There is a very great deal that we can learn from the case of Dr Al-Balawi, the suicide bomber who took out seven CIA agents in Afghanistan.
The first relates to intelligence. Dr Al Balawi had become a trusted CIA informant, believed by the CIA to be helping them to target al-Qaida elements on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Except that we now know he was a dedicated al-Qaida all along.
Presumably much of the intelligence he had been providing was deliberately false and misleading. This yet again illustrates the point I have made repeatedly about the unreliability of “humint” – intelligence gained from informants.
As British Ambassador, I saw in Uzbekistan a continued stream of intelligence from the Uxbek torture chambers, accepted by the CIA and MI6 but which, in many cases, I knew to be false. The Uzbek government wished to retain Western support and subsidies by exaggerating their role in fighting al-Qaida; that was their purpose in providing the false intelligence. The Western security services and governments wished to exaggerate the threat of al-Qaida for domestic political purposes: that was their purpose in accepting it.
Torture is not the only source of unreliable “Humint”. Double agents like Dr Al-Balawi are another, A very high proportion of this intelligence is bought for cash, and that is the most unreliable of all. The dirty dossier on Iraqi WMD was full of tall stories for which you and I as taxpayers paid dodgy informants millions of dollars.
Yet we used unreliable humint as the basis for a war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands. We use it to take out wedding parties with bomb attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We use it to keep people detained without charge for years in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, in Belmarsh, and we use it to deliver people up to torturers around the World.
We should know by now that the intelligence services and politicians no longer care if the intelligence is true: they want intelligence that justifies the actions they want to take anyway, and that keep on stream the mega profits that their friends are making from the War on Terror.
So Dr Al Balawi’s case gives us an invaluable insight into the world of intelligence.
But it does more than that. Why would a medical doctor, a happily married professional man with two children, become a “terrorist”. The answer is crystal clear.
Al-Balawi “started to change,” says his wife, after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The failed underpants bomber was said by eye-witnesses to be shouting about Afghanistan: Dr Al-Balawi was motivated by our illegal invasion of Iraq. Violence begets violence – it is a truth as old as man.
Our unconscionable attacks on weaker nations, and our increasing complicity in the slow genocide of the Palestinians, are bound to provoke reaction, however weak that reaction may be compared to our own ability to kill en masse. The notion peddled by politicians and mainstream media, that we invade countries abroad to keep us safe at home, should be met with the derision it deserves.