Canadian journalist Graeme Smith was sifting through some stacks of papers on the side of a road in a wealthy neighborhood of Tripoli. What he found included documents that Chinese firms had recently agreed to supply Muammar Gaddafi’s forces with weapons. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Smith about his trash treasures.
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Marco Werman: As we heard earlier, details about the Gaddafi regime’s secret dealings with US and British intelligence emerged from documents found literally in the rubble of the regime in Tripoli. Similar documents have proved a source of embarrassment for China. These papers were discovered by Canadian journalist, Graeme Smith, as he looked through what appeared to be garbage in a wealthy Tripoli neighborhood. He says the documents showed that Chinese firms had agreed to supply Gaddafi’s forces with weapons during the fighting in Libya in July. Smith wrote about his findings in the Globe and Mail newspaper.
Graeme Smith: Well, my eye was caught by some maps sluthering in the wind that appeared to be tactical maps, drawing of troop placements and there were high quality satellite photographs of Misrata. The pile also included, upon further inspection, signed confessions, interrogation records, transcriptions of people’s phone calls; and sort of among all this intelligence material was a four-page memo written on the letterhead of the Supply Authority, the procurement authority for the Libyan government that appeared to document a business trip by a Libyan delegation to Beijing in July. They visited three Chinese state-controlled firms and asked them whether they could get any weapons from them. And to their delight apparently the answer was yes, of course we can supply everything we have in our arsenal.
Werman: Now, China has said that there was such a trip but that no deal was made. Is there any indication though that Chinese weapons actually made it into Libya?
Smith: I have not seen any indication that the Chinese weapons went in Libya, no. The rebel council or I guess you’d say Transitional Council now, feels convinced that the weapons did make their way onto the battlefields. Omar Hariri, the chairman of the defense council here, told me that he looked at the list of weapons and he said yeah, you know, we saw these on the battlefield as we were fighting our way out of Nafusa Mountains and into Tripoli last month.
Werman: What kind of weapons were the Chinese offering to sell?
Smith: There were a heck of lot of just you know, conventional arms, AK-47s, but there were a few more exotic things, what looked like thermobaric weapons, surface to air missiles. The most exotic item on the list was the GW18, what they called MANPAD; it’s a man portable shoulder-mounted surface to air missile, very similar to the American Stinger missile, I think.
Werman: If this deal was indeed in the works it would’ve violated UN sanctions on Libya. China even voted in favor of Resolution 1970, they stated their sympathies with the rebels and the civilians under fire in Libya. What will be the consequences for China if the deal is proved true?
Smith: My sense is that this will be politically embarrassing for China, but there will likely not be any legal consequences.
Werman: You did a dumpster dive to get this material, but do you often go through other people’s trash to find, I mean let’s face it, to find stories?
Smith: Actually, you know, looking for documents has become something of a pastime for journalists here in Tripoli because the doors are wide open on all kinds of places that were top secret for many, many years. So, I have been looking at documents in the internal headquarters, the external intelligence headquarters, private firms, all kinds of places that I couldn’t previously get access to. So, my hotel room here in Tripoli looks like a really messy archives just exploded all over the place.
Werman: Graeme Smith with Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper speaking with us from Tripoli. Thanks so much, Graeme.
Smith: All right, thank you.
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