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According to yesterday’s New York Times, the CIA station in Benghazi numbered a dozen Agency officers and contractors at the time of the attack that left the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans dead. That is an unusually large CIA provincial post for a country where the US is not presently involved in hostilities.

The forced evacuation of the Benghazi post was called “a catastrophic intelligence loss,” by one American official interviewed who has served in Libya.

Why did the CIA have such a large presence in that Eastern Libyan city which has long been the center of radical Salafi and Jihadi terrorist groups in Libya?

The answer lies only partly in surveillance. There is also the role of the United States in providing equipment, training and coordination to Libyans for Jihad operations against the Shi’ia-dominated regime in Syria, regime change activities publicly admitted to by the Obama Administration in early April after a leak revealed that Blackwater mercenaries have been carrying out that role.

Unexpectedly Large CIA Presence in Benghazi

The New York Times provides some additional insight into the CIA contingent that operated secretly out of a compound near the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi:

Within months of the start of Libyan revolution in February 2011, the C.I.A. began building a meaningful but covert presence in Benghazi, a locus of the rebel efforts to oust the government of Colonel Qaddafi.
As was previously reported, the late Ambassador Stevens arrived covertly in Benghazi in April of last year and immediately set to work coordinating rebel groups in the area in efforts that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime in August. Until the night of the September 11th attack this year, Stevens worked closely with various militant groups, and apparently felt comfortable operating openly in the area without a substantial security detail.

Given the size and established presence of the US diplomatic and intelligence presence in Eastern Libya, and the apparently close relationship with militant groups there, it is particularly shocking that a Libyan Islamicist group with links to al-Qaeda was able to mount with complete surprise what most now see as a well-planned and coordinated military attack. Officials have accused al Qaeda in the Magreb of carrying out the surprise assault on the Consulate and the nearby CIA compound to which consular staff evacuated, which itself came under lethal and well-aimed attack. The effect of this has reportedly derailed some US policy planning, and “has dealt the Central Intelligence Agency a major setback in its intelligence-gathering efforts at a time of increasing instability in the North African nation.”

Leak Revealed Former Blackwater Director, US Congresswoman, and Romney Advisor Involved with Libyan Jihadists and Syrian Regime Change Operation

In March, a leak of emails from Stratfor, a private international security firm revealed that “Mr. Smith,” a former director of Blackwater, had a role in organizing the Libyan opposition in early 2011, and was subsequently sent later last year to contact Syrian rebels in Turkey. See,

As we will see, below, practically all those publicly identified in this curious episode have suddenly exited from sight, including an 8-term US Congresswoman.

The last emails about Smith were sent on December 13, shortly before the Stratfor mail servers were hacked. In one email, Mr. Burton (head of counterrorism at the company) summarizes the activities of Mr. Smith and some of his associates in Syria late last year:

"*Source and Dr. Walid Phares are getting air cover from Congresswoman Myrick to engage Syrian opposition in Turkey (non-MB and non-Qatari) on a fact finding mission for Congress.
The true mission is how they can help in regime change.
** Source intends to offer his services to help protect the opposition members, like he had underway in Libya."
As was subsequently determined, Jamie F. Smith, the chief executive of the security firm SCG International, is a former director of Blackwater.

SCG emails reveal that in 2011 its operatives were involved in training the Libyan resistance and were allegedly on the scene in August to confirm the killing of Gadaffi .(doc-id 3980511)

In an early email sent to Stratfor on February 11, 2011, Smith talked-up the company's intelligence gathering and said his own "background is CIA and our company is comprised of former DOD , CIA and former law enforcement personnel.” (doc-id 257534)

“We provide services for those same groups in the form of training, security and information collection," Smith stated to Stratfor (doc-id 5441475) If these emails are accurate, that places privatized CIA operatives in the thick of regime change operations in Syria, as well as Libya, long before these activities were acknowledged by the Obama Administration. Public exposure of covert operations is never good for business, and one must also bear in mind that for every intelligence failure there is usually an expendable scapegoat or someone claiming to be one.

Easily dissolved shell companies are like bathroom tissue in this game. Erik Prince, himself, made just that claim before he changed Blackwater’s business name to Xe (later spun off as "Academi"), packed his bags, and moved his headquarters to Dubai following the conviction of Blackwater personnel for a variety of crimes in Iraq. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr. Smith’s company is also exiting stage right. The future of SCG International has been called into question by the fraud conviction of Mr Smith and the $9.5 million judgement against Mr. Smith and SCG as detailed here:

Smith wrote in a December 13, 2011 email to Stratfor’s VP for counter-terrorism, Fred Burton. Smith claimed that he "and Walid Phares were getting air cover from Congresswoman Myrick to engage Syrian opposition in Turkey (non-MB and non-Qatari) on a fact finding mission for Congress.” In early February this year, Myrich an 8-term Republican incumbent suddenly and without real explanation announced she would not run again. Interesting coincidence, certainly.

Burton is a former Deputy Chief of the Department of State's counterterrorism division for the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Blackwater/Xe, which now operates under the name Academi, recently received part of a multi-billion dollar State Department contract to provide the same types of services as SCG.  Similarly, Mr. Smith's company was awarded a $7.5 million Air Force contract after he was found liable for fraud. Foggy Bottom and Langley can be peculiarly forgiving.

Walid Phares, named by the source as part of the “fact finding team,” is a Lebanese-American citizen and has served as a co-chair to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Middle East advisory group.
A profile of Walid Phares published in Salon details Phares’ history with right-wing militias during the Lebanese civil war and subsequent activist role in conservative U.S. foreign policy circles.

Benghazi Attack Latest in a Long History of Blowback to CIA from Operations in Libya

The Agency has had a long and checquered history in its dealings with Libyan terrorists and strongmen, and its own US citizen go-betweens. On Saturday, Sept. 22, Edwin P. Wilson, a retired CIA officer, died. He was 84. Wilson was branded a traitor and convicted of shipping arms to Libya, had his conviction overturned after he served 22 years in prison

In 2004, a federal Judge overturned the conviction finding that the prosecution had knowingly submitted a false affidavit that omitted nearly 90 meetings Wilson had with CIA superiors during the period he allegedly had gone rogue, selling 40,000 pounds of plastic explosives to Libyans, according to the Washington Post obituary:

Wilson who set up front companies abroad for the CIA and posed as a rich American businessman was convicted in 1983 for shipping 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives to Libya. At trial, he said he did it to ingratiate himself with the Libyan government at the CIA’s request.

A federal judge threw out that conviction in 2003, saying the government failed to correct information about Wilson’s service to the CIA that it admitted internally was false.

It was never fully revealed what happened to the 20 tons of C4, but at the time Libya was providing safe refuge to a number of terrorist groups, such as Abu Nidal, who like Gadhafi, performed services for both sides during the long twilight of the Cold War and always welcomed cash payment.

So, in other words, the court found, the US Government really was feeding tons of plastic explosives to terrorists in Libya through CIA cutouts in the 1980s. Gadhaffi himself emerged from semi-pariah status after he cooperated with the Bush Administration in execution of its torture and rendition program.

That seems to have established a tradition of such things with regard to Libya, given that Libya also provides many of the Jihadi fighters from its eastern region around Benghazi that have been showing up in Syria, blowing up things there, as they also did in Iraq while we occupied that country.

Libya Long a Center of Terrorists for Hire

This brings us forward to the sudden death of Ambassador Stevens two short weeks ago. It is obvious that Chris Stevens was an extraordinarily brave and devoted Foreign Service Officer who died in service to his country. But, he also was the victim of another tradition, the less noble practice of the United States of employing terrorists against what is declared within in Washington to be our enemies. We saw that in the Balkins and breakaway Muslim TransCausasus regions of the former Southern Soviet Union during the 1990s, when US Special Forces and covert operators worked side-by-side with Osama bin Laden and other Saudi paramilitary to drive out the Russian and Serbian remnants, and took control over the enormous energy riches of that region. Among the US Special Forces operators in Kosovo in 1998 was a Navy Seal named Erik Prince, who soon thereafter resigned from the military and founded Blackwater, the history of which is intrinsically tied to al-Qaeda.

