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The Iraq War Part 3 – BBC2

The BBC broadcast the final episode of its three part series on The Iraq War on 12 June. I was away at the time, so have only just watched it. I previously blogged about the first episode, dealing with the build up to the war and the second, which covered its immediate aftermath.

The BBC’s website describes the final episode, titled It’s Hell, Mr President, as follows:

The last episode in this three-part series brings the Iraq story up to date. Tony Blair and Dick Cheney describe how they responded as horrific sectarian violence overtook Iraq. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tells how he and Condoleeza Rice compelled Iraq’s prime minister to resign. Other key insiders reveal how they selected and supported his replacement.

With an exclusive interview with controversial Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, the programme tells how the war ended and why Iraq today faces the worst sectarian violence in five years.

There were still 130,000 US troops in Iraq three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush made a speech saying that US strategy was that ‘as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.’ By the summer of 2006 this plan looked hopeless.

Meghan O’Sullivan, Bush’s top adviser on Iraq, was told by an Iraqi friend that the US must stay, or else Iraq would descend into mass killings and violence. Bush called a meeting of his Iraq team, telling them that a new strategy was needed. Their hopes lay with new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. However, the Americans would soon wonder whether he was the solution or part of the problem.

The majority of Iraqis are Shias, but the Sunni minority had dominated under Saddam. Al Qaeda set out to provoke Shias into attacking Sunnis. On 22 February 2006 a bomb destroyed the al-Askari mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shia sites.

This led to attacks by Shias on Sunnis. Sunnis claimed that the Shia militias killing Sunnis were using government equipment and operating from government buildings. Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaaaferi, the leader of a Shia religious party, was unwilling to take action against Shias, claiming that all the Shias were doing was ‘vent[ing] their feelings.’ Sunnis retaliated, and Jaaferi eventually declared a curfew, which General George Casey, the Coalition military commander in Iraq, had called for at the start of the violence.

The USA and UK decided that Jaaferi, who had been democratically elected, had to go. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flew to Baghdad to persuaded him to grudgingly accept that he had to go.

The new PM had to be a Shia, but the US was concerned that many of the candidates might be pro-Iran, where most of them whilst in exile from Saddam’s government. They chose Maliki, a relative unknown who had spent his exile in Syria. Bush’s strategy was simply to back Maliki, who took power on 20 May 2006.

However, many other Shia leaders were more popular than Maliki. The strongest militia was the Mahdi Army, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, who had great support amongst the 3 million Shias living in the slums of the Sadr City district of Baghdad. Its political wing had enough MPs to make or break Maliki’s coalition.

The US attacked the Sadr City militia soon after Maliki took power, but without consulting him. He asked Casey not to launch attacks against certain individuals and al-Sadr’s militia without his permission. He refused to allow an attack despite being shown a video of two innocent people being kidnapped and killed by the militia.

Soon afterwards, al-Qaeda set off a car bomb in Sadr City. A cycle of killing by one side followed by retaliation by the other ensued; 1,855 Baghdad residents had been killed by the end of July. Casey wanted the Iraqi government to restrain the Shia militias. However, Mowaffak Rubaie, Maliki’s National Security Adviser, argued that it was better to let the Shia militias and al-Qaeda fight it out, and then deal with the winner after it had been weakened by the sectarian conflict.

O’Sullivan, who had many contacts in Baghdad, then told Bush that Baghdad was ‘hell.’ Stephen Hadley, Bush’s National Security Adviser, then suggested that the US send more troops, although the US public wanted US troops to be brought home. Bush hesitated because he was uncertain whether or not he could trust Maliki.

According to Hadley the question was whether Maliki was a sectarian or else somebody who wanted to act in the interests of all Iraqis, but lacked the means to do so. Bush flew to Iraq on 30 November 2006 to find out. He offered a ‘troop surge’, but on condition that there was no political interference with targeting of extremists. Maliki accepted this.

20,000 US troops were to be sent, along with a new commander, General David Petraeus. At the same time the 7,000 British troops in Basra were due to leave. Pertraeus flew to London to try and persuade British Prime Minister Tony Blair to keep the British troops in Basra. Blair argued that there was less need for troops in Basra, but Petraeus convinced him that British withdrawal would send the wrong message, so the British troops stayed.

Baghdad had been a city of mainly mixed neighbourhoods, but was becoming divided into Shia and Sunni enclaves. Petraeus  sent troops into the warring districts, but also needed a political solution. His British deputy, General Graeme Lamb, was ordered to find some warring leaders who might be prepared to stop fighting. Some US generals were reluctant to talk to those who had been fighting them, but agreed to try this strategy.

A local Sunni leader, Abu Abed, was unhappy at the way in which al Qaeda had imposed strict Islamic law in his neighbourhood. He approached the Americans to tell them that his men intended to attack al Qaeda. They succeeded in forcing al Qaeda to retreat on the first day, but were then forced back by a counter attack and surrounded. At this point the US (Fifth) Cavalry appeared and defeated the al Qaeda forces

Abu Abed and other Sunni leaders agreed to co-operate with the US. Petraeus wanted Maliki to include them in the Iraqi security forces, but Maliki was sceptical, wanting to know who the volunteers were. The Americans had taken DNA tests, finger prints and retina scans from the volunteers so that they would know who they were.

Those volunteers who had been al-Qaeda foot soldiers were able to provide intelligence on the leadership, allowing the US to target it hard core. Sectarian killing began to fall in September 2007, and Maliki agreed that 20% of the Sunni volunteers could join the Iraqi security forces. He also took control of senior appointments in the security forces, and had the special forces report directly to him.

In early 2008 al Sadr’s Mahdi Army took control of Basra after British troops left. On 22 March Maliki told Petraeus that he intended to take personal command of an attack on Basra. Petraeus said that it would take six months to organise the assault, but Maliki said that he would go ahead, and required only air transport from the Americans.

The Mahdi Army beat off the government forces. Petraeus said that there was some doubt as to whether Maliki should receive full US support since he had taken such a rash decision. However, Bush thought that this was the Iraqis stepping up, and ordered Petraeus to support him. The US sent attack helicopters and armed drones to support the Iraqis, who had no air power.

Maliki’s forces, with US air support, took Basra. He gave al-Sadr an ultimatum to either disband the Mahdi Army or else be banned from future elections. Al Sadr agreed to a ceasefire.

