This Hague Cock-up Must Be Explained 50


So far it is a toss up whether events in Libya pose more threat to the careers of Muammar Gadaffi or of William Hague. First we had the sadly typical farce of the inert UK evacuation effort, with British diplomats cowring behind their walls concerned about health and safety, and our Ambassador being tied down with politically correct nonsense about his “Duty of Care” to his staff not to let them anywhere near harm’s way.

Reminiscent of this, isn’t it:


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, British citizens had been evacuated to the horror and squalor of the Superdome stadium, where thousands of people were crowded among what the BBC described as “knee-high piles of faeces”. After the roads in to New Orleans had become again passable, a British Consulate convoy set out to pick them up. Reaching a checkpoint, they were told they were not allowed to enter without a permit from the Governor of Louisiana. Our intrepid diplomats turned back.

Ten minutes later the Australian consul had arrived. Told he had to turn back, he replied “Are you going to shoot me?” and drove through the roadblock, the Southern Cross flying proudly from his bonnet. . The Australians got out their own people and some of ours. When the British finally arrived at the stadium two days later, having gone through the paper hoops like good little bureaucrats, they found they had almost no-one left to rescue, most of the Britons having been helped out by journalists.

And now we have a posse of the SAS and MI6, motoring around the Libyan desert pretending to be Fitzroy Maclean, before ignominiously being captured, detained and thrown back as of no value.

What on earth were they playing (I use the word advisedly) at? WHat on earth came over Hague to authorise this extremely daft blunder into a highly delicate situation? The one thing we do know is that the cover story is nonsense. They were not there to establish contact with the rebel leadership. Our Ambassador, Richard Northern, already had close contact with the rebel leadership and indeed was able to phone the rebel leaders up and beg for the release of our crack squad. Hague had not even thought it necessary to tell our Ambassador about the operation.

If we had really wanted to establish a liaison with the rebels, we would have sent a real diplomat into Benghazi on a ship. Preferably someone already accredited in Libya. I did plenty of that kind of stuff in my career, as recounted in my books. You want a simple unarmed person to liaise, not a Ramboesque raiding party.

And make no mistake, this was a raiding party. But just what were they going to raid? We are not at war in Libya, and the government has no right to undertake armed intervention in a foreign country without telling the British people and parliament. There is no right to mount covert armed operations by military units abroad. William Hague must tell us what he was doing.

UPDATE

I just heard on the BBC that Hague is indeed going to parliament to explain himself. As usual our politicians will be competing to harrumph loudly in a patriotic way, and just as with the similarly embarassing incident of the stray sailors captured by the Iranians, nobody will be asking any sensible questions for fear of not getting the Murdoch seal of approval for supporting “our heroes”.

ADDENDUM

Very interesting comment here by Ruth which I am elevating to the main body of the post. I recall well the reports of the arms dump explosion – 27 killed was the last total I saw. Assuming Ruth is right (and her source on timing is the Guardian) it appears that this team were in that area, and had been there at the relevant time.

The Guardian quite clearly states that the SAS men had been in the country for two days. Most reports say that they landed in the dark in the early hours of Friday morning. First reports stated they were picked up on Saturday by the rebels. All the reports I have read state that they were found a few kilometres from Benina, Benghazi’s airport. Ramjah, the big arms depot supplying the rebels, is a few kilometres from Benina in the very same direction. The depot exploded at 7pm on Friday. There had been no planes in the vicinity.

I am pretty secure in my contention that this was a raid, not a search for a meeting. It appears it may be physically possible that the mission was succesful and the target the arms dump. No more than a possibility, but a great deal more plausible than the Hague explanation.

Now Blair’s grest rapprochement with his “Friend” Gadaffi led to all sorts of grubby deals, One distinct possibility is that weapons were sold to Libya which the government doea not want people to know about. The US did not join in Bliar’s Libya love-fest. A very large percentage of British manufactured arms include components made under license from the US, with strict controls on to whom they can be sold on. We wouldn’t want that kind of stuff turning up in any arms dumps.

Just a hypothesis which fits the limited facts we appear to know so far. But I repeat, a great deal more plausible than Hague’s explanation.


