JERUSALEM – In a revealing statement largely overlooked by the media covering Thursday’s House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton essentially implied that Ambassador Chris Stevens was engaged in securing shoulder-fired missiles in Libya.
The dangerous weapons effort may shed light on why the U.S. special mission in Benghazi was attacked Sept. 11, 2012.
The largest terrorist looting of Man-Portable-Air-Defense-Systems, or MANPADS, took place immediately after the U.S.-NATO military campaign strongly pushed by Clinton that helped to end Moammar Gadhafi’s rule in Libya.
Gadhafi had hoarded Africa’s biggest-known reserve of MANPADS, with a stock said to number between 15,000 and 20,000. Many of the missiles were stolen by militias fighting in Libya, including those backed by the U.S. in their anti-Gadhafi efforts. There were reports of a Western effort to secure the MANPADS, including collecting some from rebels in Libya.
In her opening remarks Thursday, Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, surprisingly referenced Stevens and the threat of missiles reaching extremists.
Stated Clinton: “Nobody knew the dangers of Libya better. A weak government, extremist groups, rampant instability. But Chris chose to go to Benghazi because he understood America had to be represented there at that pivotal time.”
Clinton said Stevens “also knew how urgent it was to ensure that the weapons Gadhafi had left strewn across the country, including shoulder-fired missiles that could knock an airplane out of the sky, did not fall into the wrong hands.”
Clinton did not further comment on any role Stevens himself may have had in securing the MANPADS.
Later in her testimony, however, Clinton appeared to have addressed the sensitive nature of Stevens’ work, admitting, “Americans representing different agencies” later came into Libya and carried out “the same work” as Stevens but not overtly.
Clinton apparently was referring to the CIA annex located near the U.S. special mission. She seemed to imply Stevens was involved in efforts beyond the normal diplomatic activities of an ambassador without specifying the nature of the “same work” that both he and other agencies carried out.
Clinton said the State Department relied heavily on “Chris to guide us and give us the information from the ground.”
“We had no other sources. You know, there was no American outpost,” she said.
She continued: “There was no, you know, American military presence. Eventually, other Americans representing different agencies were able to get into Benghazi and begin to do the same work, but they, of course, couldn’t do that work overtly, which is why we wanted a diplomat who could be publicly meeting with people to try to get the best assessment.”
Benghazi attackers had MANPADS?
As WND reported, a Department of Defense document declassified in May as part of a Judicial Watch lawsuit and dated one day after the attack said the group thought by the Pentagon to have been behind the Benghazi attack was in possession of a large cache of “SA-7 and SA-23/4 MANPADS” as well as other missiles “over two meters in length.”
The five-page document stated the “attack was planned ten or more days prior on approximately 01 September 2012.”
“The intention was to attack the consulate and to kill as many Americans as possible to seek revenge for U.S. killing of Aboyahiye (ALALIBY) in Pakistan and in memorial of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings.”
The document said the Defense Department possessed information the Benghazi attack was “planned and executed by The Brigades of the Captive Omar Abdul Rahman (BCOAR).”
The intelligence memo said the leader of the group, named as Abul Baset, established a headquarters and training facility in the mountains of Derna, Libya. The facility possessed weapons caches, with some being disguised by livestock feeds, the document says.
The document stated the BCOAR headquarters in Derna had “SA-7 and SA-23/4 MANPADS as well as unidentified missiles over two meters in length.”
While the document was dated one day after the attack, it made clear the Defense Department was likely monitoring the BCOAR group and its missile caches prior to the attacks.
Revealed: State’s MANPAD collection in Benghazi
Shapiro conceded that the Western-backed rebels did not want to give up the weapons, particularly MANPADS, which were the focus of the weapons collection efforts.
Speaking to WND, Middle Eastern security officials previously stated that after Gadhafi’s downfall, Stevens was heavily involved in a State Department effort to collect weapons from the Libyan rebels.
The weapons were then transferred in part to the rebels fighting in Syria, the officials stated.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in March 2013 disclosed in an interview with Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi to keep weapons caches, particularly MANPADS, from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Fox News host Bret Baier asked Graham why Stevens was in the Benghazi mission amid the many known security threats to the facility.
Graham replied, “Because that’s where the action was regarding the rising Islamic extremists who were trying to get their hands on weapons that are flowing freely in Libya.”
The senator stated, “We were desperately trying to control the anti-aircraft missiles, the MANPADS that were all over Libya, that are now all over the Mideast.”
‘Biggest MANPADS collection effort in U.S. history’
Shapiro’s largely unnoticed remarks Feb. 2, 2012, may shed further light on the activities taking place inside the attacked Benghazi facility.
Of note is that the U.S. facility itself was protected by the February 17 Brigades, which is part of the al-Qaida-allied Ansar Al-Sharia group. The group also was in possession of significant quantities of MANPADs and was reluctant to give them up, Middle Eastern security officials told WND.
In his speech seven months before the Benghazi attack, Shapiro stated that “currently in Libya we are engaged in the most extensive effort to combat the proliferation of MANPADS in U.S. history.”
Shapiro was addressing a forum at the Stimson Center, a nonproﬁt think tank that describes itself as seeking “pragmatic solutions for some of the most important peace and security challenges around the world.”
Shapiro explained Libya had “accumulated the largest stockpile of MANPADS of any non-MANPADS producing country in the world.”
Shapiro related how 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.
Inside Benghazi facility
The NGOs and a U.S. team coordinated all efforts with Libya’s Transitional National Council, or TNC, said Shapiro. The U.S. team was led by Mark Adams, a State Department expert from the MANPADS Task Force.
Tellingly, Shapiro stated Adams was deployed in August 2011, not to Tripoli where the U.S. maintained an embassy, but to Benghazi.
The only U.S. diplomatic presence in Benghazi consisted of the CIA annex and nearby facility that were the targets of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.
Shapiro expounded on the coordination with the TNC.
“A fact often overlooked in our response to events in Libya, is that – unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan – we did not have tens of thousands of U.S. forces on the ground, nor did we control movement and access,” he said. “This meant we did not have complete freedom of movement around the country. Our efforts on the ground therefore had to be carefully coordinated and fully supported by the TNC.”
He said the rebels were reluctant to relinquish their weapons.
“Many of these weapons were taken by militias and anti-Gadhafi forces during the fighting,” he said. “Furthermore, because many militias believe MANPADS have some utility in ground combat, many militia groups remain reluctant to relinquish them.”
Shapiro said the U.S. efforts consisted of three phases.
Phase 1 entailed an effort to rapidly survey, secure and disable loose MANPADS across the country.
“To accomplish this, we immediately deployed our Quick Reaction Force, which are teams made up of civilian technical specialists,” he said.
Phase 2 efforts were to help aid the Libyan government to integrate militias and veterans of the fighting, including consolidating weapons into secure facilities and assisting in the destruction of items that the Libyans deemed in excess of their security requirements.
Such actions were likely not supported by the jihadist rebels.
The third phase would have seen the U.S. helping to ensure the Libyan met modern standards, including updating storage facilities, improving security and implementing safety management practices.
The U.S. efforts clearly failed.
In March 2013, the United Nations released a report revealing that weapons from Libya to extremists were proliferating at an “alarming rate,” fueling conflicts in Mali, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.