Benghazi: An Intelligence Perspective

Perspective on Benghazi

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

Image of burning US Consulate in Benghazi by Voice of America employee, public domain.

On September 11, 2012, Islamic terrorists attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi. They murdered US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans during the attack. We extend our condolences to the loved ones of those four Americans who lost their lives in service to their country.

Within twenty-four hours of the attack, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated that the incident was not a terrorist attack, but rather a spontaneous assault carried out by angry Libyans who were protesting against an anti-Islamic video produced by an Egyptian expatriate in the US.

In the weeks since the attack, the White House and State Department told the public, contrary to their original statements, that the attacks were an organized assault carried out by international terrorists. The public, along with the families of the four dead Americans, are questioning why a US Consulate in a well known danger spot like Benghazi was left with so little security.

The administration is still repeating the mantra that “the attack was unprecedented.” Apparently, these youngsters remain unaware of the November 1979 attack on the US Embassy in Tehran. Note to Self: Send son’s middle school textbook and DVD of Argo to White House.

Within days of the attack, the public learned that Ambassador Stevens had endorsed the Benghazi Consulate’s requests for increased security and passed them on to Washington. We know that request made it as far as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. I’m not yet certain if the request made it to President Obama’s desk. However, the White House, with the cooperation of the major media outlets, played down the allegations that security was denied from the top and claimed that the lack of security was caused instead by “Republican budget cuts” of State Department security funds. The White House also claimed that “all the intelligence” indicated there was no need for increased security.

I found both of these statements worrisome because as political hot air goes, they seem fairly flimsy and desperate. After decades of listening to the statements issued forth from our various administrations, I know that often times that sort of flimsiness in White House denials indicates a concern for brewing scandals.

Most Americans are aware that all federal budgets and omnibus spending bills require the final approval of the US President so the budget excuse was at best nonsensical, and at worst an indication of deeper troubles. As for “all the intelligence” which indicated no need for increased security, the White House and the Secretary of State were both aware of two failed bombing attempts against the Benghazi Consulate that occurred April 6 and June 2, only a few months before the successful September 11 attack.

On October 26, FOX News broke an exclusive story that quoted sources from within the CIA who were involved in the rescue of US consulate staff. According to those CIA sources, CIA personnel requested military assistance three specific times during the attack and were denied.

Originally, this denial was blamed on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta alone. We now know that Panetta was in a meeting with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilan approximately one hour after the start of the attack. This was hours before the third denial of assistance and well before at least two of our Americans were killed. I can’t imagine Panetta would not have mentioned the ongoing assault to our nation’s two top officials and requested their input since they were, after all, sitting in the same room as a drone fed real time imagery to the White House. If he did not mention it, one has to wonder what, exactly, was more important to them at that moment.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded to the FOX News piece by claiming that he and the president lacked enough information to justify sending US troops “into harms way.” This response doesn’t explain why he and the president were willing to leave the US personnel in Benghazi in harm’s way by denying them assistance from the massive US military assets in the Mediterranean.

These assets included two combat-ready Air Mobile/Airborne Special Forces teams close to Libya on call in Italy, and the powerful Naval Air and Marine forces of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet, including the Sixth Fleet drone capability. Fighter strikes from Italy could have been accomplished within, at most, an hour and a half of the start of the incident. Also, with minimal air support, our people could have been evacuated more easily and safely.

Panetta’s claim that the administration lacked “enough information” is inconsistent with the fact that they knew about two prior bombing attacks on the Benghazi Consulate, and it is a direct contradiction of the fact that they received real time imagery from the drone on site. It is also a direct contradiction of the fact that eight US security personnel were sent by charter plane from Tripoli to rescue the Benghazi staff during the incident. How is it that the administration had enough information to send the team from Tripoli, but not enough information to employ any of the vast military assets that were available and may have saved some of the American lives lost in the attack and the ensuing rescue operation?

CIA sources also said CIA employee Tyrone Woods used a laser to illuminate a terrorist mortar team that was firing on the Consulate. As an ex-Navy SEAL, Woods would not have exposed his laser by illuminating a target unless he expected an air unit such as an armed drone, Navy F/A-18, or an Air Force Spectre gun ship to fire on the target right away. Permission for that fire would have come from Commander of Forces in Africa US Army General Carter Ham or any of his superiors, such as Defense Secretary Panetta or President Obama. Revocation of that permission, which Woods apparently had reason to believe was issued, could only have come from those same people, as well.