50 thoughts on “This Hague Cock-up Must Be Explained

  • alan campbell

    The Diplomacy of the Blind
    by Moisi Dominique

    PARIS – Why do revolutions so often take professional diplomats by surprise? Is there something in their DNA that makes them prefer the status quo so much that, more often than not, they are taken aback by rapid changes, neither foreseeing them nor knowing how to respond once they begin? Read More

    &lt ;http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/moisi63/English>

    The Diplomacy of the Blind
    Dominique Moisi

    2011-02-28

    • Clarq

      I'm trying to post a corrected version of Alan Campbell's link:

      http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/moisi

      Edit: That seemed to work. I copied the URL from Firefox's address bar and pasted it to a line on its own. The blog software converted it to a link automatically.

      Edit 2: Good article, Alan. Indeed, more diplomats should follow Craig's lead, but of course, they'd rather not suffer the same fate.

  • lwtc247

    Is it beyond the pale to wonder if these were actually Israyhelli agents with sanctioned protection of the State of Britain?

  • guest

    Is it possible that it was not a botched operation but something else was/'is going on while everyone is distracted by a botched operation? Just how many others could have been in that Chinook (if that's what it was).?

  • Clarq

    (OT-ish) Dammit, my census form has arrived. We'll probably never know what the military machine was up to, but it sure wants to know what we're up to.

  • Eddie-G

    Is it definitely the case that the ambassador was not aware of the operation? We know he had to place the very embarrasing call asking for the release of the group, but I have not read that he was not aware of the mission.

      • guest

        Craig, do you think the FO was aware phone calls were being recorded by Tripoli? If the ambassador had used the same line in advance to contact the anti-Gaddafi leaders then that presumably would have been monitored as well. Interesting in any case that Libya has revealed they are tapping calls to rebel held areas. Maybe they assume everyone knew that?

        • Craig_Murray

          Yes, you assume you are being listened to. In Tashkent the Italiam Ambassador was good friends with the security service people who listened to him, as there are so few Uzbeks who speak Italian!

          One reason of course why it would make sense to have a liaison with the rebels – but just any old diplomat, not an SAS team.

      • PenRen

        This from the transcript of the conversation between the ambassador and a Libyan spokesman as quoted in the Guardian:

        [quote]Opposition spokesman … Actually they made a big mistake with coming with a helicopter I think in open area.

        Northern Oh, did they? [b]I didn't know how they were coming.[/b]

        Opposition spokesman Yes, with helicopter in an open area. The people, they notice that there were some people coming down.[/quote] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/07/libya

  • mark_golding

    lwtc247 – -perhaps the incriminating evidence is Gaddafi himself who will point his accusing finger over Lockerbie – or is that too cynical?

  • Ruth

    The Guardian quite clearly states that the SAS men had been in the country for two days. Most reports say that they landed in the dark in the early hours of Friday morning. First reports stated they were picked up on Saturday by the rebels. All the reports I have read state that they were found a few kilometres from Benina, Benghazi's airport. Ramjah, the big arms depot supplying the rebels, is a few kilometres from Benina in the very same direction. The depot exploded at 7pm on Friday. There had been no planes in the vicinity.

    • Suhaylsaadi

      So are you suggesting that the SAS are supporting Qaddafi, that there's some kind of double-game going on? Or that they did it to make it look as though 'planes had done it? Is the UK playing a double-game in Libya (it wouldn't be the first time)?

      • Craig_Murray

        seems unlikely they are supporting Gadaffi. As I say, if they were connected to the blowing up of the arms dump while they were around, it might have been just to destroy a bit of evidence.

        On the other hand, there is definitely a strain of thought in the Whitehall that is not sorry the wave of revolutions has hit a strong groyne before it can sweep away some of their mates in the Gulf…

      • Ruth

        It could be a double game or it could be that they want to weaken the rebels to provide a reason for foreign intervention as soon as possible.

        • Odin's Raven

          Gordon Duff suggests that micro-nukes, possibly supplied by Israel, may have been destroyed to cover up their existence and keep them out of the hands of an unstable group of rebels. http://www.salem-news.com/articles/march062011/ga

          Perhaps the British were just helping their friends, and were intercepted on the way out, not on the way in.

          • Ruth

            That's really quite ridiculous. Gadaffi would never have left such weapons near a rebellious city such as Benghazi.

  • R2D2

    Nice to have you back, Craig. Any chance you could now reactivate your twitter feed?

  • Suhaylsaadi

    Very fishy. Very, very fishy. And also, it seems, unbelievably inept (but is it, really?). If they were engaged in activity so clandestine it could not be revealed to the Revolutionary forces/ Council in Libya, then one has to pose the question, were they there to, in some way, undermine the revolution in Libya? And if so, then why? But to be challenged by guards at a wheat-farm, it seems almost like Rudolf Hess-in-Eaglesham: "I, the Eagle, have landed! Serf, take me to Lord Hamilton!" Let us see what transpires… In the meantime, it makes Britain look plain silly. But then, our Great Leader, David Cameron, the journeyman arms dealer with the Neutrogena face, was making a pretty good job of that already!