Maliki, having defeated both his Shia and the Sunni opponents, now asked Bush to set a date for US departure, which he agreed to do.

However, Maliki’s political opponents claimed that he was using his security services and the police against them in the to intimidate them ahead of the next election. Ayad Allawi, a former Prime Minister, formed al Iraqiya, a coalition of non-sectarian and Sunni parties, to oppose Maliki. In February 2010, weeks ahead of the election, 66 of its candidates were disqualified on the grounds that they had links to Saddam’s regime.

Despite the intimidation al Iraqiya won two seats more than Maliki’s supporters in the March 2010 election. Maliki demanded a recount, but it did not change the result. It was agreed that Maliki would remain Prime Minister, with Al Iraqiya receiving three senior cabinet posts, including Saleh Mutlaq as Deputy Prime Minister

However, Maliki did not implement the power sharing agreement, leading to street protests. 23 protestors were killed and more than 600 Sunnis were arrested, as was the head of the electoral commission. Maliki blamed continuing terrorism on Sunni leaders who, he alleged, wanted to bring back Saddam’s regime.

President Barack Obama’s new US administration backed Maliki, claiming that he headed a democratic Iraq, with its ‘most inclusive government yet.’ Saleh Mutlaq, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, told Obama that he was ‘dreaming.’ He also said that Iraq had a ‘one man, one party show’ and that Maliki was a dictator. Two days after making these comments his house and those of two other Iraqiya ministers were surrounded by troops commanded by Maliki’s son.

One of the three, Vice President Tariq Hashimi, was under suspicion of terrorism. Petraeus, now Director of the CIA, flew to Baghdad. He pointed out that only Sunnis, and not Shias, were being arrested. Hashimi fled the country, and was convicted of orchestrating murder and sentenced to death, five times, in his absence. The bodyguards of al Iraqiya leaders were arrested. Under interrogation they implicated their bosses in terrorism; one of the bodyguards died in custody.

Sunnis returned to the streets to protest. Maliki sent in troops, who fired on the protestors. Sunni extremists attacked police and soldiers. In April 2013, the tenth anniversary of Saddam’s fall, 700 Iraqis died in sectarian violence, the worst month for five years. Maliki banned journalists from 10 TV channels including al Jazeera.

The Iraq War and its aftermath have led to 170,000 deaths. The result seems to be the replacement of a Sunni dictator, Saddam Hussein, with a Shia one, Nouri Maliki.

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The Iraq War Part 2 – BBC2

Last night the BBC broadcast the second episode in its three part series on the Iraq War. The first episode, shown last week, dealt with the decisions that led to war. The BBC website describes this one, titled After the Fall, as follows:

In After the Fall, part two of this three-part series, key insiders describe the chaotic aftermath of the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Dick Cheney and Colin Powell come to blows over America’s role as occupying power. General David Petraeus recalls the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army. The representative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani – Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric – tells how Sistani forced the Americans into agreeing to elections in Iraq. One of the greatest challenges came from Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. America and the new Iraqi government were able to defeat Sadr militarily, but it set the stage for sectarian war.

Disappointingly Powell and Cheney came to blows verbally, rather than physically.

The original Coalition administrator in Iraq was Jay Garner, a retired US general. He had been involved in the establishment of a safe zone in Kurdistan, so was popular with the Kurds. He regarded himself as a facilitator who would quickly hand over power to Iraqis.

Many Iraqis welcomed the US army into Baghdad, but some, including Sheikh Mahdi Sumaidaie, a Sunni cleric, resisted. Most waited to see if the Coalition would act as liberators or occupiers.

Garner arranged a meeting between Kurdish leaders such as Jalal Talabani, Barham Salih and Massoud Barzani, and some of Saddam opponents who had just returned from exile: Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister who had been in exile for 35 years. Ahmed Chalabi, who returned with a private army, and Dr Mowaffah Rubaie, a Shia. The meeting established a Governing Council.

Garner was concerned about the vacuum at the top, which resulted in a lack of essential services and an inability to stop looting. Some locals formed vigilante groups to defend their neighbourhoods and hospitals from looters. He wanted to form an Iraqi administration as soon as possible.

President George W. Bush, however, was nervous that he had the wrong team in Baghdad even as he declared combat operations to be over on 1 May 2003. Garner had thought that he had three months, but Bush decided to accelerate the change to a civilian administrator: Jerry Bremer.

Bremer told the Governing Council that it was not representative of Iraqis as it included no women, Christians or Turkomans, and that he possessed full executive, legislative and judicial authority. Rubaie said that this meant that Bremer was a Viceroy, and Iraq was under real occupation.

There was a dispute on the US National Security Council when it debated the speed of change. Secretary of State Colin Powell wanted a slow move towards Iraqi rule, arguing that the Coalition did not know who to turn power over to and that any Iraqi administration would need Coalition forces to maintain security. Vice President Dick Cheney wanted a quicker change. Bush leaned towards Powell and Bremer’s preference for a slow move.

Bremer authorised payments of about six months salary to Iraqi civil servants, but nothing was paid to soldiers, who had not been paid since February.

A group of Iraqi general staff officers approached Colonel Paul Hughes of the Coalition staff. They warned him that there would be trouble if the soldiers were not paid. Hughes took their concerns to Walt Slocombe, the US adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. Slocombe thought that the Iraqi soldiers had a nerve asking the Coalition to pay them money owed by Saddam. He argued that there was a need to get rid of Saddam’s institutions, and that a new army should be build from scratch.

Before the war Bush had approved a plan to use the Iraqi army as a national reconstruction force. It was thought to be too dangerous to demobilise all the soldiers at once, and they had been promised that they would be looked after if they surrendered. According to Frank Miller, his  Special Assistant, Bush now said that he would leave it up to ‘the guy on the ground.’

No Coalition troops were killed by hostile forces in the week before the Iraqi army was disbanded; five were killed the next week. General David Petraeus, then commanding the 101st Airborne Division, said that it was getting worse week by week. He bluntly told Slocombe that his policies were killing Coalition soldiers. Iraqi soldiers had to be given the means of feeding their families.

US troops opened fire on a protest on 18 June after stone throwing by Iraqis. Bremer announced five days later that payments would be made to soldiers, but it was too late. Attacks worsened and showed clear signs of being carried out by professionals.

