What kind of panic are we talking about here? Actual quote from agency “insider” communications obtained by CNN: “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well.”
The word of the day is “unprecedented.” Phony scandal no more:
Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency’s workings…
It is being described as pure intimidation, with the threat that any unauthorized CIA employee who leaks information could face the end of his or her career…
Another [insider] says, “You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation.”…
Among the many secrets still yet to be told about the Benghazi mission, is just how many Americans were there the night of the attack.
A source now tells CNN that number was 35, with as many as seven wounded, some seriously.
While it is still not known how many of them were CIA, a source tells CNN that 21 Americans were working in the building known as the annex, believed to be run by the agency.
Thirty-five Americans on the ground, 21 at the CIA annex. Maybe the skeletal security crew at the consulate wasn’t as skeletal as thought. Is that what happened here — not so much a security vacuum as a security presence so secret that it couldn’t be revealed publicly, despite the White House being pounded over its failures for months afterwards? None of which is to say that they shouldn’t have had more security; the consulate and annex were overrun regardless, no matter how many people were there. But maybe that helps explain why the formal security presence wasn’t bigger: There was a lot of CIA in the area and maybe the White House didn’t want to attract attention to what they were doing there by inserting a squad of Marines to patrol the grounds. We already had an inkling of that, in fact, per this interesting but vague WSJ story from last November, which argued that the CIA’s role in the city appeared to be more important than thought. (“The consulate provided diplomatic cover for the classified CIA operations.”) CNN itself followed up in May by reporting that “the larger mission in Benghazi was covert” and alleging that there were more Americans there tied to the CIA — 20 of 30 in all — than to State’s diplomatic presence.
But what were they doing there to justify such agency paranoia now about people blabbing? Former CIA analyst Robert Baer tells CNN that agents are typically polygraphed ever few years, not every month. What could be so tippy top secret that it needs to be kept under wraps even if it means threatening agents’ families to buy their silence? On Twitter, Lachlan Markay points to this Business Insider piece, also from May, speculating that weapons were involved. Which isn’t surprising — everyone knows the feds are trying to round up loose arms from Qaddafi’s stockpiles before jihadis get hold of them. What’s surprising is where the weapons might, might have been headed. To a depot back in the U.S.? Maybe not:
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.
This theory seems sound enough to CNN that they actually mention it in today’s bombshell, albeit as something that’s being kicked around on the Hill. Is that what happened here? The White House decided to secretly start arming the rebels a year ago with the sort of SAMs that everyone fears might eventually be used to shoot down western airliners? Did Congress, or at least the intel committees, know about it? Do note: Even now, after the U.S. announced that it would arm the rebels openly last month, we’re supposedly withholding SAMs from them because they’re too dangerous. If the “secret weapons shipments” theory is true, then in fact we’ve been giving them the dangerous stuff for at least a year. Beyond that, anyone recognize the name Abdelhakim Belhadj? I’ve written about him before. Belhadj is no “moderate” of the sort we’re allegedly working with within the rebel ranks. He’s a hardcore jihadi who fought with Bin Laden in Afghanistan. If he was the point man on helping to transfer dangerous weapons to the Syrian rebels, there’s even less reason to think that they ended up in “moderate” hands rather than in the hands of the mujahedeen.
One other point. As far as I know, it’s a lingering mystery as to how the jihadis who attacked the consulate in Benghazi knew where the CIA annex was. The consulate’s a public presence so it’s a sitting duck. The annex kept a lower profile, even though it was close by, and yet the attackers zeroed in on it later in the evening of 9/11/12. Why? Could be it was as simple as knowing that there was another building in the neighborhood that had lots of Americans working at it and therefore that building was worth hitting too. Or maybe they just noticed suspicious traffic to the annex on the evening of the attack and decided to take a closer look. But if the “secret weapons shipments” theory is true, it could also be that bad actors in the city had actually dealt with the CIA there about getting arms to Syria and therefore knew full well where the annex was and who was inside. If that’s what happened, it’s like Afghanistan in microcosm in terms of jihadis ultimately biting the American hand that fed them.
Exit question: What was the CIA doing in Benghazi?