He's Behind You
October 25, 2012 "Information Clearing House" - Things come and go in the news cycle like waves of fever. A year ago Colonel Gaddafi was killed and an avalanche of camera phone footage of his last minutes was played again and again on the news channels. Then it stopped - and Gaddafi disappeared off into the dark.
What remains is all the footage recording Gaddafi's forty year career as a global weirdo. But the closer you look at the footage and what lies behind it - you begin to discover an odd story that casts a rather unflattering light on many of the elites in both the British and American establishments.
Because over those forty years all sorts of people from the west got mixed up with Gaddafi. Some were simply after his money and they flattered and crept to him because they wanted to be his friend. But for many others he was more useful as an enemy and they helped to turn Gaddafi into a two-dimensional cartoon-like global villain.
Those involved were not just politicians, but journalists, spies from the CIA and MI6, members of Washington think tanks, academics, PR firms, philosophers of humanitarian intervention, posh left wing revolutionaries and the leaders of the IRA.
They all had different aims, and were trying to use Gaddafi in different ways. But underlying almost all of them was a common fear - a feeling that power and influence was slipping away from them, and that increasingly they didn't understand what was going on in the world.
In response, all these different groups began to simplify the world. They all did this in their own ways, but whether they were politicians or journalists or spies, they all began to create an almost pantomime-like picture of the world that maintained their own illusion of control and helped to disguise their loss of power from the general public.
And Colonel Gaddafi happily played a starring role in that pantomime as an absurd clown because it too gave him the global power and influence that he craved.
Together the western elites and Gaddafi helped to lead us into a simplistic two-dimensional vision of the world - full of exaggerations and falsehoods. A fake bubble of certainty that has imprisoned us in the west - and is now preventing us from understanding what is really going on in the world outside.
The story begins back in the mid-1970s with a lonely and frustrated Colonel Gaddafi. He had come to power in 1969 with a burning ambition to transform the world - by liberating the Arab countries from the domination of the west, especially from Britain and America. But no-one would help him - or even cared. He was simply ignored.
Gaddafi was following the vision that had been set out by his hero Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt. Nasser had promised to unify the Arab world and transform it into a new revolutionary force that would be strong enough to stand up to the western powers.
But then, in 1970, Nasser died and his vision faltered. Gaddafi tried to keep it alive by unifying Libya with other countries - first with Egypt under Sadat, then with Tunisia and Algeria in something he called "The Steadfastness Front". He even tried Idi Amin in Uganda. But one by one the Arab countries gave up and slipped back to being the compliant puppets of America or Russia.
And Gaddafi was left all alone without any friends.
Here is some of the earliest footage of Gaddafi. It starts with his first appearance ever before the western press.
But Gaddafi wasn't going to give up. He was determined to challenge the old colonial powers.
He was convinced that Northern Ireland was very like Libya. The Catholics, he believed, were fighting a revolutionary struggle against the yoke of British imperialism. So he offered to supply them with money and arms.
He also offered the IRA semi-ambassadorial status - and an IRA supporter went out to live in Tripoli as the "ambassador". His Libyan handlers gave him the code-name "Mister Eddie" and Eddie lived a life of luxury in a grand mansion in the heart of the city eating his meals off the crockery of the deposed King Idris, while old trawlers took lots of guns and semtex from Libya to deserted coves on the coast of Ireland.
Gaddafi also wanted to undermine the west's support of Israel. He supported Palestinian groups fighting the Israelis. But he also decided to do something more dramatic - to send a submarine to torpedo the QE2 that was taking a group of British tourists to visit Israel. Gaddafi mentioned this to President Sadat - who told him that he was completely mad.
And Gaddafi also funded a left-wing revolutionary party in Britain. It was called the Workers Revolutionary Party and its most famous members were the actress Vanessa Redgrave and her brother Corin. The only problem was that it was probably the most useless of all the revolutionary parties in Britain.
It was run a a paranoid Trotskyite called Gerry Healy who believed all other Trotskyites were really CIA double agents. And Healy was also secretly forcing lots of young female comrades to have sex with him "for the sake of the revolution".
I have found a wonderful film that was transmitted just once in a general election programme in 1974 at 4am in the morning. It shows what happened that night when Vanessa Redgrave stood as a WRP candidate for parliament - against a Labour MP called Reg Prentice. It was in Newham in east London and her behaviour as the results are announced shows dramatically why Colonel Gaddafi was backing the wrong revolutionary horse.
It is also very funny and very sad at the same time.
But there was also a sinister side to this relationship with Colonel Gaddafi. Later in the 1980s the WRP held an inquiry into what really went on. The report is still kept secret, but parts of it have been published. If these bits are true, they say that in April 1976 Corin Redgrave had signed a secret deal with the Libyan government for:
"providing intelligence information on the 'activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere' by 'Zionists'. It has strongly anti-Semitic undertones, as no distinction is made between Jews and Zionists"
In other words Corin Redgrave agreed to use the party as Colonel Gaddafi's spy agency in Britain and feed him information about prominent Jews in British society.
Here is Mr Redgrave preparing to do a party political broadcast on the BBC - promising to abolish parliament and create a workers state. But he seems to be most interested in how his tie looks.
By the late 70s Gaddafi decided that there was only one solution to his dilemma. If all the other revolutionaries were so useless - he would have to develop his own global revolutionary theory.
