he was a Libyan ‘fundamentalist’ or Islamic extremist, to use MI5 phraseology, who had trained and fought in Afghanistan. On the day, he also chose the timing of the attack.
“He waited in ambush with a group of fedaydeen from a force known as the Islamic Fighting Group. […] The group appeared to be gaining in strength and daring, mostly due to the expertise of Afghan veterans such as Al Muhaymeen. […] As the convoy approached, Al Muhaymeeen gave the word and the sounds of battle erupted. When it was over, Gaddafi had survived yet again. So had Al Muhaymeen. But several of their men lay dead on each side. So did bystanders.”
Foreign Secretary’s comments
On 9 August 1998, Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary, told the BBC’s Breakfast with Frost programme:
“The tale about the MI6 plot to assassinate Gaddafi is pure fantasy. First of all, let’s be clear about this claim that Shayler can bring down the government, [the claim appeared in The Sunday Times, but David never made it] the allegations are about something that is alleged to have happened not under this government but under our predecessor. […] I have pursued these allegations. I am absolutely satisfied that the previous Foreign Secretary did not authorise any such assassination attempt. I am perfectly satisfied that SIS never put forward any such proposal for an assassination attempt, nor have I seen anything in the 15 months I have been in the job which would suggest that SIS has any interest, any role or any experience over the recent decade of any such escapade. It is pure fantasy.
“I have already made my own enquiries. I have satisfied my mind. I see no basis for the reports in today’s papers about any forthcoming enquiry. There was no SIS proposal to do it and I am fairly clear that there has never been any SIS involvement. I do wish people would recognise that what is being said here is that there is somebody who has left another service, not SIS, was never in SIS, is making allegations no doubt for his own reasons. We would like to see him back in Britain in order that we can pursue those charges that have been made against him.
“I am clear these allegations have no basis in fact and secondly I am quite clear that the SIS operations that I have authorised have nothing remotely to do with the kind of fantasy that has been produced over the last two days.”
Without ever bothering to take David’s evidence, Cook repeated from The Sunday Times an allegation that David had never made: that he could ‘bring down the government’17, a tactic that Straw had used in the first use of the submission process in October 1997.
Cook also unequivocally denied the existence of any MI6 operation at all; “The tale about the MI6 plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi is pure fantasy.” There is no mention here that Cook is claiming that aspects of the story may be fantasy – such as the payments, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) later and wrongly claimed were the subject of the ‘pure fantasy’ jibe.
Without bothering to hold a proper enquiry, he was uncritically putting out the MI6 line, adding: “I am clear these allegations have no basis in fact.” Ministers cannot legally ban information that is fantasy. After all, ministers had already indicated in off-the-record briefings at the time of the Israeli Embassy disclosure that disclosures on the part of former officers, which they accept to be untrue, could not harm national security.
Indeed, when Cook said: “I am absolutely satisfied that the previous Foreign Secretary did not authorise any such assassination attempt”, he merely confirmed a key aspect of the Panorama investigation; that MI6 did not have the permission of ministers to carry out the attack, making any actions by MI6 a criminal offence. Although Cook then claimed he was ‘fairly clear’ that there had never been any MI6 involvement and ‘perfectly clear’ there was no basis in fact, he did not relate how exactly he had established this or why he was ‘perfectly clear’ of one position but only ‘fairly clear’ about another.
Despite his claims, he obviously hadn’t had time to organise and carry out a full inquiry, even though there were officers in MI5 who had been briefed about the plot, and who could have been interviewed. In fact, it appears that Cook – in the same way that Straw had done before him — went to the head of the agency concerned (in this case, MI6) and asked if it had been involved in terrorist funding and murder. Not surprisingly, the latter appears to have denied it.
After the Panorama programme was shown, Mark Urban offered his evidence to Robin Cook, who refused to take possession of it, informing him that the matter was closed. As this was an allegation of murder and terrorist funding, Cook should have discharged his legal duty and immediately referred the matter to the police to investigate.