  • Stuart

    The UK is again a laughing stock. If the powers that be wanted to send a squad to protect a diplomat then two questions should be asked 1. Why didnt they protect themselves and their principle from a couple of Group 4 Securitas guards with AK47's. 2. If they had no intention of using the guns and bombs why take them. It is more dangerous to posses a gun and not be willing to use it than not to have a gun at all.

    I am not advocating for 1 minute that they should have gunned down a couple of innocent guards but why put heavily armed SAS/SBS troops in unless they are able to protect themselves and their mission.

    This smacks of the Iran incident when a war ship was held to ransom by a patrol boat and the time the Somali pirates kidnapped the poor couple on a yaght in full view of a warship and marines.

    I guess my message is dont posture and pretend to send in the gun boats unless you are going to back it up. The Americans do and look where it got them? Maybe we should just stay at home and leave little grey diplomats do ther job in the Sheraton cocktail bars of this world.

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      the "diplomat" was most likely an MI6 agent. The standard cover story most governments use for intelligence agents operating abroad is diplomat – which is why the US builds such bloody huge embassies in countries it wants to control (e.g Iraq)

  • ingo

    off course there are factions, at this stage in the revolution, the nature of groups sitting together and talking to each other, Jalil better take note, these so called rebells, I prefer the term freedom fighters, are well educated.
    A top notch posee of the finest, not just SAS, but also SBS, and then they landed them in a helicopter rathern than letting them come in with the refugee airlifts and/r by blinkin' parachute, whoever planned this covert action does deserve a good kicking from em'.

  • ingo

    Now what could be important enough to risk being discovered with active fighting units in Libya?
    did Ghaddafi have any chemical or biological capabilities stored in the east, not in his tribal heartland? very unlikely. Any important weaponry, or anything important would be either in or near Sirte or in Tripoli, as well as surrounding active airfileds used by his air force.
    If they planned to blow up the grain store and weaken the rebells positions, then that would be mongering of the worst kind. Why, what else of importance can be sabotaged, his oil facillities? again, does make no sense, oil price is high enough as it is.
    He might as well tell all now, because this will look bad in one of the participants memoirs.

  • King of Welsh Noir

    '…the government has no right to undertake armed intervention in a foreign country without telling the British people and parliament.'

    That sounds a bit naive – that's what the SAS do all the time isn't it? When they shot the IRA terrorists in Gibraltar, did they tell us first? When they trained the Khmer Rouge did they ask us first?

    • Craig_Murray

      Now training is a different thing to commiting armed British forces to action. The government lost the Gibraltar case before the European Court of Human Rights. They were in the wrong.

  • Duncan_McFarlan

    another possible aim would be to blow up an arms dump and cause heavy civilian collateral damage (i.e deaths), claim Gaddafi's airforce did it and use that to justify a 'no fly zone' and airstrikes.

    I would like to believe that our governments could be trusted to end killings of civilians in Libya, or that intervention would lead to democracy and end to torture, disappearances and killings of civilians. The reality in Iraq though is that when there were protests there the elected government responded exactly the same way Gaddafi has as dictator – it had large numbers of people shot, with somewhere between dozens and hundreds killed. If you check Amnesty International reports the US trained Iraqi security forces still torture Iraqis using the same methods Saddam's forces did – rape, beatings, electric shocks, pulling out nails, the whole lot.

    That's after 7 years of bombing, torturing and shooting civilians by Coalition and Iraqi government forces as much as insurgents – and allowing Al Qa'ida into the country and encouraging sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shia.

    Overall, as bad as things are in Libya now – and they're pretty damn bad – the Libyans, even the rebels, are better off keeping foreign troops out of their country – and they say they don't want them. In desperation they're asking for a no-fly zone and air strikes, but if you look at the record of US led air wars from the 1991 war on Iraq to the no fly zones, Kosovo and Afghanistan, it's also cost a lot more lives than it's ever saved.

  • mark_golding

    I'm sorry I DO NOT think this was a 'cock-up' by Hague or Agent Cameron. This was a 'show' or a 'gesture' of solidarity for the Libyan protestors; all part of British propaganda that we are 'on-side' with democracy and freedom. If we wanted to provide genuine help then the British government would have provided material support in the same manner as America 'helped' Britain during WWII until she was 'drawn' into the World War. HMS Cumberland should have carried this material aid to Libya not an SAS? STALKING PARTY.