Chris Stevens was of course aware of our alliance with bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the Balkins, as he was of the history of Libyan Jihadis when he arrived on a Greek freighter in Benghazi in April, 2011 to organize these groups into an effective fighting force to depose Muammar Ghadafi. If Mr. Smith is to be believed, he was there at the same time, running a Blackwater spin-off operation as part of the same regime change operation. Neither went in without knowing they were dealing with terrorists. As Vice Consul in 2008, Stevens had catalogued the Jihadi militants in Eastern Libya, including the groups then sending large numbers of Libyan suicide bombers working with al-Qaeda to wage war on the Shi’ia and U.S. forces in Iraq.

Just as history brought Erik Prince and Osama bin Laden together in Kosovo, so too did events conspire to produce blowback in Benghazi. We can only hope that the bloodbath being brewed up in Syria by these same terrorists and mercenaries does not again explode in our well-scrubbed hands.

(Please see, Part 1, Blowback in Benghazi, Attack Linked to Regime Change Operations in Libya and Syria, )


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Comment Preferences

  •  The 'Off the shelf' covert capability (5+ / 0-)

    that Ollie North fantasized about is now a reality on the ground, with even better deniability than CIA-run destabilization, and less of that pesky democratic control over the actions of the war makers.  Man, blowback's a bitch.

  •  Excellent diary (7+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the much needed factual information about our activities in Libya.

    The public needs to know much more of what has been going on since the regime change there.

    Until we witnessed the recent blowback incident the establishment  media has been mostly silent on what has been going on in Libya since Gaddafi was overthrown and killed.

    A brief sampling of anecdotes here:

    Many of the former militiamen appear as mentally battered as the buildings they fought for in the eight months of bloodshed. “They returned from the front line, from war, to find no one wanted them,” I was told by a psychiatrist who ran a soup kitchen on the front. “They thought they were heroes, and were treated as troublemakers. That’s why they act so boisterously and aggressively. That’s why they say Libya needs another revolution.”

    Their capacity for being spoilers is substantial, whether of the electoral process or the system of government. “Revolutionaries have to lead the country of the revolution,” says Hussein bin Ahmed, an oil engineer turned general coordinator for preventative security, who acted as host for the militias’ congress in his headquarters. In their concluding session, delegates resolved not to hand over weapons “to those who killed us”—that is, the NTC’s formal army, which they see as recruited from old regime forces—and some delegates drew up plans for a united militia to protect the revolution.

    Some at least seemed prepared to use force to defend their powers. When the UN’s Ian Martin arrived outside an Interior Ministry office in Benghazi to discuss plans for security sector reform, someone hurled a gelignite stick under his armored car. Two NTC members have been kidnapped for supporting—in view of widespread fraud—the cancellation by the council of handouts for militiamen. On May 8, two hundred militiamen opened fire on the prime minister’s Tripoli office with anti-tank guns, forcing the unfortunate al-Keib to briefly take flight.

    From - Is Libya Cracking Up?
    June 21, 2012
    by Nicolas Pelham

    Orwell - "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable"

    by truong son traveler on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 08:26:18 AM PDT

    •  US made ther same mistake in Afgh. in 1990 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sandino, joe shikspack

      and Kosovo in 1998. We got what we came for, using some of the most violent, fanatical elements of the Jihad, and let them run amok.  No surprise, they turned out to be easy to recruit in a holy war against us.

      Seemingly blind to their known intentions and tactics, and in spite of repeated warnings by some within the Intelligence Community, the Bush White House and CIA under George Tenet allowed these same jihadists who had been fighting the Russians and Serbs to enter the country and wander freely around the US, apparently with little of no effort to even keep track of them.    When, in the final weeks, field agents of the FBI started to connect the dots, their investigations were sabotaged.  The result of this obstruction was 9/11.

      What's particularly appalling is that the very same people at CIA CTC who oversaw the "counterterrorism" operations against al-Qaeda -- Cofer Black, Rich Blee -- were then permitted to plan and lead the spectacular failed efforts to track down bin Laden.  Instead of putting those responsible on trial, we let these men run the Agency's torture operations -- using methods that were sure to damage the brains and memories of detainees.  Then, after honorable retirements with medals, they went to work for Blackwater, where these same individuals continued to run the privatized al Qaeda programs for millions of dollars a year.

      An objective analysts looking at this would say the same people create our enemies, facilitate the attacks, and reap the benefits, and we just continue to operate elsewhere -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, (Iran next) -- according the same play book they wrote, benefiting the same privatized covert war companies.


      Identity of CIA Officer Responsible for pre-9/11 Failures, Tora Bora ...
      Dec 4, 2009 – Before he headed a Blackwater subsidiary, Cofer Black was CIA ... the CIA-run operation to capture bin Laden in Afghanistan the previous December. ... at the direct order of CTC Assistant Director, "Rich B" (Richard Blee), ...
      Cofer Black

  •  What I don't see in your diary is any evidence (0+ / 0-)

    that CIA ppl in Benghazi had anything to do with Syria. You're saying that CIA organized rebels in Benghazi last year (that's pretty much common knowledge now) and that it may be involved in organizing Syrian rebel groups in Turkey. But I don't see a connection between the two.

    •  Get on a plane or ship in Libya and go to Turkey. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FG, Sandino, joe shikspack, Funkygal

      There's your connection.  It's the same itinerary that Abdulhakim Belhadj took last November.  No sooner was Gadhaffi gone, and the US-backed regime in place in Tripoli, did the new "President" of Libya dispatch the top militant commander to Turkey for a meeting with the Syrian opposition.  Do you think that Mustafa Abdul Jalil endorsed that trip against the wishes of the US Ambassador and the CIA Station Chief?

      Leading Libyan Islamist met Free Syrian Army opposition group

      Libyan authorities this week dispatched the country's most renowned Islamist militia leader to meet senior figures of the Free Syrian Army, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

      By Ruth Sherlock in Tripoli

      9:00PM GMT 27 Nov 2011

      Abdulhakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, "met with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey," said a military official working with Mr Belhadj. "Mustafa Abdul Jalil (the interim Libyan president) sent him there."

      The "covert operation" was immediately laid bare when a rival Libyan rebel brigade detained Belhaj at Tripoli airport, accused him of travelling on a fake passport, and declared they would jail the senior military leader.

      Only a letter from the country's interim president was enough to persuade them to let him leave the country.

      The meetings came as a sign of a growing ties between Libya's fledgling government and the Syrian opposition. The Daily Telegraph on Saturday revealed that the new Libyan authorities had offered money and weapons to the growing insurgency against Bashar al-Assad.

      Mr Belhaj also discussed sending Libyan fighters to train troops, the source said. Having ousted one dictator, triumphant young men, still filled with revolutionary fervour, are keen to topple the next. The commanders of armed gangs still roaming Tripoli's streets said yesterday that "hundreds" of fighters wanted to wage war against the Assad regime.

      Related Articles

      Libya’s offers weapons to Syrian rebels
      25 Nov 2011

      Libyan Islamist leader detained as tensions grow between rival factions
      25 Nov 2011


      Newspapers reported on Saturday that four Libyan men had been caught on the Turkish border trying to infiltrate into the country. The grand design envisioned by Mr Belhaj and the Libyan authorities is still in its nascent stage.

      •  Ok, it makes sense. But why would CIA people (0+ / 0-)

        who deal with Syrians be in Benghazi? Plenty of other countries (Saudi Arabia etc) support Syrian rebels.

