View From The Side: Libyan Gold, British Bombs & How to Steal a Country
Boris Johnson is a piece of shit.
On Tuesday he gave his speech to the Tory conference, and chuckled his way through the following lines:
"There's a group of UK business people, actually, some wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte on the coast, near where Gaddafi was captured and executed as some of you may have seen. They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai… The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away."
Some people were outraged by this statement, as if Boris Johnson is a decent human talking about a decent world. I’m not outraged- I’m relieved. I'm relieved that Johnson is now openly admitting that we have reached the end stage of a program that Britain has pursued in Libya since at least the 1970s. It's a convoluted story that has based at its core one key fact: British interests have rarely not been rapacious colonial interests. The recent history of Britain and Libya spreads from the wars in Afghanistan right through to the Manchester Arena bombing of 2017. It covers dodgy French elections, BBC lies, and blatant assassination attempts. As this dirty saga has rolled on, with death and theft unfolding both at home and abroad as the result of grubby fingered machinations, it's become increasingly obvious that hardly anyone over here gives a shit about any of the values the UK is supposedly built on. As a result, the people signing the orders are less and less concerned about covering their tracks. But here's the thing; if our Foreign Secretary is joking about sweeping away corpses so as to best profit from stolen land, then I’ve got some shocking news; we may be the baddies.
Anyway, here’s how we got to the point where Boris Johnson gets excited about building a new Dubai on the bones of the dead. Hold on for the ride!
In 1996 David Shayler was working for Mi5. Shayler was pen pushing for department G9. G9 dealt with Middle Eastern Affairs in general, and Shayler was specifically tasked with keeping an eye on Libya. A conscientious company man who’d just turned 30, Shayler believed in Britain. He believed in the dreaming spires and the rolling fields and the cricket green and fair play and decency and bloody good chaps and all the rest. Here he is with his then partner Annie Machon, also of Mi5.
Imagine his horror. Buried in documents passing across his desk he discovered evidence of an illegal plot between Mi6 and a group of Libyan dissidents known as the Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). They were planning to assassinate Libya’s leader General Gaddafi, kick off a coup and divide the country into a series of feudal states. Worse still, on speaking to Mi6 agents, he discovered the coup had already gone ahead, the whole thing had been a disaster, innocents had been killed in Gaddafi’s place and no one in Mi5 or Mi6 gave a shit. Shayler – who clearly hadn’t been paying attention to the cynical realities of British history- was outraged by an action that he felt made the UK no better than those it claimed moral superiority over. In 1997 he turned whistle blower, handing over evidence of the plot to the Mail on Sunday before promptly getting out of England.
The press had a field day with this story; a scandalous, daring spy plot to off a foreign despot – what’s not to love? The public weren’t entirely disapproving of Mi6’s cloak and dagger tactics. ’Mad Dog’ Gaddafi was a notoriously erratic bogey man who was responsible for fuelling anti-imperialist terrorism worldwide. The LIFG, on the other hand, were seen as ‘good guy’ dissidents who’d been trained by the Americans to battle the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 80s – an association lovingly portrayed in Rambo III, long before Islamist was a dirty word.
After spilling his guts, Shayler went on the run. He fled to Europe, a spy who’d flown the coop. The French government refused to extradite him back to the UK. This allowed him a certain amount of liberty, and subsequent media notoriety – a proto-Snowden if you will. His new-found celebrity was most oddly manifested in an appearance as a guest on Have I Got News For You alongside Stephen Fry, Paul Merton, Angus Deaton and Ian Hislop, with Shayler joining via live link. If you skip to round 8 minutes in you'll catch the jokes about Mi5, including the revelation that the agency held a file on Peter Mandleson. Apparently the supremely paranoid Mi5 spooks thought that Mandleson, as a former member of the communist party, was a hard left sleeper agent playing a long game to infiltrate government with reds. Lolz.
In 2000 a weary Shayler finally agreed to return to the UK for trial. Proceedings took place behind closed doors. The press were gagged from reporting on the case by then Home Secretary Jack Straw. Inevitably Shayler’s claims were ridiculed by the Home Office, dismissed as the fantasies of a delusional crank. Shayler was charged with leaking official secrets, and sentenced to 6 months. It could have gone far worse for him- a year later Dr. David Kelly was coming to a sticky end in the woods. The Mi6 agents accused of the plot were given new identities, and the truth of Shayler’s claims were never dealt with in an official capacity. As with so much in British society, the affair was quietly swept to fester under the carpet.
However in the same year a book was released that lent his story further credibility. Titled Forbidden Intelligence, it was published in America by two French intelligence experts, and provided leaked memos detailing all sorts of shenanigans.
