So that’s what Obama and Hillary and a bunch of other unnamed U.S. officials were getting at when they hinted about cracks forming in Qaddafi’s inner circle. From Monday:

Morale among Qaddafi’s forces is extremely low, and his all-important inner circle — a dozen people or less — are now questioning whether the Libyan leader can survive, a senior U.S. official told Fox News.

Qaddafi’s “inner circle” includes a handful of senior military officers, his immediate family and a handful of his political cronies, the senior official told Fox News.

Hard to believe that morale on the ground is low when they’re pushing the rebels out of towns like Ras Lanuf, but score one for the White House in pulling this off. They must have been quietly coordinating with Musa Kusa for weeks to make it happen:

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa arrived in Britain on Wednesday to seek refuge after quitting the government in protest against leader Moammar Gadhafi’s attacks on civilians.

“He has told us that he is resigning his post. We are discussing this with him and we will release further detail in due course,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said, adding that “his role was to represent the regime internationally — something that he is no longer willing to do.”

Noman Benotman, a friend and senior analyst at Britain’s Quilliam think tank, said Moussa Koussa “wasn’t happy at all. He doesn’t support the government attacks on civilians.”

That last bit is a lie. As noted in the NBC story, this guy was known as the “envoy of death” in the 80s when he led the terrorists and terrorist-enablers in Qaddafi’s intelligence service. He went on to become the regime’s diplomatic mouthpiece, and now he’ll become (a) a massive intelligence windfall for the west and (b) a trophy used to prove that things really have become hopeless for the regime notwithstanding this week’s successful counteroffensive against the rebels, which might destroy morale among regime troops on the front lines. And in fact, he may not be the only member of Qaddafi’s brain trust to have bugged out recently: This Maltese journalist is claiming that there’s been a mass defection of regime figures from Libya to Tunisia, including the current intelligence chief and at least one parliamentary leader. Supposedly they’re in contact with EU officials and are waiting for flights out. I can’t find confirmation of that elsewhere, but if it’s true, look for “defection” stories to start sprouting all over the news garden later tonight.

Exit question: Why now? I could understand if Kusa had bailed when the west effectively declared war at the UN, but the regime’s showed surprising resilience in keeping the rebels at bay over the past two weeks. Revisit the AP story I posted just an hour ago to see how they’re adapting their tactics to neutralize airstrikes and reclaim territory from the rebels. And, contrary to the quote above, Kusa obviously didn’t have such deep misgivings about killing civilians that he felt obliged to leave when Qaddafi first started rolling over people in the east a few weeks ago. Again, why now?