By John Edens
North Africa is a long way from New Zealand. But back in the 1980s, Gaddafi was making overtures in the South Pacific and the Central Intelligence Agency believed the dictator was trying to build a network.
A declassified CIA report gives a snapshot of the political intrigue and international interest as the Libyan leader sought to undermine the West.
In the 1980s, Gaddafi – who was brutally killed on the streets of a Libyan town in 2011 as his 42-year rule ended in bloodshed – was an international pariah and vocal critic of the west.
The CIA writer said the effort by Gaddafi (also spelt Qadhafi) was part of his desire to usurp the west, lead a revolution against its imperialist powers, and promote a third world revolution.
Tripoli used its bureau in Canberra and Kuala Lumpur to contact pro-independence movements in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
“Libya is supporting elements in French New Caledonia, expanding diplomatic relations with Vanuatu … and sponsoring the travel of South Pacific and Southeast Asian delegates to Libya’s annual liberation conference.
“In our judgement Tripoli will also carefully scrutinise the new government in Fiji as yet another opportunity to gain influence, because the recently elected coalition says it is intent on adopting a non-aligned foreign policy.”
The CIA believed these overtures were part of the Libyan leader’s plan to contact leftist groups, guerrillas, and terrorist organisations in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.
Libya was bombed by the US in 1986, as the Reagan administration accused Gaddafi of direct involvement in international terrorism.
The CIA believed the Libyans were trying to build a network in the South Pacific.
“Qadhafi has grandiose plans for this network. He has stated publicly that he is trying to forge a united front of ‘revolutionary forces’ to engage in a ‘collective struggle against imperialism.
“In our judgment he has more immediate aims – to promote his radical ideology and burnish his revolutionary credentials … to cultivate indigenous radicals and identify potential surrogates to carry out violent activities.”
The policy in the Pacific appeared to have originated in a Libyan organisation known as the Anti-Imperialism Centre, which worked to help resistance groups and expand Libya’s foreign reach.
Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, at the time, cancelled diplomatic visas for Libyan officials due to unspecified clandestine activity in the region, a 1987 New York Times report said.
New Caledonia was one target.
“Libyan officials have publicly stressed that they share the view of the South Pacific island nations that this French territory should be independent. We believe that Qadhafi’s public proposal of a campaign to ‘liberate’ French colonies, including New Caledonia, is partly a reaction to French support for pro-Western governments in Africa.”
Libya would likely seek to identify with any local grievances against the west and old colonial powers to establish, or attempt to establish, ties with resistance groups or pro-independence movements in New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji.
However, efforts in secret were likely to be made difficult by Australia and New Zealand.
“Libyan arrogance and unpredictability also are likely to hinder Tripoli’s search for clients. Libyan insistence that ‘armed struggle’ is the only means of Third World liberation offends many groups and small democracies.”
In the “sanitised” report several pages were redacted.
The file was released as part of the CIA’s new online 25-year-old archive release of “non exempt” declassified material.
John Edens – Stuff.co.nz reporter based in Wellington.