SANTA BARBARA — Libya is once again targeting U.S. facilities and officials overseas for possible terrorist attacks, and the Reagan Administration has drafted new contingency plans--including possible military action--designed to "nip it in the bud," an Administration official said Monday.
The official cautioned that the United States does not have evidence of any specific planned attack by Libya. But intelligence sources have picked up "renewed signs of planning" that involve Libyan surveillance of American diplomats and business people abroad, he said.
He said Libyans have approached revolutionary groups in other countries in an effort to interest them in carrying out terrorist activities against Americans. Such groups would provide "a natural cover" for Libya, he said.
"So far, we don't know what's come of those overtures," the official said.
The official also confirmed essential details of a report in Monday's editions of the Wall Street Journal describing U.S. military planning and covert action against Libya.
The newspaper reported that new naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean are designed to keep Libya off balance and could be used in a preemptive strike. The CIA is stepping up its efforts on behalf of Libyan dissidents, and the United States will also seek tougher economic sanctions by its allies, the paper said.
The official stressed that the U.S. response is purely precautionary at this point. He said there is "a big jump between their planning and actually doing something" and that U.S. intelligence has picked up dozens of Libyan plots in the past that were never carried out.
Nevertheless, in cables to European governments, the Administration has proposed high-level consultations as soon as possible to develop a joint response to any renewed terrorist attacks. U.N. Ambassador Vernon A. Walters is expected to undertake the mission to Europe, at Reagan's request.
Although the Administration suspects Libyan involvement in recent terrorist plots in Cyprus and West Berlin and in an aborted effort in Togo, it does not have hard evidence, the official said.
"Our policy toward Libyan-backed terrorism is unequivocal and unchanged," White House spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters on Monday. "We will employ all appropriate measures to cause Libya to cease its terrorist policies."
Speakes said the Administration is "keeping a close eye" on Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and that "we certainly have reason to believe the Libyan state . . . has not forsaken its desire to create terrorist activities worldwide, and the capability is still there to do so."
An Administration official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said Kadafi has been depressed and mentally unstable since the United States conducted bombing raids on his country in April.
"I don't think his head's together at all," the official said. "The guy is in bad shape personally and in terms of his internal political situation."
But Kadafi appears to be in no danger of being ousted, an action that U.S. planners had hoped would result from the April ttack.
Administration officials believe they must further tighten the screws on Kadafi through diplomatic and economic means--and, if it becomes necessary, through military action.
"What we can't afford to do right now is let up, because if we decide to let up because we've had a couple of months of quiet, the whole thing might blow up in our faces," said one top official, who asked not to be identified.