“British intelligence knew of a plot in 1995, which involved five colonels, Libyan students and 'Libya veterans who served in Afghanistan’…. ‘The coup plotters expected to establish control of Libya at the end of March 1996. They would form an interim government before discussions with tribal leaders. The group would want rapprochement with the West. They hoped to divide the country into smaller areas, each with a governor and a democratically elected parliament. There would be a federal system of national government.’
“David Watson,an MI6 officer, had supplied [LIFG agent] Tunworth with $40,000 to buy weapons to carry out the assassination plot and that similar sums were handed over at two further meetings“* *for more on this
Shayler had been correct all along; Britain was getting into bed with the Islamists of the LIFG in an attempt to destroy Gaddafi and carve up Libya. Except they fucked it. The car bomb they planned to kill Gaddafi with was planted under the wrong car, killing 4 innocents- long distance murder funded by the tax payer. It was also only one of several unsuccessful attempts to take out Gaddafi Mi6 (along with French intelligence) had undertaken.
Despite the useless execution of the operation, Shayler reported that the Mi6 agent who was responsible for the affair was chirpy as a Boy Scout winning a badge. “I very much got the impression that this was regarded as a coup for MI6,” Shayler recalled, “because it was playing up the reputation that the real James Bonds wanted to have.”
Gaddafi came into power in Libya, 1969, cresting in on a bloodless coup that kicked out reigning King Idris I. Under Idris, the UK and USA had established military bases in Libya, poured money into prospecting for oil, and proceeded to drain as much black gold from the country as pipelines could carry. By 1967 foreign oil companies were supplying a third of Western Europe’s oil from Libya. Triples all round.
Gaddafi was bad news for the oil companies. He kicked out the Western military bases and started nationalising the oil industry. He poured the money he raised both back into the country, and into his own bank account. He invested heavily in education, public services, universal free health care, and (let’s not get too misty eyed here) on utterly restricting the press and on building the grimly authoritarian security infrastructure necessary for him to maintain power indefinitely. His massive oil wealth enabled him to implement socialist policies that reversed the narrative of capitalist, colonial control in Libya, whilst still leaving plenty of change to spend on socialist, separatist and anti-imperial groups worldwide. Gaddafi was chucking money over to Cuba, to the IRA, to the ANC, to the PLO, the Red Brigade, the Black Panthers, whoever. Mad Dog didn’t give a shit. The West hated him, he hated them. They hated him because he was rich, they hated him because he was a pan-African socialist and they hated him because no matter how hard they tried (and tried and tried) they just couldn’t fucking kill him. Half the time this was because he was just stupidly lucky. Here's footage of someone throwing a grenade at him in 1996 – and it just doesn't blow up. For a while there Gaddafi was indestructable.
So here we are, quarter of a century after he had come to power, and British intelligence services were still scheming against him, colluding with American trained Libyan Islamists to overthrow him and replace him with an Islamic state. After all, thanks to the fine work of SAS founder David Stirling, relations – and more importantly arms sales- with the hardline Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia were remarkably lucrative for Britain. Wouldn’t it be great if Libya could be more like them?
But Gaddafi was a wily and vengeful enemy. Each time he fluked his way past death, he would respond by crushing enemies – real or perceived – with extreme prejudice. When the Western backed Islamists rose against him in the 90s, he exterminated anyone he suspected of treason. The LIFG fled Libya. Some of them came to the UK, accurately gambling that security services would turn a blind eye to any links to so-called terror organisations, links that might bar them entry to another country. Some settled in Manchester. More on those in a bit.
Tony Blair loved hanging out with Gaddafi. All the pictures he’s got a face full of teeth, grinning like a man who just got lucky at suburban wife swap.
As the 00s lurched into action Tony Blair buddied up with George Bush, and the pair started dropping bombs on fellow shithead Saddam Hussain, who had comitted the crime of knowing way too much about where the bodies were buried. Gaddafi saw which way the wind was blowing. He handed over his chemical weapons before America could start even thinking about invading (he was almost too late – a memo from Donald Rumsfeld in 2003 shows that the Yanks had indeed started to wonder what to do about Libya). After giving up the nastiest of his weapons, Gaddafi reminded everyone that – aheeemmmm – you know, actually he’d kinda been fighting Islamists for a while now. It was the darndest thing; they kept on popping up- God knows where from! But he kept on slappin em down 🙂
Don’t worry! Tony beamed. It’s all good! You’re back in the club! Long standing UN sanctions were dropped. Gaddafi started dangling oil contracts in front of the salivating leeches of BP. And with his weird face and his funny ways and his little socialist book and his crack personal bodyguard of lovely ladies and his shiny new role in the righteous war on terror, Gaddafi wasn’t the bogey man anymore. Gaddafi was A-OK. And with the trade sanctions gone, Gadaffi – who wasn't short of a few quid in the first place- started making some serious money.
