Diary

Revisiting Benghazi, Part 1: Why Was Stevens There That Day?

Sergey Ponomarev

On the night of September 11, 2012, a group of heavily armed “rebels” attacked the United States “consulate” in Benghazi, Libya in the eastern half of the country.  It resulted in the death of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya at the time.  The incident sparked a political firestorm and caused controversy that played into the 2016 election for it was out of the Benghazi investigation that the country learned Hillary Clinton had used a private server while serving as Secretary of State.

As the Libyan revolution spiraled out of control in the aftermath of Qaddafi’s ouster and murder, John Christopher “Chris” Stevens was appointed US envoy to Libya on April 5, 2011.  As an envoy, his task was to reach out to the rebel forces so that something resembling a workable government could be formed.  In May 2012, he officially became ambassador to Libya and worked out of the US embassy in Libya’s capital, Tripoli.  

On September 10th, he traveled to Benghazi to work on the US mission there and to discuss staffing options.  In the months after Qaddafi’s death, there were consistent warnings about security risks to foreign personnel working in Libya, including Americans.  The first major question to be answered is what was Stevens doing in Benghazi in the first place knowing the security situation in Libya was deteriorating?  Prior to the attack that killed Stevens, the State Department’s own reports talked about the security situation in Benghazi, yet the US compound was left unsecure and relying on local militia for protection.  The morning before the attack, a local police officer was seen taking pictures of the compound.  

From late 2011 until the 2012 attack, there were two other attacks on the compound as well as other attacks on US and other facilities and diplomats.  There were repeated requests from Stevens to the State Department asking for additional security and manpower that went largely ignored.  Instead, the State Department seemed to go in the opposite direction, slashing the security staff from 34 in early August to just six people the night of the attacks.   

There are three proffered reasons.  The first is that he was there for the very reasons stated: to talk about staffing at the mission and develop outreach to rebels in the area.  The other two reasons are a lot different, so we will take them in turn.

Some believe that Stevens had been sent there after the State Department received reports that rebels of the terrorist group, Ansar al-Sharia, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, had obtained Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and it was the job of Stevens to retrieve the missiles.  They had ended up in the hands of the terrorist group somehow in a circuitous manner which some people claim was an arms deal brokered by a dealer through Hillary Clinton, although Clinton never intended for the missiles to end up in Libya.  Instead, some Stinger missiles had ended up in Afghanistan and had managed to take down a US Chinook helicopter.  Enough of the missile was retrieved so that the serial number could be determined and it traced back to a stash of missiles kept in Qatar.  

In this scenario, Clinton sent Stevens on a desperate mission in search of the missiles.  How any of the missiles ended up in Libya is unknown, although Qatar is a suspect.  It is also believed that the State Department, not the CIA, at some point authorized the transfer of some Stinger missiles to who the State Department believed were moderate Taliban factions who were against al-Qaeda re-establishing a foothold in Afghanistan. 

This is a complex story and theory.  Reuters reported that in 2011, Obama had signed a secret directive authorizing the CIA to covertly supply arms to rebels in Libya with the intent of toppling Qaddafi.  The operation was dubbed “Zero Footprint.”  The US was aligning with Saudi Arabia and Qatar against Qaddafi.  According to federal law, Congressional leadership, known as the Gang of 8, has to be notified.  

Nothing moved in and out of Libya without NATO approval.  UAE was the financier and Qatar became the facilitator of arms movements.  The key recipient of the arms flowing into Libya was Ahmed Abu Khattala, head of Ansar al-Sharia and insurgent commander.  He was the leader of what Hillary Clinton called “the rebels.”  A year after the Benghazi attack- in 2013- Khattala became listed as a terrorist by the State Department.  The whole operation was so secret that the commander of AFRICON was unaware there was a CIA annex in Benghazi.  

Then Obama and others decided to use the repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl news.  Bergdahl had been captured by Taliban forces in Afghanistan.  The deal to get him involved the release of five terrorists being held at Guantanamo Naval Base.  They were to be released into the custody of Qatar for at least one year.  When some journalists started to sniff around the Qatari connection, Khattala became a problem.

Marc Turi was the man who set up the arms shipments between Qatar and Libya.  Some of those weapons later ended up in Syria and Afghanistan.  In 2014, the DOJ brought charges against Turi for illegal arms trading.  He mounted a defense that claimed he did so at the behest of the CIA and State Department.  There was legal wrangling with the DOJ eventually dropping charges in 2016.  

So who is Marc Turi?  Turi hails from Phoenix, Arizona and heads a company called Turi Defense Group which has done millions of dollars in business with the Department of Defense.  Turi’s neighbor in Phoenix was Senator John McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Turi was the one that came up with the idea of using private actors to arm the Libyan rebels after an email exchange with Stevens.  Stevens then emailed Clinton who suggested the plan to State Department aid Jake Sullivan.

The third reason has some evidence behind it also.  It states that the Benghazi area had become a major staging ground in the Middle East and Northern Africa for intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism efforts in the region.  The purpose was to develop the intelligence forces of a new Libyan government, secure the stockpiles of Qaddafi’s weapons and secure the arms that flooded the country as Qaddafi was being deposed.  

However, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has uncovered some facts that directly contradict the official public reasons for the presence of Stevens in Benghazi at this particular time and they also help explain an event in 2013 in Syria.  In fact, it would appear that the so-called consulate was left lightly guarded for a reason- it was not the main operating post for the US in Benghazi.  Instead, that honor lied with the CIA annex about a mile away and which was staffed and guarded.  To make matters more strange, the US military was apparently unaware of CIA personnel operating in the area.

Hersh reported that early in 2012, Obama and Turkey president Recip Erdogan entered into a secret agreement to provide arms to Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Bashir Assad.  The plan was to spirit arms out of Libya through Turkey and then into Syria.  Funding was provided by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  The CIA and Britain’s MI6 were given the job of getting the weapons which would then be moved using a series of front companies in Libya.  Retired soldiers who did not know who they were working for were in charge of procurement and shipping.  Because the CIA was using MI6, it allowed them to classify the whole program as a “liaison operation,” which did not require Congressional notification or approval.  In essence, the mission in Benghazi, which has Libya’s only deepwater port, was a cover for the CIA annex and was there to cover for the CIA’s mission in eastern Libya in the first place- the movement of arms out of the country and into Syria.

Hersh is not the only one to report on these arms shipments.  Christina Lamb of the Sunday Times of London reported in December 2012 that the United States had secretly been purchasing a stockpile of Libyan arms including anti-aircraft SA-7 missiles, anti tank weapons, RPGs, and mortar shells.  They then spirited the weapons out of Turkey and into the hands of rebels in Syria.  Stevens had a working knowledge of the entire operation and knew of Turkey’s key role in the operation.  Five days before the attack, a Libyan ship had docked in Turkey after leaving Benghazi loaded with 400 tons of weapons intended for Syrian rebels.  

The man alleged to have coordinated that shipment- Abdelhakim Belhadj- was a Turkish official who had previously worked with Stevens in Libya.  Stevens had arrived in Benghazi to help facilitate the removal of more SA-7 missiles out of the country.  Further, that very day, the last person to visit Stevens in Benghazi was Ali Sait Akin, the Turkish Consul General who was escorted by Stevens out the front gate one hour before the terrorist attack on the compound.  The ship also carried portable Russian-made anti-aircraft missile launchers called manpads.  Early in 2013 after the weapons made their way into Syria, a Syrian military helicopter was taken down by what military experts claim was a manpad.  At that final meeting between Stevens and Belhadj, it is reported that the Turk showed his American counterpart Russian satellite imagery of nefarious activity inside Turkey.

Next: Stepping ahead to lines in the sand before stepping back to Benghazi