TEL AVIV – New information provided to WND by knowledgeable Middle Eastern security sources indicates the U.S. mission and CIA annex in Benghazi were the central headquarters for the coordination of aid to the al-Qaida-saturated rebels fighting in Libya and Syria.
WND was first to report the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi actually served as a meeting place to coordinate aid for rebel-led insurgencies in the Middle East, according to Middle Eastern security officials.
In September, WND also broke the story that assassinated Ambassador Christopher Stevens himself played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Egyptian security officials.
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Now Middle Eastern security sources have further described both the U.S. mission and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi as the main intelligence and planning center for U.S. aid to the rebels that was being coordinated with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Many rebel fighters are openly members of terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.
The new information comes as defense author Tom Ricks made headlines for claiming on Fox News yesterday that the cable news network was hyping the events in Benghazi as a partisan attack on President Obama.
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“I think that Benghazi generally was hyped, by this network especially, and that now that the campaign is over, I think he's backing off a little bit,” said Ricks.
The author was referring to Sen. John McCain’s opposition to the possible promotion of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to secretary of state.
Echoing attacks from the progressive activist group Media Matters for America, Ricks went on claim Fox News was “operating as a wing of Republican Party.”
While Ricks defended Rice during his brief segment on Fox yesterday, WND reported last week the U.N. representative may have deliberately misled the public when she went on television news shows and called the facility that had been targeted a “consulate.”
Did White House expose another Rice lie?
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Much of the media attention and political criticism has been focused on Rice’s other statements immediately after the Benghazi attacks, primarily her blaming an obscure YouTube video vilifying the Islamic figure Muhammad for what she claimed were popular protests outside the U.S. mission.
Video and intelligence evidence has demonstrated there were no popular protests outside the Benghazi facility that day and that the attack was carried out by jihadists.
However, in defending itself against new claims that the White House scrubbed the CIA’s initial intelligence assessment on the Benghazi attacks of references to al-Qaida, Obama administration officials might have unintentionally implicated themselves in another, until now, unnoticed scandal, WND has learned.
Earlier this month, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes contended the White House made only small, factual edits to the CIA’s intelligence assessment, referring to one edit in particular.
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“We were provided with points by the intelligence community that represented their assessment,” Rhodes said aboard Air Force One en route to Asia. “The only edit made by the White House was the factual edit about how to refer to the facility.”
Rhodes said the White House and State Department changed a reference in the CIA report from “consulate” to “diplomatic facility.”
“Other than that, we were guided by the points that were provided by the intelligence community. So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made.”
Further, Politico reported Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was adamant that the White House only changed the reference to the Benghazi facility.
“There was only one thing that was changed … and that was, the word ‘consulate’ was changed to ‘mission,’” Feinstein said. “That’s the only change that anyone in the White House made, and I have checked this out.”
If the White House intentionally changed the reference to the Benghazi facility from a “consulate” to a “mission,” why did Rice repeatedly refer to the facility as a “consulate” when she engaged in a media blitz in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack?
In a Sept. 16 interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Rice twice labeled the facility a “consulate.”
In a subsequent interview on CBS’s “This Morning,” she again referred to the facility as a “consulate.”
This is what Benghazi ‘consulate’ really was
The Benghazi facility was not a “consulate.”
Instead the U.S. diplomatic mission served as a meeting place to coordinate aid for the jihadists fighting insurgencies in the Middle East, according to Middle Eastern security officials.
Among the tasks performed inside the building was collaborating with Arab countries on the recruitment of fighters – including jihadists – to target Assad’s regime in Syria.
The distinction may help explain why there was no major public security presence at what has been described as a “consulate.” Such a presence would draw attention to the shabby, nondescript building that was allegedly used for such sensitive purposes.
Since the mission was attacked, countless news media reports around the world have referred to the obscure post as a U.S. consulate. That theme continues to permeate the media, with articles daily referencing a “consulate” in Benghazi.
A consulate typically refers to the building that officially houses a consul, the official representatives of the government of one state in the territory of another. The U.S. consul in Libya, Jenny Cordell, works out of the embassy in Tripoli.
Consulates at times function as junior embassies, providing services related to issuance of visas, passports and citizen information.
On Aug. 26, about two weeks before his was killed, U.S. Ambassador Stevens attended a ceremony marking the opening of consular services at the Tripoli embassy.
“I’m happy to announce that starting on Monday, August 27, we are ready to offer a full range of consular services to Libyans,” stated Stevens at the ceremony in Tripoli. “This means non-immigrant visas, as well as assistance to Americans residing in, or visiting, Libya.”
