Documents abandoned in the ruined British embassy in Tripoli reveal that MI5 was working hand in glove with Gadaffi’s intelligence services from 2005 onwards to obtain details extracted under torture from ‘terror suspects’ (opponents of the Gadaffi regime) in return for information updates on the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in Britain. Today’s Sunday Times story is disturbing on three grounds: it shows (i) the double standards operated by MI5 and their political masters Blair and Brown in laying on hospitality and close relations with a Libyan regime known for its administratively routine use of torture, only then to switch to vilification when an internal uprising offered an opportunity for more direct access to Libyan oil; (ii) the readiness, despite constant denials, to work closely with foreign intelligence services known to be engaging in systematic torture; and (iii) the degree to which MI5 operates outside the law in a manner neither known to, nor sanctioned by, parliamentary authority. There has been far too little attention to how this extra-legal activity must be brought under control.
The closeness of the relationship went far beyond a formal arms-length assessment of a foreign power. Glimpses of this appear in MOD’s invitation to Gadaffi’s sons despite their murderous reputation to a combat display and club dinner in the UK, Blair’s personal cultivation of another son with help over a PhD thesis, and the use of royalty to fix a deal for the release of the Locherbie bomber Megrahi as an avenue to the Libyan oilfields. These are of course only the examples that have been disclosed; there may well be many others.
Nor is Libya a one-off. The involvement of MI5 personnel in the torture of British terror suspects abroad in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, not carrying out the torture themselves (so far as we know) but acting in close collaboration with the actual torturers, is now well-documented, as well as the torture by British military and security personnel of prisoners in Iraq, including the sadistic murder of Baha Mousa. All such cases are claimed to be within the guidelines for treatment of detainees abroad, though the precise revision of these guidelines has never been published, nor how far Blair or Brown or Foreign Office ministers were aware of and had approved these revisions.
MI5 is largely unaccountable. The parliamentary Intelligence Services Committee tasked to supervise its operations is chosen by the Prime Minister, it does not have the power to require access to papers or security personnel it may judge to be crucial to its inquiries, its report goes to the Prime Minister and not to Parliament, and is only published (if at all) after redaction and modification required by the Prime Minister’s office. This is sham surveillance of an intelligance service out of control. The much tighter supervision of the CIA FBI and their agencies by the US Congress makes clear the procedure that should be followed in the UK.