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CIA Assessed: “Chances of Toppling Qadhafi at Better than Even” …More than 25 Years Ago!

October 20, 2011

One highly decorated Colonel.

Updated after the reported death of the “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution.”

In 1985, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence Report entitled, “Qadhafi’s Prospects for Survival” painted a bleak picture for Colonel Qadhafi’s continued rule of Libya.  The report concluded that if dissidents and the military joined forces, “we assess their chances of toppling Qadhafi at better than even.”  I guess being 26 years off isn’t so bad.

Glad I didn't take that bet.

Of course, Qadhafi outlived the CIA’s projection.  In fact, after taking power in his 1969 coup, he is currently the longest-serving non-royal ruler in the world.  (Paul Biya, of Cameroon, is next in line for the title –should things keep going the way they are.)

Before I get too far along, I guess I should explain that I am spelling Qadhafi this way because that’s how his name comes up in the CIA reports.  He’s actually quite tricky to research because each agency spells his name differently –Department of State spells it Gaddafi– making full-text searches a tough task.   The Library of Congress lists 53 alternative spellings for his name.  His personal website –down at the moment– is  There are rumors that he signed a letter to a bunch of Minnesota second graders, “Moammar El-Gadhafi.”  But I digress, we’re going with “Qadhafi” in this blog post.


Qadhafi’s four-decade reign was not uninteresting.  Upon seizing power after his coup, Qadhafi promoted himself from captain to colonel, but no higher.  Following the example set by of Egypt’s Gamal Nasser, Qadhafi claimed that he did not need a grandiose title since Libya was actually ruled by the people.   Of course Qadhafi later took the meek mantle: “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution.”  He also eventually established what is referred to as anAmazon Guard” of reportedly elite, beautiful women soldiersThanks to wikileaks, we know he is reliant upon Galyna, his “voluptuous blond” Ukrainian nurse.

After Nasser’s death, the pan-Arabist Qadhafi tried establish a “Federation of Arab Republics” between Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Sudan.  After working on if for five years (1972 to 1977) the Federation finally fizzled.  Qadhafi was initially an ardent supporter of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and shunned countries (including Egypt) who warmed to the west.  Libya eventually allied with the Soviet Union.  It was the first county outside the Soviet bloc to receive the USSR’s supersonic MiG-25.

Mubarak and Qadhafi in happier times.

Qadhafi was a well-known supporter of liberation movements –and terrorism.  He financed the Black September Movement which killed 12 at the 1972 Munich Olympics, collaborated with Carlos the Jackal, was accused of selling arms to the Provisional IRA and FARC, and was behind the 5 April 1986 discotheque bombing in West Berlin that killed two US officers and a Turkish woman, and injured more than 200 people, many of whom were US soldiers.

Which brings us back to the 1985 CIA intelligence report proclaiming Qadhafi’s weakness.  After the discotheque bombing, Reagan publicly proclaimed that Qadhafi –who was supporting the US adversary Iran in the Iran-Iraq War– was the “mad dog of the Middle East.” Days later, the President authorized  Operation El Dorodo Canyon, a 15 April 1986 joint US Marine, Navy, and Air Force strike against five sites in Libya, including Bab al-Aziza, where Qadhafi and his family lived.

No doubt Reagan’s National Security Counsel was aware of the CIA assessment that implied Qadhafi’s grip on power was tenuous as it recommended the attack.  The strike missed Qadhafi, but did kill his adopted daughter.  A 2008 report claimed that Qadhafi fled his home at Bab al-Aziza minutes before the attack after receiving a phone call from the Prime Minister of Malta warning that US planes were heading toward Libya.

A second, 17 May 1986, CIA Directorate of Intelligence Report entitled “Qadhafi’s Political Position Since the Airstrike” argued that the strikes had further damaged the Libyan people’s support for Qadhafi.  The report stated that continued international pressure could “further erode Qadhafi’s already diminished sense of self-esteem since the strike.”   To bolster its arguments, the report cited:

  • That “the funeral procession in Tripoli for those killed in the US strike attracted only several thousand marchers out of a local population of about 900,000.”
  • That “many Libyans hope US pressure will eventually result in Qadhafi’s removal.”  (The sources for this statement are redacted.)
  • And that Qadhafi chose to give a 11 June speech on television, rather than in public, “almost certainly because he feared assassination.”

The report concluded that Qadhafi probably had “only a slightly better than even chance of staying in power through the end of this year.”  The report did not speculate who his successor would be, or if his successor would be better or worse for US interests.

So long?

If the Reagan administration’s goal was regime change in Libya (it did after all bomb Qadhafi’s home), I posit that Operation El Dorado Canyon may have had the opposite effect.  Qadhafi may have manipulated the threat of a western invading force to cause the population of Libya to rally around –or at least acquiesce to– his leadership.  As seen in Mao’s China, the Kims’ Korea, the Ayatollahs’ Iran, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and Saddam’s Iraq, despots often utilize the threat –real or imagined– of the United States to solidify their power.

After outliving the odds presented by the CIA briefers, Qadhafi also outlived the Soviet Union.  After the  Cold War ended Qadhafi began working to improve his relations with the west.

  • Libya eventually agreed to pay more than 2 billion dollars to compensate some victims of terrorism –including families of victims of the 1986 discoteque and 1988 Pan Am 103 bombings.
  • In 2003 Libya disclosed and dismantled its WMD program.  The US  removed it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
  • In 2007 Libya signed a lucrative –and controversial— oil deal with British Petroleum.
  • In September 2008 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Libya and lauded Qadhafi’s “strategic changes.”
  • And in February 2011, the International Monetary Fund praised Libya for its “ambitious reform agenda,” and lauded the “strong macroeconomic performance and the progress on enhancing the role of the private sector.”  Wow.   Well, I guess he was financially savvy enough to turn down an offer from Bernie Madoff.

It’s now clear that Libyans were not satisfied with Qadafi’s –to quote the IMF– “ambitious reform agenda.”  What isn’t clear is whether or not the US prolonged campaign to isolate –and militarily  attack– Libya ultimately helped prop up Quadafi for four decades.  Perhaps isolation is the despot’s brier patch.

  1. Qui Tam Relator permalink
    February 25, 2011 9:12 pm

    After the April15, 1986 bombing raid on Quidaffi a joint venture on behalf of the U.S. Naval supression fire to knock out enemy radar sites and installations so they were blind but there is reference that indicates that the H.A.R.M missile system was compromised dut to fraudulent work that had been done on their altimeter by a company named Genisco Technology Corp. in southern California and Texas Instruments the prime contractor for the guidance and control servo gyro portion and along with other subcontractors. Hundreds of civilians were killed in and around the private sector damaging several embassy’s including the French Embassy. Their were several lawsuits including Ramsey Clarks complaint filed after the bombing raid and was suing the united states of America because they did not have an act of congress to bomb another sovern county there was also a Qui Tam Lawsuit lawsuit against several defense contractors in California and a congressional Investigation and a win of the first successful Qui Tam Lawsuit against defense contractors since President Lincoln enacted the False Clsims Act March 13, 1863 during the height of the Civil
    War the Union Merchants were taking advantage of the Union Army by selling them tainted goods. There seems to be many news articles and news footage about the whole disaster including several G.A.O. Reports about the whole fraud and the actual battle over our three branches if government through court documents that are on the Web (google) by typing Genisco Technology Corp. and Texas Instruments HRRM missile seems to be where all the information is there are a few websites also along with YouTube information also about 1986 Libya bombing raid and the HARM missile there is also very positive areas on some if the reference material.


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