“Benghazi-gate”: A Window into the Secret War in Libya by the CIA.
By David William Pear.
The deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and “Three other Americans” in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 was a tragedy. The circumstances surrounding the deaths are murky, controversial and the subject of political debates and accusations against the competence of the Obama administration. The tragedy also provides Americans with a rare peek inside the CIA’s operations, secret wars and meddling in the internal politics of oil rich countries. For several months there has been an ongoing effort by the Obama administration to deceive the public and the world about the CIA’s covert mission in Benghazi. The director of the CIA, of the time, was heavily criticized within the agency for not attending the funerals of fallen CIA comrades. The reason he gave was that he did not want to draw attention to the CIA’s involvement in Libya.
As new facts about the Benghazi attack started leaking out the Obama administration was forced to change their story several times. As of now the story is that the attack was planned in advance and carried out by an al-Qaida- type terrorist group. The Obama administration goes on to say that the attack was unexpected and that under the known situation the security was adequate, especially since there were CIA personnel nearby that could provide backup security should the need arise. The FBI is now investigating exactly what occurred; which has resulted in intense interagency infighting between the CIA and the FBI.
Whether the truth will ever be revealed to the public is doubtful, as many of the facts will probably end up conveniently buried as classified. That would be usual and the American people have become complacent about deceptions by their government. Sadly, the news media has too. They failed miserably in their
reporting, and instead acted more as co-conspirators hiding the truth and simply regurgitating unquestioned press releases from the State Department.
Anyone who followed the Benghazi story closely must have wondered why more media attention was not given to the “Three other Americans” killed. To her credit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did honor them at a memorial service. Their names are Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith. Mr. Doherty and Mr. Woods were both former Navy Seals, and Sean Smith was a career Foreign Service Officer.
In early November, almost two months after “Benghazi-gate” it was reported by Reuters that an “un-named reliable source” revealed that the “Three other Americans” were actually CIA agents. That explains all the hush, hush.
Further, according to the same Reuters report: “The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. Nearly all the rest worked for the CIA, under diplomatic cover, which was a principal purpose of the consulate, these officials said.” This is the kind of information that should make any journalist realize that now with all the smoke there is a fire.
Twenty-three CIA agents if used as force multipliers can support a paramilitary group of hundreds. From the information known that seems to have been a part of their mission. We know this because one of the excuses for why it took so long for the CIA to come to the rescue was that they needed time to roundup their militia group.
Fortunately, it is hard to keep secrets in Washington…especially so if that secret involves a potential scandal during the middle of presidential election. The secret gets even hotter if there is interagency squabbling and infighting. That seems to be exactly what is going on between the FBI and the CIA. Everyone is trying to protect their turf.
The timing is strange for the new Director of the CIA, David Petraeus, to be suddenly caught in a “honey trap” of an extramarital affair by the FBI. One should be suspicious of convenient coincidences, especially given the animosity between the FBI and the CIA. Was it payback by an FBI that maintains files on everybody who is anybody? Was the Obama administration looking for a fall-guy to take the heat? Will Benghazi-gate be swept under the rug along with the reputation of David Petraeus? It is not likely now that the press smells blood in the water. The media loves nothing better than a juicy sex scandal to titillate the American people.
So where has our news media been since September 11, 2012? Obviously they have not been asking the right people the right questions, nor reporting the important information to the American public as is their duty in a democracy. Hopefully the media will get on the real story, but it is unlikely now that they can make a circus out of a trite romance triangle. The security issues at the Benghazi consulate are important. But the real story the American people need to know is what the CIA was up to in Libya and what are they doing elsewhere in our name?
The United Nations “no-fly” authorization was supposed to have ended in October, 2011. And the Obama administration promised that there would be no “boots on the ground” during the “Arab Spring” in Libya. Did the Obama administration and the CIA keep that promise? Was the CIA the real source of the movie trailer the “Innocence of Muslims” so that it would create a disturbance that the CIA could use as a cover to round up the political opposition? President Obama did seem to protest too much in his U.N. speech that the source of the movie was not the U.S. government. So was Benghazi-gate a case of Blowback from a CIA operation gone bad?
The reasons given by the “un-named reliable source” to Reuters for having such a large CIA station in Benghazi is that: “The CIA was chasing terrorists, as well as shoulder-fired missiles and other military gear liberated from Libyan Army arsenals.” On November 2, 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that the terrorist group that the CIA was chasing, and that was responsible for the Benghazi attack, was an “al-Qaeda regional offshoot and members of a militia known as Ansar al- Shariah”.
Reading between the lines of the news reports; trying to make sense out of them and connecting the dots and making educated guesses it seems likely that the CIA was actively involved throughout the Libyan revolution, had CIA boots on the ground during the “no-fly” mission, aided rebel groups that the U.S. favored and armed them with shoulder-fired Stinger-type anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down Libyan planes.
Now one mission of the CIA in Libya is to roundup those left over Stinger missiles so that they do not end up being used against the U.S. This scenario is similar to the mission carried out against the Soviet Union by the CIA in Afghanistan during the 1980’s. According to Steve Coll’s book “Ghost Wars” the CIA had to scramble to retrieve Stinger missiles from the Afghan Mujahedeen and the Afghan- Arab fighters after the Soviet Union pulled out in defeat.
Many members of the Ansar al-Shariah militia are veterans of the CIA sponsored Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. Ansar al-Shariah is now a powerful militia group in Benghazi. They were one of the fighting forces that received CIA support in overthrowing Muammar Gadhafi in 2011. The new Libyan government was still relying on them to help maintain order and security in Benghazi. The CIA may have been working with them right up until the attack on the American consulate. Maybe that is how a terrorist group was able to gain intelligence to attack the American consulate that night in Benghazi? A suspicious and curious news media would be pursuing all of these angles instead of just waiting for some “un-named reliable source” to give them a confidential briefing that serves the political purposes of insiders.
Ansar al-Shariah is one of the more extremist fundamentalist Islamic militias that are opposed to the new General National Congress recognized by the U.S. as the official government of Libya. Ansar al-Shariah is just one of the many Libyan militias that sprang up and united in opposition to Gadhafi. Once Gadhafi was gone these various militia groups began competing and fighting with each other. There continues to be a possibility of a bloody civil war breaking out in Libya between these different groups. The CIA may be working in Libya to prevent that from happening.
What many of the militia groups agree on is that they are opposed to a U.S. imposed General National Congress (formerly the Transitional National Counsel) that has seized control of the Libyan government. The General National Congress (GNC) is now trying to disarm the militia groups and consolidate their power. That the U.S. is backing the GNC gives many groups and militias reason to be very angry at the U.S.
As with all other Middle Eastern countries that have abundant oil and strategic location, the United States feels that it has the right to determining who governs them. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keeps referring to the GNC as having been democratically elected by the people of Libya, and the New York Times keeps parroting her. Yet no one seems to recall ever seeing smiling faces of the Libyan people standing in line to vote and holding up ink stained thumbs to celebrate their new democracy. Instead the new Libyan government was orchestrated by the United States.
Ever since the United Nations authorized a “humanitarian no-fly zone” in Libya in early 2011, the United States has been in charge of the Arab Spring in Libya. The United Nations never defined what the rules of engagement would be for a so-called “no-fly zone”. That left NATO and the U.S. the freedom to make up their own rules. What resulted was an air war by the U.S. led NATO against the Gadhafi forces with “shock and awe” against Tripoli in which over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired as well as massive aerial bombardments for months to force Gadhafi out. Nobody talks about how many civilians were killed, wounded and displaced by NATO’s “humanitarian” bombing.
Even before Gadhafi was defeated and killed, the United States was diligently establishing a National Transitional Council to take over governing Libya. Many of those put into power by the U.S. were either Libyans that had been in exile for decades or former heads of the Gadhafi regime itself. The militias that did the fighting, bleeding and dying got very little say in the new government.
The head of the new National Transitional Council (NTC) was Mohamed Magariaf. Mr. Magariaf is now the Chairman of the GNC. Mr. Magariaf had
led an assassination attempt against Gaddafi in the early 1980’s. After the assassination attempt failed Mr. Magariaf fled to London and then to the United States where he lived for almost 30 years and established the CIA backed National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL). Mr. Magariaf did not return to Libya until after most of the fighting in the streets and deserts of Libya was over.
Ali Zeidan is the new Prime Minister of the GNC. He defected from Libya in the 1970’s and also helped establish the CIA backed NFSL.
The man appointed as the minister for oil and finance for the NTC was Ali Tarhouni. Mr. Tarhouni also served as the acting Prime Minister of Libya under the NTC. Mr. Tarhouni had fled from Libya for the United States in 1973. He received his Ph.D. in economics at Michigan State University. He also returned to Libya after most of the fighting was over in 2011.
Another leader in the NTC was Mahmoud Jibril. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburg and was the head of Gadhafi’s National Planning Council. He defected to the rebel side during the revolution.
Then there is Mustafa Jalil who became the chairman of the NTC. Previously he was Gaddafi’s Minister of Justice.
Abdurrahim El-Keib served as an interim Prime Minister of the NTC. He had left Libya in 1976 and worked for the CIA backed NFSL in the U.S. He was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Alabama.
The Deputy Prime Minister of the NTC was Mustafa Abushagur. He was also an opponent of Gaddafi who fled to the U.S. in 1984.
And so goes the list of the top people now running the new government in Libya. The U.S. had a heavy hand in deciding who the new leaders were going to be. The CIA had been grooming many of them for decades. After all, the Libyan prize is one of the richest oil producing countries in the world. Libyan oil is the light oil that is easiest to refine and Libya is located on the Mediterranean Sea which makes transportation much easier and less expensive to ship oil to European
markets. Why would not so many in the militia groups and others feel that the U.S. had “stolen” their revolution and their oil?
If one goes a few decades back into history one realizes that the Americans, Gadhafi, and Arab fighters have been playing both sides of the fence many times. Gaddafi has been both a villain to the U.S. and a useful friend. He has been both a sponsor of state terrorism and a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism. The same can be said of the radical Islamic fundamentalist fighters.
In the 1980’s anti-Gadhafi Libyan Arabs were freedom fighters that the CIA recruited to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After September 11, 2001 they were regarded as al-Qaeda terrorists and Gaddafi became a fierce U.S. ally in the war on terror. He even hosted black sites for the CIA to take captured terrorists and for a destination in renditions. Gadhafi gladly cooperated and imprisoned and tortured the returned Libyans captured by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When President George Bush invaded Iraq many of the Libyans that the CIA had trained in Afghanistan in the 1980’s went to fight against the American invaders. When the Libyan fighters wanted to overthrow Gaddafi, the U.S. welcomed them back as freedom fighters. NATO gave them air support and the CIA delivered weapons, supplies, money and training to them again.
Now the Libyan militia groups are terrorists again and the CIA is trying to disarm and disband them. The U.S. is backing their own hand-picked “assets” that they had on ice for decades. In return the new Libyan government has opened its doors to U.S. and British oil companies and kicked out the Chinese oil companies that were previously trying to corner the market.
Libya and its oil is a grand prize for President Obama. Libya is now a new colony for the Americans, Europeans, the IMF and the neoliberals to privatize and exploit. It must be very frustrating for President Obama that he cannot brag about winning the secret but illegal U.S. and NATO war in Libya.
Instead Benghazi-gate has become a scandal of bungled security, CIA and FBI rivalry, and a source of dirty politics. However it has been a rare opportunity for the American people to get a glimpse through the window into the workings of the CIA. Multiply that glimpse many times and it gives a picture of what the war on terror looks like and how it is being fought secretly and often illegally.
[Background information for this article was obtained from the books “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter” by Vijay Prashad; “The Illegal War in Libya” by Cynthia McKinney; and “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001” by Steve Coll. Other important sources are Reuters, November 2, 2012, “The Battle over Benghazi” by Jack Shafer; The Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2012, “The Fog of Benghazi”; The New York Times, November 2, 2012, “Petraeus Quieter Style at CIA Leaves Void on Libya Furor”; The Nation, November 8, 2012, “The why behind the Benghazi attack”, by Melvin A. Goodman; Associated Press, September 18, 2012, “A Benghazi Power, Libya Militia Eyed in Attack”, YouTube, “Obama Speech to the UN (2012) and YouTube, “The Innocence of Muslims” movie trailer.]
David William is a political and economic commentator.