    Consider this; by using our crystal ball ie some vision and insight I ask you to think ahead to a point where either the people have won or the regimes have created a blood-bath and crushed the uprising. Either way at that point those Middle East countries involved will need money to re-build and remember Gaddafi's assets are frozen.

    The IMF/World Bank are rubbing their hands at Middle East nations tearing themselves apart. The IMF in a serious takeover can move into the imploded economies of those Middle East countries and commit their leaders to selling off vital assets such as water, electric, gas, OIL etc. If they do not agree to these steps they are cut-off from all international Import/Export. If you can’t borrow money in the international marketplace, no one can survive, whether you are people, corporations or countries.

    If that doesn’t work they can 'engineer' an overthrow the new government/old regime and rewrite history. A convenient and modern form of 'privatization' which really equals pillaging and rape. Steal from the people and hand over everything to the IMF/World Bank.

    Thus It is clear, if you have riot or civil war, all the capital runs away from whatever country and that presents the opportunity for the IMF to move in for the serious takeover, snatch and sell off resources and then transfer all assets to other corporations and banks.

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      i'm not a fan of the IMF or it's policies, but in most cases it had no need for regime change or instability to get those policies accepted by Middle Eastern and North African dictatorships. Ben Ali and Mubarak were already following IMF advice on their economic policies – that and the recession caused by the banking crisis have been major causes of the unrest, because they both let inequality, poverty and unemployment rise. The Tunisian whose suicide started the big protests had had his family's farm possessed by a bank after they went into debt.

      • Suhaylsaadi

        The repossession of the guy's farm is precisely what has been happening in the UK and USA with people's homes. Perhaps we need a revolution here, too. Re. the economics, Duncan is correct: Neoliberalsim had already been applied in Egypt and Libya, Tunisia and the rest. Of course, the IMF et al (and arms dealers) will profit, no matter what and will try to instrumentalise everything to their advantage. If the people worried about possible negative economic impact, they would never ever revolt. Capital withdraws for a short time – assuming the disruption triggered by the struggle is not prolonged – but the returns once things settle. People now do take holidays even in Cambodia (remember the Dead Kennedys song?!). Not revolting was no longer an option. Look, these dictators and kings were/are all stooges, local agents of Big Money and military imperial strategy. The sooner they are either swept away of made constitutional monarchies BY THEIR OWN PEOPLE, the better. The point is that the people need to be able to control their own resources for their own benefit. That's the ideal.

  • Clarq

    Hague's statement:

    "Last week I authorised the dispatch of a small British diplomatic team to eastern Libya, in uncertain circumstances which we judged required their protection, to build on these initial contacts and to assess the scope for closer diplomatic dialogue. I pay tribute to that team. They were withdrawn yesterday after a serious misunderstanding about their role (background laughter) leading to their.. leading to their temporary detention. This situation was resolved, and they were able to meet council president Mr Abdel Jalil (He's the ex justice minister calling for an "air embargo" to keep out unconfirmed mercenaries). However it was clearly better for this team to be withdrawn; we intend to send further diplomats to eastern Libya in due course."

    He's a good speaker, Hague. Shame he's got so little to say.

  • DRE

    Surprised this story wasn’t D-noticed, no reason for the U.K. government to have egg on its face since so few people would have known anything about it, instead the Times, Guardian and Con Coughlin are trumpeting a Gov.uk / SF disaster. Why?

  • Richard Robinson

    "Now Blair’s grest rapprochement with his “Friend” Gadaffi led to all sorts of grubby deals" … Would Cameron do Blair that kind of favour ?

  • Frazer

    How do I actually read the comments ? The site only allows me to leave a reply not read what others have said..

  • dec

    Why would this government risk its reputation to protect that of the previous one? Any illegal arms would have been sold during Blair’s time in office. The ammo dump story does not work. That there was a target though there can be no doubt: there was already a MI6 man on the ground who had been there for months. The only plausible explanation is that they were there to take out some pro-government target, exactly what the arab world will believe.

  • mark_golding

    Thanks Suhayl and Duncan for your insight – I agree the sooner the stooges are swept away the better – but let's be 'on our toes' to ensure these revolutions do not end up like Iraq and indigenous resources ARE retained by the people.

  • DRE

    The state within a state would seek to protect
    itself, doesn’t matter much to BAE who is in government. All suppostion what was happening there, I’m more interested as to why no D-notice?

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