Sensibly, some members of the press have turned to the CIA for answers. Of course, asking the CIA questions when you are not the president or a member of a Congressional Intelligence Committee can lead to less than satisfying results. So far, the CIA has skillfully managed to strongly deny all of the allegations that have not been made.

In the long and proud CIA tradition of honestly answering anything but the question being asked, CIA Director General David Petraeus sternly denies that the CIA failed to respond to calls for help from the Benghazi Consulate. He does not, however, confirm or deny what requests for military assistance were made by CIA personnel in Benghazi. Thanks Dave. That really clarifies things. Keep up the good work.

Most press members know better than to ask questions of the NSA. The NSA might well have recordings of all the relevant communications from and to Benghazi, but getting that out of the NSA would be more difficult than mining diamonds on Pluto.

So far, the president has dodged the questions raised by the FOX News story by simply saying what amounts to, “I never did that.” He has left any other talking to Panetta.

Panetta claims that questions being asked “amount to Monday morning quarterbacking.” This answer is convenient for him and the Obama administration, and it is being well received by the Democratic Party faithful. But those voters who feel less constrained in their political choices might not find Panetta’s response an adequate substitution for an explanation or accountability, and the fact is that no presidential candidate can be elected solely by the votes of their party’s faithful. For either Romney or Obama to win the election, they will need the votes of those Americans who are willing to vote without regard for the labels “Democrat,” “Republican,” “liberal,” “progressive,” or “conservative.”

Based on the information thus far available, it appears the administration decided to respond to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi with as minimal response as possible. I suspect this has everything to do with the fact that Obama was reluctant to initiate military activity on a new front so close to the election when so much of his base is anti-war under all circumstances. His minimalist approach turned out to be a bad guess, and it is now becoming clear to the public that said guess was made against the advice of his people on the ground.

Naturally, the president may be reluctant to be seen as expanding military operations into new areas, but the message he sent with his non-action was that Americans will not act militarily to protect their own on foreign soil. This is no doubt extremely encouraging to all of our terrorist enemies, as well as to the Iranian government as it rapidly approaches nuclear capability.

With time and a little interest from members of Congress, more facts will surface and a clearer picture will emerge. How much time that will take is a key question. On November 6, the administration might realize the benefits of its strategy of dodging questions concerning the Benghazi debacle, but the questions are significant enough to lose Obama some votes. In fact, the President might find himself back in the community organizing business next January.

What happened in Benghazi matters. It matters to the families; it matters to our Americans abroad; it matters to our enemies; it matters to the public, and it matters to our political future as a nation. How much it matters to the election, however, will depend on the reaction of those Americans who will vote independently this November.

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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at piperbayard@yahoo.com

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

We Drank Champagne and Remembered

I have been out of town for the past several days, and, as it happens, I was with my writing partner, “Holmes,” in Arizona last night when the news went public that Bin Laden is dead. We broke open a bottle of champagne and toasted. Not in merriment or triumph, but in solemn gratitude to everyone who brought this success for all Americans to fruition. The following is Holmes’ comment on this important landmark in our fight against terrorism. . . .

Holmes:

Tonight, I feel a sense of relief at the death of the bestial mass murderer, extortionist, rapist, and common thief, Osama Bin Laden. His death does not signify an end to the war against terror, but it is a significant achievement. I feel a deep sense of gratitude at having been afforded the privilege to serve with the many great Americans and Allies, and the many sympathetic and helpful people throughout the world who have chosen to stand on the side of decency. I remain thankful to every one of them for their commitment and sacrifices.

Tonight, I feel a need to reflect on the loss of thousands of Americans from the 9/11 attacks, and the other attacks perpetrated by Bin Laden’s sick worshipers. I hope that tonight’s news can bring some measure of closure to the thousands of loved ones who suffered losses on that terrible day.

Tonight, in particular, I find myself thinking of New York City Fire Marshal and part-time member of the United States Army Special Forces, Ronnie Bucca. Ronnie had served as a member of the renowned New York City Fire Department “Rescue 1” and had been involved in daring rescue operations that seem too far-fetched for Hollywood movies. After suffering a broken spine in one such rescue in Manhattan, Ronnie defied medical science and was able to return to duty and became a Fire Marshall for New York City.

Ronnie was one of the individuals who struggled mightily against a second attack on the Twin Towers. (Remember that the 9/11 attacks were the second attack on the Twin Towers, the first being a truck bombing in 1993.) Ronnie’s experience with the first Twin Towers bombing, as well as his experience as a United States Army Intelligence Specialist, a Fire Marshal, and a member of Rescue 1, gave him a unique perspective on terrorist threats, and Ronnie was convinced that another attack on the Twin Towers was highly likely.

Ronnie reached out to a variety of people concerning his well-founded fears. Had more people listened to him, the attack might have been thwarted. On 9/11, Ronnie was on duty as a Fire Marshal. When he heard the news, he and his partner went to the World Trade Center and entered the complex to help in the evacuation and firefighting efforts. Ronnie and his fellow fire fighters must have known that they had little chance of surviving that fire, but it didn’t stop them from trying to save as many lives as possible.

The last conversation I had with Ronnie Bucca was about his concern for a possible attack on the Twin Towers. I send my renewed condolences and my respect to his wife, Eve, and to their two children, Jessica and Ronald. We have not forgotten Ronnie.

To all those who have lost loved ones in the fight against terrorism, they, too, are remembered.

JH

 

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part III

By Jay Holmes

In 1984, the UK broke off relations with Libya when a Libyan Embassy staff member gunned down London policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, in front of the Libyan embassy. The British SAS was called in to storm the Libyan Embassy. US Navy 6th Fleet received an alert message about this in a code that was known to be readable by the Russians. Soviet intelligence quickly warned Libya that Steven Decatur’s friends appeared to be restless, and the Libyan Embassy wisely backed down.

Then came a very busy year, 1986. On April 5th, 1986, Libyan-controlled terrorists bombed a disco in Berlin, killing two US servicemen and a woman. Over 230 people were injured.

Subsequently, the US requested participation from its NATO allies for an April 15 raid on Libya. All allies except the UK refused to allow even overflight by US war planes.

Denied the use of bases they had paid for and manned, the US launched twelve F-111 US Air Force fighters from Lakenheath, England. The fighters had to fly an Atlantic route to Gibraltar, and then proceed to Libya without entering any other European air space.

The long flight necessitated low altitude, night-time, mid-air refueling. In the final refueling stage, one of the F-111s dropped to low, touched the water, and was badly damaged. Both crewmen died when their damaged aircraft either crash landed or was shot down by Libyan air defense missiles. The Libyans have presented multiple versions of their side of the story, and the Air Force was not able to recover the wreckage, so the details will likely never be known.

On April 14, Italian politician, Bertino Craxi, a.k.a. Il Crackhead, had warned Moammar Gadhafi of the April 15 raid before the US planes arrived. This was, perhaps, why Gadhafi was not in his palace when it was bombed. In any event, Russian ships monitoring air and sea traffic at the Straits of Gibraltar could not have failed to notice the overflight by the US F-111s.

A small number of US Navy aircraft from two 6th Fleet aircraft carriers joined in the attack. Libya’s five largest terrorist bases were destroyed by the US raid. New Soviet-made aircraft, still in crates, were destroyed. Moammar explained that the raid was a glorious victory for Libya. Not even the Libyans believed that one.

This raid helped deteriorate relations between the Soviets and their client states in North Africa. Many countries with Soviet trained and Soviet equipped air defense systems realized that they had placed their safety in the hands of highly over-rated technology.

The Kremlin, not to be mistaken for Cinderella’s castle.

Also, Libyan resistance to Uncle Momo became far louder and more active after the raid. Moammar complained bitterly to his Soviet friends. The message traffic from the Soviet embassy in Libya to Moscow Center was rumored to be one of the more hilarious dialogues in the history of espionage. The Kremlin was already unhappy at a very expensive and bloody Soviet war in Afghanistan, and Gadhafi’s tirades did not improve morale at the Kremlin.

At one point, Gadhafi allegedly demanded nuclear weapons from the Soviets. The Soviets didn’t mind African and European bloodshed, but they were not about to place their own security in the hands of Uncle Momo.

