What Are the Secrets that Will Remain Hidden in Benghazi?

Things are becoming clearer day by day in Libya. groups and brigades are polarizing along Islamist-jihadist-secular lines

US drones are not only hovering all the time over eastern Libya, they also bombed a training camp run by Abdulbasit  Azuz, a commander from Dernah.

Yes, you heard that right, US drones are bombing Libya already

The above June 8, 2012 quote, apparently from a extremist discussion board, is among the materials (see PDF 119) the State Department used to investigate the Benghazi attack (Darrell Issa released them after last year’s Benghazi hearing). While the screen cap of the discussion entry comes with no explanation, it appears to show someone at State was tracking the rise of extremists in real time, particularly the day after an earlier IED attack on the US mission in Benghazi claimed by the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigades (see PDF 110 for State’s description of that).

But it wouldn’t take reading Jihadist sites to understand what they were saying the summer before the September 11 attack on Benghazi. CNN’s June 7 coverage of the attack on the mission included many of the same details.

A senior Libyan official told CNN that the U.S. is flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region but said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant training camps in the area.

The revelation follows a failed attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi on Tuesday night, which a shadowy jihadist group claimed was to avenge the death of al Qaeda No. 2 Abu Yahya al-Libi.

The official said that one militant commander operating in Derna, Abdulbasit Azuz, had complained that a drone strike had targeted his training camp in the east of Libya.  Last month, there were reports of explosions outside the Derna area in the vicinity of the camps, according to a different source.


The senior Libyan official said it would be bad if such a strike had occurred. He added that the Americans’ use of drones in a surveillance capacity had been discussed at the top level of the transitional Libyan government.

As CNN has reported, Azuz is a senior al Qaeda operative and longtime close associate of the group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was dispatched to Libya from the tribal areas of Pakistan in spring 2011, according to several sources.  There, he subsequently recruited fighters.


The jihadist group that claimed responsibility for the failed attack on the U.S. Mission in leaflets left at the scene called itself the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades. It promised more attacks against American interests.

It was first heard from late last month, when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a Red Cross office in Benghazi. A purported video of the attack was apparently posted on jihadist websites that regularly feature statements by al Qaeda. The video showed several rockets being fired into a building at night.

While CNN doesn’t make an explicit connection between the bombing of the Benghazi mission and US surveillance (and claimed drone attack) in Derna, the implication is they’re related, particularly as they track Libyans with ties to core al Qaeda (CNN also discusses former Gitmo detainee Sufian bin Qumu’s presence in Derna) responding to the drone killing in Pakistan of Abu Yahya al-Libi on June 5.

So on June 5 we killed Abu Yahya in Pakistan, on June 6 an unknown militia attacks the compound in Benghazi in retaliation and promises more attacks, on June 7 discussions of the attack tie back to claims we launched a drone strike in Derna.

On September 10, 2012, the day before the Benghazi attack, Ayman al Zawahiri, who had sent Azuz to Derna to set up an al Qaeda presence the year before, confirmed the death of Abu Yahya.

I lay all this out because, even as State and CIA continue to bicker over who is responsible for the bureaucratic failures that led to Ambassador Stevens’ death in Benghazi, there seems to be larger underlying issues that remain unspoken.

That’s a claim made explicitly in the ebook by two former Special Operations fighters that purports to present the “Definitive Report” on Benghazi (and described here). The book has its limitations: it presents a very CIA-friendly view (in part because it’s written to champion the two CIA contractors who were killed in the attack), and as such obscures many of the actions and inactions from militia and contractors leading up to the attack.

It suggests the attack on Benghazi was largely blowback from JSOC operations run out of the White House.

Meanwhile, JSOC counterterrorism operations began sometime in mid-summer 2012, when the organization started putting “boots on the ground” inside Libya.


The nature of these operations remains highly classified. They were never intended to be known to anyone outside a very small circle in the Special Operations community and within Obama’s National Security Council. Ambassador Stevens, the CIA Chief of Station in Tripoli, and then-Director, General Petraeus, had little if any knowledge of these JSOC missions.

The book goes onto blame John Brennan, by name, for not alerting CIA and State within Libya to what JSOC was doing (the ebook was released the week Brennan’s confirmation process started, though was not mentioned explicitly in open hearing).

Kept in the dark about these compartmentalized JSOC operations the CIA was caught off-guard by the Ansar al-Sharia retaliation. They had no idea that Special Operations missions would be kicking the hornets’ nest in Libya and therefore could not prepare for the fallout that would result.


Because John Brennan is running his own private war, he is not going through the normal chain of command, and operations are not deconflicted. Ambassador Stevens, for example, was not read into the JSOC operations in Libya. Likewise, the CIA never knew what hit them.


Ambitious bureaucrats like John Brennan need to be reined in or fired if these operations are to be successful, or we will see plenty more Benghazis happen.

It also speculates in suggestive fashion about Bin Qumu.

Given that Bin Qumu was released from Gitmo before taking control of Ansar al-Sharia, one must ask whether or not American intelligence services had “flipped” him while he was held in duress while at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. Is the Libyan terrorist a double, or even triple agent?

There are a number of reasons that I won’t go into why I think the suggestion that Bin Qumu had been flipped is not at all far-fetched (here’s an earlier post I did on Bin Qumu).

But as to whether it’s credible to claim CIA was not read into operations that were pissing off militias in eastern Libya, remember the claim David Petraeus’ mistress, Paula Broadwell, made in a speech attempting to defend his role in Benghazi, two weeks before he resigned in disgrace.

Now, I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, 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. So that’s still being vetted.

The challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position, he’s not allowed to communicate with the press. So he’s known all of this — they had correspondence with the CIA station chief in, in Libya. Within 24 hours they kind of knew what was happening.


As a former intel officer it’s frustrating to me because it reveals our sources and methods. I don’t think the public necessarily needs to know all of that.

See also this post, which maps how Fox’s reporting on the same subject changed over time, but also considers how the reported presence of prisoners at the CIA mission affected militias’ willingness to help defend the State and CIA compounds. Fox suggests that CIA’s hand-picked militia, February 17 brigade, used the attack to free captives, rather than defend Americans. (Remember, too, that Ambassador Stevens was taken to a hospital guarded by Ansar al-Sharia; how he was located and his body reclaimed is one of the vaguest parts of any of the accounts of the attack.)

As to Broadwell’s blabbing about detainees at the CIA annex in Benghazi, as recently as April 10, Petraeus was being interviewed by the FBI about whether he shared classified information with Broadwell.

Now, as a threshold matter, note the language Broadwell used. She didn’t say CIA was holding two militia figures. She said the CIA annex had taken them prisoner.

CIA’s response to Broadwell’s blabbing was to issue the same kind of non-denial denial they issued after Jeremy Scahill revealed CIA surrogates were operating a prison for the Agency in Somalia.

The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the Agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless.

See also this tweet, repeating CIA’s denial that the Agency itself was holding prisoners.

Now, in her comments, Broadwell seems to suggest Petraeus learned about detainees in Benghazi within 24 hours of the attack.

But just days after she would blab about the trip and just days before he resigned in disgrace, Petraeus took his own fact-finding trip to Libya, even as Deputy CIA Director Mike Morrell was in Langley spinning out CIA’s defense. Yet, in spite of the fact that Petraeus took the trip ostensibly to prepare for Congressional testimony, the intelligence committees had trouble getting a copy of his trip report, and Petraeus tried to back out of testifying about the trip personally. Not only does this feel like a concerted effort to withhold what he learned from Congress, but if the CIA Station Chief told Petraeus something significantly different in person in October from what he told him via cable on September 12, I can see why Petraeus might use his resignation as an excuse not to tell Congress.

I’m wondering, too, whether this relates to Mac Thornberry’s attempt to assure everyone there’s sufficient oversight over JSOC kill-or-capture missions; if Brennan kept JSOC ops in Libya that blew up on us too closely held, Thornberry would likely have been one of the few to have been read into them. Remember that the government keeps refusing to tell Ron Wyden all the countries where we’ve been running targeted killing missions.

And remember, too, that Petraeus’ first reaction to Benghazi was to ask for more drones, a request that John Brennan approved.

Now, I don’t know whether Petraeus’ behavior makes the claim that he and the Station Chief weren’t read into what was going on in eastern Libya more or less likely.

But Petraeus’ role in this has always been creepy, from when he refused to attend the memorial services for the CIA contractors killed in the attack to when he ostentatiously attended the Argo premiere the night of Darrell Issa’s first hearing on Benghazi. And it is clear that Petraeus’ efforts to spin his own role, and that of CIA, in this really pissed off the rest of the National Security establishment.

Given that Petraeus appears to be willing to reopen this issue, we might one day find out the underlying explanation for Benghazi.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. Ben Franklin says:

    ‘Blowback’ is eggsactly the right word. No wonder Obama gilded the lily of dronz by appointing Brennan.
    Keep him in the fold. Don’t need any more whistleblowers, cuz that label is worse than ‘child molester’ to this administration.

  2. PeasantParty says:

    Agreed! There is still a lot more to the story. IMO, the CIA messed up, and not only that they failed to alert State Dept. of their plans to begin with. Yes, they helped with the regime change to begin with, but now they are still helping to keep instability in the region because after Syria there will be Lebanon, then Iran.

    Our military men and women are being thrown in front of the bullets for Isreal’s crooked plans.

  3. Snoopdido says:

    As Friday’s Washington Post stated (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/benghazi-e-mails-show-clash-between-state-department-cia/2013/05/10/5ac8a650-b989-11e2-b94c-b684dda07add_print.html):

    “Virtually every U.S. official assigned to Benghazi was based in the CIA annex — where the agency, not the State Department, was in charge of security.”

    Whether the annex in Benghazi was being run as a CIA operation or an off the books Brennan-approved JSOC operation or a combination of both, it makes total sense that any security provided to both the Benghazi consulate and the annex would try to be very low profile in order to minimize awareness of the CIA and/or JSOC presence and their operations.

    It seems clear that this invisibility was more a US hoped for mirage than a reality. Think along the lines of the CIA’s naiveté with regard their own operational security in the Camp Chapman attack in Khost (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Chapman_attack).

    If the truth of the matter in the Benghazi attack was that it occurred as a result of a CIA or JSOC presence and their Libya operations, and this truth becomes widely known and even acknowledged, it seems to leave Fox News and the Republicans swinging in the breeze regarding their charge that Hillary Clinton and her State Department failed to adequately secure Benghazi.

    It may also mean that Hillary Clinton took a bullet for Petraeus (or perhaps Brennan and the White House) by accepting responsibility for the lack of security in Benghazi when in fact that lack of security was by the deliberate design of the CIA and/or JSOC.

  4. Snoopdido says:

    Sorry about the double posted comment. I must have been stuck in the spam filter and didn’t realize it when I re-posted my comment. If the monitor could please delete one of the two, I’d appreciate it.

  5. orionATL says:

    “… It seems clear that this invisibility was more a US hoped for mirage than a reality…”


    this is a well-known, decades-old cia operations strategy known as the “ostrich” strategy – the cia’s brain is nowhere visible, but its asshole is prominently displayed for all to see

  6. Michael Newman says:

    I believe that bin Qumu is indeed a CIA operative and/or double agent,BUT…who are his operators?

    Who are the CIA officials,operators who were stationed in Benghazi last year? What are their names and what are their politics?

    We need this information about bin Qumu’s operators to take this case to the next level.Without those additional names,this Benghazi story will just end in conspiracy theories when it does not have to.

    We are not talking about Dallas 50 years ago.All the players are still alive.This story as a story is still ongoing,the investigation into it is still ongoing.

    If we could get some more names,CIA names,that would be very helpful.

    After watching that right-wing anti-Obama propaganda video called,”Dishonorable Disclosures”,it is clear that there were people in the intelligence services and DOD who hated Obama and supported Romney.

    When it comes to means,motive and opportunity,the hit job in Benghazi has neocon fingerprints all over it.

    The right-wing neocons wanted Obama out and Romney in,and they would do anything to do it.And neocons,if you know anything about them,are very connected and powerful people with a lot of bankster and FED money behind them,including the you-know-what-lobby that compelled a bunch of Senators to rake over the coals on of their own,Chuck Hagel,while they were all denying the existence or undue influence of this powerful foreign lobby which controls our government.

    The neocons are very real,and they have made themselves very relevant in the worst possible ways.

    The only beneficiary of the Benghazi attack was the Romney Campaign.President Obama was only hurt by it,his perceived strength before Benghazi was foreign policy,and the right attacked that perceived strength.

    In politics,going after or neutralizing your opponents perceived strengths is normal.The absolutely ruthless and shameless Romney campaign just took this tactic to the next level,and they had their neocon allies to help them do it.

    This plot did not in the end help Romney win because he was just too unlikable.Voters mild disappointment with the president could not overcome their utter disgust with his would be successor.

    “But the October surprise in September didn’t work,Romney still lost.”

    But murdering people while attempting something else is still a serious crime.Like a robbery gone terribly wrong.The police aren’t going to just let you go because you didn’t get away with your loot.

    There are dead people in the lobby of the bank that must be accounted for.

    And when the hit went down in Benghazi,Romney not only immediately pounced on it,but the Mormon mafia bastard seemed to have more knowledge of what went down and when and how than anybody else.Insider type knowledge…Romney is the kind of leader who likes to be in the loop,kept informed before,during and after.

    After all,this operation in Benghazi was executed for Romney,in his name,to benefit his campaign for president.A mob boss like Romney would not want something like this going down without his approval.

    watch the whole thing,especially the last half
    if you think you already know everything about the mobster,you don’t

    “he made his millions from Bain Capital” …where did he get the money to start Bain?..The millions in seed money for it?..drug trafficking,that’s where and how…Mittens has said himself that he did not inherit his wealth from his dad,certainly not hundreds of millions or even tens of millions…he said he inherited a million…Bain took tens of millions to start up.


    “follow the money”…besides the seed money for Bain,I would bet a lot of money was payed to the attack brigade in Benghazi,I would bet it was a good payday for bin Qumu and his CIA friends,as well…any CIA operators with new-found wealth?

    Romney’s problems go way beyond flip-flopping and tax return issues,he’s got CIA Mormon Mafia issues…I know,it sounds funny,I laughed,too,at first,but the more I looked into it,the more unfunny it got.

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