Libya confirms plot
On Wednesday 25 November 1998, Libyan TV broadcast footage of the assassination attempt. It showed Gaddafi leaning out of his open-topped car to greet the crowds, then mingling with the crowd, then it showed an object flying through the air, Gaddafi looking down, then suddenly being surrounded by bodyguards, who hustled him away. The TV zoomed in on the face of a man in the crowd, and his face was circled in red. Libyan TV named the assailant as Abdullah Radwan, a partner of Abu Abdullah Sadiq, the leader of the Islamic Fighting Group. According to the report:
“Abdullah Radwan succeeded in reaching the front ranks and threw a grenade when the brother leader left the car.”
Libyan TV then showed an interview with Hasan Al Sadiq Al Shahh, an alleged accomplice of Radwan:
Questioner: Who entrusted you with the mission of entering the Jamahiriya [the People’s Republic of Libya]?
Al Shahh: Abu Abdullah Al Sadiq.
Q: Did he give money?
Q: How much money?
Q: What is the total amount of money you obtained from Abu Abdullah Al Sadiq?
A: Perhaps, $40,000 or $41,000
A: Approximately, yes
Q: Where did the money you got come from?
A: I do not know. But there is a group in those countries
Q: What countries are these?
Redacted text on orders of MI5
Our recent enquiries with Swallow Tail, a former intelligence officer who cannot be named for fear of reprisals20, have confirmed that the man caught by the Libyans in the attack, was the agent Tunworth. This is further confirmation that an MI6 agent, whom we know was working to Watson in London, was involved in the plot. The officer also confirmed that was either killed during the attack that February or shortly after. This rather undermines the claims of ministers that they banned the story in order to protect national security, since the agent was clearly no longer at risk of reprisal and was not then providing intelligence to the British services.
Other than using the submission process to inform the PM about service abuses of power, David also wrote to ministers Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Robin Cook, John Prescott and the Attorney General on several occasions, asking them to investigate his disclosures of MI6’s funding of Al Qaeda. At no point did any minister hear his evidence. In June 1999, David sent ministers Secrets and Lies, a document he had prepared on his case to counter the misinformation put out by government. It provided details of the conspiracy but ministers still refused to call in the police or hold any kind of enquiry. And that would have been that, if it hadn’t been for the public-spirited former intelligence officer who obtained the CX document issued by MI6 in December 1995, and put it on the Internet. That officer said:
“I’ve just about had it up to here with the lies of ministers. It is difficult to imagine a more serious abuse of power than MI6 funding our terrorist enemies with the result that innocent people are murdered in cold-blood. If there had been a legal way of presenting that document to independent investigators, I would have used it. As there was not, I had to resort to the Internet. Thank God for modern technology.”
The MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy, Part 3
In February 2000, The Sunday Times provided corroboration that MI6 had conspired with an agent in a plan to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi, when it reported that a leaked MI6 document, CX95/ 53452 had appeared on the website http://www.geocities.com/byanymeansnecessary2000. When interviewed about the document, the then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook refused to confirm that it was genuine. David can though confirm that it is the document sent by MI6’s R/ME/C to Whitehall departments and the intelligence services in December 1995. It refuted Cook’s claims, which had caused many to believe that David had simply made the whole thing up:
“The tale about the MI6 plot to assassinate Gaddafi is pure fantasy.
“It is pure fantasy”
“I am clear these allegations have no basis in fact”
The MI6 report clearly demonstrated that an MI6 agent among the coup plotters was meeting his MI6 handler to discuss the assassination of Col Gaddafi ‘in which he was involved’:
“The coup plotters would launch a direct attack on Gaddafi and would either arrest him or kill him.”
“The military officer said that the plotters would have cars similar to those in Gaddafi’s security entourage with fake security number plates. They would infiltrate themselves into the entourage in order to kill or arrest Gaddafi.”
Remember, Tunworth had already outlined his plans and his request for finance to the resident MI6 officer in Tunis in summer 1995. David Watson, PT16/B, had then met Tunworth — in the full knowledge that the latter wanted to assassinate Gaddafi — to obtain details of the operation, which were published in the CX report. If this report had been a record of a meeting between a Libyan terrorist and an IRA member planning to assassinate Tony Blair, which had fallen into MI5 or police hands, it would have been accepted in a court of law as clear evidence of a conspiracy between the two to cause terrorism.
