Monday 15 August 2011

Her Majesty's Spooks: MI6 in the Middle East

This is just going to be a brief overview of a few operations undertaken by MI6 in the Middle East, again with sprinkled justifications and other relevant information. The operations that MI6 has carried out covers a wide area – hence why there is no unifying narrative except the involvement of MI6.

Gaddafi Negotiations (2003): In December 2003, Libya agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. After extensive negotiations with American and British officials, Libya was finally brought ‘out of the dark’, a remnant of the Lockerbie bombing and Gaddafi’s support of terrorism. According to The Telegraph it was MI6 who essentially worked through these negotiations: “there is no doubt that it was a coup for Britain's spies.” MI6 officers built up contacts, back channels and got through to the regime.

Inspections by British officials found that they had “more than ten sites where Libya was developing a fuel cycle to support nuclear weapons development and a uranium enrichment programme aimed at producing the core material for a nuclear weapon.” Libya had also gained a stash of chemical weapons and precursor material for biological weapons.

Of course, it was not only MI6: Gaddafi’s surrender was one of the positive effects of the Iraq war (or, the plans for the Iraq war): the change in the regional logic on WMD (this was anticipated by MI6 in one of its papers explaining the benefits of toppling Saddam). In a recently declassified interview with an MI6 officer (as part of the Iraq Inquiry), this is explicitly acknowledged:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Do you think it came as a direct consequence of the imminent attack on Iraq?
SIS1: I have no doubt about that at all. [...] They [Libya] thought, "Shit, this is real"

There are some who would decry the role of MI6 and Tony Blair in bringing Libya back on to the world stage. But, Britain’s role in the world is no longer confined to shaping it how it wants it.  Meaning that we must make decisions on which course of action is the least worst. The Times rose to Blair defence and rightly stated in an editorial that

Mr Blair makes no apology for his efforts to persuade Gaddafi to give up his nuclear and chemical weapons programmes. Nor should he. Had the Libyan dictator still been armed with these weapons he might well, like Saddam Hussein, have gassed his opponents or threatened his enemies with whatever weapons his scientists developed.

Even without taking recent events into consideration, the dismantlement of Libya’s WMD programmes is good in itself and as crude as it is to have relations with authoritarian regimes, it is even worse to have a regime, backing terrorists, having WMD which we cannot influence.

Palestinian Authority Plan (2004): As part of the ‘Palestine Papers’ series run by Al Jazeera and The Guardian, documents were leaked which showed an MI6 ‘blue print’ for cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank in 2004. The plans was suppose to clamp down on rejectionist, embolden moderates and calm Israeli security fears which would in turn lead to an easier situation for the moderates.

The document was written during the Second Intifada and part of plan was ‘security drive to address Israeli and US preconditions for reengagement.’ The document speficially states that the security drive would be on ‘suicide bombers, illegal arms collection, Qassam rockets, terror finance and closing arms smuggling into Gaza.’ It would be carried out by the PA but it would its success would be independently verified. The part of the plan which The Guardian finds “controversial” is the following:

“Degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists – Hamas, PIJ, Al-Aqsa Brigades –through the disruption of their leaderships' communications and command and control capabilities; the detention of key middle-ranking officers; and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources.”

In 2011, I cannot see anything controversial about this: Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are terrorist organisations who have all carried out suicide bombings. In 2004, during the Intifada, I can still not see anything wrong with this policy. It would be absolutely mind boggling if nobody had proposed stomping on these groups – even in 2006, when Hamas took part and was successful in election.

In proposing this plan, MI6 tried to shape policy in a way that would drive down attacks (on both sides, in the long term), strike down on terrorist organisations, move toward Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and create an atmosphere where peace could prevail. Controversial indeed. Interestingly, the Guardian states that

The leaked intelligence plan can be seen in retrospect as a blueprint for PA security control of the West Bank... Hundreds of Hamas and other activists have been routinely detained without trial at a time in recent years and subjected to widely documented human rights abuses.

Not quite. The British policy stated that part of its policy was there to make sure that prisoners were “well treated.” Oh, if they had bothered to read the second document, it seems MI6 was weary about mass arrests: their plan assumes that Palestinians “will oppose attack security units that try and arrest suspects. A wide scale arrest campaign is therefore not achievable.” Meaning that mass arrests against “terrorists” would only go ahead with the support of the Palestinian population. The second document speaks only of arresting smugglers (which appears under the section about Qassams), terrorist handlers and financiers (which appears under the section about suicide bombing). The only link between the plan and the future arrest of Hamas members is the word "arrest."

Stuxnet (2010): Stuxnet is a computer worm which was used to “shut down the centrifuges that spin nuclear material at Iran’s enrichment facilities.” French intelligence sources told Le Canard that it was carried with the help of MI6 (along with the CIA and Mossad). The Institute for Science and International Security says that the virus may have shut down 1,000 centrifuges at Natanz – a 30% decrease in operation capacity. The Iranian government also conceded that because of the virus, “turning the Bushehr back ‘on’ could lead to a national electricity blackout.”

‘Operation Cupcake’ (2011): And just a final one which is probably a bit more hilarious than the aforementioned. Inspire magazine is a publication by Al Qaeda which seeks to inspire lone wolves in the West into attacking us. MI6 hacked into the publication so that when the instructions for a bomb were downloaded, they would be replaced by a recipe to make cupcakes. 

No comments: