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Low cost terror: Libya's spy services

Moammar Gadhafi
Gadhafi: Experts say he is driving force behind Libyan intelligence  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- It may not pack the cloak-and-dagger punch of the CIA or KGB, but mention "JSO" to most spies and they break out in night sweats.

Agents of the "Jamahiriya Security Organisation," as Libya's spy agency is known, have allegedly had a hand in the killing of political rivals, the hijacking of cruise ships, and the training and arming of terrorists from Ireland to Indonesia.

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Intelligence experts say the Lockerbie bombing -- now officially blamed on a Libyan agent -- is only the most brazen act in a 30-year repertoire of state-sponsored terrorism masterminded by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Along the way, he has used proxies from the IRA to the PLO to the U.S. Black Power movement to strike out at perceived enemies -- providing them with training and weaponry in return.

Intelligence experts generally agree that Gadhafi is the driving force behind Libya's intelligence operations.

Libyan agents have been fingered in acts ranging from the assassinations of Libyan opposition politicians in Britain in the early 1980s and 1990s, to the provision of passports to members of the Abu Nidal Organisation, used to launch attacks in western Europe on Israel's national airline, El Al.

At various times in the mid-1980s, Libya has backed plots to assassinate presidents in Eqypt, Sudan, the former Zaire, Tunisia and Chad, according to the Israeli-based Institute for Counter-Terrorism.

Tribal rivalries

The security services have also targeted Libyan students in the United States, according to the institute.

Alan George, a Libya expert and consultant to multi-national corporations with business in the country, says the tribal nature of Libyan society has created internecine rivalries in the agency that make it less monolithic than it might appear to outsiders.

When people talk about Libyan intelligence, they are actually referring to three broadly defined entities: military intelligence; the security battalions that enforce loyalty to Gadhafi across the country; and the JSO -- itself sub-divided into separate units for domestic and external security.

The second-in-command at the JSO, Abdallah al-Sanussi, is Gadhafi's brother-in-law, and one of six Libyan officers charged in 1991 with helping orchestrate the bombing of French UTA Flight 772 two years earlier, in September 1989.

Al-Sunassi heads up the JSO's external security operations, according to Magnus Ranstorp, deputy director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

As Ranstorp points out, however, family loyalty plays little role: al-Sannusi is a member of a rival clan to Gadhafi's, and a potentially subversive threat to the supreme leader.

Experts say Libya's oil revenues have furnished the financial clout to acquire expertise and technology not available to countries of similar size but fewer resources. The tightly controlled nature of the regime, they say, has allowed Gadhafi to act with a free hand in allocating money for intelligence.

"In a dictatorship where Gadhafi controls the strings, he can make sure that the things he wants to give priority to are given money," said Paul Wilkinson, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, at the University of St. Andrews. "There are no constraints on his ability to assist movements that he considers useful."

If Libya has gained such notoriety on the world stage, Wilkinson suggests, it is because it has effectively relied on low-cost technology to yield devastating results.

George notes that Libyan hit squads used poisoned peanuts in one remarkable attempt in the early 80s to snuff out a political target based in England.

The Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people, required little more than a few rogue agents and a timer to detonate the explosives.

Wilkinson said: "Libya is only one of a number of countries that use or have used state-sponsored terrorism and it certainly would not be regarded by intelligence services of the U.S. and west European countries as the most dangerous by any means."



RELATED STORIES:
Libya faces Lockerbie pressure
February 1, 2001
Can Libya come in from cold?
January 31, 2001
Libya involved in OPEC attack, court hears
October 19, 2000

RELATED SITES:
LibyaOnline
Libyan Mission to the U.N.
Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence
Institute for Counter-Terrorism

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