The MI6 intelligence report also confirmed that Sirte was the site of the attack in February or March 1996, information David had told Urban who had stood it up for the Panorama investigation into the plot. It also established that the group of coup plotters were at least looking for support from the British state. (As a CX report going out to ministers, it could not detail the illegal payments):
“The officer was disclosing this information in the hope that if the coup was successful, the new government could enlist HMG support.”
According to the report, Tunworth also admitted contacts between the plotters and Islamic extremists, described as ‘Libyan students’ and ‘Libyan veterans who served in Afghanistan’. As already discussed, veteran Libyan Islamic extremists who served in Afghanistan are considered by MI5 to be de facto members of Al Qaeda.
The CX report otherwise played down the agent’s contacts with Islamic extremists, presumably because the report went to ministers who would have been appalled at the prospect of Islamic terrorists toppling Gaddafi, given that the former posed a greater threat to British lives. As we now know from the sexed-up dossier, it is not unusual for inconvenient pieces of information to be left out of official reports.
David is adamant that, when Watson was briefing him, he told David that Tunworth was leading a ‘rag tag’ group of Islamic extremists. David also briefed Paul Slim, his boss at the time, with this information and provided it in his sworn statement to the police. He has not been charged with perjury. Other media reports already quoted have established that the Islamic Fighting Group were responsible. The Libyan TV broadcast also indicated that a leading member of the IFG might be Tunworth, as he led the attack in much the way that Tunworth outlined in the CX report.
The report also made it absolutely clear that the Permanent Under Secretary’s Department – Sir Humphrey Appleby’s equivalent in the Foreign Office — GCHQ, MI5; the Ministry of Defence; and MI6 stations in Tunis, Cairo and Washington knew of the assassination attempt at least two months in advance. They would therefore have had copies on file. Did none of them bother to brief Cook with this rather pertinent information before he went on the Breakfast with Frost programme on 9 August 1998? Were our Sir Humphreys and our George Smileys deliberately keeping ministers in the dark? Or did Cook know about Tunworth but think he could get away with branding the plot ‘pure fantasy’ in the belief that documents detailing the relationship between Tunworth and MI6 would never see the light of day?
We also have to ask ourselves what role the PM played in all this, as the figure ultimately responsible for our services. What did he know and when did he know it?
Julie Ann and the bullies in government
The government had always claimed it was not in the business of preventing legitimate discussion of the intelligence services. But on 6 March 2000, that all changed when Special Branch officers arrested Julie Ann Davies, a student at Kingston University, under the 1911 and 1989 OSAs, during a lecture at the college. She was held for several hours at Kingston Police station but was not charged. She was later released on police bail. The university confirmed that it had complied with a search warrant, giving police the right to access Davies’s computer at the university. Davies had recently visited David in France and had begun to rally support for him.
“During that meeting I became convinced that the man was genuine and so I felt the need to do something about his situation,” she said at the time.
The day after the CX document appeared on the Internet, Davies circulated an e-mail to fellow campaigners and journalists. In it, she stated:
“You have probably heard about the document on the web that appears to back up David Shayler’s allegations of an MI6 plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi.”
It is also clear from the context of the questions that police asked her that Special Branch suspected her of putting the CX document on the Internet. Under questioning, Davies denied having anything to do with this. After keeping her on police bail for a number of months without charging her, Special Branch eventually dropped the investigation. As a result of the police action, she was forced to drop out of her university course. She is currently suing police for wrongful arrest. As a result of disclosure in this case, police have provided her with the ‘evidence’ which led to her arrest. It consists only of three anonymous letters claiming that she put the document on the Internet. As they are anonymous, they would not be considered admissible evidence in a court of law.
Mr Peter Scott, Kingston University vice chancellor, said:
“The university, as an institution committed to freedom of expression, would be particularly concerned if it turned out that a discredited piece of legislation like the OSA was being used to suppress legitimate journalistic investigation and the public’s right to know about alleged abuses by the security services.”
The arrest of Julie Ann Davies proved once again that ministers were rather more concerned with intimidating David’s supporters and protecting the intelligence services from proper scrutiny, including criminal investigation, than free speech, one of the cornerstones of democracy. It was also a clear example of bullying. The Sunday Times, which had published the original article about the report and quoted from the document, had not been investigated, nor had any of its journalists been arrested in connection with the matter.
