Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What difference does it make, Indeed!

It was an interesting spectacle. Arguably the most senior and powerful Republicans in the land, with 5 months to prepare, arrayed against the Democratic Secretary of State over a diplomatic and intelligence disaster. She successfully dismissed them with a wave of the hand and a single question they could not answer: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

I have been thinking about that very question for several months now. This is not a problem that unfolded with an exchange of cables, over several days, a half a world away. The Department of State, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, the National Security Council – they all followed events in real time. They knew it was 9/11; they saw the riots elsewhere; they knew about the sensitive meetings at the consulate and operations taking place at “the annex;” they read the concerns about security; they heard the calls for help. It may have been the middle of the night in Benghazi, but it was evening in DC, when senior people were still awake and working and available. Whether they saw it live on “Predator TV” or not, senior leadership knew what was happening.

And they got together and crafted a cover (“it was just a protest that got out of hand”) that they aggressively peddled to the press, the American people, and the world – a cover they stuck to for weeks, after it was clear that the story was not true. The Secretary of State actually posed (and quickly dismissed) the key question of the whole event. Why go to the trouble of creating a cover story? Why take the heat for sticking to it? You create a cover story to cover something up. What truth were they hiding? “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

A lot of difference, I suspect. The truth could make a lot of difference.

A variety of reports suggest that up to 30 people were working at the classified annex. Those people, many apparently injured, were hustled out of Libya and are now hidden. As one senator previously said, “I was shown that building and told not to talk about it.” When asked about the annex in testimony, the Secretary said, “I don’t know – you will have to ask the agency that owns it.”

As a rule it is not wise to speculate about intelligence operations. Nobody knows for sure, so why take a chance on compromising the mission or the people? But in this case, the enemy already knows these answers. It is only the American people who are in the dark.

So– what was the annex doing? An early report said that one of the dead SEALS had told a friend he was looking for Surface-to-Air-Missiles (SAMs) from Gadhafi’s astonishing arsenal which is still flooding the Mideast with everything from rifle ammunition to sophisticated Western military technology. Suppose the SEAL and his coworkers found those weapons. (At least one Syrian aircraft was shot down on camera by a SAM.) Then what?

Well, let’s examine some pieces to the puzzle. To overthrow Gadhafi, the US partnered with some very sketchy characters – many radicals (some reports said members of Al Qaeda), and some members of the Egyptian Brotherhood who have opposed America for years. Libya is awash with weapons. The classified annex may very well have been tracking and acquiring them. The Ambassador’s last meeting was with the Turkish ambassador – not in the capital where the embassies were located, but out where the guns were being tracked. Several news stories suggest that Turkey is providing a safe haven for the arming and training of Syrian rebels. The common vulnerability among the rebels in the field and the training facilities in Turkey is to attack by aircraft or missiles. The US and NATO are worried enough about such an attack (especially with chemical weapons) to prompt deployment of a Patriot missile shield. The Syrian government is being backed by Iran, to the point of a declaration that any attack against Syria will be regarded as an attack against Iranian soil. The US desperately needs a counter to Iran – as do Iran’s Sunni enemies in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and many other MidEastern countries. These enemies include radicals (and even terrorists) who have worked against the US in the past, but now have a common interest in containing Persian power. They might well consider helping the US counter the Iranian nuclear program (which some reports suggest suffered a massive blow from terrorist attack earlier this week).

Is your head spinning yet? Well back up and see how these pieces might fit together.

       It is quite possible that the Administration has a secret strategy in the Mideast to counter Iran. Under that strategy the US has “led from behind” by supporting the rebels in Libya (who sold us Gadhafi’s guns& ammo), the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (who overthrew Mubarak, have supported other US priorities in the region, and will now receive F-16s and M1 tanks as a reward), the rebels in Syria (who we are training and arming and assisting with air defense), and others.

        What others? Ah –there’s the rub. We have been tracking bad guys in this region for a long time. We have lots of names of individuals and organizations in our data bank. Many of them have been declared terrorists, and supporting them in any way – money, weapons, intelligence, etc. – is a violation of law.


        Can you say “Iran Contra?”

        In that 1985 adventure, members of the Reagan Administration sought a “strategic opening” against radical Iran, by selling weapons to “moderate elements” of a radical regime – in violation of Congressional direction. Fourteen Administration officials were indicted and eleven convicted

Today the same law that the Administration is using to sanction Iran and countries doing business with Iran, also sanctions many people and groups by name. (See the Treasury Department list at . Also scan this -- 7 years old but still captures the meat of the issue.)

Doing business with the people on this list - for profit or not - is against the law. Perhaps that is what the lies were (and are) covering. Perhaps the President and his team were not just caught with their security down resulting in some deaths. Perhaps they were caught violating US law on a massive scale.

Of course, the President may have issued a classified Executive Order or some other directive arguing an exception to the law. But politically, that would be almost as bad. Imagine the news story: "The President knew he was violating the law in secret and wrote himself a 'get out of jail free' card in case he was caught."

And in the unlikely event that this educated guess is correct, but he didn't take such measures -- if he just took it upon himself and his team to make this decision, betting he would not get caught -- then he broke the law, might be found guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors," and could be subject to . . . (drum roll please . . ..)

Now let me be perfectly clear (as a successful politician once said): I have no secret source of classified information. I’m not making any charges. I’m just trying to follow the logic. But there is a big hole in the information presented so far. That's why the cover story and the truth make a difference, Madam Secretary.

If the President and his team thought something important enough to create a cover story, and were worried enough that they kept it up in the face of contrary evidence during a Presidential campaign, it makes a difference. If the American people are being drawn into commitments in a volatile part of the world without their knowledge, it makes a difference. And if the President’s very aggressive second term agenda were side tracked by a special prosecutor, that would make a difference too.

        Too bad none of the questioners could take time from their prepared remarks to answer the Secretary’s question. What difference does it make, indeed!

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