I believe the Obama Administration is engaged in a deliberate disinformation campaign designed to persuade the American public that President Obama put the kibosh on providing arms to Syrian rebels. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the public record demonstrates the exact opposite. Starting in March of 2012, the United States helped coordinate the delivery of weapons to Syrian rebels. The policy continued until the death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi, Libya.

A very curious and careful “denial” by the Obama Administration in the last couple of weeks on the question of arming Syrian rebels. On the one hand, we have had reports and confirmation that Hillary Clinton, David Petraeus and Leon Panetta–i.e., State Department, the CIA and the Department of Defense–recommending to President Obama that THE UNITED STATES ARM SYRIAN REBELS. (Pay close attention to the capitalized phrase.)

Last Saturday (February 2), the New York Times reported:

Last summer, as the fighting in Syria raged and questions about the United States’ inaction grew, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conferred privately with David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A. The two officials were joining forces on a plan to arm the Syrian resistance.

The idea was to vet the rebel groups and train fighters, who would be supplied with weapons. The plan had risks, but it also offered the potential reward of creating Syrian allies with whom the United States could work, both during the conflict and after President Bashar al-Assad’s eventual removal.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus presented the proposal to the White House, according to administration officials. But with the White House worried about the risks, and with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, they were rebuffed.

Rebuffed? Really? A program owned and operated by the United States? Yes. That was turned down. But this is a case of artful language. Let’s look at the actual evidence of what has transpired. It clearly shows the United States helping Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey arm the rebels in Syria. The key point? The United States is using foreign money and relying on foreign intelligence operatives to gather and move the weapons.

Last June, the New York Times reported:

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

That’s point number one–CIA officers operating in southern Turkey in June of 2012 were helping direct the flow of weapons to rebels in Syria. Do you understand the implications of this claim? How do CIA officers know which group deserves which weapons? That means CIA officers or their surrogates were meeting with those units and conducting assessments of their weapons capability. You do not give insurgents weapons they cannot operate, clean and repair. You give them what they know how to use. And, if they do not know how to use a particular weapons system, then you send them trainers. This is prima facia evidence of a significant U.S. intelligence activity in support of the effort to arm the rebels.

When did this start. Per the same NY Times article, March 2012:

What has changed since March is an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels. The increasingly fierce air and artillery assaults by the government are intended to counter improved coordination, tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, according to members of the Syrian National Council and other activists.

Last month, these activists said, Turkish Army vehicles delivered antitank weaponry to the border, where it was then smuggled into Syria. Turkey has repeatedly denied it was extending anything other than humanitarian aid to the opposition, mostly via refugee camps near the border. The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers.

You know how we know that the United States was “consulted?” Because David Petraeus, then head of the CIA, went to Turkey on a sudden, unannounced visit:

CIA Director David Petraeus has paid a surprise visit to Ankara, discussing developments in Syria and Iraq, a news report said on Tuesday.

Petraeus met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his visit, private broadcaster NTV reported. NTV also said Erdoğan and Petraeus will discuss the latest specter of sectarian strife in Iraq amid its worst political conundrum. . . .

The US Embassy in Ankara said Petraeus met with top officials during his visit. The embassy statement added that Petraeus, a former top general in Iraq and Afghanistan, had “productive meetings” on Monday and Tuesday with Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and Hakan Fidan, chief of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

The statement also said Petraeus and Turkish leaders discussed “regional security issues and counter-terrorism cooperation.” It described the relationship between the countries’ intelligence services as “excellent.”

And who was supplying these weapons? Saudi Arabia and Qatar per diplomats in Turkey (note, The Guardian filed a similar report last June as well):

Syrian rebels are being armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, The Independent has learnt, in a development that threatens to inflame a regional power struggle provoked by the 15-month-old uprising against the Assad regime.

Rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have received weapons from the two Gulf countries, which were transported into Syria via Turkey with the implicit support of the country’s intelligence agency, MIT, according to a Western diplomat in Ankara.

It is important to understand that CIA officers cannot just insert themselves into coordinating who receives weapons if they have no idea where the weapons are coming from. Why? Because you need to know the specific types of weapons you are going to give to particular groups. You have to make sure that those groups have the knowledge and capability to operate the weapons they receive.

And where were the weapons coming from? One source? Libya. Fox News reported last October about a shipment from Libya in early September:

A mysterious Libyan ship — reportedly carrying weapons and bound for Syrian rebels — may have some link to the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Fox News has learned.
Through shipping records, Fox News has confirmed that the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means “The Victory,” was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun — 35 miles from the Syrian border — on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.

On the night of Sept. 11, in what would become his last known public meeting, Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m. local time.

