From outside this gathering might look like a regular conference of potentates and bureaucrats, but a peek inside the World Trade Organization's high-profile meetings reveals a second purpose the secret policeman's other ball.
The meeting of ministers from 142 nations, in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, has given the world's secret services a rare opportunity for an informal get-together. The organizations that dare not speak their name let alone admit their existence have been given a golden opportunity to practice their dark arts amid heightened security fears of another strike by Osama bin Laden at the WTO conference.
A Qatari soldier stands guard next to an air force helicopter close to the Sheraton Hotel which is the main venue for the WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar, Sunday Nov. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Rumors sweeping through the conference halls suggest that the world's most famous and feared intelligence operatives have been registered as part of the official national delegations to the WTO.
Understandably, the Americans, who have dispatched three warships with 2,100 marines to anchor off the Qatari capital for the duration of the summit, have shown the most paranoid tendencies.
One senior WTO official said that the American "security guards", with their traditional wedge-shaped haircuts, who insist on searching anyone attending a US briefing, were in fact Navy Seals. One reporter who dared to ask what authority they had to search people on non-US soil has been mysteriously banned from the briefing.
The source also claimed that agents from Mossad, the Israeli foreign secret service, were at the conference in force to protect their country's delegation against possible reprisal attacks for the war on Afghanistan. The Italians are less subtle. Their operatives wear the old-fashioned earpieces that are otherwise only seen these days in dated Hollywood presidential assassination dramas.
The British, too, are joining in. One UK delegate claimed that members of the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch were on hand to make sure nobody tried to exact revenge for Tony Blair's support for the US attacks on Afghanistan.
But the most curious group is the Qatari security police. They are on their own soil, and their troops and armored vehicles are already in force on the streets. But to ensure that Qatar does not ruin an opportunity to win international respect for successfully hosting this summit, they have also assigned police to guard the conference compound.
They are cleverly disguised in the traditional Gulf Arab dress of a white dishdasha robe and keffiyeh head-dress. Unfortunately, they give the game away by wearing their official identification showing them in full uniform.
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd