7 March 2011

Spookery: you have to take chances

Much gloating about the brief capture of a couple of SIS officers and their SAS escort in eastern Libya by those too far gone in hatred of the current UK administration to give it any credit at all.

Absent any reliable sources of information about what is going on, a covert mission was certainly worth a try. The West in general and Britain in particular has a great deal to lose if Khaddafi is replaced by a headless monster, as in neighbouring Tunisia, and it is simply common sense to try to get alongside the leading insurgents as soon as possible.

If the British government could back the eventual winner early, the damage to national interests would be greatly reduced. Indeed, British influence might even be enhanced. It helps that the French and Italians were also heavily committed to the Khaddafi regime, and are better targets for residual anti-colonial feeling.

Straight diplomats are seldom any use in a crisis precisely because it is their job to be risk-averse. They are best at drafting bouts de papier, a skill of little relevance once the guns begin to shoot. The main function of an intelligence service is to keep their own government informed about what is bubbling beneath the surface.

When, as in North Africa, apparently monolithic regimes crumble, it is the spooks who have to scramble to find out who is likely to come out on top. It is in the nature of intelligence work that operations, especially when mounted quickly in a fast-changing environment, will sometimes go tits-up. But it is surely better to try and fail than not to try at all.

1 comment:

  1. The premature gloating over the presumed failure of what was anything but a combat mission rippled like a wave through the Clonate of Guardianspeak. The fact that no harm was done and the British point taken with all returned unharmed will no doubt go unremarked among the same noncogscenti.