So he did just that and he gave it a name. He called it "The Third International Theory". Gaddafi had discovered what he said was a Third Way, an alternative to capitalism and communism.
Traditional democracy as practiced in Britain and America was a sham he said. It was actually a form of dictatorship. All a party needed was 51% of the vote and it could then impose its ideas on everyone for four or five years - just like clans in Libya did.
The alternative was a new kind of direct democracy in which the people governed themselves. There were no parties - instead Peoples' Committees elected People's Congresses that would manage things. Then there were Revolutionary Committees that made sure the Congresses and their administrators did things in a revolutionary way.
In reality it was a one-man show. Gaddafi made decisions about everything and played all the different committees and congresses off against each other to maintain his power.
But Gaddafi was terribly proud of it. He wrote it all down in what he called The Green Book which he then published in lots of languages because he believed it was a universal, global theory.
You can see just how much this idea pervaded Libyan society from these odd shots I found in some news rushes. They were filmed on a Libyan Ferry going from Malta to Tripoli in the early 1990s. Below decks there are permanent metal signs everywhere explaining the Third International Theory of direct democracy. Good music on the PA system as well.
Gaddafi wanted to tell the world about his vision. He began to invite the BBC to come to Libya and film long interviews so he could explain how important it was.
The trouble though was that every time the BBC interviewers turned up they weren't really that interested in his theory. Instead they wanted to ask him whether he is sending arms to the IRA, and whether he was really planning to torpedo the QE2.
That's what they are really interested in. Not the Third Revolutionary Theory.
Colonel Gaddafi starts off being grumpy about this. But then you can see his face change as he begins to realise what the submarine story is doing for him. That maybe he doesn't need friends - what he really needs are powerful enemies that will make him, and his Third International Theory, infamous, and thus famous.
There is also a fascinating moment in one when Gaddafi breaks into English and describes his time when he came to study in Britain as a young military student. He tells how he went to Beaconsfield and was bullied by British students there. You begin to feel sympathy with him - and then he blows it. They must have been Jews, he says.
CHAPTER TWO – LOONEY TUNES AND CAPED CRUSADERS
Then, in the early 1980s Gaddafi got what he wanted, a global infamy that would make him a powerful presence on the world stage. And he got it because he suddenly became useful to two groups at the heart of the power structure of the West who were facing the growing uncertainty of the time.
One was a new wave of right wing ideologues around President Reagan in America who wanted to find a way of regenerating the moral purpose of their country in the world.
The other was the secret services in both America and Britain. The spies were beginning to realise that the Soviet Union might no longer be a serious threat - and that might threaten their own existence.
What they needed was a new enemy. And the more terrifying, unpredictable and mad the better.
At the beginning of 1981 President Ronald Reagan promised to regenerate America's moral mission in the world - above all to confront the evil empire of the Soviet Union.
But in the back rooms of the CIA, analysts were beginning to question whether this was necessary. They said that all the data they were gathering showed that the Soviet Union was in a terrible state. Even the invasion of Afghanistan, they said, was defensive. There was no way that the Russians wanted to take over the world any longer - even if they ever had.
But the new head of the CIA, William Casey, and the new Secretary of State, General Alexander Haig didn't want to hear this. They were convinced that America had to have something to fight for.
And bit by bit, through the spring and summer of 1981 a new enemy started to emerge in the American newspapers. It was Colonel Gaddafi. State Department officials and other administration "sources" briefed journalists that Gaddafi was at the heart of "the new global disease of terrorism".
In August, American jets patrolling off the coast of Libya shot down two Libyan fighters over the Gulf of Sidra. Gaddafi was furious and began issuing all sorts of threats against America.
Then, in October, a famous journalist called Jack Anderson wrote a sensational article. It said that Colonel Gaddafi had sent a six-man hit team to the US to assassinate President Reagan. Sources in the administration, he said, had concrete evidence that they were led by the most famous terrorist in the world called Carlos "The Jackal".
Then Newsweek said that Gaddafi had equipped them with "bazookas, grenade launchers and even portable SAM-7 missiles capable of bringing down the President's plane". The State department even issued photo fits of the six assassins.
But it seems that it was all completely untrue. Made up by the Reagan administration.
Here are some extracts from a documentary made later in the 1980s in which the journalist Jack Anderson explains how he was fed the story, why he believed it - and how it turned out not to be true.
It also includes an interview with one of the administration men who fed the story to the press. He was part of a committee that had been specifically set up to turn Gaddafi into the mad dog of terror. But even he admits that it was based on very little evidence.
It's a fascinating piece because it is the earliest evidence of what would become known later inside the Reagan administration as "Perception Management". This was the idea that you could use the press and television to tell stories that simplified the world for the American people and turned it into a struggle of good against evil. A cartoon-like picture that justified America's policies in the world.
It didn't matter whether the stories were completely true or not because the overriding moral aim was good.
But Colonel Gaddafi didn't mind the lies at all - because they turned him instantly into a global figure of power and importance.
Gaddafi was a man who understood Perception Management as well, if not better, than the men around Reagan. And he now began to act the part to the hilt. His key ally in this was TV - and in particular the rise of 24 hour news. Underlying it was a shift away from considered packages and towards an exciting sense of immediacy.
Gaddafi was brilliant at it. Here are some of the best bits from the archives of that time. It starts with him appearing on a live satellite link to a mass meeting of The Nation of Islam in Chicago. Gaddafi offers to fund and arm a 100,000 strong black army in America so they can then go and shoot the whites who have oppressed them for so long.