Allegations circulated that the Politburo considered replacing Uncle Momo with a more reliable client state leader, but if any such plans were discussed, they were never implemented. Libya is not Hungary or Poland, and the Soviets have no way of delivering forces to Libya to back up any “dream coups.” Momo continued making new demands on the Soviets, but he discovered that Russian bookies do not give refunds after the game is played.

Just to be clear, it was alleged by some that the Libyan air defense system built by the Soviets was manned by Soviet military personnel in conjunction with Libyan Air defense soldiers. It was also alleged that the Soviets had ordered the 1981 Libyan Air Force attack against the Navy Hawkeye. The Soviets deny this and have always denied it. Because the Soviets claim there were no Soviets at any Libyan air defense facilities in 1981, 1986, or at any other time, then, of course, no Soviets were harmed in the making of this movie. Glad we cleared that up.

After April, 1986, the history of Uncle Momo became more bizaare with each passing year. We had the infamous Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and a variety of truces and wars in Mr. Gadhafi’s neighborhood. The incidents of outrage are too numerous to even mention, but they are available from many sources online and at your local library. However, I will hit on some highlights.

From 1986 to the present, Gadhafi has dealt with multiple assassination attempts and attempted coups. One of the results is that the frequent purges of military officers have left the Libyan military with poor leadership capabilities. These purges are having a major impact on Moammar and his supporters this month.

Moammar started off 1987 with the execution of six Libyan military officers and two civilians for plotting a coup against him.

Also in 1987, Gadhafi sponsored a coup in Berkina Faso, a small country located in west Africa. It became his west African regional arms shipment hub. Moammar then expanded his cross border incursions into Chad and invaded his neighbor. France and the US backed Chad and evicted Moammar from most of Chad.

In December, 1987, Libya announced a massive water tunnel project to transport water from Tunisia to Libya. The project would supposedly involve over two thousand miles of underground pipeline. Libya’s neighbors were not happy about this so eventually Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria came to a regional water agreement to address the critical need for water in the area.

Never forget the importance of water in Libya and its surrounding countries. Momo never forgets this, and his various water projects in Libya have been an important factor in keeping him in power. In Libya, a little water can purchase a lot of loyalty.

In December of 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie Scotland when a bomb planted by a Libyan agent detonated in the cargo hold of the 747. All 259 passengers and crew members died. Falling debris killed eleven people on the ground.

Lockerbie, Scotland terror scene

In 1989, Tomcats shot down two Libyan Mig-23 Flogger-E fighters attempting to attack the US 6th Fleet. The Libyan Floggers did not damage any US ships or aircraft before they were shot down, even though they were expensively modified with the intent of assuring success in an attack against the US fleet. Reports indicated they were outfitted with upgraded engines, improved radar, and improved weapons systems. Gadhafi was apparently deeply discouraged by their failure.

In September, 1989, the Libyans planted a bomb on a French DC-10. 170 passengers were killed.

On November 14, 1990, both the U.S. and British governments announced indictments against two Libyan intelligence officials for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

In 1993, a coup attempt by some of Moammar’s more powerful military supporters failed. Because the plotters included members of his own, traditionally loyal people, that attempt disturbed him more than any previous attempts.

In 1995, an Islamic militant group in Libya announced its intention to take over Libya. An unanticipated effect of that was that some of his less ardent supporters drew closer to him. Many educated Libyans were more frightened of the Islamic group than they were of him, worried that the fundamentalists would be far less pleasant to live under.

1996 was another exciting year for Uncle Momo. In February, another assassination attempt on him failed, but several bystanders were killed. Several years later the UK was blamed for the attempt but they denied it.

In March, 1996, Moammar had to deploy several thousand troops to northwest Libya to smother an uprising. Then, Uncle Momo, escorted by his “girlfriend bodyguards,” visited Cairo, Egypt for 5 days to lecture Egypt on methods of good government. Yes, this really happened.

In June, 1996, 1200 people were killed in a fight at Abu Salim prison between the Libyan military and forces of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Also that month, there was a soccer match in Tripoli between Gadhafi’s son’s team and some unfortunate soccer players. When the fans booed little Gadhafi’s team, little Gadhafi’s bodyguards gunned down 20 fans. Yes, I am serious.

