Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Libya’s new Intelligence Chief, Salem al-Hassi | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Hours after his nomination as head of Libya’s intelligence services Salem al-Hassi told Asharq Al-Awsat that he has inherited a heavy burden, saying that his mission will be to restructure the Libyan intelligence services, and change its priorities.

Al-Hassi said that he gave up his US citizenship for his Libyan one, in order to qualify for the position.

The NTC has said on its Facebook page that Al-Hassi was appointed after he had put the higher national interests above everything and kept only his Libyan citizenship. Thus, Al-Hassi moved from being a person on the run from the Gaddafi services, which allocated money for his assassination, to the first head of the new Intelligence services of Libya, which will celebrate on tomorrow the first anniversary of the popular revolution which ended with the killing of Gaddafi by the revolutionaries soon after his capture in his home town of Sirte last October.

Asharq Al-Awsat conducted a lengthy telephone interview with Al-Hassi from Tripoli. The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you receive the news of your appointment, and what were the circumstances of your candidature to the post?

[Salem al-Hassi] Security was in the last few months, and still is, the focus of Libyans, the NTC, and the government. The NTC had asked a number of figures to submit their views on the restructuring of the security services that were under the dictatorial regime. I was one of the people who were asked for their views on this matter. It seems that my views had won the approval of the NTC, which decided to appoint me as the head of the service.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What does it feel like being the first civilian to lead an Arab security service after the Arab Spring?

[Salem al-Hassi] First of all brother, I would like to be very frank with you, the burden I inherited is very heavy as you are well aware when it comes to the intelligence services of Arab countries. All the intelligence services of the Arab countries were devoted to the protection of the regimes. Therefore, people are very confused psychologically and morally with regard to these services. People do not have a clear understanding of them either. There is a long way to go, which requires great efforts and contribution from different sides in order to restructure the service, establish a new philosophy to protect the rights of the citizens, and put the security services at the service of the state not the rulers.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your priorities?

[Salem al-Hassi] In the transitional period, they consist of the protection of the country’s border, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity from external influences and security threats, as well as the protection of the political process until a constitution is approved and the election of a government. The other priority is the restructuring of the services, taking the process up to the point where they become controlled by the executive and directly supervised by the judiciary, thus working within the state not outside it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you keep the current structure or will you start from scratch?

[Salem al-Hassi] It will be a restructuring process. We will start with reforming what we have and build on it, and move on to establishing new concepts in the benefit of our national interest.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you fear a fifth column?

[Salem al-Hassi] These are the fears of all Libyans. I am sure the revolutionaries in the security services and the Libyans are aware of the plans of the fifth column but we will pull together for the sake of future Libya which will embrace the majority of the Libyans. We will foil all attempts by foreign hands or anyone else threatening the future of the country and its security.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think the “17 February revolution” is being threatened by some supporters of Gaddafi and his family in Algeria and Niger?

[Salem al-Hassi] It is still a revolution in its infancy like all the revolutions in the region. I am confident that the clock will not go back, and there is no place for Gaddafi, his supporters, and his ideas.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you fear any moves by some of Gaddafi supporters living in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Niger?

[Salem al-Hassi] I would not say real fears. We are closely monitoring several groups. We will later work for the creation of a regional cooperation, and even international cooperation if necessary to deal with dangers that may threaten national security.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As the head of the Libyan intelligence service, what will be your first act?

[Salem al-Hassi] The first decision I will sign will be the establishment of a new security concept based on the protection of the citizens not the ruler.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see relationships between the Arab public and their respective countries’ intelligence services, particularly in Libya, as you personally suffered at the hands of Gaddafi’s intelligence services?

[Salem al-Hassi] In the past, the relationship was based on fear, terrorism, and oppression. We want a civilized institution based on the idea that security cannot be achieved without the cooperation of all citizens and security services at the service of the state not the ruler.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The statement on your nomination said that you gave up your second citizenship. What is this citizenship, and how did you take such a decision?

