THE family of Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and died in a botched attempt to rescue her, have described claims she was working for MI6 as “ludicrous and hurtful”.
The allegation has been published by American investigative journalism website The Intercept in an article focusing on the activities US Navy unit SEAL Team 6, which became famous for killing Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
The elite special forces team carried out the failed attempt to rescue Norgrove in 2010, after she was captured along with three Afghan colleagues.
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The article claims four US military and intelligence sources confirmed Norgrove’s link with MI6 and that it emerged during the planning of the rescue mission, when British the government informed the US the reason her location was known was that she was being tracked due to her involvement with the intelligence services.
The claims last week were picked up and reported by the Kremlin-backed RT new channel – formerly known as Russia Today – on its English language website. A Wikipedia profile on Norgrove was also amended to state she was a “British aid worker and British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6) agent”.
The Foreign Office said it could not confirm or deny the claims and declined to comment any further.
However her family told the Sunday Herald the claims, which have emerged six years after her death, are “ridiculous”.
In a statement her parents John and Lorna Norgrove, who live on the Isle of Lewis, said: “The people who have fabricated this story did not know Linda. We were very close to her and kept in touch every week by Skype throughout the life she had working in third world countries.
“Linda was passionately against war, disliked the military with a vengeance and mostly sided with Afghans rather than western governments. She loved her work, tirelessly striving to improve the lives of others by supporting projects which improved their environment.
“She was highly principled, would not compromise on her views and the suggestion that she was working for MI6 is both ludicrous and hurtful.”
The article on the Intercept website, The Crimes of SEAL Team 6, was written following an investigation of more than two years by reporter Matthew Cole, who formerly worked at ABC News’ investigative unit.
The 14,000 word article made a series of allegations that the US Navy's special forces team carried out a “pattern of criminal violence, mutilations and unjustified killings” that was covered up by its leaders.
One event cited as raising concerns over accountability of the unit was the attempted rescue of Norgrove, 36, in October 2010, in which the aid worker was accidentally killed by a grenade thrown by one of the SEAL team members. The US initially said that one of her captors had killed her during the rescue mission.
In The Intercept article, Cole states the rescue operation was code-named ‘Anstruther’ in homage to Norgrove’s Scottish background and authorised by then Prime Minister David Cameron.
He went on: “The operation commanded high-level interest because Norgrove, though in Afghanistan as an aid worker for DAI [Development Alternatives Incorporated], an American NGO, secretly worked with Britain’s MI-6, according to four US military and intelligence sources.
“Two of these sources told me that the British government informed SEAL Team 6 mission planners that Norgrove worked for the spy agency and that they had been tracking her movements since the abduction.”
The Intercept is published by First Look Media, which was launched in 2013 by the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar. It has published stories on the US National Security Agency (NSA) building a system to infect millions of computers around the world with 'implants' to help hacking, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, and a series of documents on America's use of drones to kill foreign targets.
However last year the website had to publish an apology after it was discovered a former staff reporter, Juan Thompson, had fabricated several quotes in his stories and used fake email accounts to impersonate people.
In the wake of Norgrove’s death, David Cameron and then Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed they had been fully informed of the operation beforehand.
Hague also said the rescue attempt had been authorised “within a few hours” of her capture on September 26, 2010 and told MPs a UK special forces officer had acted as a "liaison" between the US forces and the British government.
In 2012, her former colleagues told a BBC Alba documentary that Norgrove had been told by her captors she would not be killed and she was only being held hostage as a bargaining tool to secure the release of prisoners.
An Afghan colleagues taken hostage with her also told Channel 4 News the kidnappers were only interested in ransom and the rescue attempt was “unnecessary and should not have put her life in danger”.
In 2015 an article in the Daily Mail speculated Norgrove may have worked with the CIA and raised questions over the huge rescue operation launched to find her.
US special forces have since been involved in other operations to free aid workers held hostage in Afghanistan – with British woman Helen Johnston successfully rescued in 2012 in a joint night-time raid with British special forces.
A spokesman for DAI aid agency described the claims made of Norgrove's links with intelligence agencies as “unsourced allegations”.
He added: “We have no means of telling whether this most recent anonymous assertion has any basis in fact.
“We have no knowledge of any such connection and no reason to believe there was one, and we remain thoroughly sceptical of this as of the previous claim.
“We remember Linda for what she was: a cherished colleague and dedicated development professional, totally engaged on her agricultural development project and deeply committed to improving people’s lives.”
It is not unknown for intelligence services to use delivering aid as a 'front'. In 2011, it emerged the CIA had recruited a senior doctor and organised a fake vaccination programme in the town in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding, in a bid to obtain DNA from his family.
But this incident also highlighted the dangers for humanitarian organisations stemming from such schemes. Save the Children later had to fly eight aid workers out over concerns they were at risk of being picked up by Pakistani intelligence officials, even though the charity vehemently denied any links to the scheme.
A charity to fund education, health and childcare for women and children in Afghanistan has been established by Norgrove’s parents in memory of her.
The Linda Norgrove Foundation has so far distributed £1 million to help those affected by the war in the country.