The USA was not surprised to be opposed by the Sunni minority, which lost the privileges that it had enjoyed under Saddam. It had expected to be welcomed by the Shia majority; a revolt by them would mean serious trouble. Hajaf, their religious centre, was more important than Baghdad in the eyes of many Shias, and Grand Ayatollah Sistani was very influential.

A Brazilian UN diplomat, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was sent to Iraq as a mediator. Sistani was unwilling to meet Americans, but did meet de Mello. Sistani’s aide Ahmed Safi said that Sistani insisted that any constitution had to protect Iraqi interests and religious principles. It must be written and approved by elected Iraqis.

Bremer insisted that it was impossible to hold elections because the necessary mechanisms were not in place. Only de Mello appeared to be able to mediate, but he was killed on 19 August, along with 21 other UN employees, when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was destroyed by a suicide bomber. Al Qaeda later claimed responsibility.

On 8 September Bremer published a blueprint for the future without consulting anybody, not even Bush. It proposed a two-year process of writing a constitution, approving it in a referendum and holding elections. He was told that he had to hand over power by 30 June 2004.

Bremer did not have time to organise elections, so came up with a scheme based the US caucus system. Locally appointed councils would select the government. The Governing Council, unfamiliar with the caucus system, rejected the idea. Millions of Shias were alienated. Muqtada al-Sadr, the rising Shia star, insisted that the USA must leave.

In March 20o4 four US contractors were killed in the Sunni city of Fallujah and their bodies desecrated. The US Marines retaliated, resulting in heavy civilian casualties before their attack was stopped. Three weeks later it was revealed that US troops were mistreating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Bremer was forced to appoint a government. He initially wanted Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia, to be Defence Minister, but appointed him Prime Minister after meeting him. Allawi’s government took control on 28 June.

On 6 August Sistani flew to London for medical treatment. Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army then took control of Najaf and its holy shrines. Allawi summoned General George Casey, the Coalition military commander in Iraq. This was an opportunity for the new government to show that it was in control. An attack was launched; it included some Iraqi forces, but the main firepower came from the US Marines.

Sunnis joined the Shias. They took heavy casualties, including a hand wound for Al-Sadr, but were outgunned. However, they continued to hold the Golden Mosque. The risk of damage to it led the government to send Rubaie to negotiate. Al-Sadr refused to meet him, but sent a leading cleric to negotiate on his behalf. A ceasefire was agreed, but it required government and Coalition forces to leave Najaf and not return.

This was unacceptable to the rest of the government, which insisted that the Mahdi Army must be disbanded or it would resume the offensive. At this point Sistani returned and it was agreed that the Shia hierarchy would settle the matter.

Al-Sadr formed a political party, and helped the Shias to win an election five months later. The third and final programme next week deals with the war between Shias and Sunnis.

An interesting programme, which showed that the USA (the other Coalition partners played little role in this episode) went to war without a clear plan of what to do after it had won. Those plans that it had were quickly changed. It seemed to be assumed that the Iraqis, at least the Shias, would be so grateful to have been liberated from Saddam that they would be happy to be ruled by the Coalition for a short period. The difficulties of how to organise elections, how to write a constitution and what to do with the army were ignored.

For UK viewers the programme is available on the I-Player until 9:59pm on 19 June, the usual one week after the last episode. There was a lengthy list of co-producers, who will presumably show it in their home markets.

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The Iraq War – BBC2

On 29 May 2013 BBC2 broadcast the first of a three part series on The Iraq War, billed as being ‘The inside story of the war in Iraq’. The description of the first episode, titled ‘Regime Change’, from the BBC website says that:

The people at the top of the CIA and Saddam’s foreign minister describe just how the US and Britain got it so wrong about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.

Tony Blair recounts how he flew to President Bush’s private retreat at Camp David to go head to head with Vice President Dick Cheney. Colin Powell explains how he came to make his disastrous presentation to the United Nations. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw describes how he – and even President Bush himself – tried to persuade Tony Blair that to join in the invasion was political suicide.

As well as Cheney, Powell, Blair, Straw and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, interviewees included more junior British, French and US officials; Kurdish leaders such as Jalal Talabani, Leader, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Barham Salih, Prime Minister Kurdish Region and Massoud Barzani, Leader Kurdistan Democratic Party; and Iraqis including Salim Jomaili  of the Secret Service, Republican Guard General Raad Hamdani, Foreign Secretary Naji Sabri, UN Ambassador Mohammed Douri and General Hussam Amin, Iraqi liaison to UN weapons inspectors;

Jomaili said that, just after 9/11, the USA asked Iraq, via what was described as ‘a trusted emissary, to help in the War on Terror against Al Qaeda. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz agreed, but President Saddam Hussein argued that UN sanctions against Iraq were also terrorism, and had killed far more than died on 9/11. Jomaili said that USA thought that Iraq was playing games and dropped its request. He also argued that Saddam’s regime was opposed to religious extremists, so did not support Al Qaeda.

After the Afghan Taleban were deposed in early 2002 Cheney turned his attention to what he thought was the next likely source of terror: Iraq. He asked CIA if it was possible to organise a coup. Luis Rueda, the CIA’s Chief of Iraq Operations, explained in the programme that he told Cheney that this was impossible because Saddam had crushed all internal opposition.

The USA therefore turned to the Kurds for intelligence. They had helped the USA in the past, but had suffered as a consequence. They said that it was impossible to remove the regime without external help, and would not be left stranded again.

The USA feared that Saddam would supply Al-Qaeda with nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons of mass destruction (WMD). His army had already used chemical weapons against both Iran and his internal opponents.

In the UK Blair supported the USA, but faced domestic problems. Alastair Campbell, his Head of Communications, said that the head of the Secret Intelligence Service had returned from a trip to the USA believing that war with Iraq was a matter of when, not if. Straw thought that there were two issues: to support the US desire for regime change or just to force Saddam to comply with UN resolutions? Blair thought that the separation was unreal, as Saddam would not comply. Straw pointed out that the UK considered that going to war just to change the regime was illegal.

In Iraq, Hamdani warned Saddam that there was a real risk of war, and that Iraqi weapons were obsolete. He risked his life by trying to point out these home truths to Saddam. However, Saddam, whilst dismissing his fears, took no action against him.

Powell was worried that Bush was being pushed into war; all his briefings were on military operations. Powell thought that the USA needed allies, so convinced Bush to seek new a UN Security Council resolution. Cheney was unhappy; he thought that Saddam was good at deception, and made a public speech criticising the idea of weapons inspectors.