And here is a bit from a film exposing how Colonel Gaddafi has invited German rocket scientists, some of whom had Nazi pasts, to come and build a rocket in Libya. Gaddafi appears in the film explaining that Libya wants to investigate outer space for peaceful purposes. But the film says it may be also so he can attack anywhere in Europe within minutes.
The German company was called OTRAG, and it had previously been building rockets in Zaire for President Mobutu. The BBC had reported on this the year before.
The film has a great graphic showing how the rockets could hit Israel and even Europe. It is remarkably like all the graphics produced about Saddam's rockets attacking Europe in the "dodgy dossier" in 2003
And through it all Gaddafi plays the coy innocent beautifully. He knows just what he is up to.
And here's a great rant attacking America
And then suddenly in the midst of being the world's most dangerous dictator, Gaddafi goes all soft and offers the hand of friendship. He invites the British national team to come and take part in the Libyan International Show Jumping Contest.
The BBC programme Nationwide made a film following the team and what happened. It is just a wonderful film. Not least because it includes a song Gaddafi commissioned - sung in English - to promote his Third Way theory. Plus lots of horses.
Here it is
Then Gaddafi went bad again. He arbitrarily arrested six British oil workers. Lots of people turned up to see him in his tent and plead for their release including a very odd Labour MP with a large plaster on his nose, and the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy Terry Waite. There is a good bit where the Archbishop of Canterbury shows off the copy of the Koran that Colonel Gaddafi has sent him.
And the fashion choice Gaddafi makes when he walks in to be interviewed by the BBC's Kate Adie is fantastic. As is his eye-rolling.
But then all this went horribly wrong when WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead in April 1984 by a "revolutionary student" inside the Libyan Peoples' Bureau in London.
Here are some bits of the avalanche of news coverage. Even in the face of the tragic killing Gaddafi plays the cartoon villain - claiming that really it was the British who shot her. But there is also a strange two-dimensionality to the presenters in the studios - and to some of the police involved, especially the detective inspector in charge that day outside the Bureau. His description of how he sees the Libyans as strange aliens sort of sums it up.
At this distance you can see how terrorism and the beginning of rolling news coverage in the 1980s were somehow starting to work together to create a strange construction of an unpredictable but yet simplified world. Figures like Gaddafi, and later Saddam Hussein, along with presenters in TV studios holding up AK 47s, and "opposition" figures shot in shadow all combined with each other to create a weird pantomime version of the world outside.
This all culminated in 1986 when the Americans bombed Libya, claiming that Gaddafi had been the mastermind behind a wave of terrorist attacks at European airports and the bombing of a discotheque in Berlin.
Reagan explained that Gaddafi was one of the central figures of global terrorism. Along with Iran and North Korea he was part of a set of:
"outlaw states run by the strangest collection of misfits, looney tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich."
And yet again Gaddafi played up beautifully. Here is a fantastic hand held video of him in his bombed-out house the next morning. He calls Thatcher a "harlot" and says that the Americans are trying to stop him spreading his Third Way theory to the young of the world.
And he says that the Americans killed his adopted daughter in the raid - which later turned out not to be true.
But yet again most of the American allegations turned out not to be true.
A year later the BBC journalist Tom Bower made a film that examined the claims in detail. It makes a very powerful case that Gaddafi had nothing to do with the airport attacks. It also looks at the facts behind the Berlin discotheque bombing and questions how much Libya was really behind that as well.
The film interviews men from European intelligence agencies, from Israeli intelligence and even the ex-prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin. All of them say that the Americans had taken Colonel Gaddafi's mad rantings after 1981 and assembled the fragments of rants and quotes into a dossier that they said was "evidence" of him being a terrorist mastermind.
The hard evidence, they all insist, is that Syria was behind the attacks. They say that Libya had been chosen as a "soft target". It was too dangerous to confront the real culprit - Assad and the terrorist groups he directed - because of the dangers of destabilising the region. Instead you went for Gaddafi - a man without friends or allies. Even the Russians didn't care about him.
CHAPTER THREE – OUR NEW BEST ENEMY
Colonel Gaddafi had willingly helped the west turn him into a pantomime villain. That invented character was then very attractive to those in power in the west because it helped in turn make their simplified, and often fictional, version of the world seem real.
And it wasn't just politicians and spies who got involved in this strange two-way collaboration. Increasingly journalists also found themselves seduced by the special power that Gaddafi had - he could help you transform the world into an entertaining story of global super-villains and a battle against dark forces - and he made it feel real.
But just as had happened with the politicians and spies this would lead some newspapers, and their grand traditions of investigation and truth-telling, to lose touch with reality and create a semi-fictional world.
It began with Arthur Scargill, the leader of the National Union of Mine Workers.
Back in 1984, at the height of the miners' strike, the Sunday Times published a "sensational expose". It said that the Chief Executive Officer of the NUM had gone to Libya, met with Colonel Gaddafi, and that Gaddafi had secretly given money to help the British miners.
The Sunday Times said that the NUM man - Roger Windsor - had travelled there with "the European representative of a Libyan-backed terrorist group" and a high-up man in Libyan intelligence. The terrorist representative apparently also ran a grocers shop in Doncaster.
Here is the TV report that night - including footage of the NUM man meeting Colonel Gaddafi that had been released by the Libyans.
A few months later the strike collapsed, and the story was forgotten. But five years later in 1990 the Daily Mirror and ITV's "Cook Report" programme brought it back to life in a sensational way.
They alleged that Scargill had used Colonel Gaddafi's money corruptly to pay off the mortgage on his house while his members starved. This effectively destroyed Scargill - because although many people thought him vain, pompous and scheming - no one had thought that he was corrupt.
It was full of breathless detail, of the money being smuggled through Heathrow in suitcases, being hidden in biscuit tins and then counted out and distributed in Arthur Scargill's office.
Here is a taste of the avalanche of reaction. Including the Mirror's new proprietor Robert Maxwell challenging Scargill to sue. I have also included an extraordinary shot from some news rushes of a camera constantly pursuing Scargill - up stairs, through corridors, into a ballroom and then through a car park. In its odd way it gives a very good sense of the mood, and of what Scargill was like as a person.
And, as he is followed, notice that Scargill stops to buy a left-wing newspaper called News Line. It is the paper of the Workers Revolutionary Party which had got funding from Colonel Gaddafi.
But it seems that all the allegations of corruption were completely untrue.
It was true that Mr Windsor went to Libya and met Colonel Gaddafi. There was some money that was lodged in a bank account in Doncaster - but none of it seems to have ever got to the NUM or Arthur Scargill.
But more than that - many journalists and MPs who have looked into the whole episode are convinced that Arthur Scargill and the NUM were somehow set up, possibly by MI5. That the trip by Mr Windsor to Libya and the money he said received was stage-managed or manipulated in some way by the British intelligence services to smear Scargill.
On the other hand none of them have produced solid evidence. Some have alleged that Mr Windsor was really working for MI5, which he firmly denies. Others have asked whether the so called terrorist from Doncaster was a plant. He too firmly denies any such thing.
Then - in 2002 - the Mirror editor who had published the original expose, Roy Greenslade, wrote an article saying that he now believed that everything they wrote was false, and that the Daily Mirror with its great tradition of investigative journalism had been duped. It is a very powerful and courageous piece and it ends like this:
"I am now convinced that Scargill did not misuse strike funds and that the union didn't get money from Libya. I also concede that, given the supposed wealth of Maxwell's Mirror and the state of NUM finances, it was understandable that Scargill didn't sue.
Nothing I have said should be taken as criticism of the Mirror journalists: we were all taken in. I can't undo what has been done, but I am pleased to offer the sincerest of apologies to Heathfield and to Scargill, who is on the verge of retirement. I regret ever publishing that story. And that is the honest truth."
You can find the whole article here. It is really good.
In the article Greenslade speculates whether the Daily Mirror had been duped as part of an MI5 plot to discredit Scargill. But he says it remains a strange mystery.
His article though is fascinating because of the wider picture it gives of what was beginning to happen to investigative journalism as it got involved in this cartoon-like world of "internal subversion" and "international terrorists" and mad dictators. It didn't seem to be so much about just revealing the truth any more - rather it was helping create a sense of dark shadowy plots and impenetrable mysteries surrounding modern life.
And it was going to get a lot weirder - and yet again Colonel Gaddafi was going to be at the heart of it
On December the 21st 1988 a Pan Am flight from London to New York was blown up - and the debris came down on the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. It was one of the first of the modern terror panics - and what made it feel more intense and frightening was the avalanche of reporting in the new 24-hours news cycle.
In the face of this, investigative journalism was going to go beyond the fog of immediacy and cut through and tell the truth - what really happened.
And it did - or so it seemed. Within months of the attack the famous Sunday Times "Insight" team had a series of scoops that revealed that the bombing on the Pan Am plane was a revenge attack by Iran for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship in the Gulf in 1988. The articles laid it all out in enormous detail - how the Iranians had paid a Palestinian terrorist group based in Syria to plant the bomb in a Toshiba cassette player. And that this had been done with the help of the Syrian authorities.
The terrorists were named and "intelligence sources" were quoted with absolute certainty saying that they knew this is what had happened. There was no mention at all of Libya.
But then suddenly in December 1990 there was there was a complete switch.
"Intelligence sources" in America began to tell journalists that they had found evidence that showed that it was Libya who had masterminded the bombing.
Then in June 1991 the British and American governments formally announced that Libya had been behind the bombing. Here is the first TV report, it includes a conservative MP called Teddy Taylor who had been to see Colonel Gaddafi. He raises the question that was going to lie at the heart of this puzzle.
Isn't it a bit odd, he says, that at the very moment in 1990 when Syria became America's ally in the first Gulf War, that America suddenly stopped accusing it of Lockerbie? And at the very same moment America and Britain suddenly find evidence proving it was Libya.
Suddenly the media was deluged with reports that said that the Lockerbie bombing had been carried out by Libya.
And many of the investigative journalists who had previously said that it was definitely Iran also changed their tune as well. Even the journalists who had written the Sunday Times articles saying there was concrete proof it was Iran and Syria now said it was the mad dog of terrorism - Colonel Gaddafi. And what's more their "intelligence sources" were absolutely sure too.
But a few old-school investigative journalists held out against this sudden swerve. The main one was Paul Foot from Private Eye. He wrote a devastating pamphlet that tears part the whole American and British case against Libya.
