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Was Benghazi Killing of Ambassador Stevens, 3 Others “Blowback” for Secret U.S. Assassinations?

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A new book on last year’s Benghazi attack in Libya concludes the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christoper Stevens and three others was in part blowback for a secret assassination operation run in North Africa by the Joint Special Operations Command and John Brennan, President Obama’s then-counterterrorism adviser, now director of the CIA. According to “Benghazi: The Definitive Report,” President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, and JSOC commander, Admiral Bill McRaven, were running “off the books” unilateral operations in North Africa that were not coordinated through the Pentagon or other governmental agencies, including the CIA. Ambassador Stevens was reportedly never informed about these operations. We’re joined by the book’s authors, Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy, both veterans of U.S. special operations. Last week they published the contents of Ambassador Stevens’ diary from the days before the Benghazi attack on their website, SOFREP.com.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: “Never ending security threats.” Those were the final words that U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens wrote in his diary on September 11th, 2012. Later that day, he was killed in an assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission and a more fortified CIA compound in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Three other Americans were killed in the attack: State Department computer specialist Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were working as contractors with the CIA. In another entry in his diary, Stevens wrote, quote, “Islamist 'hit list' in Benghazi. Me targeted.” Last week, seven pages of Ambassador Stevens’ diary were published by the website SOFREP.com, a site that covers U.S. special operations. Ambassador Stevens was reportedly the first American envoy to be killed abroad in more than two decades.

Many questions remain unanswered about what happened on that night in Benghazi. The White House initially said the consulate was attacked by protesters denouncing a short American film insulting the Prophet Muhammad, but it later turned out the attack was carried out by well-armed militants. Meanwhile, Republicans have accused the White House of covering up failures to protect the consulate.

In December, an independent panel probing the incident found, quote, “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” within two State Department bureaus, resulting in security that was, quote, “inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Panel Vice Chair Admiral Mike Mullen unveiled the report’s conclusions.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN: The board found that the attacks in Benghazi were security-related, and responsibility for the loss of life, the injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities rests completely and solely with the terrorists who conducted the attacks. That does not mean there are not lessons to be learned. The board found that the security posture at the special mission compound was inadequate for the threat environment in Benghazi and, in fact, grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place that night.

AMY GOODMAN: The State Department’s head of security resigned and three other officials were dismissed in the wake of an inquiry’s findings about security failures. But another issue has seldom been raised in regards to Benghazi: blowback.

According to a recent book written by two former special ops members, the Benghazi attack was in part blowback from a secret war waged by the JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, targeting al-Qaeda-aligned militant groups in Libya and North Africa. According to the book, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, and JSOC commander, Admiral Bill McRaven, were running “off the books” unilateral operations in North Africa that were not coordinated through the Pentagon or other governmental agencies, including the CIA. Ambassador Stevens was reportedly never informed about these operations.

The e-book Benghazi: The Definitive Report was written by Jack Murphy and Brandon Webb, who also run the website SOFREP.com that published Ambassador Stevens’ diary. Brandon Webb is a former U.S. Navy SEAL with combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a course manager for the U.S. Navy SEAL sniper program. His best friend, Glen Doherty, died in the Benghazi attack. Jack Murphy served as an Airborne Ranger and Special Forces sergeant in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! for the rest of this hour. In the right-wing media, there is a lot of discussion about the lack of security, and clearly there was a lack of security in Benghazi. But what isn’t discussed as much is what led up to these attacks, is the blowback. And, Jack Murphy, I’d like to start with you.

JACK MURPHY: Sure. There’s a number of different contributing factors that led to these attacks. When we start to talk about the blowback effect, we do also have to understand that this was a group of people, the Ansar al-Sharia militia, that wasn’t particularly fond of Americans to begin with. There was a large number of foreign fighters, these international jihadists, who were amongst that group the night of the attack. But what hasn’t been talked about very much in the media is that there were covert operations being run inside Libya, targeted killings against militia members, al-Qaeda-affiliated personnel, also involving securing weapons that had fallen into the militia hands, that we didn’t want them to have in the post-war Libya that was destabilizing the Libyan transitional government. But there were a series of operations over the course of the summer and even that week of September in the run-up to the attack.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. government allies were also assassinated, were killed.

