Is Qaddafi Getting Ready To Bolt?

In a Wall Street Journal article republished by Fox News, we learn that Qaddafi might be about to crack:

“New U.S. intelligence shows Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi is ‘seriously considering’ fleeing Tripoli for a more secure location outside the capital, according to U.S. officials, raising the prospect Friday that the Libyan leader’s hold on power is increasingly fragile.”

Sounds great!  What pushed the old monster over the edge, and prompted him to begin packing his thousands of colorful silk dresses?

“The intelligence depicts a Libyan leader who ‘doesn’t feel safe anymore’ in Tripoli because of stepped-up strikes by NATO aircraft and by battlefield gains by rebel forces.”

The rebels do seem to be making some advances of late, but just a few days ago – in the course of reporting the latest NATO air strike to hit the rebels by accident – the Associated Press reported the rebels have “complained that NATO’s strikes have not helped them gain decisive momentum against Gadhafi’s better-trained and -equipped military, which still has firm control over most of western Libya.”

Who’s dispensing all this intelligence to the press?  According to the Journal, it’s “a senior U.S. national security official briefed on the recent reports that the intelligence community has shared with the White House and other agencies.”  A guy who was briefed on a report that was shared?  All righty then.

So, when does Qaddafi skedaddle into his luxurious retirement, putting Tripoli in the hands of the rebellion we don’t know anything about?

“The timing behind any possible move is not known and does not appear to be imminent, a U.S. official said. Such intelligence has been seen before, although with less intensity. U.S. intelligence agencies have seen no indications that Qaddafi intends to leave the country, the officials said.”

Cool! So as long as we can keep Italy calm for a few more… wait, what? 

“U.S. intelligence agencies have seen no indications that Qaddafi intends to leave the country?”  How the does that square with “Qaddafi Seriously Considering Fleeing Tripoli?”  Well, later in the story, the Journal clarifies that when these officials said Qaddafi might be kinda sorta thinking about investigating the possibility of maybe leaving Tripoli, they didn’t mean he was thinking about leaving Libya:

“US officials believe military pressure on Tripoli in recent days has prompted Qaddafi to seek safer ground, after more than three months of allied attacks. Qaddafi has several residences and other facilities outside Tripoli to which he could relocate, said a senior U.S. defense official.”

This is disinformation, pure and simple: a non-story planted to influence opinion.  It’s not a “lie” or a fabrication.  It’s more like a very optimistic spin on the available information.

That’s not inherently objectionable in a time of war… er, excuse me, non-hostile kinetic military action.  If the intelligence community thinks it would be helpful for Qaddafi to read tons of reports about how he’s ready to bolt – and spend his mornings wondering how many of his jittery henchmen are reading the same stories – then fair enough. 

I just hope Qaddafi and his inner circle are the ones this disinformation is aimed at.

“The intelligence disclosure by U.S. officials comes as the White House tries to fend off congressional efforts to curtail American participation in the NATO-led Libya campaign.

“President Barack Obama, who Wednesday announced the beginning of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, has limited the US role in attacking Qaddafi’s forces, taking a backseat to European allies.

“Signs of progress would be likely to bolster support for U.S. participation in the Libya campaign, as Obama faces mounting criticism from Republicans and Democrats over the effort.”

Oh.  Right.  Gotcha.