Powell, lacking US allies, looked to the UK, meeting Straw to try to form a coalition. The UK regarded war without another UN resolution as being illegal, and could not have obtained a Parliamentary majority for it.

Blair thought that the UK had to be clear to the USA that it was a firm ally, not a fair weather friend, but would have been in an impossible position if Bush had supported Cheney. However, the President opted for a UN resolution.

Amin said that Saddam thought that the USA and UK would never be satisfied so played for time. Most governments thought that Saddam was lying when he denied having WMD. He had kept some after the Gulf War because he feared an attack by Iran, but later had them destroyed as he was afraid that they would be found. All paperwork relating to them was also destroyed, in case it was later found.

The CIA conducted a global search for evidence about WMD. At one point it thought wrongly that Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri wanted to defect; see the blog entry on The Spies Who Fooled the World, a previous BBC documentary, for more on this part of the story.

In the UK opposition to the war and demands for more information were rising. Blair presented a dossier prepared by the intelligence services to Parliament; it included the infamous and now discredited claim that Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes. Blair admitted that he now wishes that he had just published the intelligence reports.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution  giving Iraq 30 days to prove the absence of WMD unanimously. A 12,000 word Iraqi report was not enough for the USA, according to Stephen Hadley, the  Deputy National Security Adviser.

Bush asked the CIA for the intelligence case for war, and was told by CIA Director George Tenet, who did not appear in the programme, that it was a ‘slam dunk.’ The US case was to be presented to the UN by Powell. He complained that he lacked back up for the assertions made, and was given only the WMD case, not the human rights or terrorism ones. However, Bush had already made up his mind.

One apparently key piece of evidence was a recorded conversation in which Hamdani appeared to tell a subordinate to hide his units’ chemical weapons. Hamdani said that he was only making sure there was no trace of old chemical launchers for the UN to find.

There were huge anti-war demonstrations in 60 countries one weekend in February, including one of a million people in London. Blair needed a second UN Security Council resolution, but Cheney thought that this was a sign of weakness. Hadley said that Bush thought that it was important to go the extra mile for an ally.

The French, according to de Villepin thought that there was not enough evidence to go to war. President Jacques Chirac met Russian President Vladimir Putin and de Villepin met Powell, who said to him ‘don’t underestimate our determination.’ Chirac announced soon afterwards that France would veto the resolution.

The Labour Party whips estimated that half of their MPs would vote against was or abstain without a second resolution. Hadley said that Bush would have preferred the UK dropping out of the coalition to Blair having to resign. However, Blair said that he would prefer to have quit as PM than to have backed down; see the BBC website for an extract from the programme.

The Labour leadership managed to persuade two-thirds of their MPs to back war, enough the vote for war to be passed in the House of Commons with Conservative support. Straw adopted the old British policy of blaming the French; he told Labour MPs that the USA and UK had been forced into war by the French veto as a Security Council Resolution backed by the threat of war would have forced Saddam to stand down.

Three of Saddam’s security team were spying for CIA. They reported that he was at palace on banks of Tigris as war was about to start, giving the USA an opportunity to decapitate the enemy and perhaps win without serious fighting. There was a nightmare that it was disinformation, and some other target such a school would be hit. Cheney recommended taking the chance, and Bush decided to strike as soon as the deadline had expired. Initial reports said that a body resembling Saddam had been taken out of the rubble, but it was not him.

As war was about to start, Saddam told the Republican Guard to go to Palestine to liberate Jerusalem from Israel after they had defeated the USA; ‘a fantasy, a dream’ according to Hamdani. He asked Saddam’s son Qusay if Iraq did have WMD. He was worried that chemical weapons might blow back onto his own troops, but was told ‘don’t worry, we don’t.’

The programme is available for UK viewers on the I-Player until 19 June. The second episode next week recounts how the USA and UK won the war, but lost the peace.

There were a number of co-producers, who will presumably show the programme in their markets: National Geographic, Canal+, NHK, ABC, SVT, NRK, RDI/Radio-Canada, VPRO, DRTV, TVP.

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The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis – Stratfor

The  Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis is republished with  permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis, Stratfor

The recent jihadist attack on the Tigantourine natural gas facility near In  Amenas, Algeria, and the subsequent hostage situation there have prompted some  knee-jerk discussions among media punditry. From these discussions came the  belief that the incident was spectacular, sophisticated and above all  unprecedented. A closer examination shows quite the opposite.

Indeed, very little of the incident was without precedent. Mokhtar  Belmokhtar, who orchestrated the attack, has employed similar tactics and a  similar scale of force before, and frequently he has deployed forces far from  his group’s core territory in northern Mali. Large-scale raids, often meant to  take hostages, have been conducted across far expanses of the Sahel. What was  unprecedented was the target. Energy and extraction sites have been attacked in  the past, but never before was an Algerian natural gas facility selected for  such an assault.

A closer look at the operation also reveals Belmokhtar’s true intentions. The  objective of the attack was not to kill hostages but to kidnap foreign workers  for ransom — an objective in keeping with many of Belmokhtar’s previous forays.  But in the end, his operation was a failure. His group killed several hostages  but did not destroy the facility or successfully transport hostages away from  the site. He lost several men and weapons, and just as important, he appears to  have also lost the millions of dollars he could have gained through ransoming  his captives.

Offering Perspective

Until recently, Belmokhtar  and his group, the Mulathameen Brigade, or the “Masked Ones,” which donned  the name “Those Who Sign in Blood” for the Tigantourine operation, were  associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Prior to their association with  al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, they were a part of Algeria’s Salafist Group  for Preaching and Combat, which operated in the Sahel. As part of these groups,  Belmokhtar led many kidnapping raids and other operations throughout the region,  and these past examples offer perspective for examining the Tigantourine  operation and for attempting to forecast the groups’ future activities.

In April 2003, Belmokhtar was one of the leaders of the Salafist Group for  Preaching and Combat operation that took 32 European tourists hostage in the  Hoggar Mountains near Illizi, Algeria, which is roughly 257 kilometers (160  miles) southwest of the Tigantourine facility. Seventeen hostages were freed  after an Algerian military raid, and the rest were released in August 2003 —  save for one woman, who died of sunstroke.