But then, you see, he kept on making more money.
And more money.
Don’t take my word for it- from the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report into Libya before the Western intervention of 2011:
“The Libyan economy generated some $75 billion of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010. This economy produced an average annual per capita income of approximately $12,250, which was comparable to the average income in some European countries. Libyan Government revenue greatly exceeded expenditure in the 2000s. This surplus revenue was invested in a sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), which was conservatively valued at $53 billion in June 2010.11 The United Nations Human Development Report 2010—a United Nations aggregate measure of health, education and income—ranked Libya as the 53rd most advanced country in the world for human development and as the most advanced country in Africa.
Like the cheeky upstart he was, Mad Dog was exceeding his income. In terms beloved of Tory drones, he was living within his means! The books were balanced! He was filthy rich! This shouldn’t have been a problem – there’s nothing more we love in the West than a rich despot, but Gaddafi kept on having these ideas that, well, they just weren’t on. Because Gaddafi didn’t want to keep it all that lolly to himself like a decent chap. He still had ideas of saving Africa. He had an audacious plan. He’d converted his cash into gold, and he was going to use this gold to underwrite a new Pan-African currency. If he had done so, the result would have been seismic, with shock waves felt across Europe; Gaddafi's currency would have undermined the Franc, which was standard currency across Francophone Africa. It's not inconceivable that this would have led to a collapse in the French economy, which would then have had a devestating effect across the Eurozone. Sacre bleu!
The emails that Wikileaks obtained from Hillary Clinton’s private mail server in 2015 cast some light on then French President Sarkozy’s response to Gaddafi’s ambitions. This is from an intelligence memo passed on by Clinton's former advisor Sidney Blumenthal as Libya began to creep towards another uprising in 2011:
"Qaddafi's government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver … This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA)….
"According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to commit France to the attack on Libya. According to these individuals Sarkozy's plans are driven by the following issues:
1. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
2. Increase French influence in North Africa,
3. Improve his internal political situation in France,
4. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,
5. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi's long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa."
Don’t worry, I’m getting there.
2011 and the Arab Spring kicked off in Libya. What a wheeze. Viewed via the nuance free prism of British media, a number of entirely different uprisings happening entirely different places for entirely different reasons were conflated into one fuzzy, feel-good vibe; young internet-savvy brown people were throwing off the yoke of wicked old tyrants, empowered by social media tools created by Silicon valley tech bros.
It was a great, great time to feel good about stuff.
The uprising that started in Libya in 2011 wasn’t a historically unusual event for Gaddafi. He’d been through this shit a hundred times. Despite being driven in no small part by Islamic militants, this new revolution got a sexy facelift – it was Arab Spring legit! This was about memes! It was about tweets! Libyan exiles in France drummed up the idea that the revolt was part of a narrative of sweeping, beautiful change driven by a youthful desire for liberty. Ha.
The BBC were making documentaries brimming with sparky optimism, programs where they had apparently made up a sexy, zeitgeisty name first, then frantically tried to crowbar whatever the fuck was going on into a shape that fitted the name. Exhibit A: How Facebook Changed the World – the Story of the Arab Spring. The first minute or so of this documentary is just batshit insane; some chat about a younger generation destroying wicked despots, shots of random boots kicking a gold effigy of Gaddafi's head, and the presenter Mishal Husain gushing – with a commendable lack of engagement with reality, or, indeed, eyesight – that the activists' "weapons weren't guns and bombs, but the internet and the mobile phone…."
As it turned out, one of the key leaders of the Libyan rebellion was a man named Abu Sufian bin Qumu. He’s quite the character. He’d been fighting the Soviets alongside the Americans in Afghanistan in the early 90s as part of the LIFG, and had later been detained in Guatanamo Bay, suspected of having some involvement in 9/11. He was transferred from Guantanamo to the Libyan chokey in 2007, then released from prison in Libya in 2010 as part of a prisoner amnesty. Big mistake on Gaddafi's part – within a year bin Qumu was leading the revolution in Libya. From his base in the city of Derna he led the hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, who's early agitation was one of the first blows against Gaddafi in 2011. Bin Qumu was 52 at this stage, so much for the Arab Spring youthquake narrative. I'm guessing that he was a bit more of a 'guns and bombs' rather than 'internet and mobile phone' kinda guy. He’s still on the run to this day, wanted as an 'international terrorist', and quite probably doing the dirty work for all manner of deep state actors.
