Benghazi Book’s Outrageous Claims
Petraeus betrayed by his own agents. Brennan running a secret Africa campaign. Eli Lake says a new book’s claims are hard to prove.
A new book released Monday claims that John Brennan ran a secret war in Libya against al Qaeda, that David Petraeus was betrayed by senior CIA officers in the scandal that ended his career, and that the U.S. government was sending arms collected in Libya to rebels in Syria.
The e-book, Benghazi: The Definitive Report, comes a day before Brennan is set to testify before a closed session of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as part of his confirmation hearings to be CIA director.
Written by two retired, non-commissioned special-operations officers, Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy, the book leans heavily on unofficial and anonymous sources from the fraternity of elite warriors to which the two authors belong. Webb runs the website SOFREP.com that is known for providing inside information on the often secret wars run by Joint Special Operations Command throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia.
But while the book is filled with juicy revelations that promise to shock even the most casual followers of counterintelligence gossip, government officials, including spokesmen for the National Security Council and Special Operations Command, dispute some of the key claims.
For example, the book says that while Brennan was the president's top adviser on counterterrorism, he was also the point man for a quiet campaign to target senior Qaeda leaders in Africa. It says he authorized direct action by teams in the Joint Special Operations Command to target an alleged high-level Qaeda operative named Yasin Al-Suri with a $10 million reward on his head. “Because John Brennan is running his own private war, he is not going through the normal chain of command,” the authors write. They go on to say that Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the Benghazi attack last September, was “kept in the dark and ultimately killed in a retaliation that he never could have seen coming.”
Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command, declined to discuss specific missions, but said “all U.S. Special Operations Forces work inside the established military chain of command,” and wouldn’t “work in a foreign country without the knowledge and permission of the U.S. ambassador or chief of mission.”
The book also claims elements of the U.S. government either allowed or ran an operation to funnel weapons collected in Libya to Syria. The authors write, “[Ambassador] Stevens likely helped consolidate as many weapons as possible after the war to safeguard them, at which point Brennan exported them overseas to start another conflict.”
Rumors to this effect have circulated in the U.S. national-security community since the Benghazi attacks in September, but Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, says there was no program to send weapons from Libya to Syria. “This has no basis in reality and is completely made up,” he says. Hillary Clinton also denied any knowledge of this when she was asked about it by Sen. Rand Paul during last month’s hearings on the Benghazi attack.
Last week, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he favored a plan to arm the Syrian rebels, a plan authored by Petraeus when he was CIA director. President Obama ultimately decided against that plan, Panetta said in his testimony.
The most explosive claim in the new book is that Petraeus’s affair with biographer Paula Broadwell was leaked by his own senior CIA officers. These men allegedly didn’t like Petraeus’s preferred policy at the CIA to emphasize paramilitary activities over the agency’s traditional mission of espionage, so they funneled information about Broadwell to the FBI in hopes that it would force Petraeus to resign.
Preston Golson, a spokesman for the CIA, said the allegations are “from anonymous sources” and “don’t deserve comment.” One retired CIA officer told The Daily Beast, “I guess I would say that this claim could be filed in the 'could be true' category, but it's just rumor at this point.”
In an interview, Murphy defended the book, saying his sources were reliable and included current military and intelligence officers who had been briefed on elements of the programs discussed in the book. “There are people inside right now who are frustrated and angry,” Murphy said, referring to intelligence and military officials working inside the government.