Now that the United States , in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “ faces very serious, ongoing and “strategic threat in North Africa from al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadists” , the role of Algeria’s feared and secretive military security agency (Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité or DRS) is coming under scrutiny in the American and European press.
A recent article by Eli Lake and Jamie Dettmer in the Daily Beast explores the long held suspicion that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind of the In Amanas terror attack that killed scores of foreign workers in a natural gas facility in the Algerian desert, worked for the DRS. Citing current and former U.S. intelligence officers, Lake and Dettmer allege “Belmokhtar may have once worked as an Algerian informant”.
With the death of three Americans in In Amenas and the possible connections between events in Algeria and the Attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, the United States government must put economic interests aside and ask Algerian officials the hard question: Is the DRS playing a double game in the Sahel and theSahara? Quoted in The Daily Beast , John Schindler, a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer stated that “Algerian defectors have named several emirs as [Algerian security] agents in the past including Belmokhtar.”
“It was widely believed in U.S. counterintelligence circles that he was an … agent." In addition, the Daily Beast cite a “European intelligence officer, who declined to be named, as saying the politics of the region has at times been highly complex with “temporary marriages of convenience” and shifting divisions and alliances forming around trafficking deals that cross over ideological lines. “There’s a lot of money to be made from smuggling and elements in the intelligence services in the region have also had their fingers in the pie.””
The DRS handling of Belmokhtar and his like goes to the heart of Algeria’s long running regional strategy of keeping remnant of terrorism alive to validate its “critical part” in fighting terror. The Algerian government has used the specter of terrorism to boost its geopolitical importance in the eyes of Western powers and justify the military’s continues meddling in Algerian politics. For the DRS, instability in the Sahara and the Sahel reinforces Algiers leadership role in the Maghreb and discredits its enemies.
For years, Algerian officials have dismissed press reports contending the DRS role in creating and controlling certain terror groups in Algeria and the Sahel as mere Moroccan propaganda. Similarly, the Algerian press portrayed Professor Jeremy Keenan well-researched exposes documenting DRS manipulation of Islamist groups during and after the end of Algeria’s civil war as work of fiction. Mr. Keenan, a professor at the University of London, published several articles critical of the DRS dubious role in fighting terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel.