Benghazi and the CIA
Since an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi left four Americans dead, a Republican-led investigation has focused on potential missteps by the White House — and come away with nothing significant.
There has been little attention given, however, to covert actions by the Central Intelligence Agency that were partially uncovered during the September 11, 2012 attack.
That may be changing.
CNN's Jake Tapper argued we should give more scrutiny to the CIA's presence in the Libyan port city.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said the same, according to CNN: "There are questions that must be asked of the CIA and this must be done in a public way."
Among the questions are whether CIA missteps contributed to the security failure in Benghazi and, more importantly, whether the Agency's Benghazi operation had anything to do with reported heavy weapons shipments from the local port to Syrian rebels.
In short, the CIA operation is the most intriguing thing about Benghazi.
Here's what we know:
At about 9:40 p.m. local time on Sept. 11, a mob of Libyans attacked a building housing U.S. State Department personnel. At 10:20 p.m. Americans arrived from a CIA annex located 1.2 miles away, to help the besieged Americans. At 11:15 p.m. they fled with survivors back to the secret outpost.
Armed Libyans followed them and attacked the annex with rockets and small arms from around midnight to 1:00 a.m., when there was a lull in the fighting.
Glen Doherty, a former Navy SEAL and CIA security contractor, was with a team of Joint Special Operations Command military operators and CIA agents in Tripoli at the time of the attack. When they received word of the assault on the mission, Doherty and six others bribed the pilots of small jet with $30,000 cash for a ride to Benghazi.
At about 5:15 a.m., right after Doherty's group arrived, the attackers began shooting mortars at the annex, leading to the death of Doherty and fellow former Navy SEAL and CIA contractor Tyrone Woods.
At 6 a.m. Libyan forces from the military intelligence service arrived and subsequently took more than 30 Americans — only seven of whom were from the State Department — to the Benghazi airport.
So the CIA's response to go to the annex (after being held back for 20 minutes) saved American lives, but it also ended up exposing the annex.
And according to Paula Broadwell, the mistress of David Petraeus when he was CIA director, the CIA may have provided an impetus for the attack by holding prisoners: "Now I don't know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back."
'At its heart a CIA operation'
In November The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. mission in Benghazi "was at its heart a CIA operation."
In January, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the CIA was leading a "concerted effort to try to track down and find and recover ... MANPADS [man-portable air defense systems]" looted from the stockpiles of toppled Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
The State Department "consulate" served as diplomatic cover for the previously-hidden annex.
The top-secret presence and location of the CIA outpost was first acknowledged by Charlene Lamb, a top official in the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, during Congressional testimony in October.
Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Darrell Issa immediately called a point of order when Lamb exposed the location of the annex, and asked for the revelation to be stricken from the record.
“I totally object to the use of that photo,” Chaffetz. said. “I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.”
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In an introduction, Clapper said the threats facing the United States “virtually defy rank-ordering.” He warned of “hard choices” as the intelligence community — sometimes referred to as the “IC” — seeks to rein in spending after a decade of often double-digit budget increases.
The current budget proposal envisions that spending will remain roughly level through 2017 and amounts to a case against substantial cuts.
The summary provides a detailed look at how the U.S. intelligence community has been reconfigured by the massive infusion of resources that followed the 2001 attacks. The United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence during that period.
The result is an espionage empire with resources and a reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels at the height of the Cold War.
“Much of the work that the intelligence community does has a profound impact on the life of ordinary Americans, and they ought not to be excluded from the process,” Lee H. Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat said.
“It was a titanic struggle just to get the top-line budget number disclosed, and that has only been done consistently since 2007,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert at the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based organization that provides analyses of national security issues. “But a real grasp of the structure and operations of the intelligence bureaucracy has been totally beyond public reach. This kind of material, even on a historical basis, has simply not been available.”
The CIA’s dominant position is likely to stun outside experts. It represents a remarkable recovery for an agency that seemed poised to lose power and prestige after acknowledging intelligence failures leading up to the 2001 attacks and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The surge in resources for the agency funded secret prisons, a controversial interrogation program, the deployment of lethal drones and a huge expansion of its counterterrorism center. The agency was transformed from a spy service struggling to emerge from the Cold War into a paramilitary force.