Foot showed that much of it rested on the evidence of one extremely dubious witness called Mr Giaka who claimed to be high up in Libyan intelligence. In fact he was a mechanic in a garage who serviced the vehicles for Libyan intelligence - and he had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Americans.
Even his CIA handlers were very suspicious of him - and after two years of getting nothing from Mr Giaka they told him they would stop paying him unless he came up with some incriminating evidence for the US Department of Justice. The next day Giaka did just that - describing a samsonite suitcase that was loaded onto a plane in Malta by Libyan intelligence. Something he had forgotten to mention for two years.
"When I met with the representatives of the Department of Justice, they are very good investigators, and they can distinguish truth from lies. One way or another, they can obtain what they want."
The other key piece of evidence was a tiny fragment of what the Americans said was a kind of timing device that had been sold only to Libya. It too was only discovered to be important 18 months after the bombing - but yet again Foot shows how dubious the claims were that the Americans made about this tiny fragment.
Foot's pamphlet is a powerful piece of journalism that makes a strong argument that the case against Libya is at best massively flawed and more probably a work of fiction.
But it also shows what was happening to journalism - because Foot argues that the tradition of investigative journalism that the Sunday Times Insight team represented had fundamentally changed. And the reporting of Lockerbie and Gaddafi showed this.
When Rupert Murdoch had bought the Sunday Times in 1983 he had appointed a new editor who disapproved of the Insight column and its traditions. Foot says:
"One casualty was the tradition of independent journalistic investigation. This was replaced in the main by material which posed as "investigative" but which in fact recycled information from safe sources, safest of which were the police and the security and intelligence services."
That reliance on sources in the police would come to have disastrous consequences for News International - as we have recently seen.
But the key point back then in the early 90s is that that growing reliance upon sources in the secret intelligence world happened at the very moment when those sources were themselves becoming hopelessly lost. The Cold War was over and all the old certainties were disappearing and the spooks were floundering around, not really knowing what was going on any more.
This made both the intelligence services and their political masters increasingly prey to those right-wing ideologues who had first emerged around President Reagan and who seemed to believe that you could base policy "on not very hard evidence" in order to manage the world.
And some journalists, desperate for crumbs from the powerful went on blithely publishing what they were told by their sources, no matter how illogical, contradictory or phoney it was.
And everyone moved further into a two dimensional world.
But Colonel Gaddafi did still have some friends in Britain. Yet again another group who were feeling power and influence slipping away from them turned to him for help. This time it was the National Front.
By the late 80s the extreme right in Britain were falling apart. To try and save themselves a new younger generation in the National Front decided that racist xenophobia was not enough and that what was needed was a positive, inspiring model for how to organise society as an alternative to the two-party parliamentary system.
And the model for that, they decided, was Colonel Gaddafi's Green Book and its Third Revolutionary theory.
A National Front delegation went to Libya. They asked for money to fund their new project - but all they got were bulk copies of The Green Book. Undaunted they decided to try and set up a model for this new politics in the London suburb of Isleworth.
Here is a lovely bit from a documentary made about what happened to the NF in the 1980s and 1990s. There is a great grabbed interview with the architect of the scheme - Phil Andrews. He admires Gaddafi because he criticises "traditional corrupt politics".
Phil sets out to create a Gaddafi -style popular democracy in Isleworth. To help in this he donates a copy of The Green Book to the local library.
We went to Isleworth Library to see if anyone had borrowed the Green Book since the film was made. But we found that Gaddafi's book is no longer there. Robert Deighton who works in the library said that it had now become "a hub". To do this they had got rid of all the books that no-one borrowed, so it looks like no-one in Isleworth ever read about Gaddafi's Third Way. And now they never will.
Here is a picture of Robert in his "hub".
By the mid 1990s Colonel Gaddafi was all alone again. The sanctions over Lockerbie isolated his country from the rest of the world and his economy began to fall apart. With it also went his vision of the Third Way.
When he held a lavish parade for the 25th anniversary of the Libyan revolution practically no-one came from other countries. But John Simpson from the BBC turned up and did a very good report.
It's good because he cuts through the fog - and says clearly that Gaddafi is really a showman, he is not a serious threat. And that for the past ten to fifteen years Gaddafi has been used as the easy alternative to confronting the serious threats in the Middle East.
Here is his report.
CHAPTER FOUR - WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION
But the fake vision of Gaddafi had by now gone very deep in the western imagination. He was at the centre of an interconnecting web of ludicrous, largely fictional stories. And what was now going to happen was that those stories would begin to a coalesce with other simplified and exaggerated stories about other super-villains around the world. Out of that odd stew would come a grand unified theory that would be one of the central beliefs of our age.
MI6 called it "Global Risks" and it was a vision that we now lived in a terrifying world of mad dictators at the head of rogue states who were teaming up with international terrorists, drug barons and ruthless adventurers offering to sell things like smuggled nuclear weapons to the highest bidder.
The world, this theory said, now had to be seen as one interconnected system that transcended nations and their petty preoccupations. And western elites had a duty to defend the system against this new array of "Global Threats". In short they should become world policemen.
MI6 loved this theory because it gave them something new to do. And the obvious place to start was by getting rid of Colonel Gaddafi.
In 1998 a whistleblower from inside the British intelligence services called David Shayler claimed that in 1996 MI6 had paid an Islamist Jihadi group in Libya to kill Colonel Gaddafi. If true it was not very good for MI6 because it meant that agents of the British government were engaging in a programme of assassinating foreign heads of state.
