Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was "surprised" by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's sworn testimony in a Senate hearing in which she claimed that she did not know whether the U.S. mission in Libya was procuring or transferring weapons to Turkey and other Arab countries.
It was Paul who asked Clinton the question during the hearings. His inquiry focused on alleged weapons shipments out of Benghazi to arm the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Speaking on "Aaron Klein Investigative Radio" on New York's WABC Radio, Paul was reacting to Clinton's testimony in light of a New York Times report last month that claimed that since early 2012, the CIA has been helping Arab governments and Turkey obtain and ship weapons to the Syrian rebels.
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The plan mirrors one the Times reported in February as being proposed by Clinton herself. The Times described Clinton as one of the driving forces advocating for arming the Syrian rebels via Turkish and Arab cut outs.
The New York Times reported Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus had concocted the plan, which called for vetting rebels and arming Syrian fighters with the assistance of Arab countries.
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If Clinton knew about the arms transfers, she may have committed perjury during her Benghazi testimony.
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Any training or arming of the Syrian rebels would be considered highly controversial. A major issue is the inclusion of jihadists, including al-Qaida, among the ranks of the Free Syrian Army and other Syrian opposition groups.
Paul further charged during the radio interview that the alleged weapons shipments "may have something to do with" why the U.S. mission in Benghazi was attacked last September.
Regarding Clinton's testimony, Paul stated: "I was surprised that she acted as if she never even heard of the whole concept of arms coming out of Libya through Turkey … since it had been reported in several mainstream media sources that this has been going on. So I was quite surprised that she acted as if she had never heard of any of this, because some of the reports said that she has been arguing for this."
Paul said many public and government officials "keep this sort of veil of deniability, and the reason they can deny it is, well, maybe the U.S. wasn't actually buying and transferring the arms.
"Maybe we were facilitating it. Simply coordinating with Turkish people who were doing it and they can simply try to stand by and say, 'Well, no, we didn't do it, the Turks did it.' But in reality a lot of this may have involved our involvement."
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In the hearings over the Obama administration's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Clinton claimed to Paul that she did not know whether the U.S. was helping Turkey and other Arab countries in procure weapons.
Paul asked Clinton: "Is the U. S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?"
"To Turkey?" Clinton asked. "I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me."
Continued Paul: "It's been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that may have weapons, and what I'd like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?"
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Clinton replied: "Well, Senator, you'll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. I will see what information is available."
"You're saying you don't know?" asked Paul.
"I do not know," Clinton said. "I don't have any information on that."
See Hillary Clinton's exchange with Sen. Rand Paul:
Clinton's claims seem now to be unraveling. Her possible role in concocting the weapons transfer plan also now prompts a second look at the perplexing security decisions made by Clinton and other top Obama administration officials the night of the Benghazi attacks.
One of those key decisions reportedly delayed an investigative FBI team from arriving at the Benghazi site for 24 days. The site was widely reported to have contained classified documents.
Now, a closer reading of two separate reports from the New York Times paints a picture of Clinton as the leader of the plan to arm Syrian rebels.
Confirming WND's exclusive reporting for over a year, the New York Times last week reported that since early 2012, the CIA has been aiding the Arab governments and Turkey in shopping for and transporting weapons to the Syrian rebels.
Middle Eastern security officials speaking to WND since last year describe the U.S. mission in Benghazi and nearby CIA annex attacked last September as an intelligence and planning center for U.S. aid to the rebels in the Middle East, particularly those fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The aid, the sources stated, included weapons shipments and was being coordinated with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
(Listen to full interview of Rand Paul on WABC's Aaron Klein investigative Radio.)
Speaking on Klein's show, Paul charged the alleged weapons transfers may have been a reason for the attacks on the U.S. Benghazi facilities.
He said of the alleged shipments, "First of all, with regard to Benghazi I think it's important because it may have something to do with why the compound was attacked if we were involved with shipping guns to Turkey."
Paul said "there was a report that a ship left from Libya towards Turkey and that there were arms on it.
"In the weeks preceding this there were reports that our ambassador was meeting with the Turkish attaché. So I think with regards to figuring out what happened at Benghazi it is very important to know whether or not the CIA annex had anything to do with facilitating guns being sent to Turkey and ultimately to Syria."
Clinton snagged in Benghazi cover-up?
A comparison of the Clinton plan to arms the rebels, as first reported by the Times in February, and last month's Times report of American-aided shipments to the rebels since last year makes clear the Clinton plan was apparently put into action.
The Times reported in February that the idea of the Clinton plan was to "vet the rebel groups and train fighters, who would be supplied with weapons."
Last month, the Times reported that since at least November 2012, the U.S. has been helping "the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive."
The earlier Times article described Clinton as having instincts that were "often more activist than those of a White House that has kept a tight grip on foreign policy."
In an administration often faulted for its timidity abroad, "Clinton wanted to lead from the front, not from behind," Vali R. Nasr, a former State Department adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Times.
Middle Eastern security officials speaking to WND have said U.S.-aided weapons shipments go back more than a year, escalating before the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi.
