Hillary Clinton's team and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta may be misleading the public about a 2012 plan they reportedly concocted to arm the Syrian rebels.
Bill Clinton and Panetta both claimed this week the plan was not implemented when it was first presented to Obama in a 2012 meeting. In the meeting, Hillary Clinton, Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus and the joint chiefs chairman all expressed support for covertly arming the Syrian rebels.
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However, a recently released book documents the Clinton-Petraeus-Panetta plan was indeed covertly implemented more than two years ago and was one of the central activities transpiring at the attacked U.S. special mission in Benghazi.
In "The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know," New York Times bestselling author, radio host and reporter Aaron Klein documents the Clinton-Petraeus-Panetta plan was put into action.
Klein cites evidence the U.S. special mission in Benghazi and the nearby CIA annex were utilized, in part, to coordinate arms shipments to the jihadist rebels fighting the Syrian regime, with Ambassador Christopher Stevens playing a central role.
The activities, which included a separate, unprecedented multi-million-dollar weapons collection effort from Libyan militias who did not want to give up their weapons, may have prompted the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, charges the new book.
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Klein asserts the arms-to-rebels scheme that ran through Benghazi "might amount to the Fast and Furious of the Middle East, the Iran-Contra of the Obama administration."
A key issue is that until the end of April 2013, the White House had repeatedly denied it was involved in helping to arm the Syrian rebels
In an interview on CNN Sunday, Bill Clinton noted he supported the 2012 plan by his wife, Panetta and then-CIA Director David Petraeus to arm the Syrian rebels.
Bill Clinton claimed the plan was overruled by Obama over concern that U.S. weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
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That claim was echoed by Panetta, who said during an interview on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" this week that he was in support of arming the moderate Syrian rebels in 2012 but the plan was never put into action.
"I think that would've helped," Panetta said. "And I think, in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS."
CBS News reported Panetta writes in his forthcoming book, "Worthy Fights," that the plan was delivered to Obama in a 2012 meeting by himself, Clinton and other top officials.
However, in "The REAL Benghazi Story," Klein cites evidence of arms transfers throughout the summer of 2012, escalating with a major shipment from Libya to Turkey just days prior to the Sept. 11 attack.
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The book finds members of the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist organization, may have been used as cut outs to aid in the weapons transfers to Syrian rebels.
Perplexingly, armed members of the Martyrs Brigade were hired by the State Department to provide internal "security" at the U.S. special mission.
Indeed, on Aug. 1, 2012, Reuters first reported Obama signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for the Syrian rebels.
Reuters reported Obama's order was approved earlier in 2012 and "broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad."
The news agency reported the order facilitated U.S. collaboration with a "secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies."
The news agency quoted a U.S. source saying the White House was stopping short of providing lethal aid to the rebels "even as some U.S. allies do just that."
Klein documents the U.S. utilized Arab allies to ship weapons to the Syrian rebels in 2012.
Stevens an 'arms dealer'?
According to information cited by Klein, Stevens served less as a diplomat and more as an arms dealer and intelligence coordinator for assistance to the so-called Arab Spring, with particular emphasis on the Syrian rebels.
As was widely reported, Stevens originally arrived in Libya during the revolution aboard a Greek cargo ship carrying equipment and vehicles. His original task in Libya was to serve as the main interlocutor between the Obama administration and the rebels based in Benghazi. Stevens never abandoned that role, even after becoming ambassador, according to Klein.
Indeed, the New York Times reported in December 2012 that Stevens himself facilitated an application to the State Department for the sale of weapons filed by one Marc Turi, whom the Times' describes as an "American arms merchant who had sought to provide weapons to Libya."
The Times reported Turi's first application was rejected in March 2011 but was approved two months later after he stated "only that he planned to ship arms worth more than $200 million to Qatar." Qatar was Turkey's partner in aiding the Syrian rebels.
Klein notes the Times did not question why a U.S. ambassador would help facilitate government applications for arms dealers. Nor did the Times bother to investigate the possible connection of those activities to the Benghazi attack.
Continued Klein: "After all, it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to divine a possible link to the Benghazi assaults amid reports of Stevens supporting a weapons dealer's application while American intelligence officers hiding in 'secret locations' were helping Arab governments shop for weapons to be sent to Mideast rebels, including some of the same groups linked to the September 11, 2012 attacks."
Klein points out Stevens' final meeting was with a diplomat from Turkey, which was one of the main backers of the Syrian rebels.
Arms to jihadists
Klein's statement about U.S. intelligence officers aiding weapons shipments from "secret locations" is a reference to the larger arms-to-rebels pipeline that is thoroughly documented in the book.
