Nestled within the choppy waves of the Mediterranean Sea sits the beautiful city of Benghazi in Libya. The city is often called the “Gem of the Mediterranean” and is known for its culture and history, making it an attractive option for travelers. In recent years, however, the city has come under increased scrutiny for its ties to the Central Intelligence Agency. As such, the question has been raised: what was the CIA doing in Benghazi?
In 2012, Benghazi was a hotbed of activity for U.S. intelligence activities. The CIA had a large presence in the city, with several clandestine activities occurring out of the city’s very well fortified US consulate. The agency was reportedly gathering intelligence on the Libyan civil war, terrorist networks, and the actions of several rogue states in the region while also engaging in counterintelligence operations.
The CIA had agents in place to monitor any potential threats posed to U.S. personnel on the ground. This included an increase in cooperation with local security forces to identify and disrupt terror cells. However, the most notable activity the CIA was undertaking in Benghazi was the proliferation of arms across the region. Reports indicate that the CIA was using the consulate as a hub for shipping weapons from Qatar to the rebels fighting the Assad regime in Syria.
As a result of the CIA’s increased presence in Benghazi, there was also increased tension between the agency and local Libyan officials. Several high-ranking government officials in the region, including current president Mohammed El-Sisi, were highly suspicious of the CIA’s activities and sought to limit the agency’s influence in the region. This tension eventually boiled over into the deadly attack against the US consulate in September 2012, a tragedy that sparked the international investigations into what the CIA had been doing in Benghazi.
The investigations have revealed a plethora of information, though much of it is still shrouded in mystery. One thing that is clear, however, is that the CIA had a much more expansive role in the city than previously suspected. Beyond the counterintelligence and intelligence gathering, the investigations have revealed the CIA to have been involved in several armed and clandestine operations within the region. All of these activities were done in an attempt to protect American interests in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the investigations have also shed light on the mystifying events surrounding the attack against the consulate. Several reports of intelligence warnings were received prior to the tragedy, though no help was sent to thwart the impending danger. This has sparked criticism directed at the U.S. government for not acting on this precious information. Despite the accusations, the CIA’s rationale for having a presence in Benghazi remains largely unknown.
Intelligence from the Region
The CIA had several intelligence sources available in Benghazi, giving them detailed insight into the hotbed region. Agents had operatives placed in the city and tapped into encrypted communications coming from the region, allowing them to identify any potential threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East—including potential terror attacks. Agents also had access to local military and political personnel inside and outside of Benghazi, allowing them to gain intelligence on the region.
However, the CIA did more than just gather intelligence. They leveraged their sources to initiate operations; with smuggled arms being the most notable of such operations. Reports indicate that the CIA was in collusion with Libyan officials to move weapons from the Port of Benghazi to rebel forces in Syria. The agency also acted to try and curb the spread of both people smuggling and terrorism within the region.
Role of Private Security Contractors
The CIA is known for their use of private security contractors, using them as an additional form of security for personnel and to help keep operations tightly under wraps. Benghazi was no different; however, it appears that contractors were also used for tasks outside of traditional security duties. Reports indicate that the CIA had contracted numerous local militiamen to serve as their eyes and ears inside the city and act as a supplement to their already expansive intelligence gathering.
The CIA was also known to use local militias to help with the armed and clandestine operations within the region; the most notable being the arming of Syrian rebel forces. It has been alleged that they used the militias to help smuggle the weapons across the border, as well as to help monitor and disrupt potential terror threats in the area.
Political and Strategic Implications
Beyond the difficulty and potential risks of the CIA’s operations in Benghazi, there have been political implications for the U.S.’s presence in the region. In recent lines, the U.S. has tried to avoid large-scale military operations within the Middle East in an attempt to quell regional tension. However, the CIA’s involvement in Benghazi has raised suspicions and accusations that the U.S. is engaging in more than just intelligence gathering.
This plays into the larger geopolitical picture of the region, where the U.S. is still seen as an occupying force in the eyes of many. It has been suggested by some experts that the presence of the CIA in Benghazi is a reflection of the U.S.’s intentions for the region—namely, to increase their control in an effort to ensure regional stability. Whether or not this is true is yet to be seen.
Investigation into the Attacks
The results of the international investigations into the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi has been long awaited. The investigations have revealed that the CIA was indeed operating in the city and the agency has released an official assessment of the events leading up to the tragedy.
According to the assessment, the CIA had indeed received intelligence warning of a potential attack, though there was little that could have been done to prevent it. Furthermore, the agency denies any involvement in the smuggling of arms into Syria, though that’s yet to be definitively proven. The international investigation is still ongoing.
Analysis of the CIA’s Actions in Benghazi
When looking back at the events that unfolded in 2012, it’s clear that the CIA had a more expansive role in the region than was initially suspected; one that went far beyond the standard intelligence gathering and arms proliferation. Whether or not these actions were in the best interest of U.S. policy will remain in debate for some time. The motives behind the agency’s involvement are still unclear and the consequences for such activities can be far reaching.
From a moral standpoint, the CIA’s role in Libya is difficult to justify, no matter the political implications. Reports indicating the agency was complicit in exploiting regional tensions for their own gain leave the door open for criticism. Furthermore, the ongoing international investigations into the tragedy, which the agency has had limited involvement in, could put further scrutiny on their past actions in the city.
The International Response
The events in Benghazi have left an indelible mark on the region, as well as on the U.S.-Libya relationship. The negative reaction to the attack was widespread and many countries have either reduced or severed diplomatic ties with the U.S. in protest. Meanwhile, the Libyan government has tightened its control over the region and has put in place several new restrictions on foreign entities, including the CIA.
Additionally, the attack has had a lasting effect on the perception of the U.S. in the region. Countries in the Middle East have grown increasingly distrustful of the U.S., with many suggesting that the CIA’s presence in the region was indicative of a larger plot to dominate the region. Such allegations have been difficult to disprove, despite U.S. denials.
Questions of Accountability
Another pressing issue has been the lack of accountability for the tragedy. Although investigations have been conducted, there has been little real world action taken against those who were responsible for attack and the subsequent security lapses. Furthermore, questions remain as to why the U.S. government failed to act on the intelligence warning that were received. This has sparked calls for greater oversight of the CIA, as well as for more accountability for those responsible for the attack.
The events in Benghazi will remain an enigma for some time, with many questions still left unanswered. What is clear though is that the CIA had a major role in the city, one that goes beyond gathering intelligence. In order to fully understand the CIA’s activities in Benghazi, however, more investigations are needed. Until then, the motives behind their involvement will remain murky.