 

Prior to 2006, when the  Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat essentially became al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb, kidnappings and attempted kidnappings occurred roughly once  a year. But after 2006, the operational tempo of kidnappings  in the Sahel quickened, with about three to five operations conducted per  year. According to U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and  Financial Intelligence David Cohen, al Qaeda earned approximately $120 million  in ransoms from 2004 to 2012. Cohen added that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb  had become the most proficient kidnapping unit of all al Qaeda’s franchise  groups.

Examples of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s proficiency abound. In  September 2010, the group took seven hostages from a uranium mine in Arlit,  Niger, and kidnapped four European tourists in Mali in January 2009. More  recently, it kidnapped three aid workers in Tindouf, Algeria, in October  2011.

Typically the group prefers to kidnap more than one person. Having multiple  hostages allows the captors to kill one or more of them to ratchet up pressure  for the ransom of the others. Guarding multiple hostages requires more  resources, but Belmokhtar has plenty of human resources, and the additional  ransom makes guarding them worth the extra effort.

Holding multiple hostages also enables the kidnappers to make political  statements — often connected to outrageous demands. In the Tigantourine attack,  much attention was paid to the militants’ demands to the U.S. government to  release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as “The  Blind Sheikh,” and Aafia  Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of terrorism  charges. But again, such demands are not unprecedented. Edwin Dyer, one of the  four European tourists kidnapped in January 2009, was beheaded in June 2009  after the British government refused al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s demand to  release imprisoned jihadist cleric Abu Qatada. The group again demanded the  release of Abu Qatada in April 2012 in exchange for British-South African  citizen Stephen Malcolm, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu, Mali, in November 2011.  Certainly the militants had no realistic expectation that the British would meet  their demands; the demands and Dyer’s subsequent execution were meant as  political statements, not realistic objectives.

Botched Missions

Tactically, how the Tigantourine attack transpired remains unclear. What we  do know is that the amount of militants used in the attack is not unprecedented.  While serving as a unit leader for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat  in 2005, Belmokhtar led a group of 150 militants in a raid on a military outpost  in Lemgheiti, Mauritania, that left 15 Mauritanian soldiers dead and another 17  wounded.

According to a Jan. 21 statement made by Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek  Sellal on Jan. 21, it appears that Belmokhtar’s Tigantourine operation was  a two-pronged attack. One team appears to have been tasked with intercepting a  bus taking Western employees from the facility to the airport. Militants  reportedly used vehicles marked as oil company security or as belonging to the  Algerian government. Sellal noted that the objective of the operation was to  take a group of the hostages out of the country, presumably transporting them to  northern Mali’s Kidal region, where in recent years al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb has held its foreign hostages.

Notably, the Tigantourine facility is located only about 32 kilometers from  the Libyan border. The attackers probably took advantage of the chaos in Libya  to gather weapons and prepare for the attack and then came across the border  from Libya to conduct the attack. They could have covered very quickly the  distance from the Libyan border to the facility, and this likely provided them  an element of tactical surprise.

The second prong of the attack was directed against the facility itself.  Heavily armed attackers surprised the security forces at the facility and  subdued them by concentrating their forces and using overwhelming firepower.  Algerian forces recovered from the assailants a recoilless rifle,  rocket-propelled grenade launchers and several medium and light machine guns. We  are currently unsure if this group was tasked with taking additional hostages at  the facility and fleeing with them, staging a  drawn-out hostage drama, as in Beslan, or sabotaging the facility and  fleeing. Such an operation may have meant to divert attention from the group of  militants that was transporting hostages out of the country. Having a group of  hostages in custody outside Algeria could have helped them extract the second  team from the facility.

In any case, the first unit apparently failed to achieve its objective, and  it does not appear that the militants were able to take hostages from the bus  and quickly transport them out of the country. (Currently, not all of the  hostages are accounted for, but they are most likely among the unidentified  dead. It will take time for forensics teams to identify them.) Moreover, on the  second day helicopter gunships thwarted the escape efforts of some militants,  who had used foreign hostages as human shields.

Some reports indicate that the attackers set explosive charges around the  plant and attempted to destroy it Jan. 19, an action that apparently triggered  the final assault to neutralize the militants at the facility. We have not seen  photos of any demolition charges or any other indication that the attackers  employed any sort of sophisticated improvised explosive devices in the  operation. If the attackers went to the trouble to bring large quantities of  explosives with them on the raid, they likely did so intending to use the  explosives to damage the plant or to facilitate a drawn-out hostage drama — or  both. The militants wouldn’t need large quantities of explosives to seize  hostages, and they would not have spent the money to buy them or the effort to  transport them unless they are critical to their mission.

But tactically, both missions — stopping a vehicle to kidnap foreigners and  storming a facility — are within the demonstrated capabilities of Sahel-based  jihadist militants. In addition to numerous vehicular ambushes al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb has conducted to steal cargo or grab hostages, it has also  raided hotels, homes and clinics to seize hostages. Perhaps the attack most  similar to Tigantourine was the September 2010 raid on the Areva uranium mining  facility near Arlit, Niger. The facility was more than 320 kilometers from the  Malian border and more than 160 kilometers from the border with Algeria. The  militants demonstrated their ability to operate hundreds of kilometers from  their bases in northern Mali, successfully storm a facility and return to  northern Mali with Western hostages. These militant groups have also staged  large-scale raids on military bases across the Sahel.

Several indicators suggest the Tigantourine operation was intended to seize  hostages, not kill hostages. According to a June 2007 classified cable released  by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy in Algiers said that Belmokhtar had criticized al  Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s suicide operations that mean to kill civilians.  Moreover, the attackers did not immediately begin to shoot foreigners as they  did during the November 2008 Mumbai  attack and the June  2004 attack against foreign energy workers in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. They  failed to hold these hostages for any period of time, and by all accounts they  failed to take Western hostages back to northern Mali. This amounts to a  significant loss for Belmokhtar.

Avoiding Complacency at Energy Sites

Despite a long history of militant activity in Algeria, energy facilities had  largely escaped unscathed — until last week. When al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb began to conduct  large vehicle bombings in Algiers and roadside bombing attacks against buses  carrying foreign energy workers in or near the capital, energy companies  countered the threat by flying workers directly into airports near energy  facilities like the one in In Amenas.

This lack of attacks led to some complacency on the part of Algerian  officials and security forces at Tigantourine. But in the wake of the recent  attack, security at such facilities will be increased, and any sense of  complacency will disappear — at least for a while. And because militants prefer  to hit softer targets, we are unlikely to see follow-on attacks at similar  facilities in the region in the immediate future. It may also take Belmokhtar  some time to replace the leaders and materiel unexpectedly lost in the  attack.

