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Top CIA Official Met With Kadafi in Libya

The agency's deputy director visited Tripoli to discuss terrorism with the leader and his intelligence aide, a convicted terrorist.

November 17, 2005|Ken Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The CIA's deputy director, Vice Adm. Albert M. Calland III, visited Tripoli this month for secret meetings concerning ways to expand Libya's role in fighting terrorism.

Calland was accompanied by a small delegation of CIA officials who met with Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and intelligence aide Abdullah Sanusi, a convicted terrorist, three sources with knowledge of the trip confirmed.

Sanusi, who is Kadafi's brother-in-law, is wanted in France for the bombing of a civilian jetliner over Africa in 1989 that killed 170 people.

Sanusi was convicted in absentia and is barred from traveling to many European countries.

He is also prohibited from entering the United States, a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times.

Sources familiar with the talks between Libyan officials and Calland described them as positive and fruitful.

Kadafi reportedly told Calland that the Bush administration erred in invading Iraq and that it needed to refocus its energy on Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations.

Kadafi also offered Libya's full assistance to that project, the sources said.

The CIA declined to comment for this article.

However, a senior U.S. official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said, "One of the most effective tools in the war on terrorism is our relationships with our allies, even nontraditional ones. Libya, geographically, is in an important area for the intelligence community."

Calland's trip marks a significant advance in the transformation of relations between the United States and Libya, which is still listed officially as a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department.

It also illustrates the murky alliances the Bush administration has forged in fighting terrorism. Along with its ties to Libya, the CIA has established close counter-terrorism partnerships with Uzbekistan, Egypt, Sudan and a number of other countries that the administration has simultaneously accused of widespread human rights abuses.

In April, the CIA sent a plane to Khartoum to bring Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh, Sudan's intelligence chief, to the U.S. for meetings at the agency's headquarters. Sudan -- which the Bush administration has accused of conducting genocide in the Darfur region -- has rounded up extremist suspects for questioning by the CIA and detained foreign militants moving through the country on their way to join Iraqi insurgents.

The administration has said that it is sometimes necessary to work with controversial regimes to help fight its war against terrorism.

American relations with Libya have been rife with conflict since Kadafi took power in a 1969 army coup that overthrew the country's pro-Western monarchy.

By 1979, the U.S. had named Kadafi as a sponsor of international terrorism. That same year, U.S. Embassy staff members were withdrawn from Tripoli after a mob attacked and set fire to the embassy.

Two years later, the U.S. closed the Libyan Embassy in Washington, saying Tripoli's officials had engaged in conduct "contrary to internationally accepted standards of diplomatic behavior."

Relations deteriorated during the 1980s as Libya hosted terrorist groups such as the Abu Nidal organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Japanese Red Army.

In 1986, President Reagan -- who famously referred to Kadafi as a "mad dog" -- ordered U.S. warplanes to attack Libya in retaliation for Tripoli's alleged role in the bombing of a Berlin disco.

In 1988, terrorists blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. The next year, another terrorist attack killed all 170 people aboard a French UTA airliner over Niger.

Courts subsequently held Libyan intelligence agents responsible for both attacks.

Sanusi was implicated but not charged in the Pan Am bombing. He was one of six Libyans who were found guilty in absentia and given life sentences by a French court in the 1989 UTA jetliner bombing.

Sanusi has also been accused by human rights groups of atrocities in Libya, including the 1996 killings of possibly hundreds of detainees at the Abu Salim prison. The killings allegedly were carried out by security personnel under his command.

"Sanusi at one time was Kadafi's closest confidant and hatchet man," said Henry M. Schuler, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Libya in the mid-1960s and who has tracked Libyan affairs ever since. "He was especially powerful during the period when Libyan terrorism was at its peak."

More recently, Sanusi was implicated in an alleged Libyan plot in 2003 to kill then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

An American Muslim leader pleaded guilty last year to illegal business dealings with the Kadafi regime and told a U.S. court that he conspired with Sanusi and other Libyan officials planning the assassination. Libya denied any involvement.

Kadafi began reaching out to the United States as early as the mid-1990s, expelling or severing ties with radical groups. In April 1999, he surrendered two Libyans who were suspected in the Pan Am bombing.

Kadafi long supported radical causes, but he has survived several assassination attempts by religious militants, whom he still views as a menace to his secular regime. He once described radical Islamists as being "more dangerous than AIDS."

He denounced the Sept. 11 attacks, which marked a turning point in U.S.-Libyan relations.

The Times previously reported that after the Sept. 11 attacks, Tripoli turned over to the CIA files on Libyans with alleged ties to international terrorism. Libya also has delivered Islamic radicals to neighboring pro-Western governments.

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