x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Wherever there is injustice, Mr Galloway will steal the show

George Galloway is back. After nearly a year of lying low he is once again front page news, pursuing his self-appointed role as the defender of oppressed Muslims everywhere.

George Galloway is back. After nearly a year of lying low he is once again front page news, pursuing his self-appointed role as the defender of oppressed Muslims everywhere. The British parliamentarian was thrown out of Egypt by the government after trying to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Several hundred people from all over the world - including a Holocaust survivor - tried to get the desperately needed aid trucks into the Gaza Strip but somehow it was Mr Galloway who, as usual, stole the show.

Mr Galloway's reputation has never fully recovered after allegations were published several years ago that he had accepted funds from Saddam Hussein's regime through the UN oil-for-food programme. He won a libel case in 2006 against the British newspaper that published the reports. But it is worth pointing out that the court never challenged the authenticity of documents obtained after the fall of Baghdad indicating that he had received monies.

It is an indication of how pathetically small and uncompetitive the field is in some British districts that Mr Galloway has been able to stay relevant and reinvent himself into a spokesman for the whole anti-war movement after his court case. And one would think those against wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the occupation of Palestinian territories would keep well away from him. But Mr Galloway became too much for the Egyptians at the weekend. They bundled him into a van, drove him to the airport and put him on a British Airways flight back home. Never one to feel the sting of admonishment, Mr Galloway arrived in London with this retort: "It's always a badge of honour to be deported by a tinpot dictatorship."

This at least, I can understand. I too am always happy to take leave of a British Airways flight crew. *********** In the aftermath of the al Qa'eda attack at the American military base in Afghanistan, one of the biggest questions everyone is asking is why the CIA agents were so close to the bomber to begin with. Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al Balawi, a triple agent, blew himself up at the Chapman forward operating base, killing seven American intelligence agents and his Jordanian handler. He had just arrived, ostensibly to provide important information about the whereabouts of senior al Qa'eda figures, when he detonated the explosives that he had strapped to himself.

Critics, in the US in particular, are asking why so many of the brightest minds in US intelligence were allowed to gather in one place at the same time. That is not the point. In fact, the war in Afghanistan requires more, not less human interaction. I've been to those US bases in southern Afghanistan. They are not easy to get into. The guards would not allow me to bring a pen with a spring mechanism because it could be used by insurgents to detonate improvised explosive devices. Or so I was told. So how was this bomber able to get so close without being searched?

The Americans have little intelligence on jihadist insurgents because they have so little human contact with those who would shelter them - forget about contact with the al Qa'eda fighters themselves. There is also an over-reliance on predator drones, air surveillance and third party handlers such as the Jordanians to gather raw information. And there is little appetite for American deaths, which is partly why the CIA agents could not leave the base and meet the would-be bomber at a safe house somewhere in Khost province. These precautions present an extraordinary contrast to intelligence efforts in the Second World War when the British parachuted intelligence operatives, some of them women, into rural fields of Nazi-occupied France to gather helpful bits of information and to advance the cause of the resistance.

I'm not suggesting the techniques of that war can be directly imported to this conflict. Cultural and linguistic gaps make that near impossible. The Jordanians and Egyptians, with their formidable security services, will likely remain firm western allies in helping the bewildered Americans navigate such treacherous terrain. But there is the danger that common sense may disappear as surveillance technology advances. This attack is a major coup for al Qa'eda. But the Americans and their allies should not allow such an avoidable breach of security to become a reason for more of them to bunker down behind highly fortified walls.

hghafour@thenational.ae