However, with targets in the region becoming scarcer and harder to attack,  these groups will likely continue to extend their range of operations for new  kidnapping victims. Doing so would not only replace the resources they lost in  the attack but would also circumvent the French and African military offensive  in Mali, where their traditional smuggling activities will be disrupted.

Another lingering concern is the presence of large  quantities of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles in the region. If  Belmokhtar or other militants decide to attack Westerners working at energy  facilities in the region instead of merely kidnapping them, and if increased  security prevents them from other direct assaults, like Tigantourine, these  militants could attack aircraft used to ferry Westerners to airports near these  remote sites.

As Mali becomes a more difficult environment in which to operate, these  groups likely will retreat, at least initially, to Mali’s  Kidal region and possibly Niger’s Air region. Once those areas face the  French-backed African intervention forces, a retreat farther back into southern  Libya is likely, due to the vacuum of authority there and the close links they  have with Libyan militants.

Contrary to what has been widely discussed, the Tigantourine attack fit well  within the range and capability of Sahel-based jihadist militants like those of  Belmokhtar’s group. Thus the attack was more of a reminder of the region’s  chronic problems and less a startling new threat. Militancy and banditry were  fixtures in the Sahel well before the jihadist ideology entered the region. This  history — combined with the vacuum of authority in the region brought on by the  Malian coup and the overthrow  of Gadhafi, the prospect of millions of dollars in ransom and the large  quantities of available weapons — means we will see more kidnappings and other  attacks in the years to come.

Editor’s Note: A comprehensive assessment on al Qaeda in  the Islamic Maghreb can be found here.

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | Stratfor

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The Plot to Bring Down Britain’s Planes: Channel 4

The Plot to Bring Down Britain’s Planes is a TV documentary that was broadcast in the UK by Channel 4 on Thursday 26 April. For UK viewers it can be viewed online from the 4OD service until 26 May. It appears to also be available from  National Geographic’s website; no geographical or time restrictions are mentioned.

Channel 4’s website (link in previous paragraph) describes the programme as follows:

The Plot to Bring Down Britain’s Planes examines in minute detail an invidious home-grown terrorist plot to blow up airplanes flying out of Heathrow Airport, and reconstructs in candid, gripping detail the inside story of the UK’s largest and most dangerous surveillance operation.

British airport security has been rigorously tightened and increasingly stringent restrictions have been imposed on what we can carry onto airliners. Anyone who travels by plane is well aware of the ban on drinks bottles in hand luggage; but few people know exactly why.

The reason dates back to 2006 when a group of young British men from Walthamstow, East London, planned to blow up multiple airliners, departing from Heathrow, simultaneously in mid-flight, with explosives disguised as soft drinks.

If successful, it would have potentially killed over 2000 people and crippled the world aviation industry. But, unbeknown to the terrorists, MI5 was watching.

Over the summer of 2006, with the investigation spreading from the streets of East London to al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, the British authorities faced a nerve-shredding race trying to gather enough evidence to make arrests before the terrorists could launch their devastating attacks.

The film reveals the behind-the-scenes friction between the US and UK authorities and how American intervention forced the hand of their British partners into making premature arrests, which threw the planned operation into jeopardy.

The programme features unprecedented access to members of Counter Terror Command involved in the biggest surveillance operation since the Second World War, who have given interviews and forensic detail about the planned terror attack, plus members of the British government, including the then Home Secretary Lord Reid, Andy Hayman (Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service 2005 to 2008) and Peter Clarke (National Co-ordinator of Terrorist Investigations, Metropolitan Police Service 2002 to 2008), as well as Michael Chertoff, former US Homeland Security Secretary and General Michael Hayden, ex-CIA Head.

This is a comprehensive and riveting account of a race-against-time investigation to stop a major terrorist attack on Britain.

This was the biggest terror plot since 9/11 and was planned to take place just over a year after the 7/7 attacks on public transport in London, which killed 52 people, not including the four suicide bombers, and injured 770. Although the comment above mentions MI5, the British security personnel interviewed were all counter-terrorism police officers. The identities of all but the most senior were concealed.

Ahmed Ali Khan, also known as Abdullah Ahmed Ali, the leader of the plot to destroy airliners, was well educated. He was already known to the security services as a fund raiser for extremist groups. He made one of several visits to Pakistan in May 2006, where he was believed to have attended a terrorist training camp and met Rashid Rauf,  a suspected member of Al-Qaeda. Rauf had dual British-Pakistani nationality; he fled Britain for Pakistan in 2002 after police wanted to question him about the murder of his uncle.

Ali was put under 24/7 surveillance. A surveillance team requires 8-14 people, who must be able to mix into the general community. Re-enactments of the surveillance showed a young woman, talking constantly into her mobile phone, who actually had the police control room rather than her boyfriend on the other end of her lengthy call.

The selection of the terror cell was described as being ‘scientific.’ Tanvir Hussain was Ali’s deputy and another member was Umar Islam, who was 28, a little older than the others, and a convert to Islam. Assad Sarwar was described as being the quartermaster. They were ordinary with families and responsibilities and did not have criminal records. Ali and Sarwar had clearly had counter-surveillance training. Rauf was their middleman from Al-Qaeda.

Sarwar purchased large quantities of hydrogen peroxide, mostly used by hairdressers, but also a potential part of an improvised explosive device.

General Hayden, head of the CIA at the time, stated that the US regarded a domestic terror threat in the UK as being as serious as one in the USA because of the close links between the countries.

Members of the cell were observed visiting shops and paying close attention to the seals of soft drink bottles. They made numerous visits to pharmacists, buying citric acids and large syringes. They rented a flat in the Walthamstow district of London and were observed taking their rubbish some distance to dispose of it in a bin in a park rather than putting it out normally for collection. The rubbish was retrieved and it showed that the flat was a bomb factory.

This led the security services to covertly enter the flat and install cameras and listening devices. The terrorists were using the syringes to extract the contents of soft drink bottles and replace them with liquid explosives without tampering with the seals of the bottles. This indicated that their target was either a well guarded building or aircraft.

The terrorists were heard talking about the most common US holiday destinations for UK tourists. The bombs were small but would be devastating in the pressurised cabin of an aircraft. They talked of having 19 bombers, the same number as on 9/11. This meant that most had not been identified.

