Libyan military guards check one of the burned-out buildings at the U.S. Consulate complex in Benghazi, Libya, three days after the Sept. 11 assault that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, including two guards at a CIA base about a mile from the consulate. (Photo: Mohammad Hannon, AP)
Armed drones are flying over
northern Africa, and U.S. special forces are on call, ready to attack if
the Obama administration can identify who was behind the deadly Sept.
11 assault on the American Consulate in Libya, officials tell the Associated Press.
writes that the White House "is weighing whether the short-term payoff
of exacting retribution on al-Qaeda is worth the risk that such strikes
could elevate the group's profile in the region, alienate governments
the U.S. needs to fight it in the future and do little to slow the
growing terror threat in North Africa."
MORE: Clinton says consulate security her responsibility
AP bases its report on
three current officials, a former Obama administration official and an
outside analyst who said administration officials "have approached him
asking for help in connecting the dots to Mali," where al-Qaeda-linked
rebels seized the northern half of the country in spring.
civilian side is looking into doing something, and is running into a lot
of push-back from the military side," the Washington-based analyst
told AP. "The resistance that is coming from the military side is
because the military has both worked in the region and trained in the
region. So they are more realistic."
suspects are members of the Libyan militia group Ansar al-Shariah. The
group has denied responsibility, but eyewitnesses saw Ansar fighters at
the consulate, and U.S. intelligence intercepted phone calls after the
attack from Ansar fighters to leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb, or AQIM, bragging about it. The affiliate's leaders are known
to be mostly in northern Mali, where they have seized a territory as
large as Texas following a coup in the country's capital.
investigators have only loosely linked "one or two names" to the
attack, and they lack proof that it was planned ahead of time, or that
the local fighters had any help from the larger al-Qaeda affiliate,
If that proof is found, the White House must decide
whether to ask Libyan security forces to arrest the suspects with an
eye to extraditing them to the U.S. for trial, or to simply target the
suspects with U.S. covert action.
U.S. officials say covert action
is more likely. The FBI couldn't gain access to the consulate until
weeks after the attack, so it is unlikely it will be able to build a
strong criminal case. The U.S. is also leery of trusting the arrest and
questioning of the suspects to the fledgling Libyan security forces and
legal system still building after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in
On Friday, Reuters reported
that after the attack on the Benghazi complex, which killed Ambassador
Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the CIA abandoned an
intelligence-gathering site about a mile away that was also attacked.
Two of the three were killed there by a mortar shell, sources told
"The publication of satellite photos showing the site's
location and layout have made it difficult, if not impossible, for
intelligence agencies to reoccupy the site," Reuters writes. About 40
personnel escaped to the Benghazi airport, the sources said.
previously secret post had been used for gathering information on the
proliferation of weapons stolen from Libyan government arsenals,
including surface-to-air missiles. The sources told Reuters the post's
security features included some fortifications, sensors and cameras,
which were more advanced than those at the villa where Stevens died.
existence of the CIA base emerged last week at a hearing by the
Republican-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is
investigating whether security lapses contributed to the attack.
Separately, Reuters reports today
that the State Department suspected that two Libyans hired to guard the
Benghazi Consulate were involved in an April incident attack in which a
homemade bomb was hurled over the wall of the mission.
Update at 7:31 p.m. ET:
The communications director for the House Oversight Committee emailed
to emphasize that a State Department official showed a commercial
satellite photo of the Consulate "annex" at last week's hearing, which
Reuters' Friday article points out. No one at the open hearing described
it as a "CIA base," a term used by The Washington Post's Dana Milbank in an opinion piece, "Letting us in on a secret,"
which Reuters also referenced. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and the
committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., objected to the display
of the image.