CIA SECRETS IN BENGHAZI
The CIA is closely watching the unfolding federal prosecution of the ringleader of the Sept. 12, 2012, terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi over concerns that the case will lead to the disclosure of one of the enduring secrets of the Benghazi affair: a covert CIA operation in the city.
The superseding indictment released Tuesday adds charges to the case against Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Benghazi leader of the al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Shariah, for the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens.
According to the new indictment, the terrorist plot was organized because Mr. Khattala thought the diplomatic compound was being used to gather intelligence, a practice he regarded as illegal.
After 20 armed men attacked the compound and burned it, the intruders stole computers revealing the location of the CIA annex in Benghazi. The group then went to an Ansar al-Shariah camp in Benghazi and attacked the annex on Sept. 12.
Count 15 of the new indictment specifies that the terrorists destroyed the annex and during the raid killed CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
By including the annex in the indictment, the Justice Department faces the prospect of having to disclose the CIA activities that took place in Benghazi — if the case goes to trial.
Legal observers say convictions of the new charges could result in the death penalty, so prosecutors may be calculating that Mr. Khattala will seek a plea bargain that will avoid a trial and thus forestall damaging intelligence disclosures about the CIA operations.
Avoiding an open-court explanation of the CIA operation would be nearly impossible during a trial because the indictment states that Mr. Khattala’s primary motivation for the attack was countering U.S. intelligence activities in Benghazi.
A former senior intelligence official close to the CIA said the annex was operating under a March 2011 presidential intelligence “finding” that authorized the agency to conduct a covert action program to train and arm Libyans opposing strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
The former official said investigators looking into the Benghazi affair likely will discover that some of the weapons used in the Sept. 11 attack were supplied to rebels during the CIA operation.
Despite numerous U.S. government inquiries on Benghazi, details of the CIA operation there have not been disclosed.
During a Senate hearing on Jan. 23, 2013, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton whether the U.S. government used the annex for the “procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya.” Mrs. Clinton told him to ask the agency that operated the annex.