More than 18 months after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, partisan in-fighting over the politicizing of the House investigation into the disaster seems to be picking up speed in Washington.
Earlier this month, Reps. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called for an end to the “witch hunt,” stating that multiple reports and inquiries have answered the questions concerning the Sept. 11, 2012 attack.
Since the beginning of the Libyan Revolution, eastern Libya and Benghazi have been key staging grounds for American intelligence efforts, with the U.S. State Department and CIA personnel deployed there. Counter-terrorism operators from Delta Force, the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, were also placed there.
The American intelligence community’s mission in the region was to help develop the new Libyan intelligence service, secure the Libyan chemical stockpiles, and identify and collect the weapons that flooded into the country during the war.
To many, the House Republicans’ campaign to “get to the bottom” of the Benghazi disaster rings of partisan mudslinging in an attempt to “dirty the hands” of the White House and the Obama administration prior to the 2014 mid-term elections and the 2016 presidential election, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the presumptive frontrunner.
However, many feel that this line of attack — attempting to blame the State Department and the Pentagon for the lack of security at the consulate and the delayed response to the attack — fails to address key points in the narrative, such as why a CIA annex more than a mile from the consulate was also attacked the following morning, why some of the attackers were dressed in militant garb, and how an impromptu mob got hold of rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s, FN F2000 NATO assault rifles and truck-mounted heavy machine guns.
On Libya and Syria
Earlier this month, Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize winner and five-time George Polk Award-winning investigative journalist who came to national attention for his coverage of the My Lai Massacre cover-up and the detainee mistreatment at Abu Ghraib detention center in Iraq, offered an alternative timeline to the Benghazi incident to the official Washington version. According to Hersh, the attack had more to do with what the United States did with the weapons it collected in Libya than anything else.
Though it is not often discussed, the fact that the Obama administration channeled Libyan heavy weapons to the Syrian rebels — the existence of a weapons “rat-line” — has been openly disclosed. In a December 2012 report, Christina Lamb of the Sunday Times of London pointed out that the United States had been secretly purchasing the stockpiled weapons of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi — including anti-aircraft SA-7 missiles, anti-tank rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar shells. Via a connection of Middle Eastern nations that was already supplying the rebels, such as Turkey, it had also been providing the rebels with these weapons in an attempt to counter Syrian President Bashar Assad’s campaign to suppress the opposition.
It has also been publicly speculated that late Ambassador Stevens had at least a working knowledge of what was going on. On Sept. 6, 2012, a Libyan ship, captained by “a Libyan from Benghazi,” docked in southern Turkey with 400 tons of weapons meant for the Syrian opposition. The man that organized the shipment, Tripoli Military Council leader Abdelhakim Belhadj, was said to have worked directly with Stevens during the Libyan Revolution. According to a source that spoke with Fox News, Stevens was in Benghazi at the time of the attack “to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists.”
Officially, Stevens was in Benghazi to work on the establishment of a cultural center and library. The Wall Street Journal, however, argues that the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi only “provided diplomatic cover” for the CIA annex and that the consulate itself was not a functioning part of the diplomatic mission to Libya.
The CIA and “cowboy diplomacy”
“Benghazi has been described as a U.S. consulate, but it was not,” said former CIA operative Philip Giraldi. “It was an information office that had no diplomatic status. There was a small staff of actual State Department information officers plus local translators. The much larger CIA base was located in a separate building a mile away. It was protected by a not completely reliable local militia. Base management would have no say in the movement of the ambassador and would not be party to his plans, nor would it clear its own operations with the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.”
“In Benghazi, the CIA’s operating directive would have been focused on two objectives: monitoring the local al-Qaeda affiliate group, Ansar al-Sharia, and tracking down weapons liberated from Colonel Gaddafi’s arsenal … The ambassador would not be privy to operational details and would only know in general what the agency was up to.”
Hersh, in his argument, presents the theory that failed intelligence, misunderstandings and intentional attempts to mislead led to the Benghazi disaster and the state of the continuing Syrian Civil War. For example, Hersh argues that the stand-off between President Obama and Congress was triggered, in part, by Turkey.
“Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups,” Hersh reports. “‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’”
This represents one of many “unintended consequences” that occurred due to this covert American agenda. At the end of 2012, as reported by Hersh, the American intelligence community was under the impression that the rebels would lose the war, which caused Erdogan to panic, as he and his country were heavily invested in the rebels. This led to the Turkish national intelligence agency and Gendarmerie, the nation’s paramilitary law enforcement arm, to work with al-Nusra — a Syrian branch of al-Qaida known to be the most aggressive and effective rebel group fighting in the civil war — to help with the group’s chemical weapon development.
This allegedly led to the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, which almost prompted a military response from the United States. These “unintended consequences” — such as the Obama administration allowing Turkey to export gold to Iran in exchange for oil due to a presidential executive order “loophole,” which let Iran receive $13 billion in gold from March 2012 to July 2013 — are the sum result of actions taken to disguise or to hide extra-legal actions, such as the CIA working with the United Kingdom’s MI-6 in Libya to avoid having to inform Congress of the operations it was conducting.
These “unintended consequences” — such as the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi — should be investigated, as should the decisions and motivations that led to these “unintended consequences.”
However, with the Pentagon currently complaining to Congress that the repeated questions of whether a “stand-down” order was given in Benghazi or if the State Department failed to offer adequate security are costing the department millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours, there may not be enough political will to ask such questions now. Ultimately, both Democrats and Republicans called for regime change in Syria and both sides turned a blind eye to what was really happening in the Middle East.
Undoubtedly, though, there’s one question that needs to be asked: is the CIA an asset or a liability to the U.S.?