The police now had a dilemma: if they arrested the suspects now, the evidence might not be enough to convict them and they could be released and re-start their plot. If they were not arrested, then they might carry out their attack. There was a dispute between the UK and the USA about how long to let the plot run.

The largest and one of the most difficult surveillance operations ever mounted in the UK was undertaken, using 28 teams. One of the conspirators was followed to an internet cafe on, where he carried out a web search for seven UK to North America flights, all of which would be over the Atlantic at the same time. The plotters were overheard talking of taking their wives and children on the flights, and were making suicide videos. The Americans regarded this as an intention to carry out an act of war against them.

It was now Sunday 6 August 2006. The bombers had not yet been given the go-ahead from Pakistan to launch their operation, so the British police believed that they could wait until Friday 11 August before making their arrests.

General Hayden then paid a visit to Pakistan, which the British did not know about. On Wednesday 9 August Rauf was arrested. Hayden denied in the programme that this was an attempt to blackmail Britain into arresting the suspects but said that he ‘wasn’t unhappy at the arrest.’ Andy Hayman of the Metropolitan Police described this as a ‘breaking of trust.’

The British now feared that the conspirators could flee, explode their bombs in crowded places or attempt to board flights. There was a fear that they might have an insider at a UK airport. This led to a ban on liquids being taken on board airliners.

The police prepared to act, calling in 300 officers. Sarwar travelled to Walthamstow to meet Ali. It was decided that they had to be arrested immediately, meaning that the surveillance team had to make the arrests, something that is not normally done. The arrest team arrived shortly afterwards. None of the police officers were armed.

All the suspects were arrested. Significant evidence was found, including suicide videos. The programme stated that 12 men were convicted of terror related offences, eight of whom were directly linked to the liquid bomb plot. The main culprits received life sentences, with the minimum periods served to be 22 years for Umar Islam, 32 years for Tanvir Hussain, 36 years for Assad Sarwar and 40 years for Ahmed Ali Khan.

It didn’t mention that two trials were required; the first jury convicted them of conspiracy to murder but could not reach a verdict on the charge of conspiring to blow up aircraft. Umar Islam was convicted of only conspiracy to murder. Some other defendants were acquitted. See the websites of the Daily Telegraph (Conservative broadsheet), Guardian (Labour broadsheet), Daily Mail (Conservative tabloid), Daily Mirror (Labour tabloid) and BBC (accused by both sides of being biased towards the other).

Rauf escaped in circumstances that suggested either collusion or incompetence by the Pakistani police. The US believe that he was allowed to escape. He returned to the tribal areas, where he was reportedly killed in a drone strike. Andy Hayman suggested that he night be alive and being tortured.

A very interesting programme about the threat of this plot and the techniques of both the terrorists and the security services. There was tension between the Americans and the British over how early to make arrests. The British were annoyed that the arrest of Rauf forced them to move a little more quickly than they wanted to, but they ultimately proved to have enough evidence to convict. As usual for this type of programme, the caveat is that we are told what the security services want to tell us.

Some further information on this subject comes from CNN, which has obtained an Al-Qaeda document, thought to have been written by Rashid Rauf showing the origins of the plot. It is one of over 100 documents discovered by German cryptologists embedded inside a pornographic movie on a memory disk belonging to a suspected al Qaeda operative arrested in Berlin last year.

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Modern Spies Part 2- BBC2

The second and final episode of Modern Spies  was broadcast by BBC TV on Monday 9 April. It was presented by Peter Taylor, a BBC journalist who specialised in Northern Ireland in the 1990s and has reported widely on al-Qaeda since 9/11. It discussed the lengths to which the intelligences services are prepared to go in the fight against terror and asked whether or not British intelligence officers have a licence to kill. Click here for my blog on the first episode.

As in the first episode, Taylor interviewed serving British intelligence officers. They were identified by only their first names,  their faces were obscured and actors spoke their words, so we have to take their word and that of the BBC that they were who they claimed to be. Given Peter Taylor’s reputation, I would be surprised if they were not genuine. There were also open interviews with former senior British police officers and Israeli intelligence officers, current and former CIA and FBI officials and William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary.

It was claimed that there are about 2,000 al-Qaeda inspired terror suspects in the UK. In 2010 MI5 carried out extensive surveillance on a group suspected of planning attacks on major targets in London, including placing bugs in suspect’s homes. The MI5 and police officers interviewed said that everything they did was proportionate and legal, and that they were accountable to a high level of government. The evidence gathered was so convincing that the nine accused pleaded guilty and were given long prison sentences.

Security services make use of ‘sting’ operations, where undercover officers pretend to be able to supply suspected terrorists with the weapons and equipment needed to carry out their operation. There is a risk that these cross the line into entrapment, where the undercover officers entice the suspects into attempting to carry out an act of terror.

A British ‘sting’ operation against the Real IRA came close to entrapment, with the result that only one of the two suspects was convicted. This was blamed on the undercover agent not being trained by MI5; he was recruited specially for this operation, because MI5 did not have an agent with what was described as the ‘right face’ for the mission.

The US uses undercover agents more aggressively than Britain does. This was claimed to risk claims of entrapment. An operation, again carried out by outsiders brought in specially for this mission was described.  The Albanian-American Muslim Duka family took a film of themselves firing automatic weapons, whilst shouting Allah Akbar and Jihad, to a shop for conversion into a DVD. The film company informed the FBI which, lacking suitable agents, recruited two Albanian-Americans to penetrate the group.

Six men, including three Duka brothers, were convicted of buying weapons as part of a plan to attack the US military base at Fort Dix. There appeared little doubt that they had done so; the issue was that the FBI undercover agents may have proposed the operation and thus been guilty of entrapment. One of the undercover agents was paid $240,000 and the other received $150,000 and had deportation proceedings against him dropped.

The  question of whether or not British intelligence officers have a James Bond style licence to kill was discussed. The interviewees were adamant that they do not, and the programme then moved on to other intelligence services that have used assassination.

Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, has admitted that it hunted down and killed the Palestinians responsible for the deaths of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972; it argues that its motive was to prevent future attacks, rather than revenge. A fictionalised version of this story was told in the film Munich.

