Judged by those standards, MI6 is not doing a very good job – and neither is the CIA.
Today’s newspaper contains stories about two cases involving the British intelligence agency. In a pre-inquest review hearing, it was revealed that Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent murdered in London – after meeting former colleagues from Russia for tea – had been in the pay of MI6 for a number of years. Meanwhile, in a court case across town, the British government agreed to pay £2.2m to a prominent Libyan dissident, Sami al-Saadi, who accused the British of having forcibly transferred him to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004 – where he was subsequently tortured. The British government settled the case, without admitting liability – arguing that contesting the case would have required revealing sensitive operational details. Still, it doesn’t look good.
Meanwhile, on the same day, yet another rendition case was settled – this time in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights awarded Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen, compensation after ruling that he was the innocent victim of extraordinary rendition by the CIA. The court ordered Macedonia to pay al-Masri €60,000 in compensation – for colluding in his arrest and handover to the Americans.
The details of the al-Masri case read like some sort of Kafkaesque nightmare – in which the suspect is seized on the streets of a European city, held incommunicado, tortured, transferred to a prison in Afghanistan and kept there for months – only for his captors eventually to decide that they had got the wrong man, and drop him on the streets of Albania.
I suspect that we are going to be hearing similar stories about the excesses of the “war on terror” for years to come.