This is also clear evidence that material from CX reports can be published without causing damage to national security, as the government did not prosecute the paper or its journalists under s5 of the 1989 OSA, where the Crown has to prove damage, for publishing and quoting from the report. But the bullying was set to continue.
The Observer taken to court
Having used the OSA to intimidate one of David’s supporters for trying to expose terrorism funded out by MI6, Blair’s government then turned its sights on the elements of the press who were bravely trying to expose the conspiracy. Comedian and journalist Mark Thomas had agreed to deliver his evidence about the conspiracy23 to the British Embassy by hand in November 1999. As Straw did not even bother to reply, David briefed Martin Bright of The Observer. In February 2000, he reported that Straw had done nothing to ensure that there was a criminal investigation into PT16/B’s activities.
The article also revealed for the first time in public that Tunworth was a senior member of Libyan intelligence, who had walked into the British Embassy in Tunis, and that reports quoting Moroccan and Egyptian intelligence sources had confirmed the assassination attempt, shortly after it took place in February 1996.
A Foreign Office spokesman changed the official position on the conspiracy, trying to play down Robin Cook’s claim that the tale about the MI6 plot to assassinate Gaddafi was ‘pure fantasy’:
“We have never denied knowledge of coup attempts against Col Gaddafi,” he told the paper. “We always described allegations of involvement as fantasy25. We have nothing to add or subtract”.
If the Foreign Office and Cook had been honest when the disclosure was first made, they would have said at the time:
“We are aware of a conspiracy to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in early 1996. We are still making enquiries about any MI6 involvement.”
Tunworth was after all an MI6 agent who had by the time of the attack met David Watson, an MI6 officer, at least twice to discuss his plans. On that evidence alone, we can conclude that MI6 was involved. However, Tunworth could not have gone ahead with the plot without the backing of MI6, financial or otherwise. As we have seen, separate sources have confirmed payments were made to the IFG, the group Tunworth belonged to.
On 14 March 2000, both The Observer and The Guardian were taken to court by the authorities. Special Branch sought a court order to seize any notebooks and browse through The Observer’s computer for further evidence of breaches of the OSA on David’s part. It sought from The Guardian the original of a letter David had written, which was published in newspaper on the 17 February 2000. As Nick Cohen, The Observer’s columnist put it:
“No one would dream of telling a newspaper about official corruption, incompetence or crime, if they thought the police – or in this case, the secret police – might read every jotting and e-mail.”
A couple of days later, Detective Sergeant John Flynn, from the financial investigations unit of Special Branch, told The Guardian that there were ‘reasonable grounds’ for prosecuting Martin Bright and Roger Alton, the editor of The Observer, under s5 of the OSA.
A month later, judge Martin Stephens ruled that the papers had to hand over any material, even though he admitted that the letter to The Guardian contained nothing that had not already been printed. David said at the time:
“The government is adopting the tactics of a totalitarian state by attacking the press in this way. If they really believe I have documents that could damage national security, why don’t they come and talk to me about them, rather than intimidate journalists.”
Even the then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and the Foreign Office minister Peter Hain were reported to be horrified at such an attack on press freedom. But we have to wonder why they chose to speak out at this point. Did Cook know that if the documents were handed over then David might be prosecuted for disclosing details of the MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy, allowing Cook’s ‘pure fantasy’ lies to be examined before a court?
On 19 July 2000, Mr Justice Igor Judge heard the case for Special Branch to access The Observer’s computer. He overturned the decision of the lower courts in his ringing defence of press freedom:
“The Gaddafi Plot is either true or it is false, and unless there are reasons of compelling national security, the public is entitled to know the facts, and as the eyes and ears of the public, journalists are entitled to investigate and report the facts, dispassionately and fairly, without prejudgement or selectivity […]
“If true, it is difficult to overestimate its enormity: a conspiracy to murder the head of another state, resulting not in his death, but in the deaths of innocent people who were not its intended targets.[…] Again, if true, the circumstances in which such a plan was conceived and developed, and the identity of those who were informed about and approved it, or turned a blind eye to it, and equally those who were deliberately kept in ignorance, raise critical public issues about the activities of the security services and those responsible for them”
In the middle of all this, a new development neatly pointed to the impotence of the services and the ineffectiveness of current legislation in protecting state secrets in the age of the Internet. Portuguese intelligence expert Frederico Duarte published the names of David Watson and Richard Bartlett, PT16/B and PT16 respectively in Tal & Qual, the Portuguese equivalent of Private Eye. As the names were also available on the Internet, they could be accessed from Britain. As they were now in the public domain, they could be repeated in the British media, although only the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom dared to actually publish the names of the two MI6 terrorists involved.
The delayed police investigation
In March 2000, John Wadham and I had hand-delivered a statement — which David had prepared and indicated he was prepared to swear to under oath — to the Metropolitan Police Special Branch at New Scotland Yard. The police then refused to investigate the plot claiming that conspiracy to murder did not amount to a crime in Britain. Again, this demonstrates what would have happened if David had violated the 1989 OSA s1 and approached the Met directly with his disclosures in 1997.
Finally in December 2000, two and a half years after David had made the original disclosure, he was finally given permission by the authorities to give evidence to the police. DS Gerry Mackinnon and Detective Supt Lewis Benjamin working for SO1 of the Met, interviewed him and prepared a sworn statement, which he signed in early 2001. SO1 then undertook the first ever police investigation into the activities of MI6. You don’t have to be a cynic to point out that by this time, MI6 had had plenty of time to destroy or tamper with the evidence. David and I have every confidence that the police in this case did their job thoroughly and professionally but by then, we believe, it was too late.
In February 2001, SO1 sent a report to the Crown Prosecution Service. Prosecution sources said the authorities had decided there was a prima facie case, meriting further investigation29. In all, the enquiries took nine months. In November 2001, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that the MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy was not ‘pure fantasy’:
“As you know, the Metropolitan Police Service undertook an assessment of the available material and submitted two reports to the Crown Prosecution Service, an interim report in February 2001 and a final report in September 2001. The police enquiry has been extremely thorough, examining all relevant material.”
This clearly confirms that the police have gathered evidence – ‘relevant material’ — about the MI6 conspiracy, which confirm there is ‘a basis in fact’ for David’s disclosures refuting Robin Cook assertion that: “The tale about the MI6 plot to assassinate Gaddafi is pure fantasy. [with] no basis in fact”. At the same time, neither the police nor the CPS sought to arrest David or bring charges for perjury or wasting police time, indicating that detailed sworn statement was honest, reliable and true. On these available facts, any reasonable observer can only conclude that Cook is lying and David telling the truth. In fact, we have challenged Cook to sign a sworn statement saying that the MI6/Al Qaeda plot was ‘pure fantasy [with] no basis in fact’.
The CPS did conclude that there is not enough evidence to secure a conviction. But it took them two months to come to this decision after the nine-month investigation. Even then, the CPS sought to misrepresent the findings of the enquiry:
“Final advice from the Crown Prosecution Service has now been received, saying that the material does not substantiate the allegation made by David Shayler.”
The work of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service is not to ‘substantiate […] allegations’ or otherwise. (Anyway, David made a number of allegations, not just one). Its job is to judge whether there is enough evidence to secure a conviction in front of a jury beyond any reasonable doubt. That is a very high standard of proof. The usual test of proof for Parliamentary or judicial enquiries is ‘the balance of probabilities’.
At the time, David commented:
“This is the first time that the police have investigated an allegation against MI6, partly because MI6 had a de facto immunity from investigation into allegations of crime on the part of the service under the Royal Prerogative. It demonstrates why MI6 was put on a legal footing in the 1994 Intelligence Services Act. The investigation was not of course ideal. The police were only looking to gather admissible evidence, which could be used to secure a conviction of the two MI6 officers who planned and carried out the plot, rather than trying to assess all relevant material, including intelligence.”
This whole process once again calls into question the oversight arrangements for the services and the ability of ministers and officials to discharge their legal duties. In the future, we will be seeking permission to have the recording — on which David’s sworn testimony was based — published so that the British people and, it is hoped, Parliament can see for themselves the truth of his words.