Last month, WND reported Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. stated in interview with Fox News that murdered U.S Ambassador Christopher Stevens was in Benghazi to keep weapons caches from falling into the hands of terrorists. Until that point, no official explanation for Stevens deployment to Libya has acknowledged any such activity.
Clinton's perplexing security decisions
Meanwhile, the New York Times reporting on how the plan for arming the rebels was put into action has prompted major questions about the role Clinton played in the U.S. response to the Benghazi attacks, assaults against the very facilities where the arms-to-rebels scheme was allegedly being coordinated.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed to Fox News in November that Clinton herself worked on the immediate U.S. response to Benghazi.
"The most senior people in government worked on this issue from the minute it happened," he said.
"That includes the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, secretary of state, national security adviser, et cetera. Additionally, the Deputies Committee – the second in command at the relevant national security agencies – met at least once and more often twice a day to manage the issue."
One of the key decisions by Clinton's State Department that has perplexed many security experts was the determination not to deploy an interagency rapid response unit designed to respond to terrorist attacks known as a Foreign Emergency Support Team, or FEST.
FEST teams previously deployed immediately after al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000. But they were not used for Benghazi, confounding insiders speaking to the news media
Counterterrorism officials told Fox News in November that the FEST teams could have helped the FBI gain access to the site in Benghazi faster. It ultimately took the FBI 24 days.
The site reportedly contained a large volume of classified documents related to the activities of the Benghazi facilities.
Further, during the night of the attack, top counter terror officials felt out of the loop, according to emails shared with both Fox News and CBS News in November.
Counterterrorism sources and internal emails reviewed by CBS News expressed frustration that key responders were ready to deploy but were not called upon to help in the attack.
Besides strangely not deploying FEST, the Counterterrorism Security Group, or CSG, was never asked to meet the night of the attack or in subsequent days, according to two separate counterterrorism officials, as first reported by CBS News.
The CSG is composed of experts on terrorism from across government agencies and makes recommendations to the deputies who assist the president's Cabinet in formulating a response to crises involving terrorism.
It is likely that the CSG task force, if contacted, would have recommended FEST aid, according to CBS.
CBS reported the lack of coordination with the Counterterrorism Security Group made the response to the Benghazi crisis still more confused.
One official told CBS News the FBI received a call during the attack representing Clinton and requesting agents be deployed. But he and his colleagues explained the call was just a gesture and could not be implemented.
He said his colleagues at the FBI agreed the agents "would not make any difference without security and other enablers to get them in the country and synch their efforts with military and diplomatic efforts to maximize their success."
Days after the Benghazi attack, WND broke the story that Ambassador Stevens himself played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Assad's regime in Syria, according to Egyptian and other Middle Eastern 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.
The latest New York Times report has bolstered WND's reporting, citing air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders describing how the CIA has been working with Arab governments and Turkey to sharply increase arms shipments to Syrian rebels in recent months.
The Times reported that the weapons airlifts began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanding into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows.
The Times further revealed that from offices at "secret locations," American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia. They have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive.
The CIA declined to comment to the Times on the shipments or its role in them.
The Times quoted a former American official as saying that David H. Petraeus, the CIA director until November, had been instrumental in helping set up an aviation network to fly in the weapons. The paper said Petraeus had prodded various countries to work together on the plan.
Petraeus did not return multiple emails from the Times asking for comment.
Both WND's reporting, which first revealed the U.S.-coordinated arms shipments, and the Times reporting starkly contrast with statements from top U.S. officials who have denied aiding the supply of weapons to the rebels.
It's not the first time WND's original investigative reporting on U.S. support for the Syrian rebels was later confirmed by reporting in major media outlets. Other WND reporting indicates support for the Syrian rebels that goes beyond supplying arms, painting a larger picture of U.S. involvement in the Middle East revolutions.
A story by the German weekly Der Spiegel earlier this month reporting the U.S. is training Syrian rebels in Jordan was exclusively exposed by WND 14 months ago.
Quoting what it said were training participants and organizers, Der Spiegel reported it was not clear whether the Americans worked for private firms or were with the U.S. Army, but the magazine said some organizers wore uniforms.
The training in Jordan reportedly focused on use of anti-tank weaponry.
The German magazine reported some 200 men received the training over the previous three months amid U.S. plans to train a total of 1,200 members of the Free Syrian Army in two camps in the south and the east of Jordan.
Britain's Guardian newspaper also reported U.S. trainers were aiding Syrian rebels in Jordan along with British and French instructors.
Reuters reported a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department declined immediate comment on the Der Spiegel report. The French foreign ministry and Britain's foreign and defense ministries also would not comment to Reuters.
While Der Spiegel quoted sources discussing training of the rebels in Jordan over the last three months, WND was first to report the training as far back as February 2012.
At the time, WND quoted knowledgeable Egyptian and Arab security officials claimed the U.S., Turkey and Jordan were running a training base for the Syrian rebels in the Jordanian town of Safawi in the country's northern desert region.