The CIA’s once well-kept secret in Benghazi … but not anymore …

After weeks of drip-drip drip leaks, newsy and crazy bad rumors on Benghazi, the WSJ yesterday finally had an enlightening piece that gave a better picture of the CIA’s role in the Benghazi operation in Libya.  It is certainly not a complete picture but it fill in some of the holes.

“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.”

We were aware that Ambassador Stevens left Tripoli for Benghazi with two embassy officials (Public Affairs and Econ/Com officers) and reportedly two Regional Security Officers (RSOs).  So that’s five officials not normally posted in Benghazi.  At the office in Benghazi were three RSOs according to reports and Sean Smith, the Information Management officer who was there on a TDY assignment.

It is not clear if there even was a regular diplomat/principal officer assigned at the US office in Benghazi besides a series of temporary duty security and communication officers.

Why it took the State Department two days to confirm the identity of the other two fatalities?

According to the WSJ:  “Officials close to Mr. Petraeus say he stayed away in an effort to conceal the agency’s role in collecting intelligence and providing security in Benghazi. Two of the four men who died that day, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were former Navy SEAL commandos who were publicly identified as State Department contract security officers, but who actually worked as Central Intelligence Agency contractors, U.S. officials say.”

Separately, a U.S. official apparently also told HuffPost that a two-day delay in publicly identifying Woods and Doherty was “a consequence of the unique sensitivity of determining whether they would be outed as CIA agents, or if the State Department would claim the two as theirs.”

More on this here.

Who was responsible for security? Looking at that security contract for Benghazi again

Via the WSJ:

Congressional investigators say it appears that the CIA and State Department weren’t on the same page about their respective roles on security, underlining the rift between agencies over taking responsibility and raising questions about whether the security arrangement in Benghazi was flawed.

The CIA’s secret role helps explain why security appeared inadequate at the U.S. diplomatic facility. State Department officials believed that responsibility was set to be shouldered in part by CIA personnel in the city through a series of secret agreements that even some officials in Washington didn’t know about.
In Libya, the relationship between the State Department and CIA was secret and symbiotic: The consulate provided diplomatic cover for the classified CIA operations. The State Department believed it had a formal agreement with the CIA to provide backup security, although a congressional investigator said it now appears the CIA didn’t have the same understanding about its security responsibilities.

This might explain why that fuzzy security contract for Benghazi went to Blue Mountain instead of under the Diplomatic Security’s Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) program which typically covers security at embassies and consulates overseas.

On September 14, the State Department spokesperson was also specifically asked a question about security contractors.

QUESTION: Last question: Very specifically, again, at any time in the last six months did the State Department make arrangements with one of these private security contractors to evaluate our security situation in Libya? And did, in fact, such a contractor undertake an assessment of the security situation in Libya for our installations there?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that specifically. I can tell you that at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya – at no time. We did have some individual contracts with individual security guards, as you saw and as the Secretary spoke to.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the claim was made yesterday that a company that is a spinoff of Blackwater, in fact, proposed or contracted the United States Government for this particular kind of eventuality, and it was caught up in some sort of bureaucratic —

MS. NULAND: Completely untrue with regard to Libya. I checked that this morning. At no time did we plan to hire a private security company for Libya.

QUESTION: Toria, I just want to make sure I understood that, because I didn’t understand your first question. You said – your first answer. You said that at no time did you have contracts with private security companies in Libya?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: So that means that you never contracted with a private security contractor outside Libya to provide security inside Libya?

MS. NULAND: We have – all of the security in Libya has been done by Libyans, by American Government personnel, and then to a very limited extent these individual contracts with individual security personnel, but there was never a contract with a company, and there was never a plan to have a contract with a company. reported later that the State Department signed a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000.  Further it reported that “The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient.  We later learned that the contract recipient was Blue Mountain, a British company that provides “close protection; maritime security; surveillance and investigative services; and high risk static guarding and asset protection.”  More here about those guards.

Is it possible that Ms. Nuland did not know about the contract? Yes. But is it also possible that this contract is actually a non-State contract except on paper only, in which case, no one at Diplomatic Security is keeping tabs on it? Of course.  Got one word for you. Argo.


Burned down “consulate” abandoned for sharkies on feeding frenzy

Some reporter is saying something about it being shocking enough when CNN found sensitive documents at the Benghazi consulate in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

This was in reference to CNN finding a journal belonging to Ambassador Stevens three days after he was killed.  “The journal was found on the floor of the largely unsecured consulate compound where he was fatally wounded.”

WaPo also got somebody trudging around the rubble who reported:

“More than three weeks after attacks in this city killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the wreckage of the U.S. mission on Wednesday, offering visitors easy access to delicate information about American operations in Libya.”

Shocking!  But isn’t that exactly what we’re supposed to think?  And every document discovered occupies a couple or so days in the news cycle. With every new discovery, the annex was a tad further away, and for good reasons.

Via the WSJ:

“The emphasis on security at the CIA annex was underscored the day after the attack. With all U.S. personnel evacuated, the CIA appears to have dispatched local Libyan agents to the annex to destroy any sensitive documents and equipment there, even as the consulate compound remained unguarded and exposed to looters and curiosity seekers for weeks, officials said. Documents, including the ambassador’s journal, were taken from the consulate site, and the site proved of little value when Federal Bureau of Investigation agents finally arrived weeks later to investigate.

U.S. officials said they prioritized securing the annex because many more people worked there and they were doing sensitive work, while the consulate, by design, had no classified documents. The American contractor said the top priority was destroying sensitive documents.”

SBU documents found in the burned Benghazi compound were sensitive, but not that sensitive.  The real sensitive ones were elsewhere and if they were not removed and secured, they were surely destroyed before the evacuation.

While this does not answer all the dangling questions about Benghazi, it shows why this was a complicated or if you like, a “complex” operation. It certainly is complex enough if you cannot explain fully what happens because there are parts that are supposed to stay dark.

It would be interesting to see how much of the “OGA” details will make it to the unclassified report of the Pickering Accountability Board. It is not yet clear if the truth hunters in Congress will call Mr. Petreaus over for a chat.  Or how bad the intel-gathering fallout and how Libyan relations will be impacted with these new revelations.

But — let’s dig ourselves deeper in a hole, because why not? There’s also a cover up of Martian landing in less than 100 hours to zero in Ohio!

In any case, following the Benghazi attack, Libya’s deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour was quoted in the WSJ saying, “We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key.”

What seems clear is that the next time the State Department asks the Government of Libya for permission to stand up an office outside of Tripoli or another consulate elsewhere in the country, Libya will surely want to know how many spooks will be working as diplomats in those sites.