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Internal Security

To ensure both the country's and Gaddafi's security, Libya has a highly active intelligence service that operates both in and outside the country. Libya's intelligence service comprises several (as many as seven) individually independent agencies, which also monitor each other.

It is claimed that many Libyans constantly feel that they may be under surveillance, which causes a certain amount of fear and caution. The intelligence services' procedures are not known, but probably take a wide variety of forms, e.g. physical surveillance, compulsory reporting for the various officials, monitoring through communication technology, mass media monitoring etc. It is well known that civil servants are constantly shifted within the administrations and executive departments where they work, to prevent strong, opposing alliances from forming that could threaten the regime. According to experts, this reshuffling of staff strongly contributes to bureaucracy and administrative inefficiency.

By the late 1980s, many segments of Libyan society deeply resented the authoritarian nature of the Libyan government under Qadhafi. The extent of silent opposition could not be assessed with certainty but has been estimated at more than 50 percent by outside observers. Dissent was hard to measure because all news media were strictly controlled to serve as instruments of the state, and no forms of association were permitted without the endorsement of the regime. Citizens were fearful of voicing discontent or uttering critical opinions that might be reported by a widespread informer network. Punishment for open dissent was arbitrary and could be extraordinarily severe.

Internal security mechanisms reaching into every corner of Libyan society, and fears of harsh retribution have successfully prevented antipathy to Qadhafi's actions from reaching a stage of public demonstrations or open questioning. As many as 50,000 Libyans--mostly from the more prosperous classes--have taken up residence abroad, but the opposition groups that have sprung up among the exiles have not presented a convincing threat to the regime.

Numerous attempts have been launched to overturn Qadhafi's rule. In most instances, these attempts have originated among military officers who have access to weapons and the necessary communications and organizational networks. In no case, however, did they appear to come near to achieving their goal. The effectiveness of the internal security apparatus and the infiltration of officers loyal to Qadhafi have frustrated most plots before they could develop sufficiently to have a chance of success.

Among the reported coup attempts, possibly the most widespread was uncovered among disaffected officers of the RCC in 1975. A large number of personnel were tried in secret by a military court, with many sentenced to death and hundreds condemned to long prison terms. An undisclosed number of officers and civilians were arrested in an abortive coup in January 1983; five officers were executed, including the deputy commander of the People's Militia. A coup attempt, reportedly involving bloody fighting in front of the fortified barracks where Qadhafi resides in a Tripoli suburb, occurred in May 1984. According to the United States Department of State, over 5,000 were arrested, many tortured, and perhaps more than 100 executed. A leading opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, took credit for this failed operation, although Qadhafi blamed the Muslim Brotherhood.

Another reported plot in March 1985 was said to have been foiled when it was infiltrated by persons loyal to Qadhafi. Some sixty military officers, disgruntled over the country's economic mismanagement and extravagance, were said to have been arrested.

A further instance of disaffection occurred in November 1985. Colonel Hassan Ishkal, a senior officer and military governor of Surt, was reportedly summarily executed after being summoned to Qadhafi's headquarters. It was believed that he had broken with Qadhafi over the interference of revolutionary guards in the military and over Qadhafi's adventurist foreign policies.

Because of these coup attempts, protective security surrounding Qadhafi was carried to unusual lengths. His travel plans were concealed and changed abruptly, his patterns of residence were disguised, and he moved about in a heavily armored convoy. His personal bodyguard was composed of a Presidential Guard, drawn from his own tribal group. Moreover, there were reports that Qadhafi constantly moved senior military officers from one command to another so that no officer could develop a unified command capable of threatening the regime.

The major instrument used by Qadhafi to detect and avert coup attempts was an extensive internal security apparatus. By the late 1980s, details of the salient features of the security organization were still generally lacking. The system installed in the early 1970s with Egyptian help was modeled on its Egyptian counterpart and was once described as "composed of several overlapping but autonomously directed intelligence machines." As it further evolved, internal security functioned on several levels, beginning with Qadhafi's personal bodyguard unit (reportedly given technical assistance by East German advisers). The secret service and, at a lower level, the police were constantly on the alert for suspicious conduct, as were the revolutionary committees and the Basic People's Congresses. The committees constituted an effective informer network and may also act independently of other security agencies when authorized and encouraged by Qadhafi. This multilayered complex assured tight control over the activity of individuals in virtually every community.

Libya has increased its monitoring of Libyan dissidents and oppositionists abroad. This is largely a reaction to an aborted coup in 1993 which Qadhafi believed was orchestrated by oppositionists abroad.

On 21 December 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 was downed over Lockerbee, Scotland by a terrorist bomb. 270 people were killed aboard the Boeing 747. Libya was accused of responsibility for the bombing, which killed 259 people onboard and 11 on the ground. Two Libyan operatives, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and A-Amin Khalifa Fahimah, were indicted in 1991 and thought to be in hiding in Libya. They were sent to the Netherlands for trial in 1999 and implicated Mohammed Abu Talb, a Palestinian terrorist jailed in Sweden. In 2000 Ahmad Behbahani told a 60 Minutes journalist from a refugee camp in Turkey that he proposed the Pan Am operation and coordinated the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. He also claimed that Iran was behind the 1994 bombing in Argentina that killed 86 people. Behbahani was later called a fraud by the CIA and FBI. In 2001 a Scottish court convicted Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, of murder in the 1998 bombing of Pan am Flight 103. A 2nd Libyan, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted. The conviction was upheld in 2002. In 2003 Libya set up a $2.7 billion fund for families of 270 people killed.

On 19 September 1989 a French DC-10, UTA Flight 772, was bombed over the Sahara desert of Niger and all 170 [171] passengers died. French authorities placed the blame on Libya's Abdallah Senoussi, brother-in-law of Moammar Khadafy and chief of foreign operations for the Libyan secret service. The six Libyan suspects were named by a French judge in 1998 and tried in absentia in 1999. The attack was in retaliation for French intervention on behalf of Chad in a war with Libya since the mid 1980s

In August 1993 Qadhafi began a shake up of his security and intelligence services. On one hand, this move confirmed the fall of the regime's number two man, Commandant Abdessalam Jallud and his tribe, the Migariha, whose influence was dominant up until now in the security services. On the other hand, it confirmed the preeminence of the Kaddadifa clan, of which the chief of state is a member.

In February 1996 a plan to kill Moammar Khadafy failed and several bystanders were killed. In 1998 David Shayler, a former member of the British intelligence services, disclosed the plot in France while fighting extradition to Britain. The British foreign secretary denied the attack. Shayler returned to London in 2000 to face charges.

Evidence strongly suggests a restructuring of the intelligence services' methods by 2002. They now seem to be less generalised, instead focusing more directly on clearly defined opposition groups and individuals. This change may be a result of the regime wishing to project a more open and less repressive image, or possibly feeling less under threat at present.

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:53:49 ZULU