The story began prior to the establishment of the U.S. mission in Benghazi, when the U.S. and NATO supported Arab airlifts of aid to the rebels who eventually toppled Libya's Muammar Gadhafi.
The Obama administration's "Arab Spring" adventures pivoted westward, reports Klein, when the CIA started helping Arab governments and Turkey obtain and ship weapons to the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.
The New York Times reported March 25, 2013, that the covert aid to the Syrian rebels started on a small scale and continued intermittently through the fall of 2012, expanding into a steady and much heavier flow later that year, including a large procurement from Croatia.
However, Klein cites sources saying the airlifts actually began several months before the fall of 2012, including a massive arm shipment from Benghazi to the Syrian rebels in August 2012 days before the Benghazi attack. That massive weapons shipment departed the port in Benghazi and arrived in early September at the Turkish port of Iskenderun, 35 miles from the Syrian border, purportedly to deliver humanitarian aid.
The Times, meanwhile, reported that from offices at "secret locations," American intelligence officers "helped the Arab governments shop for weapons … and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive."
Jihadist cut outs
The exact nature of the U.S. involvement with the February 17 Brigade that guarded the U.S. special mission might have been unintentionally exposed when a Libyan weapons dealer formerly with the Brigade told Reuters in an in-person interview he had helped ship weapons from Benghazi to the rebels fighting in Syria.
Klein noted that no one seems to have connected the dots from what the weapons dealer said to the activities taking place inside the Benghazi compound and whether the Brigade serves as a cut out to ship weapons.
In the Reuters interview published June 18, 2013, Libyan warlord Abdul Basit Haroun declared he is behind some of the biggest shipments of weapons from Libya to Syria. Most of the weapons were sent to Turkey, he said, where they were, in turn, smuggled into neighboring Syria.
Ismail Salabi, a commander of the February 17 Brigade, told Reuters Haroun was a member of the brigade until he quit to form a group of his own.
Haroun told Reuters his weapons-smuggling operation was run with an associate, who helped him coordinate about a dozen people in Libyan cities collecting weapons for Syria.
Besides arming the Syrian rebels, Klein documents that from the U.S. mission and CIA annex, American agents ran an unprecedented multi-million-dollar U.S. effort to secure anti-aircraft weapons in Libya after the fall of Gadhafi's regime.
The weapons-collection effort may go a long way to explain the motive behind the Benghazi attack. The various jihadist organizations that looted Gaddafi's MANPAD reserves and the rebel groups that received weapons during the NATO campaign in Libya would feel threatened by an American effort to try to retrieve the weapons.
In March 2013, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., connected Stevens to that effort. He told Fox News Stevens was in the Libyan city to keep weapons caches from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Previously, one source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi the very night of the attack "to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists."
In August 2013, CNN reported there was speculation on Capitol Hill that U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi "were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels."
In "The REAL Benghazi Story," Klein fully exposes the extent of the weapons-collection effort, that took place in Benghazi, where a leading U.S. expert was deployed.
Klein relates then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton committed to providing $40 million to assist Libya's efforts to secure and recover its weapons stockpiles. Of that funding, $3 million went to unspecified nongovernmental organizations that specialize in conventional weapons destruction and stockpile security.
The NGOs and a U.S. team coordinated all efforts with Libya's Transitional National Council, or TNC. The U.S. team was led by Mark Adams, a State Department expert from the MANPADS Task Force.
Klein cites Andrew J. Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, who conceded that the Western-backed rebels did not want to give up the weapons, particularly Man-Portable-Air-Defense-Systems, or MANPADS, which were the focus of the weapons collection efforts.
Breaks new ground on Benghazi
Klein's extensively sourced book breaks news on significant issues related to the Benghazi attack.
A sampling of what the publisher says is contained in the book:
- Everything is covered from the secretive activities transpiring inside the doomed facility to shocking new details about the withholding of critical protection at the U.S. special mission.
- Hillary Clinton's personal role in the Benghazi scandal.
- Information that raises new questions about what really happened to Ambassador Chris Stevens that night.
- Answered for the first time is why the State Department hired armed members of the al-Qaida-linked February 17 Martyrs Brigade to "protect" the facility.
- New reasons are revealed for not sending air support or Special Forces during the assault, while extensively probing jihadist groups behind the attack.
- How Benghazi has implications that go beyond the Sept. 11, 2012, attack and may have created major national security threats we now face, fueling conflicts from Mali to Syria to Gaza and beyond.