The intelligence community with all of it's money and resources has failed to prevent any terrorist attacks regardless of their claims including the San Bernardino massacre, the Paris attacks or twin bombings at the Boston Marathon.
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CIA's Black Budget
U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government’s top-secret budget.
The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny.
Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.
The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.
The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations. The Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods. Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.
“The United States has made a considerable investment in the Intelligence Community since the terror attacks of 9/11, a time which includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology, and asymmetric threats in such areas as cyber-warfare,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. wrote in response to inquiries from The Post.
Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:
●Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the behemoth of the community.
●The CIA and the NSA have begun aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as “offensive cyber operations.”
●Long before Snowden’s leaks, the U.S. intelligence community worried about “anomalous behavior” by employees and contractors with access to classified material. The NSA planned to ward off a “potential insider compromise of sensitive information” by re-investigating at least 4,000 people this year who hold high-level security clearances.
●U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in friends as well as foes. Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.” The latter is a U.S. ally but has a history of espionage attempts against the United States.
●In words, deeds and dollars, intelligence agencies remain fixed on terrorism as the gravest threat to national security, which is listed first among five “mission objectives.” Counterterrorism programs employ one in four members of the intelligence workforce and account for one-third of the intelligence program’s spending.
●The governments of Iran, China and Russia are difficult to penetrate, but North Korea’s may be the most opaque. There are five “critical” gaps in U.S. intelligence about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Formally known as the Congressional Budget Justification for the National Intelligence Program, the “top-secret” blueprint represents spending levels proposed to the House and Senate intelligence committees in February 2012.
The document describes a constellation of spy agencies that track millions of surveillance targets and carry out operations that include hundreds of lethal strikes. They are organized around five priorities: combating terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear and other unconventional weapons, warning U.S. leaders about critical events overseas, defending against foreign espionage, and conducting cyber-operations.
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Cryptome The location of the U.S. "consulate" and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya
Weapons from Benghazi to Syria
Also in October we reported the connection between Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who died in the attack, and a reported September shipment of SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles (i.e. MANPADS) and rocket-propelled grenades from Benghazi to Syria through southern Turkey.
That 400-ton shipment — "the largest consignment of weapons" yet for Syrian rebels — was organized by Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was the newly-appointed head of the Tripoli Military Council.
In March 2011 Stevens, the official U.S. liaison to the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan rebels, worked directly with Belhadj while he headed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
Stevens' last meeting on Sept. 11 was with Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi "to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists."
Syrian rebels subsequently began shooting down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets with SA-7s akin to those in Qaddafi's looted stock. (The interim Libyan government also sent money and fighters to Syria.)
What did the CIA know?
Collectively these details raise the question of what the CIA knew, given that Agency operatives in Libya were rounding up SA-7s, ostensibly to destroy them, while operatives in southern Turkey were funneling weapons to the rebels.
Ambassador Stevens certainly would have known if the new Libyan government was sending 400 tons of heavy weapons to Turkey from Benghazi's port.
Just like the CIA would know if those the weapons arrived in Turkey and began showing up in Syria.
Journalist Damien Spleeters created this sourced map, drawing info shared on social media such as YouTube, that gives an idea of the MANPADS presence in Syria.
We've added red tag noting the Turkish port, Iskenderun, where the massive SA-7 shipment docked.
And this map of nearby Turkish highways shows that the heavy weapons could have been transported from the port to the Syrian city of Aleppo in three hours.
Other intriguing details
This week Nancy Youssef of McClatchy reported that Ambassador Stevens twice turned down offers for additional security, despite specifically asking for more men in cables to the State Department.
Right after the attack American Matthew VanDyke, who fought with Libyan rebels during their revolution, told us he suspected that extremist groups in the nearby mountains — who felt marginalized by the new Libyan government — "saw their opportunity to pounce."
Earlier this month Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) told CNN: “I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria. ... Were they trying to obscure that there was an arms operation going on at the CIA annex? I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but I think questions ought to be asked and answered."
So now that the White House has released more than 100 pages of Benghazi emails, and the State Department's role during and after the attack have been probed ad nauseam, it's time for someone to explain what the exposed CIA operation in Benghazi was all about.