The fuss over Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's attempt to put up a Bedouin tent in New Jersey grabbed media attention when he attended the UN General Assembly opening in the second half of August, 2009.
He never got the tent up but, a month later, the Obama administration transferred to Tripoli $2.5 million in State Department Economic Support Funds, of which $400,000 was earmarked for foundations run by the Qaddafi family.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding the appropriation's cancellation. Her letter followed a request to the White House from Congressman Mark Steven Kirk (a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee) urging the president to intervene against the transfer.
Only a few White House and intelligence officials were in on the secret that the money was no part of any assistance program for Libya or the Qaddafi clan but the down-payment for a new intelligence-sharing contract for combating al Qaeda concluded between Washington and Tripoli.
The initiative came from the Libyan ruler.
Just as Qaddafi volunteered to dismantle his active WMD program after America's March 2003 invasion of Iraq and pass to Washington secrets of the nuclear black market racket run by the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb Dr. Ali Qader Khan, so too he decided to forge an intelligence partnership with the US to fight al Qaeda's inroads in the Arab world.
The deal was struck at a secret meeting the Libyan ruler held last September with US National Security Adviser James Jones and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. It covers a vast sweep of terrain on which al Qaeda now maintains active cells, from North Africa across the Sahara and Sahel deserts spanning Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.
Qaddafi gets his wish to fight al-Qaeda alongside US
Qaddafi long harbored a wish to work with Washington in the war on al Qaeda. In 1999, two years before the September 11, 2001 attacks, he came forward with an offer of cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda coupled with his consent to open up Libya's weapons programs to international inspection.The Clinton administration did not pursue the offer. Later, Qaddafi followed up with the first and most forthright denunciation of 9/11 heard from any Muslim leader. He also spoke out frankly in an interview to the ABC's George Stephanopoulos, breaking all the conventions of the day.In the fall of last year, the Libyan ruler's wish finally came true. The Obama administration, little imagining the al Qaeda Nigerian operative Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab would try and blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day, was willing to accept Qaddafi as an active ally in the war on al Qaeda.DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terrorism sources reveal that the Libyan ruler came to his appointment with Jones and Blair with his fourth son, Moatassem-Billah Qaddafi, who officiates as his father's National Security Adviser. He is thought to be Muammar's chosen heir rather than his firstborn Saif al-Islam.The third member of the Libyan party was chief of intelligence, Abdallah Sanussi.
Qaddafi introduced these two aides as the men who would be running the war on al Qaeda on Libya's behalf together with the United States.
Using Libyan jihadis against al-Qaeda
Qaddafi Junior has a history with al Qaeda.
On May 10, 2009, the high-profile al Qaeda operative Ibn Al Sheikh al Libbi was said to have died by his own hand in an Egyptian prison after confessing under interrogation that he enlisted Iraqi instructors to teach jihadists how to use Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Our counter-terror sources recall that Moatassem-Billah Qaddafi sat in on the team of Al Libbi's interrogators alongside Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman.
Intelligence chief Sanussi's role is different. He is said to run the extensive web of covert Libyan ties with radical Islamic groups and societies around the Middle East and Africa.
US-Libyan cooperation is said by our sources to focus on three areas:
1. The CIA and Libya's undercover agencies are retraining as double agents ex-members of the Libyan arm of al Qaeda, known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), or Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya, which has tried more than once to assassinate Qaddafi.
They are being hired to penetrate al Qaeda affiliates.
2. Libya is also recruiting nationals who once fought alongside al-Qaeda in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan or Pakistan, repatriating them and transferring them to "re-education" camps run on the same lines as Saudi Arabia's royal clemency-cum-rehabilitation programs for reformed al Qaeda terrorists. They too are to be sent on covert infiltration and intelligence-gathering missions among al Qaeda branches.
3. Libya will relay to Washington incoming intelligence regarding the plans and movements of al-Qaeda figures around the world.
Muammar Qaddafi's clandestine agencies fell down badly over the Abdulmutallab affair, no less that US anti-terror services, because they ought to have picked up on the Nigerian terrorist's flight to Yemen from Ghana before departing Lagos en route for Amsterdam.
Nonetheless, senior US intelligence officials say that interrelations with the Libyan services are "effective and good" and are optimistic about the important fruit they will bear in the future.