The Islamist group were called The Libyan Islamist Fighting Group. But, Shayler said, they had bungled the operation and detonated a bomb under the wrong car, killing six innocent people.
Both MI6 and the Labour Government denied it. But Shayler agreed to appear on a special Panorama programme that examined his allegations. The presenter - Mark Urban - concludes that Shayler's claims might be true.
Although Shayler's story about the strange things that were going on inside MI6 might be true, Shayler then rather undermined his credibility by some of his subsequent behaviour. He decided to believe some of the conspiracy theories about Sept 11th - and then started dressing as a woman, giving himself the name Dolores Kane and declaring that the world was going to end in 2012.
But it also made no difference because by now everyone was believing in this vision of a world of hidden threats. And the biggest threat of all were WMDS.
Journalists also tried to turn themselves into World Detectives, trying to expose these new terrifying threats - the Weapons of Mass Destruction that the crazy but infernally cunning dictators were hiding. Their sources in the intelligence agencies told them the WMDs were there. Somewhere.
Here are some sections from a documentary made in 1998 about a search for Colonel Gaddafi's WMDs that both illustrates this perfectly - and then at the end shows the empty fatuity of this quest.
It is made by the journalist John Sweeney. He gets into Libya to make a film about Gaddafi's giant water project, but he has an additional aim which is to see if the Libyan's are hiding WMDs in the giant underground reservoirs
There are fantastic, beautiful shots of this extraordinary project as Sweeney tramps around looking for the hidden threats. He finds nothing yet keeps talking about how the CIA say there is the biggest chemical weapons plant in the world hidden somewhere.
But Sweeney is a very good and honest journalist - he has an ability that is very rare in TV reporting to emotionally judge the truth of a situation - and towards the end he confronts his minder about the WMDs. He does it on audio, but to do this he has to keep the video camera running.
What results is not only a piece of avant-garde film making. But the minder is also very sharp. In just a few sentences off-camera he makes you reflect on how ridiculous and paranoid this western mindset has become. And Sweeney gives him the space to do it.
But Colonel Gaddafi was by now in deep trouble, and he was desperate to get rid of the UN sanctions.
In 1999 - pushed by Nelson Mandela who Gaddafi trusted - he agreed that the two men named by America and Britain as suspects could be put on trial in a special Scottish court in the Netherlands. Gaddafi believed that the lack of any substantial evidence would set them free.
But it didn't. One was acquitted, but Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in a Scottish prison. Gaddafi protested as did lots of Libyans. But is important to realise so did lots of people in Britain. The Professor of Law at Edinburgh University, Robert Black has said bluntly that:
is the most disgraceful miscarriage of justice in Scotland for
And Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died on the plane, doesn't believe that the court got anywhere near the truth about Lockerbie. When the verdict was read out in court Swire fainted.
It would seem that possibly Colonel Gaddafi's distrust of Britain and America might not have been just another of his fantasies.
But even then the Americans refused to lift the sanctions until Libya admitted their guilt. And in 2003 Gaddafi agreed to do that. Or so it appeared.
Gaddafi had decided - as had happened throughout this story - that the only way to get what he wanted was to pretend.
Here are some sections from the rushes of an interview with Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam. Again and again Saif insists that Libya's admission of guilt was a simply a necessary pretence. A lie that was "the only way to exit from the nightmare of the sanctions". They were being forced "to play by the rules of a game invented by Britain and America".
The interviewer is the BBC producer Guy Smith. He is brilliant at insistently pushing Saif about the terrible cynicism and hypocrisy that underlies such a decision. But Saif is also rather impressive in the way he responds. Not only was there no alternative, he says, but everyone involved - even the families of the victims - have become corrupted by the situation. The families are greedy, he says, constantly asking for more money.
If Saif is right - then the picture he gives is a very dark one, where the lies and exaggerations that started back in 1981 have stretched out to corrupt everyone involved.
But then he might be lying.
It is a really good interview.
But Gaddafi understood this fake world better than anyone else - and he was about to play with it, twisting the deceptions even further. His aim was to find a way of getting back to the centre of the world stage, and finally be accepted by those in power in Britain and America.
He was going to do it by doing what he had always done. He would pretend to be more terrifying and dangerous than he really was.
The key, Gaddafi knew, were weapons of mass destruction. America and Britain had invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003 - and they had justified this by claiming that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. But it turned out that he didn't and it was a disaster, especially for Tony Blair.
So Gaddafi decided to help Blair. He admitted that Libya had indeed been hiding chemical weapons and nuclear research facilities, and he offered to give them up.
For Tony Blair this was a godsend because it allowed him to say that the Iraq invasion was having the desired effect of persuading other "rogue states" to transform themselves. And the BBC allowed Blair to break live into the 10 pm news to announce that Colonel Gaddafi had made an historic decision.
The only thing that no-one mentioned was that Gaddafi didn't really have any dangerous weapons of mass destruction.
He had tried to develop nuclear research in Libya, and had bought lots of centrifuges and other equipment. But it had never got off the ground. The CIA would later be quoted as saying that it was way beyond the ability of Gaddafi's scientists even to assemble the equipment.
And one of the leading WMD experts - Jonathan Tucker from the Monterey Institute -said that the chemical weapons were "quite limited". Libya had made mustard gas but it remained in leaking barrels and hadn't been turned into weapon form. As for the more powerful nerve agents Tucker said Libya had tried to make them but turned out not to have the capabilites or the know-how.
