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25 April 2000. Thanks to PF.

New Times (UK)

April 20, 2000


Patrick Fitzgerald

A second highly classified document concerning British intelligence operations against Libya was posted on the Internet in mid-April. As well as providing further insights into the conduct of intelligence operations, the contents raise serious questions about the services’ professional judgement.

The disclosure has also once again highlighted a major headache for government lawyers worried about the use of the Internet to publicise official secrets.

The document is a Security Service (MI5) report, dated 1 December 1995 and written by the then head of MI5’s Libya section (codenamed G9/0), recommending the expulsion from the UK of Khalifa Ahmed Bazelya, the then head of the Libyan Interests Section in London.

The report also carries a PF reference (690551) which refers to the number allocated to Bazelya’s Personal File in MI5’s registry.

The report, classified ‘Top Secret/Delicate Source/UK Eyes A’, with a covering letter, was addressed to of the Foreign Office Permanent Under Secretary’s Department, whose anodyne title belies its importance as the principal point of contact between the Foreign Office and the intelligence services. Copies were also sent to officials at NENAD (Near East and North African Department) and DICTD (counter-terrorism policy) at the Foreign Office, as well as the Home Office’s F4 branch which deals with terrorism and national security.

Officials from these departments would have been involved in making the final recommendation to the ministers responsible for approving Bazelya’s expulsion.

Though accredited an a regular diplomat, Bazelya was also strongly associated with Libyan intelligence (described in the report as a "co-optee") and apparently owed his position to the patronage of Musa Kusa, head of Libyan foreign intelligence, and of the Libyan leader Muammer al-Gadhafi.

Five days earlier, on 26 November, a prominent Libyan opposition figure, Al Mohammed Abu Said, had been brutally murdered at his grocery shop in the Notting Hill district of west London. Abu Said was believed to have been involved in a 1994 coup attempt against Gadhafi. Official Libyan involvement in the murder was strongly suspected but never proven, and in retrospect, it is clear that the government were concerned to downplay any possible link at the time.

Behind the scenes, however, an urgent reappraisal was being made of a long-running joint operation to recruit Bazelya as a British intelligence agent. When Bazelya’s name had been put forward to take over at the Libyan Interests Section of the Saudi embassy in 1993, MI5 files revealed an extensive intelligence background (the Libyan embassy or ‘People’s Bureau’ had been closed in 1984 after the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher). However, as the MI5 document explains "it was assessed at the time that the potential intelligence dividends of recruiting him outweighed the likely threat he would posed to the security of the UK".

In the wake of Abu Said’s murder, however, MI5 felt that "although Bazelya has provided some low-grade intelligence, we assess that his first loyalty remains to the Libyan regime. We consider the balance of advantage to lie in ending Bazelya’s hostile intelligence activities".

The situation was further complicated by delicate negotiations in progress at the same time over the possible handover of the Libyan suspects for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, in which a key British intelligence source was involved.

Nonetheless, having secured the agreement of ministers, the decision was taken a few days after the delivery of the memo that Bazelya should be expelled. He left the country within days and is now the Libyan ambassador in Cyprus.

The MI5 report, which with its covering letter runs to 14 pages, details Bazelya’s intelligence activities during his London posting. These include running a network of at least four agents, contact and collaboration with other Libyan intelligence officers and "revolutionary students" in Britain, and work on a plan to establish a Lbyan Scientific Centre in Britain to act as a front for illegal technology transfer. It also describes commercial operations, including a major lobbying effort, undertaken by the PR consultancy GJW, to persuade British public opinion that Libya was not involved in the Lockerbie disaster. There is also a reference to Libyan money paid into the bank account of the journalist Victoria Brittan on behalf of the former head of Ghanaian intelligence , Kojo Tsikata. (According to David Shayler, this was the subject of a major MI5 operation which eventually established that the money was provided to fund a legal action by Tsikata in the British courts).

