Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2011 campaign to drive Moammar Gadhafi from power did significant damage to U.S. intelligence, according to a top Libyan aide and U.S. intelligence officials.
The Libyan dictator provided regular reports to the CIA that helped capture or kill key al Qaeda figures and thwart terrorist attacks against American targets overseas, those sources said.
The Libyan regime, for instance, helped U.S. forces kill a key al Qaeda operative of a suicide attack on a U.S. air field in Afghanistan in 2007 when Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting.
It also helped foil a plan to attack the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria in 2005, according to U.S. intelligence sources who spoke to The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
“The Gadhafi regime was a productive source for counterterrorism intelligence,” said a former senior intelligence official who was personally familiar with the information-sharing arrangement the U.S. had with Libya. “The relationship was healthy enough that even Mousa Koussa [the head of Libyan intelligence from 1994 to 2009] visited the CIA during the [George W.] Bush administration years.”
The American officials’ accounts were corroborated by former Gadhafi aide Mohammed Ismael, who told The Times that his former boss authorized significant intelligence-sharing with the U.S. during the war on terrorism, especially relating to al Qaeda’s expansion into North Africa.
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Mr. Ismael said the former Libyan regime was instrumental in the targeting of Abu Laith al-Libi, then the No. 3 leader of al Qaeda and the suspected mastermind of a 2007 Bagram Air Field bombing in Afghanistan that killed 23 people and injured 20. In that incident, a suicide bomber reached the outer gate of the U.S. installation while the vice president was visiting.
Mr. Ismael described the attack as an “assassination attempt” against Mr. Cheney, a theory that was debated in U.S. military circles. He said that when al-Libi was killed several months later in Pakistan by a CIA Predator drone, it was Libyan intelligence that helped U.S. forces find him.
“Libya was the first country in the world to issue an international arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden in March 1988,” Mr. Ismael told The Times in a series of email exchanges.
“Intelligence sharing and information provided to U.S. intelligence agencies led the U.S. to their first arrest of [al-Libi], and Libyan intelligence services provided their U.S. counterpart with valuable information on Libyan terrorists in Iraq and hard-core fighters from Derna, Libya, in Iraq,” he said.
Mr. Ismael broke his silence to the press last month for the first time since the fall of the Gadhafi regime when he spoke to The Times about Mrs. Clinton’s role in pushing the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya that ousted Gadhafi from power.
The Times reported that the Pentagon opposed military intervention so much that it sent an emissary to negotiate with Libya, bypassing Mrs. Clinton, in conversations that were captured on tape. U.S. intelligence couldn’t corroborate Mrs. Clinton’s primary argument for war, that Libya was in imminent danger of a humanitarian crisis, the paper reported.
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In September 2011, The New York Times reported that documents found in an abandoned Libyan spymaster’s office “provide new details of the close relations the Central Intelligence Agency shared with the [Gadhafi] Libyan intelligence services.”
It said the U.S. apparently sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning to Libya.
Mr. Ismael told The Times that his former bosses helped lead the CIA to Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun — commonly known as “Spin Ghul” — a battle-hardened al Qaeda veteran who was extradited to New York from Italy in 2013 and held on six federal charges including conspiracy to kill American military personnel and conspiracy to bomb diplomatic buildings.
One of those buildings, Mr. Ismael said, was the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria targeted in 2005. While Gadhafi tried to help the U.S. thwart terrorist attacks, he said, the rebels unleashed by the removal of the Libyan leader led to an attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and three other Americans at Benghazi in September 2012.
“So you have the [Gadhafi] regime, which helped stop an attack on the U.S. Embassy, and you have the Libyan supported rebels that planned an attack on the U.S. Embassy. It’s ironic,” he wrote to The Times.
Mr. Ismael also expressed frustration that after years of helping U.S. intelligence halt al Qaeda operations against its overseas military installations and embassies, the U.S. agency armed al-Qaeda-linked rebels in his own country, leading to the death of Gadhafi and the collapse of his regime.
“You can see that al Qaeda was specifically linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which [NATO] backed in the war against the regime,” Mr. Ismael noted by email.
The Times this month revealed a classified weapons list compiled by Gadhafi intelligence agents that detailed armaments supplied to rebel forces by NATO member states.
The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was one of the most powerful anti-Gadhafi rebel forces that allied itself with NATO in 2011. Shortly before the intervention started in March, the Islamic organization adopted a secular, pro-democracy sounding name, calling itself the “Libyan Fighting Group for Change.”
Mr. Ismael said the former Libyan regime also helped shield Western nationals from terrorist dangers.
“Libyan intelligence services played a major role with U.S. assistance in the arrest of Abd Razzaq al-Bara, a top al Qaeda leader in the Sahel region who was responsible for the abduction of more than 30 Western tourists in the Sahara desert,” he wrote.
“He was arrested with assistance of Libyans by a Chadian rebel group. The Libyans then stepped in and convinced the group to hand him over to Libya, which in turn turned him over to Algeria,” Mr. Ismael said.
“Al-Bara had plans to target U.S. interests in the region,” he said.
Senior U.S. intelligence officials corroborated most of Mr. Ismael’s claims, confirming that Libya was a key cooperator from 2004 through 2011 with the CIA and that intelligence-gathering in the country became more difficult in the chaos that ensued with Gadhafi’s ouster.
“My understanding and belief is that they were helpful after they dismantled their WMD program,” said another U.S. intelligence source. “They became pretty helpful to us because there were so many Libyans in al Qaeda and they had a unique window into that.”