The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, September 28, 2003

NSA listening post in Algeria - an excess of kif or what?

A strange little story from weeks ago that made me sit up and take notice.

An AP report from September 7 takes me to a piece in the Quotidien d'Oran of the same date:
... le chef d'état-major de l'ANP, le général de corps d'armée, Mohamed Lamari reçoit, depuis hier, le général Charles F.Wald, commandant adjoint des forces américaines en Europe, à Alger. Une visite qui sera marquée par l'étude d'un projet d'installation d'une station d'écoute américaine dans le sud algérien indiquent des sources informées.

For those with rightfully suspicious minds, I can confirm that General Wald is not only a real person, but, according to his USAF bio, has a chestful of medals and is a pretty important guy: Deputy Commander, Headquarters U.S. European Command, Stuttgart. Lamari is, from my present sketchy appreciation of Algerian politics, the important guy over there [1].

The piece says that Wald was coming
...avec un projet d'installation d'une station d'écoute, probablement de la National Security Agency (NSA), l'agence fédérale qui est chargée des interceptions des communications mondiales, qui serait basée dans la région de Tamanrasset. Une station qui viserait à intercepter puis analyser toutes les communications - par téléphone, Internet, réseaux informatiques ou radio...
and was possibly going south to visit the local commander, Gen Saheb [2].

It suggests three reasons, apart from the GSPC activity [3], for US interest in such a project:
  • the increased use of satellite phones by bad guys in the Maghreb, which even ECHELON at GCHQ can't reach, it seems!

  • fear of Libyan friskiness (the Lockerbie settlement a piece of misdirection? who knew...)

  • the need for intel on Morocco/Western Sahara [4] (though the NSA apparently has a station in Tangier already).

And points out that the moves come as part of generally buddying-up between Algerian and US forces - US training of Algerian officers, joint naval exercises, and so on.

From one perspective, Algeria is potentially the Islamist dagger pointing at the belly of Europe - and therefore, its present government, however unsavoury, is naturally our son of a bitch material - as proof of its zeal in the matter, around 100,000 died in the civil war which has, for now, largely returned the Algerian Islamists to their box.

A strange piece of historical reflux in the shape of one Senator John F Kennedy, who regaled the Senate on July 2 1957 with a speech more or less calling for USG to ditch the French and prepare for an FLN victory in the 1954-62 war [5]. The old and paradoxical American fatal attraction for supposedly revolutionary causes (the mountains of cash, rather than vomit, that landed in the NORAID buckets, for instance) which runs in tandem with the loathing of all things communistic.

The successors to the FLN who now rule Algeria have long been cured of communism (to the extent they were ever ill with it) and, it seems, are ready to vindicate JFK's support of so long ago.

  1. For background, one could do worse than look at the 2003 HRW Report (PDF) on Algeria. The LOC Country Study goes back to 1993! A brief delve into the PDF files offered by Mr Google produces the usual gallimaufry of the old and the tangential: nothing looking like a recent Algeria 101.A short Nouvel Obs piece of September 18 looks at four years of the Concorde civil which was supposed to mark the end of the civil war.

    A couple of pieces from Le Monde diplomatique from 1999 and 2001 may provide leads. A short Le Point interview from January 2003 with Lamari. A September 1998 piece (1MB PDF!) from Maroc Hebdo on Lamari's velvet coup against President Liamine Zéroual..

  2. Who, back in May, freed 17 tourist hostages in a gun battle in the Amguid region, north of Tamanrasset; the hostages were among 32 seized in February by the GSPC, a splinter from the Islamist GIA and a group with Al Qaida connections, it seems. (Eleven GSPC adherents had their funds frozen by the US Treasury Department in August 2002 (PDF).)

  3. More on which here. German arrest warrants have been issued for GSPC leader Safi Abderrezak (nicknamed Le Para) and others for the hostage-taking.

    The remainder of the 32 (excepting one who had died) were transferred to Mali and released in August; AFP quoted sources suggesting that something between around $5m to $15m was paid by the German government to secure the release of the remaining hostages.

    According to El Watan of September 27, operations in the Babors area (in the mountainous Kabyle region) against the GSPC have killed 150 in a fortnight. They were there, it suggests, for a conference!

    A piece in Unità (the Italian Communist rag, that was) of September 27 suggests that the figure is a wild exaggeration, unconfirmed by official sources. It puts the total membership of the GSPC at 400, and has other sources suggesting that 20 terrorists dead might be closer to the mark. Of the hundred or so bodies found burnt in a cave, many might have been women and children. It also suggests a further reason for US interest in the GSPC (though not in so many words): the potential for attacks against the Algerian oilfields in the south of the country.

    (Babors is not far from Sétif, where, on VE Day May 8 1945, a riot of the local population - Berbers, rather than Arabs - killed 27 Europeans: generally deemed the act that set events in train that led to the outbreak of war in 1954.)

  4. There seems to be an attempt on to get this quarrel (going back to the death of General Franco in 1975!) sorted out. A piece from September 24 on recent doings in the UN. Bush chatted to King Mohammed VI in the corridors between General Assembly sessions, apparently.

  5. There is a promising-looking article on US and Soviet policies on decolonisation in French North Africa on the Mount Holyoke site.


A piece of Google detritus provides a modest sidebar - apparently, round about the same time as JKF's speech, WaPo icon Ben Bradlee had his own Algerian experience:
Leaning left in those days, he thought it unfair that French views were well-covered but not the views of the Algerian FLN (after the war he had joined the left-wing quasi-Marxist American Veterans Committee), so he went to Algeria to interview the FLN. Trouble was, the fedayeen he met clandestinely were French counter-intelligence actors, and he was ordered to leave France. Ambassador Dillon got the expulsion order canceled.

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