JACK MURPHY: You’re talking about the British embassy that was attacked?

AMY GOODMAN: No, I was talking about what led up—what so angered the Libyans as they were moving—as we were moving into September 11th of that year.

JACK MURPHY: Well, allegedly, there was even a CIA asset that was targeted and killed in that first week of September prior to the attack.

AMY GOODMAN: By who? Killed by?

JACK MURPHY: By the United States military, by special operations personnel.

AMY GOODMAN: A CIA asset killed by U.S. personnel.

JACK MURPHY: Allegedly. And this phenomena has happened previously in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to prove for certain that this individual was an asset, but you can only imagine what’s going through the heads of the militia members as they feel that they’re working hand in hand with the Americans and then all of a sudden the Americans kill one of their people. And this was—this was definitely one of the events that led to the special operations forces actually kicking up the hornets’ nest in Libya, and it was a contributing factor that led to the attack in Benghazi.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But could you explain what, for people who don’t know, JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command—who do they fall under? And who’s responsible for what it is they do in these covert operations? Who gives the directives? Who was aware of what was going on in Libya at the time of these covert operations, and who was not aware?

JACK MURPHY: Well, it’s interesting. A number of executive findings that have been issued out in the last, you know—since 9/11, really, which today you have a situation in which not only does the ambassador of the country being operated in not have knowledge of the operations, but also the chief of station of the CIA doesn’t have knowledge of these operations. And this isn’t the first time it’s happened. It happened in 2004 in Kenya, where a number of operators actually got popped going through customs. So, these sorts of situations—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “got popped”?

JACK MURPHY: There was an expediter that was helping them through customs, and, through one man or another, the entire team got compromised. And the ambassador had to step in at that point, who was unaware of this operation that was taking place, had to step in and basically get—hand out, you know, the get-out-of-jail-free cards and get them back home. So, all these things have happened. They’ve been happening for a long time now.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of John Brennan?

JACK MURPHY: John Brennan had an interesting position at the time of the Benghazi attacks, in that, you know, his first attempt to become the director of the CIA didn’t happen, but he managed to become the counterterrorism adviser for President Obama, which put him in this interesting position that he had quite a bit of influence. But he also fell under executive privilege. It wasn’t exactly the same legal status that he would have had as the director of the CIA, that he has now. So, John Brennan and Admiral McRaven were actually running operations all over the Middle East and North Africa. Pretty much they had free rein to run those operations as they wanted from the executive office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to Ambassador Stevens’ diary. On September 6, Stevens wrote about the transition of authority that had occurred in the aftermath of the Libyan civil war, and commented on how shaky the country felt after the Gaddafi regime fell. He wrote, quote, “Militias the prime power on the ground. Weak state security institutions. As a result, dicey conditions.” Stevens went on to write, quote, “Islamist 'hit list' in Benghazi. Me targeted…” On September 9th, Stevens acknowledged that he felt overwhelmed. He wrote, quote, “Stressful day. Too many things going on everyone wants to bend my ear. Need to pull above the fray.” The final entry on September 11th is extremely chilling. Stevens writes simply, quote, “Never ending security threats…”

So, Brandon Webb, I’d like to ask you, first of all, what most surprised you in what you found in Ambassador Stevens’ diary and the work that you did in reproducing the bits that you did on your website?

BRANDON WEBB: Sure. So, I think what we were surprised to see or would put to rest a lot of questions that Jack and I had previously was: Was Ambassador Stevens aware of what was happening inside the country with regards to what the CIA was doing, what JSOC was doing? I think, clearly, from the diary, he was not aware of what was happening. And again, it put to rest a lot of speculation about what Ambassador Stevens’ final thoughts were in the last couple days leading up to his death. And you see the writing in his own words, so I think it puts to rest a lot of speculation and also shows that he was very concerned about the security situation but also very hopeful with the transitional government in Libya. And I just think it’s a tragedy.

And why I think Libya is important, and what we’ve tried to show in our work on Benghazi and in the book Jack and I wrote, was that, you know, we’re looking at over a decade of failed U.S. foreign policy, and it’s not—it doesn’t have to do with the right wing or the left wing. It really—it’s across both administrations. And when you—when you have different elements operating, whether it’s Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali and—

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve both been in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of you.

