Kim Sengupta: Yard may shed light on Blair's role in Libya


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The Independent Online

In the same letter in which security chief Sir Mark Allen was recording MI6's contribution to the rendition of Abdul Hakim Belhaj and thanking his friend Moussa Koussa, the head of Libyan intelligence, for the "delicious dates and oranges", he also had to arrange a highly important diplomatic fixture: Tony Blair's first meeting with Muammar Gaddafi in the glare of the media. "No 10 are keen that the Prime Minister meet the Leader in the tent," wrote Sir Mark. "The plain fact is the journalists would love it."

Those of us journalists who saw the documents in Tripoli after the rebels had swept in were struck by the extent to which the British government was pressing its intelligence service to play a key role in the rapprochement with Gaddafi's regime. Much of the handling of Blair's 2004 "deal in the desert" was delegated by Downing Street to the men from Vauxhall Cross.

And Blair had to thank the SIS and Allen for one of his triumphs of foreign policy which stood in stark contrast to the disaster of Iraq: the negotiations which led to Gaddafi giving up his WMD programme and, crucially, the secret nuclear supermarket for rogue states run by the Pakistani scientist AQ Khan. Such was the MI6 influence that an MI6 official wrote Gaddafi's speech renouncing chemical and biological weapons.

The Libyans were proving invaluable in providing information about a common enemy – Islamist terrorism – which the British government was happy to pass on to the Americans for approbation.

Having taken the plaudits, Blair and Straw were very keen to deny knowledge of MI6's activities when, post-Gaddafi, the documents began to surface. It will be interesting to see what Scotland Yard uncovers about who knew what was going on. It is risible to suggest that MI6 ran an autonomous policy in Libya unknown to the PM and Foreign Secretary. What colleagues recall about Allen and politicisation in the SIS was his absolute refusal to get involved in the production of the "dodgy dossier" on Iraq. The activities of the Blair government in that illegal war are now well known. The Yard inquiry may well shed further daylight on its role in Gaddafi's Libya.