        •  E Libya provided 60% of the AQ Iraqsuicide bombers (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sandino, joe shikspack

          As was explained in the last diary:

          The Libyan Province which contains Benghazi and Derna was noted in a 2007 West Point study of the origin of the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq.

              A December 2007 West Point study examining the background of foreign guerrilla fighters — jihadis or mujahedin, including suicide bombers — crossing the Syrian border into Iraq during the 2006-2007 timeframe, under the auspices of the international terrorist organization Al Qaeda. This study is based on a mass of about 600 Al Qaeda personnel files which were captured by US forces in the fall of 2007. The resulting study permits us to make important findings about the mentality and belief structures of the northeastern Libyan population that is furnishing the basis for the rebellion, permitting important conclusions about the political nature of the anti-Qaddafi revolt in these areas.

              The most striking finding which emerges from the West Point study is that the corridor which goes from Benghazi to Tobruk, passing through the city of Darnah (also transliterated as Derna) them represents one of the greatest concentrations of jihadi terrorists to be found anywhere in the world, and by some measures can be regarded as the leading source of suicide bombers anywhere on the planet. Darnah, with one terrorist fighter sent into Iraq to kill Americans for every 1,000 to 1,500 persons of population, emerges as suicide bomber heaven, easily surpassing the closest competitor, which was Riyad, Saudi Arabia.

              According to West Point authors Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, Saudi Arabia took first place as regards absolute numbers of jihadis sent to combat the United States and other coalition members in Iraq during the time frame in question. Libya, a country less than one fourth as populous, took second place. Saudi Arabia sent 41% of the fighters. According to Felter and Fishman, “Libya was the next most common country of origin, with 18.8% (112) of the fighters listing their nationality stating they hailed from Libya.” Other much larger countries were far behind: “Syria, Yemen, and Algeria were the next most common origin countries with 8.2% (49), 8.1% (48), and 7.2% (43), respectively. Moroccans accounted for 6.1% (36) of the records and Jordanians 1.9% (11).”

              This means that almost one fifth of the foreign fighters entering Iraq across the Syrian border came from Libya, a country of just over 6 million people. A higher proportion of Libyans were interested in fighting in Iraq than any other country contributing mujahedin. Felter and Fishman point out: “Almost 19 percent of the fighters in the Sinjar Records came from Libya alone. Furthermore, Libya contributed far more fighters per capita than any other nationality in the Sinjar Records, including Saudi Arabia.”

              (1) Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, “Al Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighter in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records,” (West Point, NY: Harmony Project, Combating Terrorism Center, Department of Social Sciences, US Military Academy, December 2007). Cited as West Point Study.

              (2) Op. cit.

              (3) West Point Study, pp. 8-9.

              Also, see, Daya Gamage, “Libyan rebellion has radical Islamist fervor: Benghazi link to Islamic militancy, U.S. Military Document Reveals,” Asian Tribune, March 17, 2011.

          Indeed, eastern Libya is today a primary recruiting ground for Jihadi terrorists being drawn into the U.S. and Saudi/GCC regime change operation in Syria.

          •  Correction: Not 60%, but higher than any other (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FG, Sandino, joe shikspack

            nationality, and the vast majority of the Libyans were from the Eastern Province.

            Many of the foreign fighters now in Syria are Libyans from that area.

            To anyone planning covert warfare, that area and its population obviously has enormous potential value.  That is a simple explanation for why the USG and CIA have paid so much attention to it.

            •  That still doesn't explain why you think CIA is (0+ / 0-)

              actually doing the recruiting for Syria there rather than monitoring what's going on.

              •  Read the penultimate sentence again. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                joe shikspack

                I gave you a clear explanation.  Which part do you not understand:

                1) That the CIA/SAD plans and carries out covert warfare


                2) That Eastern Libya and its population has enormous potential value toward that end?

                If you know otherwise, please inform us how I have it wrong.

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