The report also shows how MI5 use a combination of sources, also looking for ‘collateral’ material from one source to corroborate that provided by another. MI5 relied extensively on agents from within three main groups the Libyan dissident community; pro-regime "revolutionary students" and – the most sensitive – inside Lbyan intelligence itself. The other principal source of information was telephone tapping, referred to as ‘telecheck’. It is evident from the document that both fixed line and mobile phones were monitored; in addition, reference is made to some calls made outside Britain, details of which would have come to MI5 through GCHQ.

(Intelligence officials cited by the Sunday Times were purportedly "particularly concerned about the release of details of a hitherto unknown intelligence gathering procedure called ‘telecheck’ , a system for filtering phone traffic to trace, identify and record important calls". This is unlikely. The techniques have been known about in some detail since the press exposure of Britain’s national phone tapping centre in 1980. The term ‘telephone check’ has also been publicly used by another former MI5 officer, Cathy Massiter. The government is more likely to be concerned about the extent to which MI5 is shown to rely on phone tapping as a basic intelligence-gathering tool.)

Some physical surveillance was devoted to Bazelya and his associates, but generally the technique appears to have been used sparingly, probably because of its heavy demands on personnel and finance.

The final source of information was liaison with other intelligence services: both the FBI, CIA and Kenyan intelligence contributed to MI5’s knowledge of Bazelya, principally his pre-1993 background which was said to include contacts with the Provisional IRA and clandestine arms supplies to Ethiopian rebel movements.

Among MI5’s main worries about the disclosure of the contents of the Bazelya document is its exposure of its working methods. Little can be done about that now, but British intelligence will be urgently looking to prevent further material appearing on the Internet.

Through the use of the informal D Notice system or, if necessary, an injunction (easily obtained at short notice from a friendly judge), broadcast and print media can be prevented from publishing unwelcome information. The Internet, as is now all too obvious, is quite a different matter. Several recent developments suggest, however, that the government is prepared to pursue the issue.

The precedent set by the Demon/Godfrey libel case, reported by Norman Smith in the last issue of New Times, has major implications for the responsibility of UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for the content of websites which they host. Whatever precedent this may set for the future, however, it will not apply outside the UK.

That has not stopped the British authorities, assisted by various US agencies, from tracking down and making representations to American ISPs which have posted the MI5/Bazelya document. The precise nature of these approaches remains somewhat opaque but there is no doubt that in some cases, they have been highly effective.

The MI5/Bazelya document has been posted at least two sites: ‘’ and ‘’. A few days after its first appearance on Cryptome’, John Young, who runs the New York-based site, received a letter [telephone request] forwarded from his ISP, Verio, originating from a "British Intelligence Agency" asking Young and Verio to remove the document from the site. Mr. Young declined, noting that such "an informal request, not a court order, is insufficient reason to remove the document which provides significant public information".

Sonia Rector, a senior Verio official, broadly support Young’s position, and expressed amazement that "A British intelligence agency would directly request Verio to remove a document without providing written legal authority to do so".

Verio’s attitude contrasts sharply with that of another American ISP, Exodus, which carries the Mathaba site. On 16 April, less than 48 hours after the document’s appearance, Exodus issued an instruction to a website forwarding service, NameSecure, with whom Mathaba has a service agreement, to close Mathaba immediately. Otherwise NameSecure itself would be shut down. Faced with that ultimatum, NameSecure complied, but its requests to Exodus to provide further information in writing – not least to protect NameSecure from possible future legal action – have not so far been met. (Needless to say, although the Mathaba main site is down, its contents have been mirrored elsewhere.)

Although Exodus have refused to divulge further information, it would appear that – at the very least – they have been subject to a similar "informal approach" to that received by Verio and Cryptome.

British intelligence remain convinced that the dissident ex-MI5 officer David Shayler is responsible for the document leakage, and substantial resources have been devoted to tracking down his suspected – and possibly imaginary -- associates (among them, Julie-ann Davis, arrested in March). At the other end of the chain, among the American Internet industry, the British have decided to approach Webmasters and ISPs with as much leverage as they can muster: this will include the backing of the American intelligence complex, with whom the British enjoy close and cordial relations. While some may succumb to the pressure, others will not. And the nature of the Internet is that one site is enough.