The main role of a consulate is to foster trade with the host nation and care for its own citizens who are traveling or living there.
Diplomatic missions, on the other hand, maintain a more general role. A diplomatic mission is simply a group of people from one state or an international inter-governmental organization present in another state to represent matters of the sending state or organization in the receiving state.
The State Department website lists no consulate in Benghazi.
According to Middle Eastern security officials speaking to WND, the so-called consulate was more of a diplomatic meeting place for U.S. officials, including Stevens.
The security officials divulged the building was routinely used by Stevens and others to coordinate with the Turkish, Saudi and Qatari governments on supporting the insurgencies in the Middle East, most prominently the rebels opposing Assad’s regime in Syria.
Last month, the State Department gave a vivid account of Stevens’ final day during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It was disclosed that about an hour before the attack began, Stevens concluded his final meeting of the day with a Turkish diplomat. Turkey has been leading the insurgency against Assad’s regime.
In September, WND reported that Stevens played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Egyptian security officials.
Stevens served as a key contact with the Saudis to coordinate the recruitment by Saudi Arabia of Islamic fighters from North Africa and Libya. The jihadists were sent to Syria via Turkey to attack Assad’s forces, said the security officials.
The officials said Stevens also worked with the Saudis to send names of potential jihadi recruits to U.S. security organizations for review. Names found to be directly involved in previous attacks against the U.S., including in Iraq and Afghanistan, were ultimately not recruited by the Saudis to fight in Syria, said the officials.
Three other Americans were killed with Stevens in the Sept. 11 attack.
One witness to the mob scene in Libya said some of the gunmen attacking the U.S. installation had identified themselves as members of Ansar al-Shariah, which represents al-Qaida in Yemen and Libya.
The al-Qaida offshoot released a statement denying its members were behind the deadly attack, but a man identified as a leader of the Ansar brigade told Al Jazeera the group indeed took part in the Benghazi attack.
Al-Qaida among U.S.-supported rebels
As WND reported, questions remain about the nature of U.S. support for the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, including reports the U.S.-aided rebels that toppled Muammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya consisted of al-Qaida and jihad groups. The U.S. provided direct assistance, including weapons and finances, to the Libyan rebels.
Similarly, the Obama administration is currently aiding the rebels fighting Assad’s regime in Syria amid widespread reports that al-Qaida jihadists are included in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army. Earlier this month, Obama announced $50 million more in aid to the Syrian rebels.
During the revolution against Gadhafi’s regime, the U.S. admitted to directly arming the rebel groups.
At the time, rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi admitted in an interview that a significant number of the Libyan rebels were al-Qaida fighters, many of whom had fought U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but he added that the “members of al-Qaida are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader.”
Adm. James Stavridis, NATO supreme commander for Europe, admitted Libya’s rebel force may include al-Qaida: “We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al-Qaida, Hezbollah.”
Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel went even further, telling the Hindustan Times: “There is no question that al-Qaida’s Libyan franchise, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is a part of the opposition. It has always been Gadhafi’s biggest enemy and its stronghold is Benghazi. What is unclear is how much of the opposition is al-Qaida/Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – 2 percent or 80 percent.”
In Syria, meanwhile, the U.S. may be currently supporting al-Qaida and other jihadists fighting with the rebels targeting Assad’s regime.
In August, WND quoted a senior Syrian source claiming at least 500 hardcore mujahedeen from Afghanistan, many of whom were spearheading efforts to fight the U.S. there, were killed in clashes with Syrian forces last month.
Also in September, WND reported Jihadiya Salafia in the Gaza Strip, a group that represents al-Qaida in the coastal territory, had declared three days of mourning for its own jihadists who died in Syria in recent weeks.
There have been widespread reports of al-Qaida members among the Syrian rebels, including in reports by Reuters and the New York Times.
WND reported in May there was growing collaboration between the Syrian opposition and al-Qaida as well as evidence the opposition is sending weapons to jihadists in Iraq, according to an Egyptian security official.
The military official told WND that Egypt has reports of collaboration between the Syrian opposition and three al-Qaida arms, including one the operates in Libya:
- Jund al-Sham, which is made up of al-Qaida militants who are Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese;
- Jund al-Islam, which in recent years merged with Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group of Sunni Iraqis operating under the al-Qaida banner and operating in Yemen and Libya;
- Jund Ansar al-Allah, an al-Qaida group based in Gaza linked to Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria.
U.S. officials have stated the White House is providing nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels while widespread reports have claimed the U.S. has been working with Arab countries to ensure the opposition in Syria is well armed.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.