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As we heard, Moussa Koussa was a former head of Libya's intelligence service up until a few years ago. In recent years, he developed a close working relationship with the United States.

But as NPR's Rachel Martin reports, that relationship hasn't always been so friendly.

RACHEL MARTIN: Vince Cannistraro has never met Moussa Koussa, but he's been tracking him and his career for years.

Mr. VINCE CANNISTRARO (Former CIA Official): The man has been involved in a lot of unsavory activity.

MARTIN: Cannistraro is a former CIA official. He was stationed in Italy in the late 1980s when Moussa Koussa was leading Libya's intelligence service.

Mr. CANNISTRARO: One of the things that he pursued was the assassination of Libyan exiles that had removed themselves to Italy.

MARTIN: The CIA ordered Cannistraro to knock on doors and warn Libyan dissidents in Italy of the plot.

Mr. CANNISTRARO: I remember being instructed by Washington to go out and warn as many exiles that I could find that they were targets of assassination plots. They should leave Rome and leave Milan and go someplace else for at least an interim period of time.

MARTIN: Several years later, Cannistraro says he too became the target of a Libyan assassination plot. Here's what he says happened. After he retired from the CIA, Cannistraro made public comments implicating the Libyan government in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Mr. CANNISTRARO: And that made me a target of Gadhafi, and Moussa Koussa was in charge of orchestrating an assassination attempt against me.

MARTIN: Cannistraro says he was lured to Cairo, supposedly to meet with Moammar Gadhafi's brother-in-law.

Mr. CANNISTRARO: But I was informed by intelligence, both the U.S. intelligence and Egyptian intelligence, that it was a setup to assassinate me and not to go.

MARTIN: So he didn't. Cannistraro then watched, over several years, a transformation in America's relations with Libya. The man who he says tried to kill him became an important U.S. partner.

Here's what changed. In the 1980s and '90s, the U.S. saw Libya as a serious terrorist threat. The United States bombed Tripoli. The international community imposed economic sanctions. Then came the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Libya became useful.

Mr. CANNISTRARO: Moussa Koussa was very smart, and he guided Libya's foreign policy to coincide with the Americans and the British as a way of getting out from under the sanctions.

MARTIN: To do that, Koussa helped convince Gadhafi to give up his nuclear weapons program. He also turned Libya into a key U.S. ally on counterterrorism, turning over al-Qaida operatives and giving information about an al-Qaida feeder group in Libya. Moussa Koussa had become valuable. This is how former CIA director Mike Hayden described him.

Mr. MIKE HAYDEN (Former CIA Director): Professional, intelligent, knowledgeable about the United States. Moussa was a serious guy. He delivered.

MARTIN: Koussa has roots in the U.S. He actually graduated from Michigan State University in the late 1970s with a degree in sociology. And he was seen as someone the CIA could work with.

Mr. CANNISTRARO: Whatever Moussa's personal history was, both we and the British government were able to overcome it for broader national interest with regard to weapons of mass destruction and mutual interest when it came to fighting al-Qaida.

MARTIN: The primary U.S. national interest in Libya now is neutralizing Gadhafi and putting an end to his regime. Former intelligence officials say Moussa Koussa could help make that happen. They say he has cooperated before and they're hoping he'll do so again.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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