BRANDON WEBB: Yeah—and you don’t have these different agencies talking to each other on the different sheets of music, how can we hope to accomplish objectives when we’re literally—people are cooperating with the CIA and JSOC is assassinating these same assets a few days later? So it’s just a messy situation. And if our foreign policy was working in the world, we’d have a much more stable world today.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But do you think that it was in Libya that that—I mean, in other words, was this situation unprecedented, or is it often the case that security agencies, U.S. security agencies operating abroad, don’t necessarily share information with the diplomatic mission?

BRANDON WEBB: That’s—it’s the latter, and that’s what’s—what we’ve tried to show is important and that we’ve highlighted in Libya. Like, here’s a clear example of what’s going wrong with what we’re doing in the world. I think Jack and I both believe in the special operations community and that you need certain tools to deal with a lot of bad people out there, but when you have no clear strategic objective—and you can just look at what we’ve accomplished in Afghanistan. What have we really done, you know, in over a decade in Afghanistan? And what—you ask anybody on the street or in the White House what our ultimate objective was in Afghanistan, and you’re going to get a different answer. And I’ve asked those questions before.

AMY GOODMAN: Jack Murphy, what about the role of General Petraeus, who was taken down in a sex scandal? Do you think that’s really why he was taken down?

JACK MURPHY: No. There’s a number of interesting aspects of what happened with General Petraeus. After Benghazi, he realized that he was the perpetual outsider in the administration. He was actually preparing to step down and interviewing for the job to be the president of Princeton University. What had happened was that when this started to happen, when he started to make motions that he was going to leave the CIA and step down, was that the government CIA insiders and other people inside the government contrived a situation in which he was forced out of the administration in a way that was politically disgraceful, that would knock him out of the political game for years to come. And that’s pretty much what happened, was that there were people on the seventh floor of the CIA—managers and officers who already didn’t like Petraeus for throwing his weight around, acting like he was a four-star general, and for further pursuing paramilitary programs that they didn’t like—so there were personnel within that that then contrived a legal situation and instigated a legal investigation with the FBI to find the information that his bodyguards, that the people close to him already knew existed. Everybody knew about Paula Broadwell as not a secret at all within—

AMY GOODMAN: And Paula Broadwell being?

JACK MURPHY: Right, a mistress. That wasn’t a secret. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Who wrote a book about him.

JACK MURPHY: So they contrived this legal situation to find the information that they already knew existed. And then there was a—I’m told that there was a very interesting meeting between General Petraeus and John Clapper, the director of national intelligence, and there were some harsh words thrown out during that meeting, because that was when it was revealed, when it was told to General Petraeus, that he would be stepping down because his affair would be exposed.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion. Our guests are Jack Murphy and Brandon Webb. They’re editors of SOFREP.com, and they’ve written a book called Benghazi: The Definitive Report. Jack Murphy, Army special operations veteran; Brandon Webb, U.S. Navy SEAL veteran. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guests for the rest of the hour are Jack Murphy and Brandon Webb. They’re editors of SOFREP; Special Operations Forces Situation Report is what SOFREP stands for, SOFREP.com. And they wrote the e-book Benghazi: The Definitive Report. These are people in the know: Jack Murphy is an Army special operations veteran, Brandon Webb is a U.S. Navy SEAL veteran and trains other Navy SEALs and was the best friend of Glen Doherty, who was one of the four people, along with Christopher Stevens, the ambassador of Libya, who was killed on September 11th, [ 2012 ]. Tell us a little about Glen and what he was doing there.

BRANDON WEBB: Well, you know, Glen—I’ve run into a lot of people in the special operations community, and Glen was just a special guy that stood out, and we developed a close friendship since we were first introduced to each other at SEAL Team 3 as new guys and ended up going through the sniper program together as a sniper pair, so we spent a lot of time together under immense periods of stress going through that training, and just developed a close friendship. We had very similar interests outside of the military. We were both active outdoors with sailing, surfing and skiing. So, Glen and I had stayed in touch after he got out of the service, I believe in 2004, a few years before I separated in 2006. So we stayed in touch for quite some time, and I was aware of what he was doing, but not particularly. You know, he would tell me he would go to Mexico or Israel or elsewhere, but, you know, really kept to himself what was happening on those deployments.