In November, 1996, the Islamic rebels failed in yet another assassination attempt on Moammar when the Russian-made grenade did not detonate properly.

In 1998, just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, Moammar announced that he was tired of having to lead all of the Arabs in the world because some of them didn’t show him the respect he deserved as the great pan-Arabic king. He said he had been generous with his time, and he explained that, after two decades of brutal abuse of blacks in Libya, Libya would now become a “black African” country. Libya would no longer be an “Arab” country. He instructed Libyan men to find and wed only black women, and for Libyan women to marry only black men. The wave of grateful black Africans failed to show up in Libya. The few blacks that mistakenly showed up looking for work faced continued abuse rather than any honeymoons.

On April 5, 1999, after eleven years of “pressure” from the west Libya turned over two of the plotters from the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing for trial in the Hague by Scottish judges. One interesting thing about this is that one of the plotters turned over was a member of the Magharia tribe.

Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, Lockerbie bomber

Eighty-five percent of Libya’s population remains loyal to tribal affiliations to this day. The Magharia tribe’s alliance with Uncle Momo’s Gadhafi tribe is critical for Moammar to remain in power. It has been rumored that Moammar believed a “fix’ was in, and that both of the killers would be acquitted in exchange for continued oil sales. This has never been proven, but one of the bomber plotters was, in fact, acquitted.

In July, 1999, both the US and the UK announced a resumption of diplomatic ties with Libya.

On January 31, 2001, at the International Court in Hague, Netherlands, a Scottish court sentenced Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, to life in a Scottish prison for the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

On May 30, 2001, Gadhafi sent troops and weapons to the Central African Republic to help President Patasse put down a coup attempt. Patasse was temporarily bolstered, but he was unable to subdue the conflict between “southerners” and “northerners” in the CAR, and Patasse was overthrown in a coup in 2003.

On January 20, 2003, the UN managed to establish a new level of absurdity in its long and disappointing history when its human rights watchdog committee elected a Libyan diplomat as its president for the year, despite concern from the US about the country’s poor record on civil liberties, and its well documented role in sponsoring terrorism. So Libya was simultaneously under UN sanctions for terrorism, and it was serving on the UN Commission on Human Rights and its successor, the UN Human Rights Council. The UN General Assembly only suspended Libya from that Council on March 2 of last week.

In April 2003 Libya admitted to the Lockerbie bombing, something everyone had known all along, and agreed to pay reparations to the families of the victims. While Gadhafi was in the middle of his “newer, nicer Uncle Momo” publicity campaign, Libyan agents were captured in Saudi Arabia when they attempted to hatch a plot to kill Saudi Prince Abdullah. The house of Saud will not forget.

On October 4, 2003, in apparent celebration of its appointment to the UN human rights committee Libya, attempted to ship gas centrifuges for Uranium-235 separation from Switzerland via Italy. Italian authorities were alerted in time, and the shipment was captured.

Previous to the centrifuge incident, Libya had received two tons of yellow cake uranium from North Korea in 1991 in exchange for oil and cash. Libya did not yet know that we were aware of the Uranium shipment. Gadhafi realized that he was vulnerable to military action by the UK and the US. He claimed to abandon his efforts at creating a nuclear weapon.

Rumors abounded that both Venezuela and Brazil were cooperating with Libya in a three-nation project to develop nuclear warheads. Eventually, international inspections revealed that Libya’s three nuclear weapons development sites had been dismantled, with all known equipment accounted for.

Mustard gas shells

Libya secretly agreed with the UK and the US to destroy 44,000 pounds of mustard gas under joint supervision by the US and the UK. Neither the US nor the UK wanted the UN involved in the process. No mustard gas was destroyed, and it remains in Libya still, but it does not appear that Gadhafi has pursued further development of the required delivery systems. Keep in mind that manufacturing mustard gas is much easier than safely destroying it. He opened Pandora’s box by making it, and now it’s still in his hands.

After apparently abandoning his WMD programs, Moammar announced a new foreign policy that included renouncing all terrorism. He also announced several economic reforms. From 2004 to the present we’ve seen a major shift in Libyan policy. Gadhafi continues to kill Libyans and other Africans, but he has moved toward a profit-based diplomacy with Western nations.

The blood still flows, but so does the oil.

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Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part I

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part II