As with all complex stories the valuable discoveries come with time.
This Brief has been updated to include the newly spotlighted research on Syria and ISIL. Most importantly the previously unknown “Second Presidential Finding Memo” to the CIA in 2012 specifically directed to arm/aid ISIL in Syria. The new information from the month before the Benghazi attack explains the motive of the Turkish delegation toward Chris Stevens.
Grab a cup of coffee and you’ll see how the Trey Gowdy special committee is really a waste of time. There is no benefit to be gained from house hearings that will never be allowed to disclose the operational aspects of covert CIA intelligence ops.
We know from the Bret Baier interview with Hillary Clinton that she was physically located at her 7th floor office in Washington DC on the night of the attack. Unfortunately we also know during the November 2012 Thanksgiving holiday a mysterious fire took place in that building. Well, actually directly above her exact office – cause undetermined.
A “fire” which preceded an unfortunate slip and fall for the Secretary, resulting in a concussion, which led to the discovery of a blood clot, that ultimately delayed her congressional testimony before a Senate Hearing into the events of the night in question.
We know the Libyan uprising began on February 10th of 2011, and we also know that sometime around the end of February 2011 President Obama signed a presidential directive authorizing the State Dept and CIA to begin a covert operation to arm the Libyan “rebels”.
We also know of a Second Presidential Finding Memo authorizing additional CIA covert action in 2012, this time in Syria. However, unlike the 2011 Libyan operation we do not know the operational name of the second action in 2012 Syria.
We know the Libyan “rebels” were positioned in two strategic places. Benghazi, and the port city of Darnah, both located in Northeastern Libya.
We know this 2011 Libyan covert operation came to be known as “Operation Zero Footprint“, and fell under the military command authority of NATO not (important to repeat), NOT, the U.S. Military.
We know by the time operation “Zero Footprint” began, AFRICOM commander General Carter Ham was removed from OPSEC oversight in the Libyan campaign and NATO commander Admiral James G. Stavridis was in charge.
Stavridis was the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) at the time of the Libyan uprising. He retired as SACEUR in 2013
In 2011, 57-year-old Stavridis was the perfect pick for NATO Libyan intervention considering he is the son of Turkish immigrants. Turkey played a key role in what might be the most politically dangerous aspect of the events to the White House once the goals changed to redirection of the weapons from Operation Zero Footprint.
We know Operation Zero Footprint was the covert transfer of weapons from the U.S to the Libyan “rebels”. We also know the operation avoided the concerns with congressional funding, and potential for public scrutiny, through financing by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
We also know that officials within the government of Qatar served as the intermediaries for the actual transfer of the weapons, thereby removing the footprint of the U.S. intervention.
We know the entire operation was coordinated and controlled by the State Department and CIA. We also know (from the Senate Foreign Relations Benghazi hearings) that “Zero Footprint” was unknown to the 2011 Pentagon and/or DoD commanders who would have been tasked with any military response to the 9/11/12 attack – namely AFRICOM General Carter Ham.
However, it would be implausible to think that then Defense Secretary Bob Gates or Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral McMullen were completely unaware of the operation, this aspect remains murky.
Both Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair McMullen were in place when Operation Zero Footprint began but retired from their jobs in Sept of 2011, and were replaced by Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey respectively.
Leon Panetta was CIA Director at the beginning of Operation Zero Footprint (March 2011) and was replaced by CIA Director David Petraeus in the fall of 2011 as Panetta replaced Bob Gates and became Secretary of Defense.
However, Panetta (now as Def Sec) and JC Martin Dempsey were the two who initially briefed President Obama on the night of Sept 11th 2012. Because of his previous role in constructing Zero Footprint, Leon Panetta definitely had knowledge of the intents of the joint State Dept/Cia mission in Benghazi, Dempsey may not have.
We know the White House appears to have followed “The Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980” in informing the congressional “Gang of Eight” of Zero Footprint.
The Gang of Eight in 2011 would have included: Speaker – John Boehner, Minority Leader – Nancy Pelosi; House Permanent Select Committee on Intel Chairman – Mike Rogers, and his Democrat counterpart Charles Ruppersberger; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; along with Senate Intel Chair Diane Feinstein and her Republican counterpart, Saxby Chambliss.
From Hillary interviews we also know the White House liaison for Secretary Clinton and CIA Director Leon Panetta during Operation Zero Footprint was National Security Advisor To the President, Tom Donilon.
With this information we can assemble a cast of people “IN THE KNOW” of Operation Zero Footprint on two specific date blocks. March 2011 through Pre 9/11/12 attack – and – Post 9/11/12 attack forward.
March 2011 through Pre 9/11/12 attack: Who knew of Operation “Zero Footprint”?:
- President Obama and Vice President Biden (both Dems)
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Dem)
- CIA Director Leon Panetta (March 2011 – June 2011)
- *CIA Director General David Petraeus (?) (Sept 2011 – Nov 2012)
- NATO Commander, James G Stavridis
- White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (Dem)
- White House National Security Spox Tommy Vietor (Donilon aide)
- White House National Security Advisor John Brennan (Dem)
- Speaker of the House John Boehner (Rep)
- Minority Leader – Nancy Pelosi (Dem)
- House Permanent Select Committee on Intel Chairman – Mike Rogers (Rep)
- Minority House Intel Committee – Charles Ruppersberger (Dem)
- Senate Minority Leader – Mitch McConnell (Rep)
- Senate Majority Leader – Harry Reid (Dem)
- Senate Intel Chair – Diane Feinstein (Dem)
- Minority Senate Intel Committee – Saxby Chambliss (Rep)
- [State Dept] U.S. Libyan Ambassador – Chris Stevens
- [State Dept] U.S. Asst Secretary of State – Andrew Shapiro
- [State Dept] Senior Head of U.S. Weapons Office – Mark Adams
Along with whomever inside each nation’s state government that was involved in either the finance (UAE), or the logistics (Qatar). [and later, 2012 Turkey]
Obviously the “know” crowd would include the ultimate end destination users, “The Libyan Rebel Commanders”:
- Rebel Leader (Islamic Fighting Group) Abu Sufian Ibriham Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu – Darnah Brigade – Ansar Al Sharia
- Rebel Leader (Islamic Fighting Group) Abu Khattala – Commander of an Islamist militia group called the Abu Obaida bin Jarrah Brigade (17th Feb Brigade) Benghazi – Ansar Al Sharia
*NOTE* Both of these individuals were labeled as officially recognized State Dept. terrorists in December of 2013. Khattala recently having been arrested.
In addition, the “political face” of the Libyan Transitional Government Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, should also be included in this list of people who knew of operation Zero Footprint while it was underway.
Justice Abdel Jalil served as the international face of, and spokesperson for, “the rebels” in 2011/12. He worked closely with Chris Stevens and highly visibly with Secretary Hillary Clinton – However, in my opinion – after extensive research- Jalil was a total patsy. He was paid well to present a comfortable face of the movement, but once Gaddaffi was killed Jalil was quickly dispatched.
This Brings us to who knew about “Operation Zero Footprint” post Benghazi 9/11/12 attack:
To wit you can easily add:
- CIA Director General David Petraeus
- Adjunct, and Interim, CIA Director – Mike Morrel
- U.S. Attorney General – Eric Holder
- President Obama Advisor and now Chief of Staff – Denis McDonough
- President Obama Advisor and now Treasury Sec – Jack Lew
- President Obama Advisor and now National Security Advisor – Tony Blinkin
- Former UN Ambassador and now Senior Nat Sec Advisor – Susan Rice
- Chief White House Communications Director – Ben Rhodes
Focusing on the post 9/11/12 team for a moment:PART II – We know McDonough and Donilon were in the immediate loop on the night of 9/11/12 because they were photographed updating President Obama at 7:30pm in the Oval Office along with a curious Jack Lew who was Chief of Staff at the time.
In addition we know from former White House National Security spokesperson Tommy “dude” Vietor, that President Obama was not in the situation room where Vietor and his boss Tom Donilon were keeping up on events.
Here’s where it gets interesting:
Leon Panetta was the CIA Director when Operation Zero Footprint was authorized and began, but he left the CIA about 4 months later (June 30th, 2011) and was replaced by General David Petraeus (August/Sept 2011).
[*Note* it is important to remember when the 2nd authorized CIA program began in 2012 for Syria Petraeus would have been included]
Under this principle you can see that General Petraeus had ZERO liability for the origin of the Benghazi weapons deals – it was a joint State Dept/CIA program already being conducted when Petraeus arrived. If it blew up, it was not his political problem.
We know that during the summer of 2012 “a whistleblower” popped up and gave House Republican Leader Eric Cantor a tip about CIA Director General Petraeus being in an extramarital affair with a reporter named Paula Broadwell; along with rumors Petraeus may have shared classified information with Broadwell during pillow talk etc.
We also know that Eric Cantor told AG Eric Holder and FBI director Robert Mueller about the claim and Mueller began an investigation of Petraeus in the Summer of 2012 before the Benghazi attack in September.
However, we also know that neither Holder nor Mueller (nor Cantor) informed anyone in congress this investigation of Petraeus was taking place. That investigation included Broadwell turning over her computer to the FBI in the same summer, and later a search of her home which did reveal confidential information supposedly leaked from Petraeus.
Sometime in October of 2012 Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had a conversation with Petraeus urging him to leave.
Immediately after the election of 2012 CIA Director David Petraeus resigned (Nov 9th) and interim CIA Director Mike Morrel took over. This is why Petraeus never testified to the Senate, and Morrel took his place.
We also know this timely switch was beneficial to both the Clinton and Obama camps because Morrel was more politically connected to them than Petraeus.
Given the risks of exposure to both “Operation Zero Footprint”, and worse, the buy-back/redirection to Syria, it’s understandable the risk to Clinton that Petraeus carried. However, Petraeus was not of any risk himself; maybe Leon Panetta would be, but not Petraeus – who, it’s important to add, came from the Defense Department to the office of CIA.
Petraeus’s replacement, interim CIA Director Mike Morrel, and White House Communications Director Ben Rhodes, were the two men who constructed the infamous “Susan Rice” talking points.
After Morrel testified to congress about the CIA involvement around Benghazi, and the issues of terrorism vs. Islamic movie (happy squirrel chase) etc. Morrel was replaced at the CIA by John Brennan.
We know that both Hillary Clinton and CBS immediately hired Mike Morrel. CBS News President David Rhodes -who hired Morrel- is the brother of the White House’s Ben Rhodes; who Morrel coordinated the Clinton friendly, albeit controversial, talking points with.
While it may seem suspect to jump to conclusions, the fact that Eric Holder did not inform either Intelligence Committee of the FBI Petraeus investigation -which is generally standard procedure- lends plausible suspicion to an outline that the events were used as leverage to remove Petraeus; and all of the subsequent risk he represented.
If you accept that Petraeus’s knowledge of, but non-involvement in, “Operation Zero Footprint” represented a potential risk to Hillary and Obama; you’d have to admit that Mike Morrel was by far the more White House friendly person talking about the CIA involvement around the joint State Dept/CIA Benghazi objectives.
Also, it would be disingenuous to ignore the fact Morrel’s loyalty therein was rewarded financially.
Lastly, one of the more slippery people to pin down on the Benghazi attack, and subsequent issues, has been Leon Panetta. If you think about Panetta’s role in the origin of Operation Zero Footprint his comment avoidance makes perfect sense.
