- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

It was a remarkable journey for the 27-year-old coup-maker, born in 1942 to a Bedouin herdsman in an insignificant tribe.

Inspired by the late great Pan Arab demagogue Gamal Abdel Nasser, army Capt. Moammar Gadhafi, a communications specialist, waited for the boss, King Idriss, to be on a Mediterranean cruise, to take over oil-rich Libya and abolish the monarchy.

Exactly one month after assuming power Sept. 1, 1969, the newly promoted colonel, a rank he has held ever since, Moammar Gadhafi ordered all Latin script removed from the country within one month. Only Arabic would be allowed.

On Oct. 1, a major wielding a large pair of scissors entered the Uaddan hotel dining room, where this reporter was respecting the 8 p.m. curfew with other diners. Napkins were abruptly snatched from one’s lap and dutifully cut in half by the major. The half that had the hotel’s name in Arabic was returned.

In those early days, Col. Gadhafi tested the country’s medical services by disguising himself as a beggar and then going to a hospital after midnight to ask for emergency services. The beggar was told to go away and come back in the morning. Next day, Col. Gadhafi ordered the hospital closed.

Nasser died the following year and his would-be successor began diverting the country’s oil wealth into troublemaking endeavors throughout the world. Over the next 20 years, through the end of the Cold War, Col. Gadhafi interfered with a lethal mix of lavishly funded terrorism, subversion and overt military aggression in the internal affairs of no less than 42 countries. The late president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, once called him “100 percent mad.” Mad he may be, but certainly not crazy.

Libya became a privileged sanctuary for all manner of international terrorist groups.

He also turned Libya into a de facto member of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact. Col. Gadhafi wasted billions of dollars on Soviet tanks and Scuds that proved useless due to a lack of qualified personnel. On Independence Day, the tanks he paraded were down to a one-man crew —the driver who zigzagged across the white line he was supposed to follow.

Col. Gadhafi’s first major reality check was the retaliatory bombing of Libya ordered by President Reagan in 1986 for Libya’s earlier bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two U.S. servicemen. The colonel’s 3-year-old daughter was killed in the U.S. raid that had clearly targeted Col. Gadhafi himself, and the terrorist downing of Pan Am 103, killing 270, was presumably the colonel’s idea of tit for tat.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and America’s total victory in the Cold War finally gave the colonel pause for thought. That was the seminal event that finally persuaded him to graduate out of the ranks of rogue states and work his way back to diplomatic respectability. U.N. sanctions —particularly U.S. sanctions —were biting hard and Libya was totally isolated by air. The only access was by road from Tunisia and by sea from Malta.

The clean breast Col. Gadhafi recently made of Libya’s secret weapons of mass destruction projects clearly followed the defeat without a fight of his hero Saddam Hussein. He told this reporter once that his favorite shortwave radio station was Baghdad. When asked why, he said, “I get better foreign policy advice listening to them than to my own advisers.”

By 1993, wiser counsels had prevailed. On July 6, after a lengthy interview, he went off the record and asked me to deliver a message to the director of Central Intelligence in Washington. He admitted Libya’s guilt for the downing of Pan Am 103, but made clear that it was originally an Iranian retaliatory terrorist attack for the downing by the U.S. Navy of a peaceful Iran Air Airbus on its daily run across the Strait of Hormuz.

“Nobody in our part of the world believed the U.S. government when it said it was an accidental occurrence. So the Iranians subcontracted part of the job to a Syrian intelligence service, which, in turn, asked the Libyan Mukhabarat to handle part of the assignment,” Col. Gadhafi explained. “That is the way these things were planned in those days. If we had initiated the plot, we would have made sure the accusing finger was pointed in the other direction and we would have picked Cyprus, not Malta, where some of the organization was done. The others picked Malta presumably to frame us.”

Col. Gadhafi then said he was anxious to work directly with the CIA against Islamist terrorists “who are just as much of a danger to us as they are to you.” He said he was prepared to give the CIA valuable information for fighting transnational terrorist groups, like al Qaeda, but not those that are “national liberation movements fighting Israeli colonialism.” Al Qaeda has a Libyan branch known as “Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).”

Since the end of the Cold War, Col. Gadhafi added, “international terrorist organizations concluded America was now the main enemy” and instructed operatives to immigrate to the United States and become sleeper agents as successful American citizens to be activated a few years down the road. “Much of the world,” the colonel said then, “does not see America as a shining example to follow, but a frightening mixture of drugs, pornography, unemployed, prisons overflowing with young blacks, rapes and murders. That’s what your television shows us. There are people everywhere who see that your capitalism encourages everyone to consume more and more, buy more cars, more TV sets, more of everything that most of the world cannot afford.”

Since that talk in 1993, but especially since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. of September 11, 2001, Col. Gadhafi has gradually proved his worth to the CIA. That relationship eventually led to full disclosure of all of Libya’s development programs for weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein’s meek surrender was the tipping point. Col. Gadhafi also knows that what the Bush administration did in Afghanistan and in Iraq could be done in Libya —only faster.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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