Thursday, February 24, 2011

CIA's top Libyan contact Musa Kusa may go down with Gaddafi

By Jeff Stein
The Washington Post

The Libyan official who was a key CIA contact in the war on terrorism and the removal of Moammar Gaddafi’s weapons of mass destruction may have no option now but to go down with the ship.

Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, who plotted assassinations and airline bombings as well as helped Washington pursue al-Qaeda terrorists, cannot defect to the opposition like other top Libyan officials, says a spokesman for a U.S.-based Libyan human rights group, because “he has too much blood on his hands.”

“He will not be part of any democratic government in the future, that’s a sure thing,” said Omar Khattaly, spokesman for the Libyan Working Group, which has offices in Atlanta, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Kusa was Gaddafi’s chief of intelligence from 1994 to 2009, when he was appointed foreign minister. But long before then Libyan exiles had dubbed him “the envoy of death” for sending hit men around the globe to eliminate opposition figures.

“There’s a lot of stuff in Libyan intelligence files that will make him make him look bad” to the opposition, added Vince Cannistraro, a former top CIA official who led the agency’s probe of the 1988 bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

“It’s over for them,” Cannistraro said of Gaddafi and Kusa. “The opposition is closing in from all six entrances to Tripoli now.” Gaddafi, he said, is countering with African mercenaries “being flown directly into the airfield that used to be the American Wheelus Air Base.”

It’s the kind of operation Kusa would be good at.

“What will become of [Kusa] I don’t know,” said Khattaly, whose father was press secretary at Libya’s Washington embassy from 1971 to 1973 before resigning over Gaddafi’s policies, “but jumping ship is not safe for him. He did quite a bit damage over maybe 20 years as head of the intelligence service.”

Kusa, now about 64, started out as a security specialist at Libya’s embassies in Europe in the 1970s but quickly earned his grisly moniker. In 1980, he was expelled as Libya’s envoy in London for publicly backing the murder of overseas dissidents and threatening to back the outlawed Irish Republican Army if the United Kingdom didn’t hand them over.

Khattaly also charges Kusa with directing the assassination or kidnapping (and later execution) of at least five prominent Libyan opposition figures abroad, including Mansur Kikhia, a former foreign minister and United Nations ambassador who was abducted from Cairo in 1993 and never seen again.

Kusa was also suspected of masterminding the PanAm 103 bombing, as well as that of a French airliner over the Sahara in 1989.

Kusa was “absolutely” responsible for those crimes, Khattaly said. “All fingers point to him.”

Cannistraro served in Libya early in his 27-year CIA career, and he says Kusa was probably involved in a Gaddafi plot to assassinate him -- for pinning the blame in the PanAm bombing on Libya -- while he was on a trip to Egypt in the 1990s. Tipped off by his Egyptian contacts, Cannistraro changed his plans.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Gaddafi offered Washington intelligence on al-Qaeda’s effort to obtain a nuclear weapon, and it was Kusa who met with Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, according to later reports.

In 2003, when Gaddafi offered to get rid of his own weapons of mass destruction in exchange for the dropping of trade sanctions imposed after the Lockerbie bombing, Musa Kusa was his point man in clandestine meetings with top CIA and British officials.

It was just those contacts that may have “scared” Gaddafi, said Khattaly.

“In my opinion, Gaddafi got worried about his contacts with all these foreign intelligence services.”

Whatever the reason, the Libyan strongman removed Kusa from the head of intelligence in 2009 and made him foreign minister.

Now Kusa has no place else to go -- in Libya, anyway, Khattaly says. Sticking with Gaddafi to the bitter end “is the logical choice for him.”

By Jeff Stein | February 23, 2011; 10:00 PM ET

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