But it just—you know, it hit me hard personally, and to know that my best friend was involved in this situation and that this is the type of story that we cover on SOFREP. And so, it was a little bit more meaningful to me to really get to the bottom of this and try and explain to people. I mean, Jack and I both sat there and watched the political spin happen during the presidential elections, and nobody was really getting the straight truth. And we had a lot of people in our network, in the CIA and the State Department, come forward and say, “Look, guys, people need to understand what’s happening, and change has to happen.” And we, hopefully, told that story.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick correction: I said September 11th; 2012 was actually the attack, the date of the attack. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And can you also explain a little bit more how it is that you did the research and who you spoke to, in addition? You’ve just said some people from the CIA and from the State Department. And from JSOC, as well, to get some of the information you did for the book?

BRANDON WEBB: My sources—and I’ll let Jack answer for himself, but my sources were primarily CIA and State Department. And the thing that makes us a little bit different at the work that we do at SOFREP is we come from the community, we have established relationships, people trust us enough to come and—and we also—we have cultural understanding and background to kind of translate that to the rest of the world. And so, these are people that trust us, where normally, you know, a journalist will spend years to maybe get one source at JSOC or the agency, where we can pick up the phone and call, you know, half a dozen people at either place and say, “Look, what’s going on over there?” In this case, people were reaching out to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Jack Murphy, President Obama is finishing his three-African-country tour right now in Tanzania. We’re not hearing about military operations, though, of course, and you know a great deal about JSOC and special forces in places like Nigeria and Mali and Algeria. Can you talk about these places?

JACK MURPHY: Well, the infrastructure for counterterrorism operations have been built up in North Africa for a long time now. And, you know, yes, we’re seeing operations across the span of North Africa. They’ve been happening for over five years now. Some of them happen—some of these operations happen under the auspices of other countries, like France, other allies of ours. But they’ve been going on for a long time, and they’re going to continue into the foreseeable future.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, what do you hope that the U.S. intelligence and military communities will learn from some of the revelations in your book?

JACK MURPHY: I hope that they learn that it’s more important to start deconflicting operations, that you have these bureaucracies where people are carving out their bureaucratic fiefdoms, and they start stepping on each other, and the result is that it ends up getting our own people killed, where the actions of some operators over here get the operators over on the other end killed. And that’s something that needs to be corrected.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about the role of private security contractors who are hired by the CIA?

JACK MURPHY: It’s not going away, and they’re going to be around for a long time. I think the CIA is going to continue to utilize security contractors anywhere where they have their—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In your view, what’s the—what’s been the effect of that, the hiring of an increasing number of private military contractors by the CIA and other military?

JACK MURPHY: Well, it has the effect of outsourcing operations and outsourcing certain mechanisms that the CIA would have done itself. In the past, a case officer would have gone into some very dangerous areas on his own. But today they seem to require an entire personal security detachment to go into certain places, be it Mexico, Libya, Yemen, wherever. So, you know, it’s happening. I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon.

AMY GOODMAN: Brandon Webb, is there a difference in the approach of the Bush administration on to the Obama administration in how they deal with special operations? And, now, your thoughts on special operations in a democratic society?

BRANDON WEBB: Yeah, I think it’s unfortunate we don’t live in a world where—that’s peaceful. I mean, I think, inherently, we would all like to live in that world. We live in a world where there are bad people, and I think special operations has a vital role in fighting what really, to me, is a—we’re really up against a radical ideology. We can call it a war on terror, but it really doesn’t boil down to that, in my opinion. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Has Obama shifted focus from Bush, or would you say it’s a continuum?

BRANDON WEBB: I think it’s a continued effort. And if anything, he’s been more effective at using JSOC and United States Special Operations Command to deal with a lot of these emerging threats.

JACK MURPHY: And it’s gained momentum under his administration, for sure.

BRANDON WEBB: Yeah. The problem I see, and the point I want to do make is, a key—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

BRANDON WEBB: A key component to—that’s missing is: What are we doing to prevent the spread of radicalism and embracing these different cultures? Because without the prevention, we’re in a whack-a-mole situation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’re going to continue with part two of our discussion and post it online at democracynow.org.

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