London, Dec. 22 (Reuters): After decades of fuelling underground militancy around the globe and buying up banned weapons technology, a newly cooperative Libya could potentially provide the West with a bonanza of valuable intelligence.
Dictators, spies, arms dealers and militants throughout West Asia and beyond will be bracing themselves for any revelations by Muammar Gaddafi.
“He’s the first one to squeal. He’s turned state’s evidence and everyone else is going to hang in the wind,” said Alex Standish, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Digest. “I think there will be a number of people within the Arab world or the Islamic world who will be watching carefully and listening to what Gaddafi is prepared to disclose.”
Libya has already allowed US and British experts access to its nuclear and chemical weapons programmes and missiles and has agreed to allow snap UN arms inspections.
Inspections could expose parts of the international web of weapons proliferation, potentially embarrassing western companies as well as far-flung states, said William Hopkinson, terrorism expert at Britain’s St Andrews University.
“If X has been selling kit to him, they may be prepared to sell it to someone else,” he said. Washington says Libya has already acknowledged cooperating with North Korea to develop Scud missiles.
And if Libya’s cooperation with the West goes beyond arms, there are a host of other secrets it could potentially reveal. For decades Libya operated one of West Asia’s most well-funded and powerful intelligence agencies, fuelling and funding an alphabet soup of underground militant organisations, from the PLO to the IRA and Germany’s Red Army Faction.
For now, it remains to be seen just how far Gaddafi will go in satisfying the West’s thirst for knowledge. There is no sign that Tripoli’s deal with Washington and London includes a promise to help other countries, such as France and Germany, which still have claims against Libya.
“Do we expect Libya to now communicate freely on what it did in the 1980s'” said analyst Barthelemy Courmont at France’s Institute of International and Strategic Relations.
“Will Libya now go for complete transparency, or will it decide that now it is supported by the US, giving it a certain legitimacy among the international community, it does not need to bother to do anything else, like satisfying France'”
Much information Tripoli does supply may well be out of date: western experts say Gaddafi has not had a hand in major anti-Western attacks in years, since he began pursuing rehabilitation with the West.
He is, therefore, unlikely to have much up-to-the-minute information on Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network, which formed only in the last decade. “The heyday of Gaddafi as the ‘mad dog of West Asia’ has already been confined to the history books,” Standish said.
But even if the information relates to old attacks, details that implicate another state could provide Washington with ammunition against other adversaries, such as Syria and Iran.
“Gaddafi’s intelligence service may know where other bodies are buried, that they themselves were not responsible for,” Standish said. Ultimately, Washington’s and London’s goal in handling Gaddafi now is to show that even the most disreputable “rogue state” can be rehabilitated if it renounces banned weapons and links to militants.
“If he’s treated properly now, one can say: ‘Do you want to follow Saddam Hussein' Or do you want to follow Gaddafi, that well-known, wise elder statesman of the Arab world''” Hopkinson said.