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Naval commander warned of Somalia's 'collusion' with pirates: Wikileaks

Two sailors from HMCS Toronto's boarding team keep a watch over the crew of a "dhow" style fishing during a search for evidence connecting them to terrorism. This was HMCS Toronto's first operational vessel inspection of Operation Altair, and found a fully co-operative captain and crew with no improper cargo.

MCpl Colin Kelley/Handout-DND/MCpl Colin Kelley/Handout-DND

A Canadian navy commander claimed three years ago to have found evidence of "collusion" between Somali pirates and the transitional Somali government that's being backed by the West, according to a newly leaked U.S. State Department cable.

The cable, released by WikiLeaks over the weekend, recounts what a Canadian frigate commander told diplomats in London after he worked at escorting food-aid ships off the coast of the Horn of Africa.

Navy Captain Chris Dickinson is said to have been warning officials that lines between government, pirates and terrorists were blurring in Somalia.

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"The vessel's commanding officer noted that there is clear evidence of collusion between Somalia's transitional federal government (TFG) and pirates in Somali waters," reads the November, 2008 cable.

The remark is significant because it shows that experts were privately despairing of the TFG - a loose-knit coalition of Somali leaders who run a government in name only - even as many Western leaders were taking steps to prop it up as the war-torn country's last-ditch hope.

In recent months, the TFG has ceded much of what little power it has had to al-Shabab, an Islamist militant movement that's sweeping the country in a manner similar to Afghanistan's Taliban during the 1990s.

A U.S.-based Africa expert said in an interview Sunday that the new cable is revealing and significant.

"Certainly it bears credibility," said Peter Pham, of New York's National Committee of American Foreign Policy think tank.

He said Somali pirates have long been known to kick up a portion of their profits to both local government officials and terrorist leaders. "A lot of people would say that without the TFG, you have nothing," Mr. Pham said. "My argument would be consider that what you have is nothing - and nothing is nothing."

In what was known as "Operation Altair," Canadian Forces frigates helped the U.S. military patrol coastal waters to protect food shipments from Somali pirates. The goal was to protect the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) vessels sailing from Mombassa, Kenya, to Mogadishu, vessels that were helping feed millions of hungry Somalis.

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In the fall of 2008, the HMCS Ville de Quebec was led by Capt. Dickinson, who briefed Canadian diplomats in London. They, in turn, briefed U.S. counterparts there on what he said.

"Dickinson told the Canadian High Commission staff that there was clear evidence of collusion between the TFG and the pirates," the cable said.

It adds that "Dickinson also said clear links between the pirates and established terrorist networks exist. In many cases there are the same people using the same routes. Most commercial maritime operators in the area are surprised that the international community does not do more to disrupt the linkages."

The State Department cable says the Canadians kept some intelligence from their American counterparts. They "did not offer details on the relationship between the pirates, the TFG, and terrorist networks, saying the information was classified 'Canadian Eyes Only,' it says.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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