Why Was The Cia In Benghazi

Why Was The Cia In Benghazi?

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 was one of the most heavily discussed topics in the news. What wasn’t widely known for some time was the reason for the presence of CIA agents there. In this article, we will delve deeper into this question and analyze why the CIA had a presence in Benghazi, what happened during the attack, and who was involved.
The American mission in Benghazi was mainly a diplomatic one with the purpose of creating a monitoring and advice post to assist in the Libyan transition. As negotiations between government, military, and religious factions often proved difficult, the diplomatic mission was supported by a security detail and staff members from the CIA.
The CIA itself had several different operations running in and around Benghazi. One of their tasks was tracking down former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s stockpile of weapons and explosives. Another were arms shipments from Qatar and Turkey to rebel groups in Syria, which were transported via Benghazi and needed to be monitored and secured.
When the attack began, the CIA Annex, located a few miles from the consulate was hit first. The reason for this is still unknown, but reports suggest that the attackers had specific knowledge about the layout of the Annex and the people in it.
The security detail protecting the Annex managed to repel the attack and the CIA officers present had enough time to be evacuated. However, the same couldn’t be said for the U.S. consulate as four State Department officials and one CIA contractor lost their lives.
Concerning who was behind the attack, the U.S. government point of view is that it was a terrorist attack by numerous Islamist militants. However, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said that he believes that the attack was an ‘act of terror’.

Who Was Involved In The Attack?

The most widely accepted version of events is that the attack was largely led by Ansar al-Shariah, an Al-Qaeda affiliate with a long history of violence in North Africa. However, investigation reports suggest that former Gaddafi loyalists, members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militia Ansar al-Shariah, or extremist elements of the Islamist-dominated Libya Shield Force may have also been involved. It is also possible that it was a combination of the three.
The attackers were well-equipped, with fighter planes crossing the sky during the assault and likely to have had access to high-grade weaponry from Gaddafi’s arsenal. It was speculated that the attack was an attempt to punish the American diplomatic presence in Benghazi for their role in assisting Gaddafi’s downfall.

American Response To The Attack

The American response to the attack was wide-spread and multi-faceted. Immediately after the attack, the U.S. government launched an investigation, but for years there was a lot of back-and-forth about who was responsible for the attack, especially with the emergence of political groups who sought to capitalize on the public’s fear of the attack.
The CIA station in Libya was closed shortly after the attack, and the U.S. increased security measures in all other diplomatic posts in Libya and throughout the region. The US State Department also released a ‘Travel Alert’ warning Americans to repel threats and stay away from high-risk countries such as Libya in order to protect themselves against any terrorist attacks.
The Obama administration additionally took steps to identify and bring to justice those responsible for the Benghazi attack, and in two separate operations were able to capture Ahmed Abu Khattala and Mustafa Al-Imam, two individuals believed to have been involved in the attack.

Permanent and Conditional Presence of CIA Agents In Foreign Countries

The CIA often works with foreign governments to monitor and counteract terrorism. However, there needs to be proper communication between both parties so that proper security measures are put in place when CIA agents are deployed in those countries.
When it is necessary for the CIA to operate in a foreign country, the consideration to deploy and assign agents is done on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the agent’s expertise and experience, a mission may be extended for periods of weeks or even months, but is also subject to the approval of the target country’s government.

Global Repercussions Of The Benghazi Attack

The Benghazi attack was more than just a tragedy that brought sorrow and mourning to those who lost loved ones. It also marked an important moment in history that irreversibly changed the geopolitical scenario in the region.
The attack highlighted the security vulnerabilities of diplomatic missions in remote or unstable countries and raised questions about the future of U.S. diplomatic presence in North Africa. For instance, Libya’s economy faltered due to a lack of foreign investment, thus limiting the diplomatic presence of U.S. and other democracies.
The incident also deepened the divide between the U.S. and other countries in the region, particularly over issues such as Syria, with Russia, Iran and others making Libya a strategic chessboard where they could compete and try to hold each other in check.

Tactical Changes After The Attack

The attack had profound effects in the security and tactical approach taken by the US government. The US Department of State issued a series of policies to enhance the security of diplomatic posts and security personnel, in order to ensure their safe operation around the world.
Furthermore, the US government quadrupled the number of marines and evacuated non-essential personnel from their diplomatic posts in the Middle-East. The intelligence community was given more resources to investigate threats and attacks, and extra money was invested in upgrading security apparatus, such as surveillance systems and bulletproof vehicles, to protect American citizens abroad.

The Motive Behind The Attack

The main motive of the attackers still remains a mystery. The most accepted hypothesis is that it was tied to the 9/11 anniversary, as well as to the presence of the U.S. in the Middle-East and North Africa at the time. However, the attack caused controversy in the American public, as it sparked questions in the media and many political debates that are still ongoing today.
The CIA maintained that their presence in Benghazi was necessary to keep tabs on the flow of smuggled arms and to ensure the safety of US personnel in the region. However, many in the U.S. security community have questioned the timeline of events and the way the attack was handled.

American Leadership and Process In Libyans Reconstruction

Libya is a nation in the midst of a massive transition, not only politically but also culturally and economically. Consequently, the role the U.S. should play in the reconstruction of Libya is one of the essential debates in the US-Libyan relations.
The U.S. government has declared that their help should be focused in offering Libyans tools to create a stable government, and not just direct military intervention or establishment of puppet regimes. Furthermore, the American diplomatic presence in the region is intended to be a platform to open dialogue with Libyans, so both sides can work together to create a more prosperous and stable nation.
From this point of view, the CIA presence in Benghazi and the role of the US ambassador was to promote dialogues, not just between the US and Libya but also within Libyan factions, in order to ensure a smooth transition to a democracy.


The devastating attack on the Benghazi consulate illuminated the complexity of the situation in the region and highlighted the need for the US to stay engaged in the Middle-East while balancing diplomacy, security and human rights. The CIA agents present in Benghazi were charged with securing the mission and gathering information on the security and political situation to inform American leadership.
What happened in Benghazi was extremely tragic and heartbreaking, and its repercussions on American foreign policy will be long-lasting. We hope this article was useful in shedding some light into the mysterious events that took place that day.

Categories CIA

Rosemary Harrold is an accomplished writer and researcher who is both passionate and knowledgeable about the world of secret services. She gained an MSc in International Relations in 2017 and has since built on her expertise with numerous publications on intelligence agencies, their practices, and recent developments. Rosemary has been writing about IBM, CIA and FBI activities since then, as well as providing in-depth analysis on intelligence-related topics.

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