Maybe he talks like this
Meanwhile, in Europe, bullshit flew thick and fast – Gaddafi was about to visit genocide on his people, these young innocents who just wanted to be able to use facebook! Convenient colonial racial nightmares were invoked. Historian Alice Pargeter noted:
“I was told by Libyans here [in Paris], “The Africans are coming. They’re going to massacre us. Gaddafi’s sending Africans into the streets. They’re killing our families.”
Funnily enough, it ended up being all the African’s in Libya who ended up getting massacred. Or maybe that isn't funny at all.
But in France, Nicolas Sarkozy was strident. Sarkozy knew what to do. And maybe, just maybe Sarkozy wanted to deflect attention from the fact Gaddafi had allegedly bankrolled his 2007 election campaign, then humiliated him by coming to France and claiming that French women were down trodden, and the young should ‘rise up’. At five foot and five inches small, Nicolas Sarkozy is a very short man.
I’d imagine that one of the few silver linings David Cameron can grasp at, is that he fucked it so comprehensively with Brexit that people tend to forget about his Libya adventure, an adventure which was so poorly conceived and executed, it will forever by remembered by Obama's succinct summary: a “shit show”. Cameron jumped in with Sarkozy but without a plan (not the last time he did that eh). The two of them dragged the rest of the UN with them and the shit show was on the road.
The UK government investigation into the Libyan War is stark in it’s assessment of the British intervention. We’ll have to assume Boris Johnson as then Home Secretary has read the thing. You can pick through it here – it’s surprisingly readable. To paraphrase, the threat the Gadaffi posed against his own people and the stories of violence he was meting out against them were monstrously distorted by vested interests. In terms of casualty numbers, a parallel situation would be us launching air strikes against Madrid and pushing for regime change in Spain as a response to the recent state violence against the Catalonian independence movement. This isn’t an exaggeration.
War kicked off and Europe got stuck in. We allowed (perhaps encouraged) Libyans from England to travel over to Libya to fight Gadaffi. We didn’t really care what they wanted to do once he was gone – we had our eyes on the long term prize. You could have ten years of fighting and the oil would still be there for whoever comes in to sweep away the bodies.
Contemporary reports speak of these Libyan fighters with an admiration. Here’s the Daily Mail talking about freedom fighters who’s accents are “North Africa meets Coronation Street,” who love “X Factor” and who can compare their fight to William Wallace, as one of them emotionally recounts; “Sitting in the deserts of Libya, fighting this war… one word echoes in my mind. It’s the cry of William Wallace in Braveheart: freedom.’”
There wasn’t too much attention paid to who was leading these young men. The main idea was the same it had been since the 90s; divide Libya into fueding tribal states and grab the goodies when the smoke clears.
In October, 2011, Gaddafi, the one man who had held Libya’s warring factions together for half a century, who had bought the country a prosperity beyond any other African nation, was shot dead in the ditch in Sirte. Libya fell apart.
Migrants streamed out of the country heading towards Europe and pushing the UK closer to Brexit. Six years on from Gaddafi's death, and Libya doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s a collection of states at war. The LIFG and various offshoots were deeply involved in the battles on fronts inside and outside the country, mutating into ISIS, spreading across Africa and the Middle East. UK border agents allowed UK based LIFG members free passage back and forth. These guys were doing our dirty work after all- a new Dubai won’t be built without first clearing the territory. Ramadan Abedi was one such LIFG fighter who flew out to Libya, fighting alongside Western trained extremist Islamists such as bin Qumu who were seeking to create a kaliphate in the tatters of Libya. Ramadan's 17 year old son Salman joined him, travelling to and fro between the relative peace of Manchester, and the warzone of Tripoli, meeting with the fighters the UK has covertly funded for decades. For Salman the lines between Manchester and Tripoli, peace and war blurred. Everywhere was war. One day he decided to collapse the distance between the two. In May of 2017 he detonated the bomb in Manchester Arena killing 23 people, many of them children.
The money we were handing over to the LIFG in the 1990s was being repaid.
Boris Johnson knows all of this. He knows a lot more, he is, after all, Foreign Secretary. He knows the dirty long term game that has been fought in Libya, he knows the significance of killing Gadaffi in his home province of Sirte (sorry, oil rich Sirte) and he knows that the bodies from our long term plan to extract value from the country have piled up at home and overseas. He knows that claiming that those bodies are ISIS fighters and thus not worthy of sympathy is the most disingenuous masking of our countries complicity in their creation. He knows all of this and like the greedy, stupid piggy he is, he’s laughing about it.
Boris Johnson is a piece of shit.