The Road to Benghazi – Operation Zero Footprint
What is it about Benghazi that some of us won’t let go of this story? If I could, I’d ask Woodward and Bernstein what it was that made them hang on to Watergate with the tenacity of two half-starved pit bulls on a bone. I think their answers would be similar to those of us who are still looking for truth of what really happened in Benghazi and why.
Some things never change. Back then the media were brutal in getting to the truth of the Watergate affair- and many of us now have the same fierce determination to see that everything coming to light will be written about.
While my focus lately has been on the developments of ISIS and the terrorists which our own government armed while in Syria, my attention was snapped back to Benghazi when a friend asked me to look into some of the latest information and do a follow up on it, because not enough people are aware of the almost unbelievable covert operation which was known as Operation Zero Footprint.
It never ceases to amaze me after researching so many things about Obama, Clinton and others for so many years how many connections there are to all the things that have been happening in the Middle East. One of the things that stuck out in my mind when I read the article that was sent to me, was that Obama had removed AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham from the Libyan campaign by the time Zero Footprint started. Not only the fact that Obama replaced a trusted Senior Military Commander in Libya, but it reminded me of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, claiming before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7th, 2012 that the US military can take action authorized by the UN or NATO before it is authorized by the US Congress.
Panetta’s testimony makes sense as to why Obama replaced General Ham with NATO Commander Admiral Stavridis, in the 2011 NATO-led operation in Libya. Somewhere between February and March of 2011 Obama signed a presidential directive authorizing the State Department and the CIA to begin a covert operation to arm the Libyan rebels in an attempt similar to what they’ve done in Syria, to aid in the over throw of the nation’s leader.
At the time, news that Obama had given the authorization surfaced as he and other U.S. and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi’s opponents. The United States was part of a coalition, with NATO members and some Arab states, which conducted air strikes on Libyan government forces under a U.N. mandate was supposedly aimed at protecting civilians opposing Gaddafi.
Obama had said the objective was for Gaddafi to “ultimately step down” from power. He spoke of applying “steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means” to force Gaddafi’s regime to fall, and he said in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that “It’s fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We’re looking at all our options at this point.”
I reported last year about claims that Obama and the State Department were working with the CIA as has been speculated by many that the compound in Benghazi was being used as a gun running platform, to arm the rebels in Syria via Turkey, using much of the cache of weapons left from the Gaddafi overthrow. In an interview back on October 31st 2012, with former CIA Operator Clare M. Lopez, she told the reporter that the compound was used for a gun running operation. “They were working with the very same al-Qaeda linked relationships in Libya, to gather up and buy back and collect weapons from Gaddafi’s stock pile that were missing from the revolution in Libya last year and what it looks like is that they were shipping them onwards to Syria.”
People familiar with U.S. intelligence procedures said that a Presidential covert action “findings” are normally created to provide broad authorization for a range of potential U.S. government actions to support covert objectives. In order for specific operations to be carried out under the authorizations, the White House also would have to give additional “permission” allowing such activities to proceed.
In 2009 Obama gave a similar authorization for the expansion of covert U.S. counter-terrorism actions by the CIA in Yemen. One little problem however, sending in weapons would have potentially violated an arms embargo on Libya which the U.N. Security Council had imposed on February 26th, 2011. US along with the French and British believed there was a loophole, and a waiver could be attained if all 15 council members agreed. That said, countries who decided to arm the rebels most likely wouldn’t have sought council approval and instead would carry out possible secret operations in Libya including covert funding, electoral manipulation, arming and training insurgents, and even encouraging a coup. U.S. officials claimed that Saudi Arabia and Qatar had also indicated a willingness to supply Libyan rebels with weapons.
It’s been reported that Qatar in 2010, a year before Operation Zero Footprint, was considered the worst participant in counter terrorism efforts in the whole Middle East according to an article in The Atlantic. Since then, it was reported in a policy analysis of the Washington Institute, this past April, the U.S. State Department noted that private donations from Persian Gulf countries were “a major source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups”, with Qatar and Kuwait singled out as terrorist financing trouble spots.