[Salem al-Hassi] My second citizenship is American. The decision was not for some ambition or aim. I specifically said this would not be just for any position. When I had to choose between my Libyan citizenship and another citizenship, I gave up the other citizenship in order to keep my Libyan citizenship and my rights as a Libyan citizen.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I have read your profile; you seem more destined for politics than for a security job?

[Salem al-Hassi] The positions are the same but the prerogatives are different. The country needs me for this job at this moment. I have always served my country, and I am serving it now.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As we are about to celebrate the first anniversary of the revolution, have you ever imagined this, and the dramatic end of the Gaddafi regime?

[Salem al-Hassi] Let me be frank with you. During all the time of my opposition to Gaddafi, I never doubted that Gaddafi’s end will be bad. But I never imagined it would be with such enthusiasm and with the participation of all the Libyans as it happened. I did not expect it to be this way. I was certain that Gaddafi was a foreign body in the Libyan society, and that his end would be a bad one. What makes me happy, and reassured now about the future of Libya, is that the “17 February revolution” was the work of all the Libyans not a single person or some group. It was the embodiment of a full and free national will in every inch of the country. This is what reassures me about the future of Libya, God willing.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see the Libyan political landscape on the eve of the first elections that will take place later this year?

[Salem al-Hassi] The political landscape is growing slowly but steadily. I think there is political and intellectual variety, reflecting a multi-form organizational landscape. This bodes well, showing that the bases of the Libyan democratic experience are developing. They may take some time, but they will be boosted by the elections which will lead to the adoption of a constitution through a referendum. From there on democratic pluralism and freedom will take root in Libya. The future will be good, God willing.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Tell us about your experience with the Gaddafi intelligence services, which at more than one time allocated money for your assassination?

[Salem al-Hassi] I was not the only one who was pursued by the Gaddafi intelligence services. For years, the Gaddafi intelligence services went after opposition leaders in the capitals of many countries, in Europe, the United States and Arab countries. A great number of opposition leaders were handed over Gaddafi by Arab and European countries. A great number were kidnapped in Arab and European countries. The regime used the most evil ways to eliminate the opposition. I hope God will help us to get rid of the image and the bad reputation the Libyan security services had in the world, and turn it into civilized services at the service of the country, based on the protection of the country and the citizens.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You used to publish articles from time to time. Will you stop after your appointment?

[Salem al-Hassi] No. I will continue, God willing, because the establishment of a new security concept requires a multi-faceted effort, and this is one of them.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do want to say to the Libyans and to the readers of Asharq Al-Awsat, as head of the Libyan intelligence services?

[Salem al-Hassi] I would like to say this to my Libyan brothers: After the “17 February” revolution, we should reconcile at the individual level, at the family level, and in all the cities and regions as well as at the state level. Libyans should regain their trust in the security services, which cannot serve the country without the participation of all the Libyans. We will do everything we can to reform the security services as a first step. We will do everything to be in permanent contact with the Libyan citizens, and reassure them that these services are at their service and at the service of the homeland. As for the readers of the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, I say to them that the Arab Spring will bear its fruit, and will expand to the whole Arab region. It will bring a new approach that is based on the respect of citizens and human rights. This will strengthen the freedom and dignity of the Arab citizen, and spread justice throughout the Arab countries. This will lead to the modernization of the whole of the region, God willing.


– He was born on 26 April 1962. He left Libya in 1981 as a member of the opposition, and joined the Libyan National Salvation Front [LNSF] the following year.

– One of the prominent leaders of the 1984 events and a member the LNSF’s military leadership. He was the leader of the 106 group of the National Army.

– He resigned from the LNSF in 1993 and became an independent opposition militant, knowing that gaddafi and his regime were after him and that they offered a large bounty for his head.

– He holds an MA in Sharia Law. He is a member of Amnesty International, and of the Uhud Organization for Inter-Religious Cooperation. He was a lecturer in Arabic Studies at North Georgia University. He was also the director of the Summer Institute of Arab Language at the North Georgia University and professor of Islamic Studies at the Postgraduate Center of Emory University in Atlanta.

– He is married to a Libyan woman and three children: Nur-al-Din (12 years), Safi-al-Din (10 years), Al-Zubayr (5 years).