Further confirmation of the plot
That, again, might have been that but for a book published by two French journalists, shortly before David went to trial in October 2002. Guillaume Dasquié, publisher of Intelligence On-line, and Jean-Charles Brisard, a former adviser to French President Jacques Chirac who worked for the French intelligence services, published Forbidden Truth. The book confirms that the Islamic Fighting group was the Libyan Al Qaeda cell responsible for the attempt on Gaddafi’s life. The book added that the Islamic Fighting Group also included Anas al-Liby, a leading Al Qaeda member who is wanted for his involvement in the African embassy bombings and remains on the US government’s most wanted list with a reward of $25 million for his capture. Al-Liby was with Osama bin Laden in Sudan before the Al Qaeda leader returned to Afghanistan in 199632. Dasquie said:
“Bin Laden wanted to settle in Libya in the early 1990s but was hindered by the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Enraged by Libya’s refusal, bin Laden organised attacks inside Libya, including assassination attempts against Gaddafi.”.
This provides yet more convincing evidence that Tunworth was involved with Al Qaeda. At the very least, MI6 and MI5’s understanding of Al Qaeda was so limited that neither service realised the implications of Tunworth’s proposed coup in Libya: by assassinating Gaddafi the West would have lost a valuable ally in the battle with Al Qaeda and instead would have had to face the threat of an Al Qaeda in control of Libyan oil.
Given the timing of the MI6 payments– along with the close relationship between the IFG and bin Laden – it appears that British taxpayers’ money was used to fund Al Qaeda attacks in Libya. Ashur Shamis, a Libyan expert on Islamic extremism, also added support to David’s allegation:
“There was a rise in the activities of the Islamic Fighting Group from 1995 [around the time of the first payment],” he said, “but many in Libya would be shocked if MI6 was involved.”.
Issues raised by the MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy
Nearly all experts who work in counter-terrorism — as opposed to people on the “outside” — believe that assassinations, particularly in the case of heads of state only serve to destabilise a region. This was a view held by the US National Security Council until George W Bush became president. Although certain Third World leaders do not share our standards of democracy, they do provide a certain amount of stability to their country and region. Remove such a leader from power by assassination and you will only create a vacuum, which will lead to unrest and violence as factions compete for power.
Under international law, assassination operations are illegal. The only moral argument for assassinating any dictator or terrorist is that such action would lead to considerably fewer deaths, than leaving him in power to continue to support violence against the West. By 1996, Gaddafi had ceased to support the IRA or indeed any terrorism. There were, though, a few unconfirmed reports that he had provided funds to Palestinian resistance movements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, territories illegally occupied by Israel and subject to UN resolutions. In this context, Gaddafi was funding organisations fighting for their own freedom, not terrorists.
In addition, MI6 had given its blessing to an individual who was leading a group of Islamic extremists with links to the Al Qaeda network. If Tunworth, the individual the Libyans caught in the act, had succeeded in assassinating Colonel Gaddafi, his supporters would in all probability have set up an Islamic Extremist state in North Africa, further destabilising a region already subject to violence from Islamic fundamentalists.
Once Al Qaeda had Libya, it would have been all too easy for the group to take control of neighbouring states like Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, which already have their own internal problems with Al Qaeda. In control of a state like Libya or a region like North Africa, Al Qaeda would have had:
- Ready access to Libyan funds, running into £billions.
- Control of the Libyan oil industry, destabilising world oil prices.
- The ability to launch many more attacks like September 11th, killing and maiming thousands of UK and US citizens.
- A land border with Israel and therefore a greatly increased capacity to attack the state of Israel.
- The means to destabilise world security on an enormous scale.
In fact, we only have to look at the current problems in Iraq to see what could have happened, had the MI6/Al Qaeda conspiracy successfully led to Gaddafi’s assassination. In the absence of Western military and security forces in a post-coup Libya, Al Qaeda would have had an even freer rein than it now has in post-war Iraq. At the very least, MI6 failed to realise the implications of Tunworth’s admitted association with Islamic Extremists or his intentions, a coup leading to an Al Qaeda state in Libya. That in itself would be of enormous concern, for which MI6 deserves to roundly be censured. But, the truth is, the agent duped MI6 officers into funding that potential Al Qaeda takeover. David explains:
“This was an act of terrorism, in which Britain became a state sponsor of Islamic extremism. To put this in context, the Provisional IRA tries to avoid harming civilians on the basis that it produces bad publicity (although inevitably civilians are maimed and murdered when bombs go off on our streets). Islamic extremists and Al Qaeda have no such restraint. MI6 consciously supported terrorists who pose a greater threat to the national security of the UK than the Provisional IRA ever did.
