Stevens Cabled Washington: CIA Says ‘AQ [Al Qaeda] Training Camps Within Benghazi’

Chris Stevens
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Then-Special Envoy Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, on April 11, 2011. (AP Photo)

( – On August 16, 2012–a little less than a month before the terrorist attacks on the U.S. State Department and CIA facilities in Benghazi, Libya–Amb. Chris Stevens sent a cable to State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. stating that a CIA officer on the ground in Benghazi had briefed a State Department officer in that city the day before “on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi.”

This information was released today in a report issued by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“AQ,” the initials for al Qaeda, are used in intelligence documents quoted in the report to indicate a tie to al Qaeda. For example, a Defense Intelligence Agency report refers to “al Qa’ida (AQ) regional nodes;” a Pentagon Joint Chief’s intelligence report refers to “AQ associates;” and a CIA report entitled “Libya: Al Qa’ida Establishing Sanctuary,” refers to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as “AQAP” and al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Magreb as “AQIM.”

The CIA officer’s discussion of the “AQ training camps” in Benghazi occurred at an “Emergency Action Committee” meeting convened August 15, 2012 by the State Department’s principal officer in Benghazi.

“In an August 16, 2012, cable to State headquarters, Stevens raised additional concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi following an Emergency Action Committee (EAC) meeting held on August 15, 2012, in Benghazi,” says a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on Benghazi that was released today.

“The EAC is an interagency group convened periodically in U.S. embassies and other facilities in response to emergencies or security matters,” says the report. “In this case, the head State Department officer in Benghazi, called the Principal Officer, convened the meeting ‘to evaluate Post’s tripwires in light of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi.'”

The cable that Stevens sent to State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., the next day “summarizing this EAC,” according to the  committee’s report, “included the following points:

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“(1) The Principal Officer ‘remarked that the security situation in Benghazi was “trending negatively”’ and “that this daily pattern of violence would be the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future, particularly given the minimal capabilities of organizations such as the Supreme Security Council and local police.”’

“(2) A CIA officer ‘briefed the EAC on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ [Al Qaeda] training camps within Benghazi,’” continued the committee’s summary of Stevens’s cable.

“(3) The Principal Officer and a CIA officer ‘expressed concerns with the lack of host nation security to support the U.S. Mission [facility].”

“(4) A  CIA officer ‘expressed concerns with Post’s relationship with the [redacted] [local militia], particularly in light of some of the actions taken by the brigade’s subsidiary members.”

“(5) The Regional Security Officer ‘expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound.”

The Senate report concludes that people affiliated with al Qaeda-related terrorist groups did in fact participate in the attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi less than a month after the CIA officer on the ground in Benghazi had provided the State Department with the information Stevens had relayed in his cable to State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 2012..

“Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb], Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], and the Mohammed Jamal Network, participated in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks,” says the Senate report.

The CIA officer’s statements at the August 15, 2012 EAC in Benghazi was not the only warning the CIA issued about the threat from terrorists–including al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists–in Benghazi before the Sept. 11, 2012 attack.

The Defense Department, like the CIA, was also sounding warnings about the growing threat from terrorists and al Qaeda in Libya, and particularly in eastern Libya, according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report.

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A June 12, 2012, Defense Intelligence Agency report was titled: “Libya: Terrorists Now Targeting U.S. and Western Interests.”

“The report noted recent attacks against the U.S. mission compound in Benghazi and growing ties between al-Qaida (AQ) regional nodes and Libya-based terrorists,” says the committee’s report.

This DIA report said: “We expect more anti-U.S. terrorist attacks in eastern Libya [redacted], due to the terrorists’ greater presence there…. This will include terrorists conducting more ambush and IED [improvised explosive device] attacks as well as more threats against [redacted.].”

Six days later, on June 18, 2012, according to the committee’s report, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff included a slide in its daily intelligence report: ‘Terrorism: Conditions Ripe for More Attacks, Terrorist Safe Haven in Libya.”

The slide said: “[Redacted] support will increase Libyan terrorist capability in the permissive post-revolution security environment. Attacks will also increase in number and lethality as terrorists connect with AQ associates in Libya. Areas of eastern Libya will likely become a safe have by the end of 2012 [redacted].”

A CIA report on July 6, 2012, according to the committee report, was entitled, “Libya: Al-Qa’ida Establishing Sanctuary.” This report described Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups as already training in a “safe haven in parts of eastern Libya.”

“Al-Qa’ida-affiliated groups and associates are exploiting the permissive security environment in Libya to enhance their capabilities and expand their operational reach. This year, Muhammad Jamal’s Egypt-based network, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya.”

Three days after Amb. Stevens sent his cable to Washington advising State Department headquarters that a CIA officer had “briefed the EAC on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi,” the daily intelligence report from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff predicted that in the coming months terrorists would strengthen their position in Libya.

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According to the Senate report, the Joint Staff’s daily briefing slide was titled: “Libya: Terrorists to Increase Strength During Next Six Months.”

“There are no near-term prospects for a reversal in the trend towards a terrorist safe haven in Libya, and areas of eastern Libya will likely become a broader safe haven by the end of 2012,” said the slide. “The conditions in Libya will allow terrorists to increase attacks against Western and Libyan interests in the country, as well as attempt attacks in the region and possibly Europe in the next six months.”

Even with these warnings from the Defense Department and even with the CIA officer’s first-hand statements at the August 15 meeting in Benghazi, the State Department did not take “significant actions” to improve the security at its Benghazi facility before Amb. Stevens visited there on Sept. 11, 2012, according to the new report from Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Despite the clearly deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and requests for additional security resources, few significant improvements were made by the State Department to the security posture of the Temporary Mission Facility” says the committee’s report.

“Although the Mission facility met the minimum personnel requirements for Diplomatic Security agents as accepted by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli at the time of the August 15 EAC meeting (specifically, the three Diplomatic Security agents were assigned to guard the Mission compound), the committee found no evidence that significant actions were taken by the State Department between August 15, 2012, and September 11, 2012, to increase security at the Mission facility in response to the concerns raised in that meeting.”

When Amb. Stevens went to Benghazi almost a month after sending his cable to Washington, he brought two additional Diplomatic Security agents with him, bringing the total number of State Department security agents in Benghazi to five.

“On the night of the attack, there were five DS agents present at the Mission compound, two of whom came from Tripoli with the Ambassador,” says the Senate report.

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