Here are some bit of Tucker's 2009 report - The Rollback of Libya's Chemical Weapons Programme:
"The nuclear program was embryonic….while the biological weapons program was little more than a plan that had made minimal progress.
The Libyan Chemical Weapons program…had involved fewer than a dozen chemists and chemical engineers.
The size of the Libyan Chemical Weapons stockpile turned out to be far smaller than the 100 metric tons that the US intelligence community had estimated. Although the Chemical Weapons research program was still active, the production line had been shut down for more than a decade.
The large-scale production of nerve agents was beyond Libya's technological reach."
As the presenters wait for Blair to appear, Andrew Marr sums up what is happening brilliantly. The story that is central to Blair's "world picture" he says is that the modern global threat is "rogue states" coming together with "WMDs". And Gaddafi has just made that story real.
Although of course Gaddafi was - as usual - happily exaggerating how dangerous he was.
There then followed a tidal wave of creepiness with ministers and commentators lining up to say how "courageous and statesmanlike" Gaddafi had been, and how he had "taken a step towards world peace". Culminating in Blair going to visit Gaddafi in his tent.
Blair, along with many commentators, also predicted that this would result in a new openness in Libyan society. Here is Blair's visit, but I have added an interview from 2009 with an internal dissident in Libya to show that even five years later Libya had not changed.
And in return for this, many western institutions and eminent individuals now happily set out to create a new, alternative, and equally fictional image of Libya. It was no longer the dark realm of international terrorism. It was a "reforming" country joining the modern world. Led by an inspired "modern thinker" - Colonel Gaddafi.
Behind a lot of this was an American PR company called The Monitor Group. They were paid $3 million to conduct a cleansing campaign for Libya's image. The aim, according to an internal memo was to:
"enhance international understanding and appreciation of Libya and the contribution it has made and may continue to make to its region and to the world."
They did this by getting eminent liberal intellectuals and leading academics to come out to Libya and have economic forums where they all agreed that the country could develop into a "unique form of popular capitalism".
One of these intellectuals was the famous prophet of The Third Way who had inspired Tony Blair - Professor Anthony Giddens from the LSE. Giddens was flown out and met Colonel Gaddafi. He wrote proudly of how he discovered that his version of the Third Way was similar to Gaddafi's Third International Theory:
"You usually get about half an hour with a political leader. My conversation lasts for more than three. Gaddafi is relaxed and clearly enjoys intellectual conversation. He likes the term "third way" because his own political philosophy is a version of this idea. He makes many intelligent and perceptive points. I leave enlivened and encouraged."
Giddens was so encouraged that he went out again and took part in a panel of intellectuals chaired by Sir David Frost - and everyone talked about how "authentic" Colonel Gaddafi's conversion was.
Here they are sitting round a modern table - while Colonel Gaddafi reminds himself of his theories.
With this new image Gaddafi then set off to tour the world as a new leader-cum- philosopher. And everywhere he went the westerners who had once laughed at him and tried to kill him now bowed down before him.
Here are the reports of him visiting the European Commission who were so kind as to have recreated and exact model of the Colonel's tent for him to stay in. Then Gaddafi was invited to the UN. By this time the "conversion" seems to be slipping a bit because he goes and makes a speech where he tears up the UN charter and tells them that swine-flu is man made.
Here are the reports of the visits.
The Gaddafi family now become international D-list celebrities.
His son Saadi went to play professionally for Perugia FC in Italy. It was rumoured that the Libyans had paid Perugia to take Saadi on.
Another son - Hannibal - travelled the European party circuit staying in swank hotels. In 2008 he was arrested in Switzerland for allegedly assaulting two of his servants. Although the charges were dropped two days later, the Libyans threatened to stop trade with Switzerland, cancelled air flights, and Hannibal's father withdrew £3.2 billion from his Swiss account. It has been reported that the Swiss then apologised and paid Hannibal compensation.
His extremely glamorous daughter Ayesha was a lawyer. But the "conversion" didn't seem to work very well in her case. She went to Iraq to be one of the defence team in Saddam Hussein's trial.
Here is the fantastic sofa Ayesha relaxed on at her Libyan villa. The photo was taken after the revolution.
But the most sought after was Gaddafi's second son, Saif al Islam, because he was rumoured to be his father's successor.
He too wanted to become a "modern thinker' like his father, so he applied to the London School of Economics. One of the Professors discovered that he was helped in his application by British Aerospace.
Some of his teachers were a bit baffled by their new student. One professor later said - "I could never get clear exactly what he was arguing." But another LSE professor had no such doubts. He was called David Held, and he was a great enthusiast for the idea of "globalisation". And Saif's thesis was very much on message - it was called:
"THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF GLOBAL GOVERNANCE INSTITUTIONS: FROM 'SOFT POWER' TO COLLECTIVE DECISION MAKING"
When someone at the LSE explained Giddens' Third Way theory to Saif, apparently his immediate reaction was "my father invented that thirty years ago."
There was only one problem with Saif's thesis though. It appeared that he might not have written all of it himself. An investigation carried out after the Libyan revolution discovered that Saif had quite a lot of help from the Research Department of the Monitor Group. The same PR company that was flying all the global intellectuals out to meet Saif's father.