Trey Gowdy needs to subpoena Panetta for the Special Committee.
OK, sorry that was more than a moment – but was needed.
Now back to Libya 2011/2012 and the Rift Between State/CIA and DoD/Pentagon over the arming of the “Rebels”. THIS IS REALLY QUITE IMPORTANT because it explains how far out Hillary Clinton had put herself in this covert op “Zero Footprint”.
A few reminder articles will outline and refresh why the White House kept DoD and The Pentagon at arms length throughout their covert operation:
[…] defense leaders in Washington [March 2011] slammed the brakes on the extent of US help to the rebels. Top officials said that some country other than the US should perform any future training and equipping of the Libyan opposition groups. Under withering congressional probing and criticism of what was described as an ill-defined mission to aid a rebel force that officials know little about, Robert Gates, the US defense secretary, sketched out a largely limited role for the US military going forward.
Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the House Armed Services panel that many other countries have the ability to train and support the rebels. “My view would be, if there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States,” said Gates. “Somebody else should do that.” Gates and Mullen told Congress that future US participation will be limited and will not involve an active role in airstrikes as time goes on. (link)
From a New York Times article about the same hearing -AND- the discussion of the CIA involvement. Again, remember this is 2011 – you have Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Mullen, and CIA Director Panetta:
2011 […] Gates and Mullen were testifying before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in the wake of revelations that small teams of CIA operatives are working in Libya. Gates declined to comment on the CIA activities in Libya. US officials have acknowledged that the CIA has sent small teams of operatives into Libya and helped rescue a crew member of a US fighter jet that crashed.
The CIA’s precise role in Libya is not clear. Intelligence experts said the CIA would have sent officials to make contact with the opposition and assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces in the event Barack Obama, the US president, decided to arm them. (link)
In hindsight we are now fully aware that unknown to both Mullen and Gates -at the time they were speaking- was President Obama having authorized Operation Zero Footprint several weeks earlier, and Panetta carrying it out.
The State Dept (Hillary) and CIA (Panetta) were now in the execution mode of the covert op.
We now know against the March/April 2011 backdrop of growing information about al-Qaeda’s presence within the rebel units – there was a genuine difference of opinion on whether even getting involved was a good idea.
The Defense Department (Gates, Mullen) was saying no, the State Department (Clinton, Rice), was saying yes.
Remember too, this covert operation was going to require NATO Admiral James Stavridis to allow the weapons into Libya. So lets look at what he was quoted saying around the same timeframe as Mullen and Gates, *knowing Stavridis was one of the actual key figures to make the weapons delivery possible*:
2011 – […] Now, as the White House and NATO continue to debate the possible ramifications of arming the Libyan opposition, the Haqqani network-linked Afghan commander says Libyan al Qaeda affiliates seem to be more “enthusiastic” about the war against Gaddafi every day.
And from what the Afghan Taliban commander has seen, there appears to be more than “flickers” of al Qaeda’s presence in Libya, the description given by NATO commander Admiral James Stavridis. (link)
There is Stavridis playing down the possibility of al-Qaeda ideology within the make-up of the Islamic Fighting Group – which is important because by the time this quote was attributed Stavridis was already part of the team coordinating the shipments.
Also, remember R2P? This March/April 2011 timeframe is when “Responsibility To Protect” came up as a justification for our engagement. Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton all wanting to fully support “the rebels”.
Ultimately Obama/Jarrett (The White House) agreed with Hillary Inc (State Dept); hence “Zero Footprint” got the nod – well, let’s be really accurate: it “sort of” got the nod.
Think about it. President Obama authorized arming the Libyan rebels, but the covert nature of Zero Footprint actually reflects the political filter through which all Obama White House decisions are made. A White House team that always looks for an escape hatch in case any decision is ever publically wrong.
If the rebels were al-Qaeda, the covert op lends plausible deniability.
Isn’t it strange how in 2014 hindsight you can clearly see exactly what we now know as the “Benghazi narrative”; the use of their exact escape hatch because they were al-Qaeda, and it did go horribly and publically wrong.
PART III – Operation Zero Footprint Becomes Political and Legal Risk
It should be noted, and actually emphasized, that Operation Zero Footprint, at least in 2011, was not illegal. Indeed, all indicators are that President Obama followed his constitutional responsibility as he carried out his executive authority.
We know in late February 2011 President Obama signed a Presidential Finding Memo authorizing the State Department and CIA to engage in actions within Libya to identify a course of action.
We know in March 2011 when Hillary Clinton (State Dept) and Leon Panetta (CIA) constructed “Operation Zero Footprint” that President Obama approved the covert action and then informed the Gang of Eight of the weapons transfer operation.
Both of those known facts speak well to the Executive Office following a legally outlined process. This does not, however, dismiss the concern, which became the reality, that the action itself was terribly flawed and horridly imprudent.
During March, April and May 2011 there was enough intelligence information flowing to the White House informing them of exactly who would be the beneficiaries of U.S. Libyan involvement and specifically providing weapons. It did not take long to identify the Benghazi and Darnah “rebels” were actually affiliates of al-Qaeda.
While no-one reporting in 2011 was aware of Operation Zero Footprint, there were literally hundreds of media reports showcasing the ideology of the Libyan “rebel” uprising. Indeed there were numerous reports in mainstream media outlets of al-Qaeda fighters (numerous factions) flowing to Libya to oust their life-long nemesis, Gaddaffi.
From a policy standpoint it will have to be left up to historians to pore over the facts and ultimately decide what was *this* White House goal in the entire region.
- Ben Ali removal -Tunisia- seemed OK to the administration, Obama and Clinton.
- Hosni Mubarak removal -Egypt- seemed even more ok to Obama and Clinton.
Both of the above were viewed as potential sources for favorable policy outcomes. Indeed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt -and election of President Morsi- did not seem to be a concern for the White House.
However, when you get to Gaddaffi’s removal -Libya- you see a serious split between ideologies within the U.S. political class as Obama/Clinton actually pushed the outcome. The U.S. defense department saying they were apprehensive about this outcome, and Obama/Clinton going “all in” for Gaddaffi ouster with French President Sarkozy.
The same interventionist Obama/Clinton motivation was evident with Syria’s Assad as yet another uprising surfaced in yet another Mid-East nation – again in March/April 2011.
We know on October 20th 2011 Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddaffi was finally captured, then killed by “the rebels”.
From the standpoint of “regime change” operation Zero Footprint was a success.
The Libyan Transitional National Council was now in control. Well, maybe in charge, or, well, sort of.
The TNC (pictured below 4 days later) may have been the face of Libya the Obama/Clinton team wanted to portray. But they were merely just that, a face.
We know Eastern Libya was then (2011), and is now (2014), a hotbed of radical Islam controlled by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Groups, the very people who benefitted from the arms that were part of Zero Footprint.
We know by the Fall/Winter of 2011 the U.S. State Dept and CIA were joined and trying to re-secure the same weapons they provided in the Spring/Summer.
December 2011 – New York Times:
“Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro raised the American desire to arrange a purchase program in a meeting this month with Libya’s new defense minister, according to American officials familiar with the proposal.
The United States has committed $40 million to secure Libya’s arms stockpiles, much of it to prevent the spread of Manpads. No budget has been designed for a purchase program, and the price to be paid for each missile and its components has not been determined, the official said. (link)
We know from a speech delivered by Asst. Secretary of State Shapiro in Feb of 2012 the actual program to recapture the Zero Footprint weapons began in August of 2011 about two months before Gaddaffi was killed:
“Once the stalemate broke and the fighting rapidly shifted in the TNC’s [Libyan Transitional National Council] favor in August, we immediately deployed a State Department expert from the MANPADS Task Force to Benghazi.
Mark Adams, who you will hear from shortly on the panel, is the head of our MANPADS Task Force and spent considerable time on the ground in Libya.
[… ] The initial primary objective was to reach an agreement with the TNC to set up a MANPADS control and destruction program that would enable us to set up what we call our Phase I efforts.
Phase I entailed an effort to rapidly survey, secure, and disable loose MANPADS across the country. To accomplish this, we immediately deployed our Quick Reaction Force, which are teams made up of civilian technical specialists.”
We know those “civilian technical specialists”, being talked about in August 2011, were contractors, CIA contractors, hired by the State Department to recapture the weapons – some of which they provided as a specific consequence of Operation Zero Footprint.
If the story ended there it would be bad enough. A flawed policy, a secret mission arm the Libyan “rebels” without a great deal of thinking through the longer term consequences. A flawed policy with political consequences.
But when you think about the larger picture you understand why the details of the covert weapons operation Zero Footprint were so tightly guarded among select members of Congress (the Gang of Eight), the CIA (Panetta), the State Department (Clinton) and the White House (Donilon).
Each of them was trying to manage a covert operation that would expose a U.S. policy decision to arm al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist militias.
But that’s only “IF” the story ended there, in Libya, at the end of 2011 into the beginning of 2012. It didn’t, the decisions got worse – much worse.
The uprising in Syria was only a few months behind the uprising in Libya. Arguably if the timing were reversed you could ponder that Assad would have met Gaddaffi’s fate, and Gaddaffi would be as alive today as President Assad.
Whichever rebel group got the attention of the R2P crowd was sure to be the first to get assistance. The Obama R2P Doctrine is so tenuous, and so lacking in political principle, it’s subject to change based on the political whims of capitol hill at any given moment.
The Libyan “rebels” got all the weaponry love – the Syrian “rebels”, not-so-much. At least in 2011; by mid 2012 that sentiment appears to have changed.
Enter Hillary Clinton. As she reiterated vehemently to Greta Van Sustern during a recent interview, it was Hillary who wanted to help the Syrian rebels when no-one else wanted to assist them. Secretary Hillary Clinton wanted early and direct interventionist action in Syria to topple Assad just like Gaddaffi.
Obviously consequences from the first covert weapons mission in Libya made a stark case for not repeating it in Syria. Another huge factor against helping the FSA was Israel. Ultimately Israel could not afford to be put into such a risky position if Syrian rebel forces were given arms that ultimately might be used against them.
Additionally, you would think there’s no way congress, in an election year, would approve of funding Syrian rebels against the possibility of it hurting Israel; And the White House was not about to do a known and official covert operation which had a great potential to go sideways, and become far too politically dangerous. 2012 was an election year.
But they did.
Who wanted to aid Syria more? President Obama or Hillary Clinton? That is a question for later year historians. Regardless of how the idea came up, we know a decision was made to do it, and to do it covertly.
Arming the Benghazi Darnah rebels was, well, stupid. It was actually stupid, and politically stupid, but it was not illegal.
Arming jihadist fighters in Syria likewise ended up being stupid but by all appearances NOT illegal.
In August 2012, one month before the attack on the Benghazi Compound, the following Reuters article appeared. This is how we find out about the SECOND presidential finding which again authorized covert CIA involvement, this time in Syria:
WASHINGTON, Aug 1  (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.
Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence “finding,” broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.
This and other developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support for Assad’s armed opponents – a shift that intensified following last month’s failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.
The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.
But U.S. and European officials have said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in assessments of the rebels by Western officials, who previously characterized Assad’s opponents as a disorganized, almost chaotic, rabble.
Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined.
The full extent of clandestine support that agencies like the CIA might be providing also is unclear.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined comment.
A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad’s opponents.
This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles (100 km) from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.
Turkey’s moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad’s departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment.
European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels. Senior officials of the Saudi and Qatari governments have publicly called for Assad’s departure.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles, weapons that could be used against Assad’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Syrian government armed forces have employed such air power more extensively in recent days.
NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the rebels via Turkey.
On Wednesday, however, Bassam al-Dada, a political adviser to the Free Syrian Army, denied the NBC report, telling the Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya that the group had “not obtained any such weapons at all.” U.S. government sources said they could not confirm the MANPADs deliveries, but could not rule them out either.
Current and former U.S. and European officials previously said that weapons supplies, which were being organized and financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were largely limited to guns and a limited number of anti-tank weapons, such as bazookas.
Indications are that U.S. agencies have not been involved in providing weapons to Assad’s opponents. In order to do so, Obama would have to approve a supplement, known as a “memorandum of notification, to his initial broad intelligence finding.
Further such memoranda would have to be signed by Obama to authorize other specific clandestine operations to support Syrian rebels.
Reuters first reported last week that the White House had crafted a directive authorizing greater U.S. covert assistance to Syrian rebels. It was unclear at that time whether Obama had signed it. (read more)
Note how the FSA says they didn’t get missiles, and yet missiles were shipped. This is important against the backdrop of the reality the extreme elements we now call ISIL were operating in Syria and openly laughing at our inability to identify them:
(JULY 2012) As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder’s men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.
But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba’a, or “strangers”, after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden’s time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.
They try to hide their presence. “Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags,” said Abu Khuder. “They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?” But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.
According to Abu Khuder, his men are working closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army brigades in the region. “We meet almost every day,” he said. “We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations.” Abu Khuder’s men had a lot of experience in bomb-making from Iraq and elsewhere, he added.
[…] Abu Khuder split with the FSA and pledged allegiance to al-Qaida’s organisation in Syria, the Jabhat al Nusra or Solidarity Front. He let his beard grow and adopted the religious rhetoric of a jihadi, becoming a commander of one their battalions.
“The Free Syrian Army has no rules and no military or religious order. Everything happens chaotically,” he said. “Al-Qaida has a law that no one, not even the emir, can break.
“The FSA lacks the ability to plan and lacks military experience. That is what [al-Qaida] can bring. They have an organisation that all countries have acknowledged.
“In the beginning there were very few. Now, mashallah, there are immigrants joining us and bringing their experience,” he told the gathered people. “Men from Yemen, Saudi, Iraq and Jordan. Yemenis are the best in their religion and discipline and the Iraqis are the worst in everything – even in religion.”
At this, one man in the room – an activist in his mid-30s who did not want to be named – said: “So what are you trying to do, Abu Khuder? Are you going to start cutting off hands and make us like Saudi? Is this why we are fighting a revolution?”
“[Al-Qaida’s] goal is establishing an Islamic state and not a Syrian state,” he replied. “Those who fear the organisation fear the implementation of Allah’s jurisdiction. If you don’t commit sins there is nothing to fear.” (link – more)
Against the backdrop of ISIL 2014 does this Sound familiar ?
It should also be noted this is the exact time (August 2012) when the U.N. and Kofi Annan gave up trying to influence a peaceful outcome in Syria – things had escalated beyond any hope for a diplomatic resolution.
We know the basic set up to arm the Syrian rebellion was generally not too complex.
Turkey would be used as the distribution hub, and the U.S. had Sunni friends in Saudi Arabia, and Qatar -who were more than willing to see Assad removed- and financially assist in arming the Syrians without too great a concern for what could happen to Israel.
For Obama/Clinton to get weapons to the Syrians, against the shadow of Operation Zero Footprint, without going extensively through congress, could be done covertly and easily. Either ship weapons just like Operation Zero Footprint, Saudi ==> Qatar ==> Turkey ==> Syria, OR, buy back the weapons already floating around from Operation Zero Footprint and redirect them to Syria through Turkey.
The Saudis would be a willing financier if the State Dept needed additional money to facilitate the transfers.
We know Ambassador Chris Stevens set up a formal U.S. Embassy consulate in Tripoli around May 26th of 2012; and we know the State Dept and CIA set up their joint operations in Benghazi around the same time. We also now know this is around the EXACT time of the second Presidential CIA Directive.
Looking at the historical timeline, and knowing the contacts developed, gives a great perspective into what would have spurred the CIA/State Department to set up a more expansive presence and operation in the coastal region of Eastern Libya May/June 2012.
The official U.S. State Dept Libyan presence was vacated on Feb 25th of 2011 when the embassy personell were evacuated. Stevens was re-establishing the diplomatic office and acting as Ambassador to Libya during the 2012 reconstruction phase.
What we did not know at the time was that Chris Stevens was also acting as the facilitator for U.S. arms shipments OUT OF LIBYA, through Turkish diplomatic couriers and into Syria. While coordinating a second covert action to arm the Syrian resistance.
A very strong argument can easily be made that Chris Stevens was a CIA operative inside the State Department. Many people within the State Department are CIA personnel using the State Dept as part of their visible cover.
In Eastern Libya June, July, August 2012 – Obviously the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Ansar Al Sharia, aka 17th Feb Brigade, and all of their commanders knew of the U.S. Benghazi weapons programs. Both the 2011 distribution, and the 2012 repurchase.
Considering the redeployment to Syria – for the most part the Benghazi and Darnah brigades would have been in alignment with their Jihadist brethren in Syria being the beneficiaries of any additional shipments.
But there was in 2011/2012 – as noted in the above articles – an ideological rift between the newly emboldened Muslim Brotherhood and the ‘more initially moderate’ Free Syrian Army (FSA). As the Libyan conflict rolled on through the summer of 2011 more al-Qaeda elements flocked from other engagements into the Syrian fight. Moderates were replaced by extremists.
By the time of the second presidential directive, as Hillary and Chris Stevens were working on support for Syria, Summer 2012, the radical Syrian opposition was embedded inside the FSA. Arguably in hindsight they were the majority element.
The Syrian opposition had three al-Qaida arms operating within it. Including one that also operated in Libya:
- Jund al-Sham, which is made up of al-Qaida militants who are Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese;
- Jund al-Islam, which in recent years merged with Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group of Sunni Iraqis operating under the al-Qaida banner and operating in Yemen and Libya;
- Jund Ansar al-Allah, an al-Qaida group based in Gaza linked to Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria.
It would be into this eclectic mix of Jihadist ideologues, which later became ISIL, that any diverted U.S. arms would flow. It’s no wonder that Senator John McCain was so confused when he was calling them “moderates” in 2012/2013. Almost no-one knew the severe elements in Syria would rise to the surface and become the modern ISIS now capturing all of the global attention.
And…. If you just realized…. Yes, ISIS or ISIL currently on the march in Iraq, came from Syria, fought in Syria and more than likely was armed by the U.S. inside Syria and Turkey. They were more likely trained, in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles (100 km) from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence; by the same CIA operatives used by the State Dept to send Syria weapons from Benghazi and Darnah back in Libya.
If Operation Zero Footprint in Libya was stupid, arming the Syrian branches of al-Qaeda two years after the FSA was thoroughly corrupted by al-Qaeda, is infinite degrees beyond stupid.
But that’s hindsight for ya….. or as Secretary Clinton would say “Whether they were, … at this point, what difference does it make?”
By June of 2012 the New York Times was reporting that the CIA is operating a secret arms transfer program to Syria that sounded exactly like the re-diversion plan Clinton developed with Panetta/Petraeus. According to the Times suddenly, there is: “…an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels.”
The Reuters article in August 2012 confirms the earlier report.
We know on September 5th 2012 – A Libyan flagged ship called Al Entisar (“The Victory”) docks in the Turkish port of Iskenderun. It is carrying 400 tons of cargo including many weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS) destined for Syrian rebels 35 miles away from Iskenderun.
UPDATE IV – In response to the Times of London report, and in a generally dismissed part of her congressional testimony, Senator Rand Paul asked outgoing Secretary Hillary Clinton a very specific question – (See @2:20 of this video and pay attention to the “duping delight”):
Which would bring us to a series of now reconcilable questions surrounding the joint State Dept. and CIA Benghazi Mission.
The entire weapons operation 2011 was labeled “Operation Zero Footprint”. The intent is outlined in the operational title – to leave no visible record of U.S. involvement in arming the Libyan “rebels”. No visible footprint.
We know from congressional inquiry Ambassador Chris Stevens had asked for more security in the months prior to Sept. 11th 2012. Requests sent to the State Dept that were denied.
We also know that NO MARINE DETACHMENT was ever put in place to defend the Benghazi Mission.
We also know the Benghazi Mission was initially, and mistakenly by media, called “a consulate”, or a “consulate outpost”. But there was no State Dept record of any consulate office in Benghazi.
All of these seeming contradictions can be reconciled with the simple understanding that this “Mission” in 2011 was unofficial. Remember the goal – No visible footprint.
We also know the Second Operation, in 2012, to arm the Syrians’was also covert – No visible footprint.
Why were security requests denied? Remember the goal – No visible footprint.
We know from General Carter Ham (AFRICOM Commander now retired) the Department of Defense was not even aware the State Dept was operating a mission in Benghazi during 2012. Remember the goal – No visible footprint.
How could Hillary Clinton, Charlene Lamb, or Patrick Kennedy approve or request a marine security detachment knowing the entire mission around both Benghazi operations was covert?
Such a request would have travelled outside the small group of State/CIA insiders. The request would have gone to DoD. Short answer, they couldn’t.
Hence the disconnect between what seemed to be obvious and/or simple questions and the inability to accurately discuss in the public venues of congressional inquiry.
To the public Chris Stevens was a U.S. ambassador, a diplomat. To the folks inside the State Dept and CIA, Chris Stevens was a U.S. Ambassador, AND a CIA operative coordinating covert arms sales.
In 2011 those arms shipments were to aid the Libyan rebels, in 2012 those same arms were redirected to aid the Syrian rebels.
Even after death the public face of Chris Stevens, the official role, was the only role able to be discussed. The covert, or unofficial role, was not. Again, we see the disconnect between inquiry that could be answered, and inquiry that could not be answered. Many irreconcilables surface because of this intelligence role – even through today.
The second role of Stevens, the covert and CIA aspect, still causes problems for people trying to understand the “why not” questions. The broader public asking why have we not seen, or heard from the survivors of the attacks?
The short answer is, we have not heard from the survivors – but the intelligence community has.
Twice some of the survivors have given testimony to congress. The problem for the public is that those hearings are closed door, classified, intelligence hearings – led by Chairman Mike Rogers and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Again, go back to the beginning of Operation Zero Footprint and you see the congressional Intelligence Gang of Eight were fully aware of the intents.
The Gang of Eight in 2011 / 2012 was: House Speaker – John Boehner, Minority Leader – Nancy Pelosi; House Permanent Select Committee on Intel Chairman – Mike Rogers, and his Democrat counterpart Charles Ruppersberger; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; along with Senate Intel Chair Diane Feinstein and her Republican counterpart, Saxby Chambliss.
Why was Speaker Boehner reluctant to establish a Select Committee on Benghazi ?
Simple, again he is one of the Gang of Eight – and he was briefed on both operations. How is he going to call for a select committee when he knows the substance of the committee investigation is classified under national security. Such a committee would not, because it could not, deliver what the public was requesting, sunlight.
The only reason Trey Gowdy was finally assigned the task of a Select Committee, was simply because the public lies of the White House and administration were contradicting themselves.
The White House “talking points“, which was/is a ridiculous squirrel hunt, were created to reconcile the problem faced when unable to discuss a covert operation.
It is far easier to look at the reality of the problem faced by the White House and CIA than any nefarious intention.
Unfortunately for the administration they are not that good.
Team Obama was so committed to keeping the covert operations “Zero Footprint” a secret (because of the political embarrassment from factually arming al Qaeda) that the cover story they manufactured (on the fly) was fraught with contradictions.
How could President Obama dispatch help to the Benghazi team, when DoD was not even aware of it’s existence? Sending help would have compromised OpSec, Operational Security.
The dispatch of F.E.S.T. would lead to increased knowledge of a covert operation.
Hopefully you are beginning to see the root of the contradictions. Once you understand the truth of what was going on within the backstory – there’s almost nothing left which would dangle as an unanswered question. It all reconciles.
Back to the FALL of 2012 – On September 5th/6th 2012 the Turkish vessel “Al Entisar” docked in the Turkish port of Iskenderun. 400 tons of serious cargo including weapons destined for Syrian “rebels”.
In the U.S. that September 5th night former President Bill Clinton was introducing Candidate Barack Obama at the DNC convention in Charlotte North Carolina. In Afghanistan that night something happened that had already become a serious concern for the operatives within “Operation Zero Footprint”.
At the exact time Clinton was speaking in North Carolina, halfway around the world in Afghanistan Army Chief Warrant Officers Thalia S. Ramirez, 28, of San Antonio and Jose L. Montenegro Jr., 31, of San Juan, in the Rio Grande Valley, were killed while flying an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, a Defense Department news release stated.
On September 5th 2012 – A U.S. organized ship loaded with weapons including missiles was offloading at a Turkish port. Bill Clinton was introducing Barack Obama, and the first black female combat pilot was shot down and killed by a shoulder fired missile in Afghanistan.
The relationship between the three events reflects the absolute political fear that revolved around Operation Zero Footprint.
The CIA and Intelligence community had stated earlier the biggest concern anyone held about arming the Libyan Rebels was the possibility those weapons might leave the Libyan conflict and travel to other locations where they would be used against our own soldiers. More and more evidence of this happening was growing.
In 2011 a total of four air assets were destroyed by enemy fire in Afghanistan. Two of those helicopters happened at the same time in August 2011 when we lost the Navy Seal unit that killed Osama Bin Laden. 22 Americans killed.
We had been in close quarter full combat operations in Afghanistan for 10 years, and we never had a problem with close air support. We had never faced the concern of our enemy having MANPADS. 2002 through 2010 saw zero occurrences of SAMS, Stingers, or MANPADS in general.
Within months after delivering weapons to the Benghazi and Darnah rebels (May, June and July 2011) we began facing MANPADS in Afghanistan.
Four instances in late in 2011 including the 22 lives lost in what came to be known as Operation “Extortion 17”.
In 2012 it got worse, much worse: June 1st AFGHANISTAN:
A combined patrol discovered a weapons cache containing three shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, three anti-tank mines, 423 RPGs, 118,600 7.62 mm rounds, 30 rifles and other ordnance in the Tarin Kot district of Uruzgan province. The cache’s contents were destroyed. (link)
We had a serious problem and it was picking up speed exponentially. June 6th 2012 we lost another crew. July 25th 2012 yet another. August 16th 2012 again more losses. September 5th 2012 more deaths. It just kept getting worse.
By September 5th 2012 in the preceding nine months we had lost 11 helicopters to shoulder fired missiles in Afghanistan. The following headline hit the media:
One of the incidents revealed details of what was being faced. The July 25th 2012 downing of a CH-47 which was found to have been hit with a “new generation” stinger missile. The risks were no longer mere worries, they were real:
[O]n July 25, 2012, Taliban fighters in Kunar province successfully targeted a US Army CH-47 helicopter with a new generation Stinger missile.
They thought they had a surefire kill. But instead of bursting into flames, the Chinook just disappeared into the darkness as the American pilot recovered control of the aircraft and brought it to the ground in a hard landing.
The assault team jumped out the open doors and ran clear in case it exploded. Less than 30 seconds later, the Taliban gunner and his comrade erupted into flames as an American gunship overhead locked onto their position and opened fire.
The next day, an explosive ordnance disposal team arrived to pick through the wreckage and found unexploded pieces of a missile casing that could only belong to a Stinger missile.
Lodged in the right nacelle, they found one fragment that contained an entire serial number.
The investigation took time. Arms were twisted, noses put out of joint. But when the results came back, they were stunning: The Stinger tracked back to a lot that had been signed out by the CIA recently, not during the anti-Soviet jihad.
Reports of the Stinger reached the highest echelons of the US command in Afghanistan and became a source of intense speculation, but no action.
Everyone knew the war was winding down. Revealing that the Taliban had US-made Stingers risked demoralizing coalition troops. Because there were no coalition casualties, government officials made no public announcement of the attack.
My sources in the US Special Operations community believe the Stinger fired against the Chinook was part of the same lot the CIA turned over to the Qataris in early 2011, weapons Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department intended for anti-Khadafy forces in Libya.
They believe the Qataris delivered between 50 and 60 of those same Stingers to the Taliban in early 2012, and an additional 200 SA-24 Igla-S surface-to-air missiles. (link)
In Afghanistan the DoD field response was immediate; all Close Air Support was cancelled.
The White House had a problem – “Operation Zero Footprint” missiles were now being used against us, but DoD didn’t know the origin because the Defense Department did not know about Zero Footprint, the State Department and CIA did.
The killing of Army Chief Warrant Officers Thalia S. Ramirez, 28, and Jose L. Montenegro Jr., 31, might not have been the final straw – but their September 5th 2012 deaths coincided with an absolute change in direction.
