Searching for Hit Teams:Libya

Searching for Hit Teams:Libya
With its finely wrought balustrade, the Doric columns supporting its
portico, the Villa Pietri looked like a Roman nobleman’s villa that
had somehow been misplaced on the edge of the African continent. It
was the headquarters from which Gaddafi directed the global activities
of his terrorist network. The Libyan leader himself had assigned those
who went out from the villa to do his bidding their leitmotif:
“Everything that puts an infected thorn in the foot of our enemies is
good.” —The Fifth Horseman, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre It sounded like the plot of an international thriller, as frightening as the
fictional tale told in the Collins-Lapierre bestseller in which Libyan
Strongman Muammar Gaddafi threatens the U.S.
with nuclear blackmail. According to reports received by the U.S.
Government, hit teams had been dispatched by Libya to assassinate
President Ronald Reagan and other top American leaders. As increasing
fragments of evidence about the plot became public last week—some
chilling, some bizarre, some literally beyond belief—Washington found
itself embroiled in an international confrontation without precedent.
If Administration reactions were confusing and contradictory, so were
the facts from which decisions had to be made. If intelligence agencies
and the Secret Service seemed to be reacting with undue alarm, they
could offer a justification that was hard to refute: the true calamity
would be to take the threat too lightly—and be wrong. Despite skepticism in many quarters about the very existence of a
hit-team plot, the White House was taking no chances. Security around
the President, which had been notably increased since the assassination
attempt by John Hinckley last March, was strengthened still more. Air
Force One, for example, was equipped with sophisticated electronic gear
that would allow its pilot to evade a missile attack, and Reagan
sometimes rode in unmarked cars instead of his official limousine. At
other times, presidential motorcades featured two similar limousines,
both with flags flying. The rising tensions between the U.S. and Libya were dramatically
demonstrated last week in an extraordinary exchange of charges over
the existence of the hit teams. Interviewed on ABC’S This Week with
David Brinkley , Gaddafi stoutly—and predictably—denied he
had sent agents to kill Reagan. “We refuse to assassinate any person,” said the mercurial
Libyan leader, a startling statement on the face of it, since his
gunmen are believed to have murdered at least a dozen Libyans in exile
over the past 18 months because they opposed his regime. Gaddafi
continued: “If they have evidence, we are ready to see this
evidence.” Why then is Reagan taking the rumors seriously, Gaddafi was
asked. “Because he is silly, he is ignorant,” replied Gaddafi. Next
day, when asked about the Libyan leader’s remarks by reporters at the
White House, Reagan answered, “I wouldn’t believe a word he says if I
were you.” But why didn’t the Administration make its evidence public?
Reagan smiled slightly. “We have the evidence,” he said softly, “and he
knows it.”