Back in 2011, Congress wasn’t thrilled with the idea of U.S. government supplying arms and aid to rebels in Libya. This brings us back to the fact that Obama went to NATO instead, and by his handpicked NATO commander, conducted the covert Operation Zero Footprint. Obama was able to bypass congress on funding as well, by allowing the Saudis, UAE and Qatar to help for according to the original article, “officials within the government of Qatar served as the intermediaries for the actual transfer of the weapons, thereby removing the footprint of the U.S. intervention.”
Operation Zero Footprint was coordinated and controlled by the State Department and CIA and was unknown to the 2011 Pentagon and DoD commanders including AFRICOM General Carter Ham.
Leon Panetta was CIA Director at the beginning of Operation Zero Footprint in March 2011, and we know from testimony from Benghazi hearings that Panetta who had since been appointed Secretary of Defense was one who initially briefed Obama on the night the Benghazi attack on September 11th 2012 while knowing of the covert mission in Benghazi. And who was it who broke the news about the unfolding situation in Benghazi to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Not NATO Commander Admiral James G. Stavridis who was in charge but Gen. Carter Ham, who at the time was head of AFRICOM. Transcripts said that he learned about the assault on the consulate compound within 15 minutes of its commencement, at 9:42 p.m. Libya time, through a call he received from the AFRICOM Command Center. Since he was not involved in Operation Zero footprint, Gen. Ham reported that this was a terrorist attack, not a demonstration.
If the White House followed “The Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980” in informing the congressional leaders of Zero Footprint, then those who knew about it would include John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, House Permanent Select Committee on Intel Chairman Mike Rogers, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Senate Intel Chair Diane Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss.
It makes sense as well that those on the receiving end of the weapons, training and aid would also know about the operation. This would include rebel leader Abu Khattalathe Commander of an Islamist militia group 17th Feb Brigade who has since been arrested and brought to the US to face charges in the Benghazi attack.
The CIA’s exact role in Libya was never made clear to the public. Intelligence experts at the time said the CIA would have sent officials to make contact with the opposition and assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces in the event Obama decided to arm them. Last August, I wrote about the CIA and how the agency was going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remained secret after it became known that dozens of CIA operatives were on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attack.
In my article, it was reported that the C.I.A. began building a covert presence in Benghazi in February of 2011, and after Qaddifi’s death and a temporary interim government was in place, the agency had been cooperating with them. The deputy Prime Minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal that he had learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.
Obama administration officials had said that disclosing such information could jeopardize future sensitive government activities and put at risk American personnel working in dangerous settings asked that media not report on CIA activities and in October of 2012, it was reported that news agencies held back on reporting about the CIA operations and involvement at the CIA’s request. The Huffington Post reported that the Benghazi compound had been described as a consulate or diplomatic mission yet it had also been reported that just seven of the more than 30 people evacuated from the city were working for the State Department.
Washington Post National Editor Kevin Merida confirmed getting a request saying, “We agreed to withhold this information because the government argued that publication could endanger American lives and facilities.”
In the article, it was shown how many sources indicated that weapons were being sent from the cache in Libya to Syria, via Turkey. Gunrunning to arm the Syrian rebels who are fighting against the Assad regime explains Christopher Stevens’ presence in Benghazi. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham had said that Stevens was in Benghazi but he claimed it was to keep weapons caches from falling into the hands of terrorists, “because that’s where the action was regarding the rising Islamic extremists who were trying to get their hands on weapons that are flowing freely in Libya… We were desperately trying to control the anti-aircraft missiles, the man pads that were all over Libya, that are now all over the Mideast.”
It was also around that time that Sen. Rand Paul questioned then Sec. of State Hillary Clinton about the possibility of gunrunning and a New York Times piece a few months before about how the CIA had been helping Arab governments and Turkey obtain and ship weapons to the Syrian rebels. Clinton denied knowing about it yet The Times described Clinton as “one of the driving forces advocating for arming the Syrian rebels via Turkish and Arab cut outs.”
In an interview with Greta Van Sustern Hillary Clinton claimed it was she who wanted to help the Syrian rebels when no-one else wanted to and to topple Assad just as they had Gaddafi.
Back to the original article linked from my friend, it’s reported that during March through May 2011 the White House was receiving enough intelligence informing them of exactly who would be the beneficiaries of training and weapons, which identified the Benghazi and Darnah rebels which were affiliates of al-Qaeda.
Operation Zero Footprint was a success as far as getting rid of Momar Gadhafi went however Libya is as it was then, still controlled by Islamist jihadists and the operation has since been deadly for those in Benghazi and also for our forces in Afghanistan.
What this comes down to, is all of those involved- from Obama, Clinton, Panetta and others from the Senate and Congress who knew, knew that this was a U.S. policy decision to arm al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist militias.
Our government has done the same thing in Syria, using weapon caches in Libya among other sources.
Turkey would be used as an intermediary, and the U.S. had Sunni friends in Saudi Arabia -who were more than willing to see Assad removed- and financially assist in arming the Syrians. It was reported in August of last year that Saudi Prince Bandar worked behind the scenes to defeat the Syrian regime and that the CIA believed that Prince Bandar could deliver plenty of money and arms.
Bandar has been one of the most influential deal makers in Washington as Saudi ambassador and had been flying back and forth from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime, according to Arab, American and European officials.
For Obama/Clinton to get weapons to the Syrians, without going through congress, would involve buying back the weapons already floating around from Operation Zero Footprint and redirecting them to Syria through Turkey. Bandar was also involved heavily in talks in the US between Congress and the Obama Administration. The Saudis would be a willing financier if the State Department needed additional money to facilitate the transfers.
By the time Hillary and Chris Stevens were working on support for Syria in the summer of 2012, Jihadists were embedded inside the Free Syrian Army and had three al-Qaida arms operating within it. These are the guys that John McCain visited when he used our Special Forces Operators as body guards and snuck over to Syria for his photo op. These are the same as ISIS who have now carved out a nice portion of Syria and Iraq to establish the beginning Caliphate. Back then I wondered why McCain was so willing to help arm terrorists, but knowing now the friendship between him and Hillary, it’s not surprising that he’d back her on arming them to topple the Assad regime in Syria.
Again, from the original article, “While the ISIS-minded Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Syrian Army were arguing over who gets what from aboard the Turkish vessel, back in Benghazi, Libya it was obvious the ideology of the Syrian factions were too extreme and the CIA could no longer control who would use such weapons.”
Remember the meeting between Ambassador Stevens and Turkish Diplomat Ali Sait Akin on Sept 11th 2012?
As much as speculation was swirling around Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a candidate for the Muslim Caliph, he was actually one of the only leaders who was against the idea of arming the rebels.
We don’t know the conversation between Ali Sait Akin and Ambassador Stevens on September 11th 2012 or whether Akin was asking Stevens to back off arming the terrorists or not. All we know is timeline of the attack which started less than an hour after Akin left, when Stevens along with Sean Smith, and later Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed.
We don’t know all the details of Operation Zero Footprint, but in light of what is known, it answers some questions such as why no CBA was given, why drones were flying over the compound during the attack, filming it in real time while members of the Obama administration watched. Why Marines, Special Forces, Naval ships, F-16s, and Spectre Gunships were all close enough to send aid, but they were told to stand down and why the effort to blame a movie to cover up what really happened and why no Select Committee was formed as soon as it was requested by Rep. Frank Wolf, former Special Operations Forces members and members of the families of the Benghazi four.
It also shows that this operation and what our government is doing now, put our military men and women, our Special Forces who have been still fighting in Afghanistan, along with all Americans in grave danger- by arming the same terrorists we have been at war with. That is treason.