US dispatches more troops, spies to Libya

Published Saturday, September 15, 2012

The US is sending more spies, Marines and drones to Libya, claiming to speed the search for those who killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.

A damning report by the British Independent Friday said the attack on the four diplomats was the result of a major security breach. Senior diplomatic sources revealed that the US State department had credible information 48 hours prior to the raid, raising questions about why the mission's normally robust security force was not able to ward it off. There was seemingly no effort to go on high security alert.

Sources add that ambassador Chris Stevens visit to Benghazi was considered confidential information.

Details of a security breach emerge as more information comes to light that the operation was pre-planned, and not an angry response to an anti-Muslim film trailer making the rounds of Youtube, as had been previously assumed.

The US has already deployed an FBI investigation team, ostensibly trying to track al-Qaeda sympathizers.

Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three other embassy employees were killed after a barrage of small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars tore into the consulate buildings in Benghazi on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of 9/11, setting the buildings on fire.

President Barack Obama said in a Rose Garden statement the morning after the attack that those responsible would be brought to justice.

Intelligence officials are reviewing telephone intercepts, computer traffic and other clues gathered in the days before the attacks, and Libyan law enforcement has made some arrests. But investigators have found no evidence pointing conclusively to a particular group or to indicate the attack was planned, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, adding, "This is obviously under investigation."

One of the leading suspects is the Libyan-based Islamic militant group Ansar al-Shariah, led by former Guantanamo detainee Sufyan bin Qumu. The group denied responsibility in a video Friday but did acknowledge its fighters were in the area during what it called a "popular protest" at the consulate, according to Ben Venzke of the IntelCenter, a private analysis firm that monitors Jihadist media for the US intelligence community.

The US had been watching threat assessments from Libya for months but none offered warnings of the Benghazi attack, according to another intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about US intelligence matters.

Senator Susan Collins questioned whether the consulate had taken sufficient security measures, given an attempt to attack the consulate in Benghazi a few months ago.

Carney said that given the 9/11 anniversary, security had been heightened.

"It was, unfortunately, not enough," he said.

Most of the CIA's paramilitary team dispatched to Libya during the revolution had been sent onward to the Syrian border, the officials said.

To fill in the gaps in spies on the ground, the US intelligence community has kept up surveillance over Libya with unmanned and largely unarmed Predator and Reaper drones, increasing the area they cover, and the frequency of their flights since the attack on the consulate, as well as sending more surveillance equipment to the region, one official said.

But intelligence gathered from the air still needs corroboration from sources on the ground, as well as someone to act on the intelligence to go after the targets.

The Libyan government, though it claims it is eager to help, has limited tools at its disposal. The post-revolution government has been slow to rebuild both its intelligence capability and its security services, fearful of empowering the very institutions they had to fight to overthrow Gadhafi. They have made a start, but they lack a sophisticated cadre of trained spies and a large network of informants.

"The Libyans in just about every endeavor are just learning to walk, let alone run," said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA official and author of the book "Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy."

"There is confusion and competing elements within the new provisional government which complicates the task of creating new institutions, including the intelligence service," he said.

"There are still some aspects of the intelligence services that still work," says Barak Barfi of the New America Foundation think tank, including eavesdropping on cellphone calls and spying on computer traffic using equipment from the Gadhafi era.

But the Libyans have not yet even taken full command their own security services almost a year after Gadhafi's fall, Barfi said.

That's given the tens of thousands of militiamen who helped overthrow Gadhafi the time they needed to organize and seek new targets, especially Western ones, he said.

(AP, Al-Akhbar)

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