Decision to evacuate eastern Libya divides US Intelligence Community

US consulate in Benghazi, LibyaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
On September 12, just hours after heavily armed militia groups stormed the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Washington made the decision to pull out its diplomats and intelligence officers from Eastern Libya. As US government envoys, spies and contractors started arriving at the Benina International Airport in Benghazi, many Libyans noted the “surprisingly large number” of Americans that came out of the woodwork. According to reports, at least a dozen of the American evacuees were in fact Central Intelligence Agency personnel. Their evacuation, which has essentially ended the presence of the CIA in eastern Libya’s most important city, is dividing the US Intelligence Community. On the one hand, some US intelligence insiders argue that the attack on the US consulate, which killed four US personnel, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, necessitated the decision to evacuate. A number of former US government officials told The Los Angeles Times this week that the evacuation was “justified, given the dangers in Benghazi” for US personnel. Another current official told The New York Times that the evacuation of the CIA station in Benghazi does not necessarily mean that the US has lost its intelligence collection capabilities in eastern Libya. Washington can still intercept telephone calls and emails and conduct satellite reconnaissance in the North African region, said the official. Others, however, leveled sharp criticism against the decision of the White House to evacuate its diplomats and spies from Benghazi, arguing that the move marked “a major setback in [US] intelligence-gathering efforts” in the country. Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with decades of experience in the Middle East, called the move “disastrous for US intelligence-gathering capabilities”. Writing in Time magazine, Baer said that shutting down the CIA station in Benghazi would make it “almost impossible to collect good human intelligence” in the region, and described the move as a sign of “America’s declining position” there. A US official, who has served in Libya told The New York Times on condition of anonymity that the evacuation of CIA personnel from Benghazi was “ a catastrophic intelligence loss” for Washington. The same article hosts another comment, from an unnamed former CIA station chief with significant experience in the Middle East, who said that the decision to shut down the CIA station in Benghazi was “really disgraceful. Why spend billions of dollars a year on the intelligence service”, he said, only to “run away right at the moment when you most need intelligence?”. Both newspapers contacted the CIA, Department of State, and the White House, but all refused comment on the subject.

9 Responses to Decision to evacuate eastern Libya divides US Intelligence Community

  1. Kidd says:

    guess the intel will have to come second hand from the outfits still in country. “oh sire, can we borrow a cup of intel”? may be they left a few deep covers , just to throw off the posse .

  2. Kidd says:

    i meant to say, that the crew that left, was a ruse for the deep deep covers hidden away never to be suspect . hopefully .

  3. There will always be collectors of intel (employees of one of our agencies and employees of friendly agenices from other countries) on the ground in Libya. They were there when Libya was hostile to us. They were there when Libya was being welcomed back onto the world stage as a civil society project, and they will still be there no matter what events transpire in the future

  4. Montauk says:

    I am going with the Kidd on this one. A bit of deception to lower their guard, so to speak.

  5. Natasha says:

    Reports of the public departure of perhaps 12 CIA Officers (and presumably less public NATO colleagues) (presumably officially known to Libyan authorities (they certainly would be now)) may well have no intel functional significance concerning the US humint – broader NATO humint – or local Libyan humint effort or to anyone’s overall intel effort.

    Politically the withdrawal of US employees (including CIA) may signify that the US wants to be seen as being Careful This Time. That is the the US wishes to avoid anything looking like a rerun of a creeping or rapid buildup in intel/military that would conduct counterinsurgencies. Thats the US and probaly other NATO wishing to avoid prolonged shedding of US/NATO blood, vastly more local Muslim deaths, and waste of “treasure” in Iraq, the broader Mid East and Af-Pak.

    The US may wisely be exploring ways NOT to attract jihadis/AQ to Libya.

    The permanent/temporary(?) withdrawal may also signify that Libyan Government military, police and internal security (Libyan FBI like) forces are capable of keeping order without massive US/NATO help.

    Pete and Natty

  6. Natasha says:

    Whoops! Concerning our comment above of “September 28, 2012 at 03:38”

    We hereby correct “Pete and Natty” ‘s is should be to .

    And a big thankyou to FBI for some unofficial temporary use of one of FBI’s official links – we’ll avoid that from now on.

    Pete and Natty

  7. Tom says:

    I think I read somewhere that French special forces were operating in Libya. In this particular case, after the Libyans have done such a better job at cracking down on militias than we have, the fact that their president and prime minister are former American citizens (at least the prime minister), and the pro-U.S. rallies have been so inspiring, I really hope that it’s some kind of “deception” strategy. I’m astonished that the Libyans were calling this a terrorist attack before we were. The administration’s failure to do more here, where we can “restart” our relationship with Islamic countries, and continue messing around in wars of attrition like the Syria conflict is saddening. And the President’s failure to more effectively give them credit is truly disgraceful. I mean, how many times have we seen such displays of pro-US sentiments in MENA/North Africa? This looks to me like a country and a people to whom we have little, if anything, to apologize for.

    I’m not saying we should send in a huge force. But I do think that Libya means more to U.S. interests that some sorts of advisers along the lines of what this President is doing in other parts of Africa are more than appropriate. Question is will we behave? Seems like our covert presence in Libya may have been bigger than what their president and pm expected. I hope there’s more than meets the eye here because if things get worse over there – a country that offers a chance for a rare strategic partnership in the region. But with our marvelous foreign policy over the last ten years, I don’t blame them for distancing themselves from us. This and the past administration, with all their “democracy promotion, have gone beyond the height of foreign policy incompetence!

  8. Tata Soria says:

    If your article is substanciated by hard intel and relibale sources it seems to be the expected objetive of the assassins and those behind them. Friendly fire?

  9. intelNews says:

    @Tom: The French government is of course denying it, but there is little question in the mind of many observers that there is heavy French intelligence presence on the ground in Libya. The country, like others in the region, is basically a mosaic of different tribes, whose allegiances tend to change frequently, according to many unpredictable parameters. My feeling is that the White House currently has its eyes squarely on the Iran/Israel imbroglio, and is not interested at this point in starting yet another fire in the Muslim world. This is not to say that this is necessarily the correct strategy –I am simply stating what I think the White House is thinking in relation to Libya. Thanks for posting. [JF]

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