Shortly after the Benghazi debacle in September 2012, it was rumored that the terrorist attack occurred in the context of a CIA operation whereby Libyan arms, which presumably were either purchased or scooped up by the Agency in the wake of Gaddafi’s overthrow, were being shipped to the rebels in Syria. According to rumor, this is why the CIA had an “annex” in Benghazi; it explains why there were CIA men on the scene, two of whom were killed, and perhaps also why Ambassador Chris Stevens traveled from Tripoli to Benghazi with essentially no security.
Last week, ABC’s Jake Tapper delivered a bombshell in the form of seeming confirmation of the longstanding rumor:
Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.
CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out. …
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. …
Speculation on Capitol Hill has included the possibility the U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.
It is clear that two U.S. agencies were operating in Benghazi, one was the State Department, and the other was the CIA.
The State Department told CNN in an e-mail that it was only helping the new Libyan government destroy weapons deemed “damaged, aged or too unsafe retain,” and that it was not involved in any transfer of weapons to other countries.
But the State Department also clearly told CNN, they “can’t speak for any other agencies.”
ABC’s most recent reports say that the CIA is going to extraordinary lengths to silence employees who were present in Benghazi, including administering monthly polygraph examinations.
In exclusive communications obtained by CNN, one insider writes, “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well [if you talk to Congress or the press about Benghazi].”
So, what do we make of all of this? Tapper’s reporting points toward the conclusion that the longstanding rumor to the effect that the terrorist attack occurred during a top-secret arms transfer mission is true. But how much does that really explain? It seems unlikely that the CIA mission prompted the attack: we now know that the Syrian rebels consist in substantial part of al Qaeda elements, and if arms were sent from Libya to Syria, al Qaeda probably wound up with some of them. So why would al Qaeda want to interrupt the CIA mission via an attack on the American compound in Benghazi?
If the alleged CIA mission doesn’t explain the attack, it doesn’t appear to explain the cover-up, either. It is easy to understand why the Obama administration wanted to deflect attention from Benghazi in the run-up to the November election. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton obviously didn’t want it to come out that the State Department had ignored the ambassador’s pleas for better security, or that the attack was perpetrated by the supposedly decimated al Qaeda. Hence the general obfuscation and the persistent, if silly, references to an unknown internet video as the cause of the attacks.
Viewed from today’s perspective, the administration’s effort to ship arms to Syrian rebels may be embarrassing; it can be seen as another instance of the administration’s naive infatuation with the “Arab Spring.” But at the time, many people, including plenty of conservatives, were urging Obama to help the rebels overthrow Assad, a bitter enemy of the United States (notwithstanding Hillary’s risible characterization of him as a “reformer.”) Further, if the administration had grounds to cast a national security net over the Benghazi fiasco, it probably would have helped, not hindered, its effort to cover up its own negligence.
So I find it hard to understand how the current revelations fit with what we already know–or think we know–about Benghazi, or why the administration and the CIA are now so intent on covering up whatever the Agency was up to at the famous “annex.” My sense is that the current reporting leaves us a long way from understanding what really happened on September 11, 2012.