A team of up to 20 Mossad agents is believed to have assassinated Mahmoud al Mabhouh of Hamas in Dubai in 2010. The programme showed hotel CCTV footage of the agents, who were out of the country by the time that al Mabhouh had been found dead in his hotel room. Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence service, has also killed Palestinians.

The USA has killed a large number of al-Qaeda leaders in drone attacks. A total of 3,000 people have died in these, including innocent bystanders. Britain also uses drones. US Navy Seals assassinated Osama Bin Laden last year.

One awkward revelation for the British intelligence services was that Britain co-operated in the extraordinary rendition of the Libyan opposition leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj  to Libya in 2004. Belhaj was then the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which MI6 feared was close to al-Qaeda. He is now a senior military commander in the new Libya, which Britain helped to create.

This came to light when Libyan intelligence files were discovered after the headquarters of Libyan intelligence were bombed last year. Britain has always denied any involvement in torture, but Belhaj says that he was tortured during his captivity.

This was a very interesting series. To some extent, we were told only what the intelligence services wanted us to hear, but it had unprecedented access. It was noticeable that criticisms had to made tangentially, by talking about things that the Americans and Israelis had done, and which Britain might also have done.

It is available for UK viewers on the I-Player until 12:19am on 20 April. No co-producers, so I do not know if it will be shown in other countries.

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Modern Spies – BBC2

Modern Spies is a two-part BBC TV series that looks at the real world of modern spies and  compares it with the fictional spy world. There were clips from Spooks, 24, James Bond and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but the programme was mostly concerned with the real world. It was presented by Peter Taylor, a BBC journalist who specialised in Northern Ireland in the 1990s and has reported widely on al-Qaeda since 9/11.

For the first time interviews with serving British intelligence officers were broadcast on TV. They were identified by only their first names,  their faces were obscured and actors spoke their words, so we have to take their word and that of the BBC that they were who they claimed to be. Given Peter Taylor’s reputation, I would be surprised if they were not genuine.

They came from all three UK intelligence agencies; the Security Service, better known as MI5, which deals with threats to the UK’s national security; the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, which is responsible for intelligence operations abroad; and GCHQ, responsible for electronic security, codes and cyphers. This was the first time that cameras had been allowed inside GCHQ’s main site at Cheltenham. Science fiction fans (and perhaps conspiracy theorists) may be amused to learn that Britain’s military satellite communications network is called Skynet, the same name as the computer network that is humanity’s enemy in the Terminator films.

Some of the interviewees were from the CIA and FBI; they were named, but were either senior enough to already be publicly known or else retired.  A lot of it was devoted to recruitment; British and American intelligence agencies now have recruitment films on their websites. In the past, MI5 and MI6 recruited via informal approaches at universities, mainly Cambridge and Oxford.

Post 9/11 there has been a need for Asian agents who can infiltrate al-Qaeda. A ‘sting’ operation was re-enacted. British Asian MI5 agents persuaded a British member of al-Qaeda that they could supply him with weapons. The al-Qaeda man was arrested.

One of the FBI  officials interviewed said that 9/11 led to a downgrading of counter-intelligence (operations against foreign intelligence services) as counter-terrorism was expanded. This created problems because, despite the end of the Cold War, Russia continues to spy on the West. It was claimed that there are now as many Russian spies in the USA as there were Soviet ones during the Cold War.

In a well publicised case 10 Russian spies were arrested in the USA in June 2010. Most of them were ‘dead doubles’; Russians who had taken the identity of Americans who were born around the same time as themselves but died young. The exception was Anna Chapman, who has become the best known of the 10 because of her looks. She was able to operate under her own name because her ex-husband, Alex Chapman, is British.

The FBI investigation into the Russian spy ring was also re-enacted. Chapman did not meet her contact, but used a laptop with an encrypted wi-fi connection to send information to somebody a short distance away. The FBI broke the encryption and arranged a meeting between her and one of its own agents, who took the laptop for repair.

The Russian agents were arrested when the FBI realised that they were getting close to a Cabinet official. It was suggested that she might have been a ‘honey trap’ agent; one whose job is to obtain sensitive information by seducing somebody who possesses it. The FBI has subsequently issued a statement saying that Chapman had not attempted to seduce the Cabinet official. In fact, another Russian spy, Cynthia Murphy, who worked on Wall St, had several meetings with a financier who was a friend of the Cabinet official.

The 10 Russians were eventually swapped for four Russians accused of spying for the West. One potentially tragic impact of the case is on the two daughters of Cynthia Murphy and  her husband Richard, also a member of the spy ring. The BBC programme  suggested that their marriage was arranged as part of their cover by the Russian intelligence services. The daughters, having been born and brought up in the USA, now find themselves living in Russia with parents whose marriage may be a sham.

The programme talked about honey traps as if they were always used to entrap men by having them approached by younger and extremely attractive women, who would use pillow talk to obtain secrets. However, I recall reading during the Cold War of handsome and charming male agents who would seduce lonely government secretaries in order to obtain secrets.

Intelligence depends on the sources of information. An enormous risk is of acting on intelligence provided by a rogue source. Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, an Iraqi defector code-named ‘Curveball’, told German intelligence, the BND, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. His information was used by the USA to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He admitted on-screen that he made up his stories of secret factories and special trucks carrying bio-weapons. According to The Guardian, he did so in order to bring down Saddam’s regime and had an agreement with the BND that they would not pass his information onto other countries. He claims to be ‘comfortable’ with what he did.

A major intelligence threat to the West is coming from China. The Chinese intelligence services like to operate via what are known as ‘cut-outs.’ These, rather than a Chinese intelligence officer, deal with the sources. The sources may not know who they are supplying information to, and the risk that the intelligence officers may be arrested is considerably reduced.

It was claimed that China has obtained full details of all US nuclear weapons and it was pointed out that China’s newest combat aircraft, the J-20, is very similar to the Lockheed Martin F-35. It was alleged that the Chinese had obtained details of the F-35 by hacking into the computers of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin’s British partner.

A very interesting programme. albeit on a subject where you can never be sure that you are being told the whole truth. Like the spies, you are reliant on your sources. However, Peter Taylor has a good reputation so I think that we learnt as much of the truth as we are likely to on this subject.

More to follow on the second programme, which deals with the questions of how far the British intelligence services will go to protect the country from terrorist threats and whether or not they have a licence to kill.

For UK viewers, the programme is available on the I-Player until midnight on 16 April. There were no co-producers, so I do not know if it will be shown in other countries.

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