House Report on Benghazi Raises Serious Questions About CIA’s Involvment In Syrian Arms Trafficking

Published On November 22, 2014 | By Marc Belisle |

On Friday, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence issued a report meant to serve as the definitive House statement” on the events surrounding the Benghazi attack.  It is a high-profile exoneration by a Republican-led committee of the actions of the Obama Administration and personnel on the ground in Libya.  Buried in the report, however, is a vague allusion to CIA activities that raises intriguing and potentially disturbing questions.

The report’s most significant findings include its insistence that none of its witnesses were coerced in any way, and that Administration talking points – long a sticking point for conspiracy theorists – were changed by the CIA for strategic and factual reasons, and were not the result of any political interference.  Furthermore,

“… the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.”

This AP assessment is a mostly accurate summary of the report, and reflects mainstream media coverage of the report.  The last point, though, implies that there was no arms trafficking in Benghazi, which is not accurate.  The House report details its finding that no witnesses reported seeing non-CIA weapons at the CIA annex, then goes on to say,

“From the Annex in Benghazi, the CIA was collecting intelligence about foreign entities that were themselves collecting weapons in Libya and facilitating their passage to Syria.  The Benghazi Annex was not itself collecting weapons.”

This single line constitutes arguably the most high level admission that there was an international effort to move weapons from Libya to the Syrian opposition.  While most of the report settles questions surrounding Benghazi, this single line, which is not developed with any further information, raises more questions than it answers.

What foreign entities were moving weapons?  What was the nature of the CIA’s relationship with them?  Was the operation in Benghazi primarily diplomatic, (i.e. the CIA was mostly providing security), primarily intelligence gathering of unsuspecting parties, or was it directing weapons trafficking through proxies?  Were the weapons delivered to moderate Syrians or to Islamists?  Did the gun smuggling contribute to the development of ISIS?

The House’s admission that the CIA was active however indirectly within an international regime of weapons smuggling would seem to lend credence to Seymour Hersh’s “rat line” thesis.  Hersh, a controversial American journalist lauded by some for exposing the MyLai Massacre in Vietnam and reporting on abuse in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and dismissed by others a serial exaggerator who relies on specious and thinly sourced claims, argues;

“The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.”

If it is true, as the House claims, that the CIA was merely collecting intelligence on foreign entities smuggling weapons in Benghazi, then Turkey is involved, at least at the receiving end.  Other foreign entities are likely to include Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and possibly Israel.  Elements within those countries have publicly stated a wish to see Assad removed, and Qatar and Saudi Arabia are known to have funded Sunni opposition.  Saudi Arabia publicly tiffed with the US over Obama’s decision not to bomb Syria last fall.

Hersh goes one step further, though, arguing that British MI6 and Australian front companies, working in tandem with the CIA, were working to orchestrate shipping.

“The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding.”

If true, the House report may constitute a bipartisan effort to maintain an oversight loophole and preserve the CIA’s plausible deniability in working with closely allied proxies to do its dirty work.

Analyzing Hersh’s article, British journalist Patrick Cockburn observes,

“The US diplomatic presence in Benghazi had been dwarfed by that of the CIA and, when US personnel were airlifted out of the city in the aftermath of the attack, only seven were reportedly from the State Department and 23 were CIA officers.”

The mission in Benghazi was likely primarily intelligence, and the supposed consular mission headed by slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens was likely a cover, and a thin one at that.  Cockburn also argues,

“The US involvement in the rat line ended unhappily when its consulate was stormed by Libyan militiamen.  …  The disaster in Benghazi, … severely loosened US control of what arms were going to which rebel movements in Syria.”

If it is true that the CIA had any control over weapons smuggling, and then lost control as a result of the Benghazi attacks, the CIA’s mission in Benghazi may have been to oversee weapons trafficking in such a way that they were funneled to relatively moderate opposition forces in Syria.  It is possible, then, that ISIS’s rampage and America’s resulting paradoxical policy to Middle East security was made possible by the Benghazi attack, which led to unsupervised smuggling of weapons from Libya to extremists in Syria.  This possibility is supported by the apparent connections between ISIS and militants in Libya.

Though this article contains a great deal of speculation, it is important to consider the questions raised by the House’s report which have been ignored thus far by mainstream media focused on its partisan implications.  That the CIA was operating in Benghazi, amidst a hotbed of terrorist activity and a sea of unsecured small and heavy arms is uncontested.  The House has now admitted that weapons trafficking was also originating from Benghazi to Syria by “foreign entities” at that time.  It is also a fact that around the same time as the Benghazi attacks, Syrian rebels were suddenly in possession of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile launchers, capable of blowing Syrian warplanes out of the sky.

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PHOTO: The Telegraph UK

Marc Belisle
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Marc Belisle

Senior Writer at Reverb Press.
Marc Belisle is a writer, activist and teacher. He is a regular contributor to The Everlasting GOP Stoppers. He has an Master's degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies.

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Marc Belisle
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