While the ISIS-minded Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Syrian Army were arguing over who gets what from aboard the Turkish vessel, back in Benghazi, Libya it was obvious the ideology of the Syrian factions were too extreme and the CIA could no longer control who would use such weapons.
God forbid DoD ground commanders in Afghanistan find out the MANPADS they were facing originated by our covert efforts in Libya.
Strangely one must give credit to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As unbelievable as it might sound he was the lone Islamic voice in March 2011 saying “don’t arm the Benghazi rebels“:
March 2011 – Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has said he does not support the idea of arming Libyan rebels fighting to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power.
Speaking at a joint news conference with David Cameron, the British prime minister, in London, Erdogan said: “Doing that would create a different situation in Libya and we do not find it appropriate to do that.”
Erdogan also said that that sending weapons to Libya could feed terrorism, saying such weapons shipments “could also create an environment which could be conducive to terrorism”. (read more)
Erdogan and U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates were of the same mindset.
“My view would be, if there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States,” said Gates. “Somebody else should do that.” (link)
However, for Syria in 2012 Erdogan had a divergent opinion. He was all for arming the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. This article, again from August 2012 – one month prior to the attack against Chris Stevens, outlines the goal of both Erdogan and President Obama:
(August 2012) President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone Monday “to coordinate efforts to accelerate a political transition in Syria,” the White House said.
This “would include the departure of (Syrian leader) Bashar Assad and be responsive to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people,” the statement said.
Obama and Erdogan shared their concerns over the Syrian regime’s crackdown on opposition “and the deteriorating humanitarian conditions throughout Syria as a result of the regime’s atrocities.”
Both [Obama and Erodgan] promised to coordinate efforts to help the growing numbers of Syrians displaced by the violence within Syria or forced to flee over the border to take refuse in Turkey or other nations in the region.
The statement said US and Turkish teams “would remain in close contact on ways that Turkey and the United States can work together to promote a democratic transition in Syria.” (link)
Alas, given the backstory of DoD not wanting to arm the rebels, and given the unintended consequences of 2011/2012 from Operation Zero Footprint, and given an upcoming election in November 2012, you can see why in post September 11 of 2012 the Obama administration would want to discontinue this operation and throw a bag over the events of the past 17 months.
Perhaps following the fiasco at the Port of Iskenderun a week earlier, Turkish Diplomat Consul General Ali Sait Akin arrives at the Benghazi Mission on Sept 11th 2012 to talk about the ongoing efforts to support Syria.
Perhaps, the conversation was about the increasing risk of arming a rising group of radicals against the backdrop of MANPADS being used against U.S. forces in other fields of combat.
Regardless of motivation Ali Sait Akin and Stevens were most certainly discussing the current situation with Turkey suffering the consequences and pushing a greater sense of urgency.
Indeed Turkey’s border region was filled with historic numbers of Syrian refugees fleeing the fighting which was completely out of control. The Scale of the crisis was staggering and out of control. Over 500,000 Syrians were now seeking shelter in Turkey.
Meanwhile the ideology of the radical elements controlling the arms shipments was openly becoming a danger to the entire region, and especially U.S. interests beyond Syria.
This would have put Stevens (U.S.) and Akin (Turkey) as opposing ends of the issue.
What we now know as ISIS – originated inside this group of Zero Footprint recipients, and Erdogan while willing to see Assad removed, was also well aware that these elements do not believe in borders. These rabid ideologues (now known as ISIS-2014) were quickly evolving into a risk for the region.
The U.S. policy team would have viewed the risk far differently than Turkey.
As the New York Times reported in an Oct. 14 2012 article, “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”
We can only imagine the conversation within the Benghazi compound as both Ali Sait Akin and Chris Stevens parted ways for the final time on September 11th 2012.
Outside the compound walls, the 17th Feb Brigade – Ansar Al Sharia – were also assembled to deliver their final goodbyes.
The Turkish delegation was able to navigate the roadblocks without issue. And within 30 minutes of Consul Akin leaving the venue, Ansar Al Sharia executed their attack.
The Benghazi and Darnah Brigades already knew the compound inside and out, as well as the CIA ANNEX compound, a kilometer away, which contained four warehouse type buildings used by the CIA during the collection, distribution and delivery of Zero Footprint’s objectives over the past 17 months.
In June of 2009 the primary Benghazi Mission compound looked like this:
In March of 2011, when Operation Zero Footprint began, the Tactical Operations Command building (TOC) was added and it looked like this:
In December of 2005 the area which became the CIA Annex compound held two buildings:
In 2009 two more buildings were added bringing the total to FOUR:
By the time the CIA took over 2011, and when the compound came under mortar fire 2012, it looked like this:
If you understand what took place from March 2011 through the night of the attack itself all of the contradictions reconcile, and most of the questions become answered.
Factually, I would challenge anyone who reads this brief to actually have a question left unanswered.
The events of the attack itself are gut wrenching and troubling. Our brave operations folks had to fight their way out of a situation where they literally were on their own due to the political risks inherent in carrying out their objectives.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the mission they were tasked to carry out, there is no doubt they worked honorably to serve their nation. Ultimately the leadership within the State Department, The CIA, and the White House are responsible for the outcomes of policy.
Our hope is that this outline will stimulate journalists to question those who were at the heart of these two operations. Ultimately the Trey Gowdy select committee will find there is no venue to discuss intelligence operations with public sunlight. While both Zero Footprint in 2011, and the Unnamed CIA operation in 2012 were flawed policy – they were not necessarily illegal.
There is a matter of an unidentified State Dept $6 billion contractor fund missing from Hillary’s term as Secretary of State; that might bear investigation. However, beyond those smaller questions there is little if anything to gain.