Robert Fisk: America's desire to be loved and feared has long misled CIA

The mystery is how a Jordanian 'mole' could be of use in Afghanistan

Share
Related Topics

In the vast American embassy in the hills outside the Jordanian capital Amman a senior US Special Forces officer runs an equally special office. He buys information from Jordanian army and intelligence officers – for cash, of course – but he also helps to train Afghan and Iraqi policemen and soldiers. The information he seeks is not just about al-Qa'ida but about Jordanians themselves, about the army's loyalty to King Abdullah II as well as about the anti-American insurgents who live in Jordan, primarily Iraqi but also Iraqi al-Qa'ida contacts with Afghanistan.

It's easy to buy army officers in the Middle East. The Americans spent much of 2001 and 2002 buying up the warlords of Afghanistan. They paid for Jordanian troops to join their own occupation army in Iraq – which was why the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad was ruthlessly bombed by Washington's enemies.

What the CIA's double agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi did – like so many al-Qa'ida followers, he was a doctor – was routine. He worked for both sides, because America's enemies long ago infiltrated Washington's "allies" in the Arab intelligence forces. Even Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who effectively led the al-Qa'ida side of the insurgency in Iraq and was himself a Jordanian citizen, maintained contacts within Amman's General Intelligence Department, whose own senior officer, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was killed along with seven Americans this week in the CIA's greatest disaster since the Beirut US embassy bombing of 1983.

There is, however, nothing romantic about espionage in the Middle East. Several of the CIA men killed in Afghanistan were in fact hired mercenaries while the Jordanian "mukhabbarat" spooks, for whom both bin Zeid and al-Balawi worked, use torture routinely on Jordan's supposed enemies; indeed, they tortured men who were equally routinely "renditioned" to Amman by the CIA under the Bush administration.

The mystery, however, is not so much the existence of double agents within the US security apparatus in the Middle East, but just how a Jordanian "mole" could be of use in Afghanistan. Few Arabs speak Pushtun or Dari or Urdu, although a larger percentage of Afghans would speak Arabic. What it does suggest, however, is that there have been much closer links between the anti-American Iraqi insurgents based in Amman and their opposite numbers in Afghanistan.

Hitherto regarded as a purely inspirational transfer of operations, it is now clear that – despite the vast landmass of Iran between the two states – Iraqi and Afghan/al-Qa'ida operatives have been collaborating. In other words, just as the CIA blithely assumed that it could make friends with and trust the local intelligence men in the Muslim world, so the insurgent groups could do the same. The presence of an anti-American Jordanian spy in Afghanistan – one who would sacrifice his life so far from home – proves how close are the links between America's enemies in Amman and in eastern Afghanistan. It would not be going too far to suggest that anti-American Jordanians have connections that reach as far as Islamabad.

If this seems far-fetched, we should remember that just as the CIA first supported Arab fighters against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, it was Saudi money which paid them. In the early Eighties, Saudi Arabia's own intelligence commander held regular meetings with Osama bin Laden in the Saudi embassy in Islamabad and with the Pakistani secret service, which gave logistical help to the "mujahedin" and then to the Taliban – as it still does today. If the Americans believe that the Saudis are not sending money to their enemies in Afghanistan – or to their equally fundamentalist enemies in Iraq and Jordan – then the CIA hasn't much idea of what is going on in the Middle East.

But this, unfortunately, is probably the case. The American desire to be loved as well as feared has long misled their intelligence services into trusting those who are ostensibly their friends, while bestialising those who are their supposed enemies. This is exactly what happened in Lebanon before a Shia Muslim suicide bomber blew up the US embassy in Beirut in 1983, when almost the entire staff of the CIA's operations in the Middle East were meeting inside. Most were killed. The entrance to the CIA's offices in their seafront embassy was closely guarded. But their local operatives in Lebanon included men and women working for both the Israelis and the early version of the Hizbollah. US embassy intelligence staffers dated Lebanese women who had no security clearance.

But the Jordanian-American axis was different. Here, the CIA were operating in an almost totally Sunni Muslim environment, among Jordanians who, while accepting CIA money, had many reasons to oppose Washington's policies, and the Jordanian King's. A large minority of the Jordanian "muhabarrat" are originally Palestinians and believe that America's uncritical, fawning support for Israel has destroyed their "nation" of Palestine and is crushing their people. The CIA's desire to trust its "local hires" is not unlike the British faith in their Indian sepoys on the eve of the Indian Mutiny. "Their" local regiments would never oppose the Raj; "their" Indian officers would remain loyal. But they did not.

Balawi's Jordanian victim, bin Zeid, was given a "martyr's" funeral in the presence of his cousin King Abdullah himself. Let's see who turns up to the burial of his murderer – if there is anything left to bury.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Supply Teachers Required

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of Pay, Excellent CPD : Randstad Educati...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Upper KS2 Primary Teacher in Bradford

£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Upper KS2 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor