Eli Lake is reporting at the Daily Beast that President Obama is delaying action against the perpetrators of Ambassador Chris Stevens assassination and that this is jeopardizing any mission that would be undertaken due to the short shelf life of specific intelligence we have on the attack.
The delay from the White House could allow specific intelligence on the locations of suspects to whither on the vine if the suspects flee the country and evade detection, according to three U.S. intelligence officials working closely on the manhunt in Libya. A list of so-called high-value targets is now residing at a Pentagon office responsible for contingency special-operations planning, according to two of those U.S. intelligence officials.
The existence of the list was first reported this week by The New York Times. It was compiled with input from several U.S. intelligence agencies and is being constantly revised and edited as new information comes in to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Some U.S. intelligence officials say there is enough detail to begin military operations to kill or capture 10 of the operatives tied to the planning of the attack.
“These targets are believed to be located throughout Libya,” one U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast. Another senior U.S. defense official acknowledged that some of the early intelligence could lose its value if there is too much delay. But this official also said there were risks in acting too quickly. “There is always the risk of flight in a situation like this,” this official said. “But it’s probably worth doing right and waiting a bit and trying to get more intel on these guys. You have to worry about relationships. If you do the wrong thing, the ramifications could be serious.” The U.S. intelligence officer said the information on the 10 suspects was “good enough to authorize action if this was Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
What’s the holdup? The Libyan government has apparently not given us a green light to use drones to attack the terrorists as we successfully do in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Plus, any attack might be seen as an election year gambit, although why that would cause a delay in our attacking is unknown. This is hardly a “wag the dog” scenario in that it would involve a small number of special operators and/or unmanned drones. The political consideration shouldn’t even be mentioned.
The Pentagon has special forces assets in place to begin carrying out a mission to take down the terrorists. “At this point, the capabilities are in place,” one U.S. intelligence officer said. “The holdup is in Washington.”
The other option would be to allow law enforcement — specifically the FBI — to bring the terrorists to justice. The Bureau is not getting much cooperation from authorities in Benghazi which may be clouding the overall picture. A drone strike or special ops mission might rile the new Libyan government, making it harder to work with them on preventing Islamists from gaining a bigger foothold in the country.
Whatever the president decides, he has to do it quickly or the terrorists who murdered our ambassador will disperse.