“Although my boss, Paul Slim did not seem to want to know, I made it clear to him that it was his responsibility to take it up the management chain. This whole operation was clearly a violation of the rule of law that my recruiter had told me the services must observe.
“I could also clearly see that the relationship between Tunworth and MI6 was flawed. MI5 had no security record of Tunworth and MI6 had only a couple of traces or brief mentions. Yet less than six months later, after a handful of meetings, MI6 had given him £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to assassinate a foreign head of state. There was no way that MI6 could in that time have established a close enough relationship with him to make any realistic assessment of his character and reliability – he really could have been anybody.”
If this sort of MI6 activity only went on abroad and did not affect British citizens, it might be less frightening for us. However, MI6 routinely operates in the UK. In addition to IOPs35, UKG (now PT16B/OPS) ran agents in the UK and UKZ carries out surveillance.
If our elected representatives are not allowed to access MI6 documents about the conspiracy then perhaps they should try using the US Freedom of Information Act to obtain final confirmation of MI6 funding Tunworth and the IFG and Al Qaeda.
As David went on the record precisely because of the MI6 funding of Al Qaeda, it is worth looking at what he would have said in his defence in court, had he been allowed one:
Cover-up: There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that the then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was ‘economical with the truth’. His statement protected murderers in the intelligence services and ensured that David was thrown in prison with a view to extradition. The media has been slow to put this to Cook and the head of Britain’s intelligence services, Prime Minister Tony Blair. Once the MI6 document appeared on the Internet and the police recovered relevant material, it must have been clear to the Prime Minister that his Foreign Secretary had not told the whole truth to the British people. In that situation, he had a simple choice under the ministerial code: either correct the statement of his minister or enter into the. This is a cover up of monumental proportions. Its implications for our democracy and the rule of law are enormous.
Justice: Although the deaths of a few Libyans may not carry as much weight with newspaper editors as the deaths of British citizens, they are still somebody’s sons and daughters. They are human beings and not ‘collateral damage’ as some commentators have suggested. British ministers have a duty to protect life.
Law and order: Any attempt to assassinate a foreign head of state is an act of terrorism, banned by international law under the Protection of Privileged Persons Act 1869. How can we condemn Libya for bombing flight PA 103 over Lockerbie or assassinating WPC Yvonne Fletcher, if we resort to the same terrible tactics?
Terrorism: Removing Colonel Gaddafi would have led to a more extreme despot taking over in Libya, which would in all probability have led to attacks on British, US, European and Israeli citizens. Al Qaeda members, enemies of the West then and now, carried out the attempted coup. By this time, MI6 knew that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993. At the same time, MI5 had set up a section, G9C, in 1995, specifically to investigate Islamic extremist groups, particularly Al Qaeda. It was therefore the height of negligence (some might say stupidity) for MI6 to give up to £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to the leader of such a group.
Failure of accountability and oversight: Under the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, MI6 could have submitted the plot to the Foreign Secretary for permission. With that permission, they would have been immune from prosecution. By not submitting, MI6 officers were deciding British foreign policy towards Libya, not the democratically accountable Foreign Secretary. After David’s return to the UK, we approached the police to investigate the plot. They initially refused to take possession of David’s evidence, allowing those involved in the meantime to perhaps doctor the evidence.
Lack of transparency: If we can only maintain our reputation for democracy through lying, cheating and obsessive secrecy then I suggest we are not really a liberal democracy at all. If you want to live in the sort of country in which the intelligence services are allowed to work in absolute secrecy and literally get away with murder, I suggest you go and live in Iran.
Corruption: If you want to live in a functioning democracy, you have a moral and democratic duty to ensure that the laws of the land are upheld and that they apply equally to every citizen of that country. When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary give MI6 officers a de facto immunity by refusing to take evidence of their conspiring to murder, they send a very clear message to MI6. And that message is: “You are above the law. You can get away with it now and can get away with it in the future. In fact, you enjoy the same rights as KGB officers in the former Soviet Union”.
Waste of money: In the attack, MI6 wasted £100,000 of taxpayers’ money. These funds could have been better spent on schoolbooks and medicines.