In March the BBC Sky News and the rest reported on an odd incident. The most ‘sensationalist’ reporting was by News Corporation red top the sun, which reported that a British diplomat had been ‘captured’ in Libya by ‘rebel’ forces with a team of 7 SAS soldiers.
The Sun Claimed:
“He and his SAS team were released last night, 72 hours after a secret mission to make contact with rebel leaders went badly wrong. Angry questions were being asked about alleged intelligence failures that forced them to surrender when surrounded and “suicidally outnumbered” by militia. Despite Government claims it sent a “small diplomatic team”, The Sun can reveal it was an MI6 secret agent and his special forces minders.”
The Sun claimed that the mission was ‘botched’
“Their phones and weapons were seized before delicate negotiations secured their release after 72 hours.”
The official UK Government line was
“A small British diplomatic team has been in Benghazi. They experienced difficulties, which have been resolved.”
The story was of course reported by other papers, though the style was a little less sensationalist, and notably more cautious.
among others are reporting that the Libyan rebels have received support from British Intelligence and Special Forces. The Mirror specifically claims:
“British foreign intelligence officers and ex-special forces are working round-the-clock to help rebels seize power.”
“Also helping are former SAS and paras in a “deniable” deal with the British government and paid via a route through an American-based company.”
“It has for the past 12 weeks been thrashing out a plan for the main final thrust into Tripoli but warned rebels: “Once you are in the capital the fighting will be bloody.” “
I confess I have not yet decided if the Sun and other news outlets had been ‘spun’ the original story by the intelligence services, or if they had ‘spun’ their own story and the intelligence services let them run with it.
But I would be surprised if I was the only one who heard, read or saw the story back in March and thought to myself, that for a ‘botched‘ mission it seemed remarkably effective, seized ‘phones’ (Not a satellite phone with a direct line to GCHQ by any chance?) are good for keeping in contact. A batch of ‘siezed’ top notch weapons, seems like a nice goodwill gesture, 72 hours is a nice period to do some serious negotiations. I also wondered about the uncertainty of the reporting, sometimes there were 7 at others 8 special forces involved.
A Special forces operative wouldn’t have been left behind to keep communication channels open would they? Surely Not.
It seems to me that establishing early contact with the ‘rebels’ was essential, doing it without some media attention was going to be next to impossible, a small team making contact ‘by any means necessary’, avoiding media attention if possible, but with a ‘back story’ if the media spotlight did fall, seems like a good strategy to me.
It all struck me as a little like an episode of Columbo, British Intelligence bumbling about looking disorganised, asking stupid questions, whilst all the time in a disciplined way, inexorably pursuing a specific objective.
On the current evidence I would say that if this was a ‘botched’ mission, they can keep botching them.