Long known as a colourful figure in the public eye, Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi has extended his image as a maverick in the eyes of American diplomats whose private observations were made public this week. But the leaked memos from the diplomats reveal a side of Col. Gaddafi not known to many. Described for his eccentricities, Col. Gaddafi is said to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly fears to fly over water, and cannot travel anywhere outside Libya without the company of his Ukrainian nurse.
The revelations are contained in reports leaked on the Internet by Wikileaks, publisher of whistleblower information, which indicate that the US government has spied on foreign envoys, including some from Uganda, and other world leaders, using state department diplomats. Below is one such classified memo on Col. Gaddafi.
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, US Embassy Tripoli,
Department of State.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
Gaddafi’s personality reflected in his phobias Muammar Gaddafi has been described as both mercurial and eccentric, and our recent first-hand experiences with him and his office, primarily in preparation for his United Nations General Assembly trip, demonstrated the truth of both characterisations. From the moment Gaddafi’s staff began to prepare for his travel to the United States, xxxxxxxx of his 40-year rule, various proclivities and phobias began to reveal themselves in every logistical detail.
When applying for Gaddafi’s visa, xxxxxxx asked whether it was necessary for the Leader to submit a portrait of himself that fit consular application regulations, noting that his photo was displayed throughout the city and that anyone of hundreds of billboards could be photographed and shrunken to fit the application’s criteria. When the rule was enforced, xxxxxxx reluctantly conceded to take a portrait of the Leader specifically for the visa application.
When xxxxxx began to search for proper accommodations for Gaddafi, xxxxxxxx informed us that the Leader must stay on the first floor of any facility that was rented for him. (xxxxxxx separately told US officials in Washington that Gaddafi could not climb more than 35 steps.) xxxxxxx cited this requirement as the primary reason that the Libyan residence in New Jersey was selected as the preferred accommodation site rather than the Libyan PermRep’s (Permanent Representative to the UN) residence in New York City.
xxxxxxxx also sought to find accommodations with room to pitch Gaddafi’s Bedouin tent, Gaddafi’s traditional site for receiving visitors and conducting meetings, as it offers him a non-verbal way of communicating that he is a man close to his cultural roots.
Gaddafi’s dislike of long flights and apparent fear of flying over water also caused logistical headaches for his staff. When discussing flight clearances with Emboffs (Embassy Officials), xxxxxx explained that the Libyan delegation would arrive from Portugal, as Gaddafi “cannot fly more than eight hours” and would need to stay overnight in Europe prior to continuing his journey to New York. xxxxxx also revealed in the same conversation that Gaddafi does not like to fly over water. Presumably for similar reasons, Gaddafi’s staff also requested a stop in Newfoundland to break his travel from Venezuela to Libya on September 29. (Note: The Government of Canada recently confirmed that the Libyan delegation cancelled plans to stop in Newfoundland. End Note.)
Dependences: Reliance on a selective group of individuals
Gaddafi appears to be almost obsessively dependent on a small core of trusted personnel. This group includes xxxxxxxx coordinate the logistics of Gaddafi’s visit. xxxxxxx balanced the UNGA preparations between equally frenetic preparations for the August 31 African Union (AU) Summit and September 1 celebration of Gaddafi’s coup.
xxxxxxxx At large events such as the August 31 AU Summit and September 1 celebrations, xxxxxxxxx every last detail of these complex gatherings, ranging from the overall programme to the position of the press pool.
At UNGA, xxxxxxxx Gaddafi to the podium at the UNGA and xxxxxxx his papers and props upon the conclusion of the Leader’s remarks. Long-time Gaddafi Chief of Staff Bashir Salah appears to play an equally important role in Gaddafi’s personal retinue, and xxxxx via an old-fashioned green phone xxxxxxx. It is next to a red phone, which presumably connects to Gaddafi himself.
We constantly hear that National Security Adviser and son, Muatassim, also plays a key role as his father’s confidante and handler during travel abroad. Muatassim also seems to have been tasked with insuring that the leader’s image is well-preserved through the full array of carefully-planned media events.
Finally, Gaddafi relies heavily on his long-time Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, who has been described as a ”voluptuous blonde.” Of the rumoured staff of four Ukrainian nurses that cater to the leader’s health and well-being, xxxxxxxxx emphasised to multiple Emboffs that Gaddafi cannot travel without Kolotnytska, as she alone “knows his routine.”
When Kolotnytska’s late visa application resulted in her Security Advisory Opinion being received on the day Gaddafi’s party planned to travel to the US, the Libyan Government sent a private jet to ferry her from Libya to Portugal to meet up with the leader during his rest-stop.
Some embassy contacts have claimed that Gaddafi and the 38-year-old Kolotnytska have a romantic relationship. While he did not comment on such rumours, a Ukrainian political officer recently confirmed that the Ukrainian nurses “travel everywhere with the leader.”
Preferences - from dancing to horseman
In addition to the personality quirks revealed through Gaddafi’s travel to New York, the Gaddafi’s preferences for dancing and cultural performances were displayed over the last month.
The three-day spectacle of his 40th anniversary in power included performances by dance troupes from Ukraine, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco, as well as musical performances by bands from Mexico, Russia, New Zealand, and a number of other nations. Gaddafi appeared particularly enthralled by Tuareg horse racing during two of the events, clapping and smiling throughout the races.
No New York photo Ops - Gaddafi leaves female guards at home
While Gaddafi’s reported female guard force has become legendary, it played no role in his travels to New York. Only one female guard was included among the approximately 350-person strong Libyan delegation to New York.
This is the same female bodyguard who sticks close to Gaddafi in his domestic and international public appearances and may, in fact, play some sort of formal security role. Observers in Tripoli speculate that the female guard force is beginning to play a diminished role among the leader’s personal security staff.
Comment: Gaddafi’s state visits and appearances at various conferences and summits, both at home and abroad, have revealed greater details about his personality and character. While it is tempting to dismiss his many eccentricities as signs of instability, Gaddafi is a complicated individual who has managed to stay in power for 40 years through a skillful balancing of interests and realpolitik methods. Continued engagement with Gaddafi and his inner circle is important not only to learn the motives and interests that drive the world’s longest serving dictator, but also to help overcome the misperceptions that inevitably accumulated during Gaddafi’s decades of isolation. As xxxxx told us, pointing to a larger-than-life portrait of Gaddafi, “When you have been isolated for so long, it is important to communicate.” End comment.