Belmont Club

The Secret Annex

“Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans” — Otto von Bismarck.

“Benghazi” is now shorthand for three things.  An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, the coverup of the true events or the scandal of making it a scandal. Mother Jones knows who is guilty of making a big noise of it. David Corn writes, “as Mother Jones revealed last week, Groundswell, the hush-hush right-wing strategy group partly led by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wanted to hype the Benghazi tragedy into a full-fledged scandal for the Obama administration, as part of its “30 front war” on the president and progressives.”

As to muddying the waters around the actual events, the list reads like a who’s-who of Washington. There’s Hillary asking “what difference does it make?” when asked by Congress to explain.

And certainly there’s the CIA which has apparently muzzled all the survivors of the attack and subjected them to regular polygraph checks to make sure they haven’t been talking to Congress.

Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.

Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency’s workings.

The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress.

Then there was the misdirection provided by Susan Rice. She claimed the whole attack was started by a video. And whoever put her up to it expected everyone to believe it too. When poor Mitt Romney failed to buy that unlikely story he was set straight on national TV by Candy Crowley, who jumped into the Presidential debate to correct him.

The men who did the actual burning, or some of them at least, are lounging about Libya. CNN interviewed the actual muscle of the attack, Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is described as the “mastermind” of the attack.  But tagging him the brains of the operation is probably a stretch. The Bengazi CIA facility, we are told by the Telegraph, was really a hub of an arms smuggling operation. Telegraph says CNN will reveal that “a CIA team was working in an annex near the consulate on a project to supply missiles from Libyan armouries to Syrian rebels.” That is altogether above Ahmed Abu Khattala’s pay grade. Besides, he was affiliated with Ansar al Sharia who would be unlikely to  object to arms being supplied to what is roughly their side in Syria, though  as Long War Journal points out, allegiances in that region are a little convoluted.

But in any event, the attack on the consulate itself is unlikely to be the brainchild of a local Benghazi warlord or thug. For one thing it was apparently coordinated with a cover operation in Egypt, where a demonstration occurred inspired by the very video Susan Rice decried, even though no one had likely seen it. From these circumstantial clues, it unlikely to have been planned by Ahmed Abu Khattala, but a regional or great power.

I advanced this hypothesis only a few days after the attack in a post, writing “one of the reasons why the administration clung to the story that an anti-Muslim video sparked the attack for so long was because it could not admit to itself the more catastrophic alternative: that the attacks on the embassies were part of a big counterintelligence operation against the US.”

The biggest possible can of worms would be that the CIA had its “eyes poked out” to prevent it from seeing some dangerous operation that is even now hatching in the intelligence shadow of the ‘Arab Spring’: the possibility that there is something out there which has to be kept secret from US intelligence. How better to do it than to disrupt a major center of US intelligence operations in the area?

So it’s better for the public to think that an unknown video producer was the cause it all. The alternative, explanation: that the enemy intelligence agencies destroyed the CIA’s efforts to recover from the ‘Arab Spring’ and that America is now flying blind in the Middle East would be a hard thing to admit.

I did not imagine that it might involve something possibly much larger: an arms smuggling operation, if that is what it is. Very little has been settled at this point. At this writing it is unclear what actually happened on the night of the attack in Benghazi and who was behind it. In light of the information that has become available since it seems ever more likely that we are glimpsing an exchange between combatants in an unacknowledged secret war, similar to those in the Cold War. During that conflict, a number of brushes between the US and the USSR were minimized or suppressed in order to keep the Cold War “cold”.

Who is the other side? Iran? Russia? Someone else? The obvious difference between the secret battles of the Cold War and whatever happened in Benghazi was that during the Cold War there was a broad national consensus on who the enemy was. Therefore covert operations conducted by US presidents has tacit political legitimacy.

What is fundamentally disturbing about Benghazi, as one friend put it, is that “we are involved in secret wars with secret enemies for secret reasons.” Actually they are  known to Obama. But that is unacceptably narrow to the point of being fundamentally illegitimate. The reason only Congress has the power to declare war is that the voters need to sign off, in at least general terms, on all acts of war or belligerence being committed in their name and funded by their tax dollars.

Andy McCarthy argued the NSA scandal shows the tension between granting the executive great power — which can be abused — and the undoubted need to defend the country.

National security powers are not constitutionally vested in the office of the president on the condition that we trust whoever happens to be the occupant of that office. They are vested unconditionally because they are necessary to protect our lives, liberty and property. If the occupant of the office proves himself unworthy to be so endowed, the remedy is to remove him from office, not to nullify the powers of the office. We need the powers – what we don’t need is him.

The framers were not so naïve as to give us a system that depends on trustworthy politicians (to say nothing of radicals). Instead, they wisely assumed that power is corruptive and thus gave us a system that relies on dividing and dispersing it….

To focus on trust, though, is to focus on the wrong thing. The focus should instead be on separation of powers: Does the framework of program in question divide power so that it is not fully concentrated in the executive branch? Does it give the other branches the authority and motivation to check potential executive abuse?

In McCarthy’s view, the government will always have enough power to establish a tyranny. But what stands between the people and tyranny is checks and balances — the separation of powers. And that is precisely what is being undermined in the Benghazi case. It’s not that President Obama has a policy — that is alright. It is that he is keeping that policy secret even from Congress, let alone the voters.

What is the war? Who is the enemy? What is the reason? Unless these are revealed, at least in general terms, then the biggest scandal of Benghazi is in Washington.

(Readers who wish to suggest a topic for my next book or pamphlet can enter their ideas in the forum of my author’s homepage.)

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