Saif probably needed this help because he was busy in other areas. At the same time he was becoming an international artist. He had a travelling exhibition of his own paintings. It was called "The Desert Is Not Silent".
Here are some of the paintings.
At the end of 2008 Saif was awarded his PhD. A few weeks later Professor David Held suggested to him that he might help fund the LSE's Centre For Global Governance. Held says that there was no connection between the two.
Saif said that he would give the Centre £1.5 million, and it would come, he said from his own Foundation in Libya.
What then happened was laid out last year in the investigation written by Lord Woolf. It is a brilliant piece of journalism - and it is a savage expose of what really went at the heart of one of the most eminent academic institutions in the world. The report is really worth reading and it is beautifully written.
A group in the LSE led by David Held were happy to accept the money. But then a Professor called Fred Halliday who had spent his life studying the Middle East rather than worrying about Global Governance pointed something very awkward out. He said that the money that was being offered was dirty money. It was actually bribes paid by western companies in order to secure contracts in Libya.
The LSE investigated and found out that this was probably true - and what were called "due diligence" documents laid this out. But then a strange thing happened. At an LSE council meeting these documents were not presented. Instead David Held described how he had monitored the blogosphere for reactions to the proposal and that there had been no negative comment about the relationship.
Lord Woolf is scathing in a very English way about this:
"I am unable to establish why the due diligence documents did not reach Council. It would have been much more valuable for the Council to have had documents relating to the source of the money rather than media clippings showing perceptions of the LSE's engagement with Libya."
It would seem that the practice of "Perception Management" might now have reached the mild liberal academics.
The loan was agreed, David Held joined the board of Saif's Foundation - and then Saif was asked to give a lecture in the big auditorium at the heart of the LSE.
Here is David Held introducing Saif al Islam Gaddafi's speech. Saif still tries to defend his father's idea that Libya is a better form of democracy than the democracies of the west. He points out how the increasingly low turnout of voters in America has allowed politics to be co-opted by special interests. But then he can't help collapsing into laughter when he says that this means that Libya is a truer form of democracy.
And even Colonel Gaddafi's oldest enemies now became his new best friends.
Twenty years before officers in MI6 had allegedly tried to assassinate Gaddafi by paying a group of Islamist rebels called The Libyan Islamist Fighting Group.
Now MI6 wanted to do everything they could to please their new best friend, Colonel Gaddafi. So when Libyan intelligence asked MI6 help them capture one of the leaders of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group it seems that they were only too happy to oblige.
One of the leaders of the Fighting Group, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, has alleged that in 2004 Libyan Intelligence asked MI6 to help kidnap him. MI6 and the CIA then traced him and his wife to Thailand where the CIA kidnapped both of them and he was tortured. They were then flown to a Libyan jail and mistreated he says.
Belhaj says that in doing this the British Intelligence agencies effectively were colluding in kidnapping and torture. The evidence of their involvement in his case is strongly backed up by a series of secret memos found by Human Rights Watch in Libyan Intelligence after the revolution.
Here is a very good news report by Peter Taylor about what Belhaj alleges - and how the secret documents back him up.
The British elites now got everywhere in Libya. Here is an odd moment from a documentary made by Simon Reeve that uncovers a telling detail.
When he gets to the city of Sabha Reeve goes to visit the hut that Colonel Gaddafi lived in when he was a schoolboy. It is now preserved in the middle of a roundabout. Reeve leafs through the visitors book and finds an effusive entry from a British General called Robin Searby.
General Searby was Tony Blair's Defence Co-ordinator for Libya. Documents later revealed that General Searby had helped negotiate a deal that would lead to the SAS training Libyan soldiers in "counter-terrorism".
Searby defended the programme by saying that the Libyans were woefully behind in counter-terrorism tactics:
"It was better to have them inside the tent rather than outside"
He added though that the programme had to be abandoned - because "the Libyans were not up to it".
CHAPTER FIVE - DOWN THE DRAIN
But this dream world of global acceptance wasn't going to last. Gaddafi had managed to redeem himself by manipulating a simplified vision of the world that was divided into goodies and baddies in such a way that he became a goodie. But that simple universe had a remorseless logic to it - and Gaddafi was about to be brought down and destroyed by that logic.
Western elites by now saw much of the world through that goodies and baddies prism, so when the Arab Spring began in 2011 it was simply understood as the uprising of the good people against the bad rulers. Two months later the Libyan people rose up against Gaddafi, and that mindset automatically saw the Libyan people as Goodies.
Which meant that Colonel Gaddafi must be a baddie. So everyone switched sides yet again, just like that. And the last dance began.
Here is a short film about that last dance - along with some of Colonel Gaddafi's friends.
The question at the heart of this whole story is - Who was the ventriloquist? And who was the dummy?
Maybe we were the dummy? By allowing perception management with its simplifications, falsehoods and exaggerations to create a simplified vision of the world - we fell into a fake universe of certainty when really we were just watching a pantomime.
And now as the Arab Spring unfolds and reveals the true chaos and messiness of the real world – above all the horror of what is happening in Syria - we find ourselves completely unable to understand it or even know what to do. So those stories get ignored while we follow others with clearer and more simplified dramas which have what seem to be obvious goodies and baddies - thank god for Iran, North Korea and Jimmy Savile.
Adam Curtis is a documentary film maker, whose work includes The Power of Nightmares, The Century of the Self, The Mayfair Set, Pandora's Box, The Trap and The Living Dead. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/
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