Let’s review the chronology of events so far. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, sometime in the March 2012 timeframe, started shipping weapons to Syrian rebels and relied on Turkey as a transit point. The United States, via CIA officers on the ground in Turkey, was helping/trying to coordinate the delivery of those weapons to “approved” groups in Syria.

By August 2012 however, as the Presidential campaign heated up, the Obama Administration became “concerned” that too many of the weapons were showing up in the hands of jihadists linked to Al Qaeda. The New York Times belatedly reported on this October:

Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.

We also know that David Petraeus, still head of the CIA, made his way to Ankara on September 2nd, 2012. He went there in part to talk about the supply of weapons to groups inside Syria:

Ankara was tight-lipped concerning a reported unannounced visit to Istanbul by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus, while U.S. officials were little different than their Turkish counterparts in response to questions.

Petraeus arrived in Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport with his private plane, according to an exclusive report by Turkish daily newspaper Akşam. The daily said the agenda of Petraeus’s talks with Turkish officials would be the Syria crisis and the anti-terror fight.

The visit was be the second unannounced visit by the CIA chief to Turkey in last six months. In March, the United States’s top spy paid an unannounced two-day visit to Ankara to discuss the deepening instability in Syria, the joint fight against terrorism, and closer cooperation on pressing regional issues “in the coming months.” On that visit, Petraeus held separate talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Turkish counterpart, MİT chief Hakan Fidan.

These dates are important. Petraeus’s unannounced, “surprise” visit in March 2012 was followed by news reports that Syrian rebels were being armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and that CIA officers were helping coordinate the delivery of those weapons.

Then comes 2 September. What message did Petraeus deliver? In light of the October 2012 New York Times report, he clearly went to deliver the message that weapons must not fall into the hands of the Al Qaeda linked jihadis in Syria. Did he tell the Turks that the U.S. was pulling the plug? Did he insist that more stringent controls be put in place? Maybe. Those are still unanswered questions.

One week later, in Benghazi, US Ambassador Chris Stevens makes an equally unplanned, unannounced visit to the city in order to meet with Turkey’s Consul General to Libya:

Turkey was serving as a transit point for the transfer of arms from Libya to Syrian opposition fighters. We know that Steven’s last known public meeting was with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin.

The ties between Turkey and Libya were longstanding. In fact, there were news reports in November 2011 that Turkey was helping broker talks between the new Libyan Government and the Syrian rebels about supplying the jihadists with weapons:

At the meeting, which was held in Istanbul and included Turkish officials, the Syrians requested “assistance” from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms, and potentially volunteers.
“There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” said a Libyan source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see.”

November 2011 marks the true start of the effort that eventually led to the shipment of weapons from Libya thru Turkey and into the hands of Syrian rebels.

Why was Ambassador Stevens handling this rather than the CIA Chief of Base at the annex in Benghazi (or the CIA Chief of Station in Tripoli for that matter)? Because of the nature of the intelligence operation. If the shipment of weapons from Libya thru Turkey and into Syria had been covered by a Presidential finding, then it would be natural for the CIA reps in country to coordinate that activity.

But, when an activity is not covered by a Presidential Finding, the Obama Administration has to find a way to steer around the law. ( Please see USC › Title 50 › Chapter 15 › Subchapter III › § 413b 50 USC § 413b – Presidential approval and reporting of covert actions). If you are not spending U.S. Government funds and not using U.S. personnel, you can argue you do not need to submit a Presidential finding.

The last time I saw a President rely on a U.S. Ambassador to coordinate an intelligence operation was during Iran Contra in the 1980s. Retired Admiral John Poindexter and his protege, Ollie North, dealt with U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Edwin Corr to coordinate the delivery of weapons to the Contras.

It appears a similar arrangement was in place between the Obama National Security Staff and Ambassador Stevens. The weapons being gathered in Libya under a Presidential Finding in the wake of Qaddafi’s fall, were being “purchased” with Saudi and Qatari moneys. The weapons were being turned over from CIA field officers to “foreigners” who were working in tandem with the Saudis and Turks. Those foreigners, who I am told were co-located at the Annex in Benghazi with the CIA officers based there, moved the weapons to the port, ensured they were loaded on the ships and sent on to Turkey.

It is ludicrous that the Obama Administration is spinning the specious claim this week insisting that Obama rebuffed Panetta, Clinton and Petraeus and would have nothing to do with “arming the Syrian rebels.” It is a bald face lie. The evidence on the public record clearly establishes that by March of 2012, following a visit of CIA Director Petaeus to Turkey, the U.S. played a direct role in Turkey and Libya in coordinating the movement of weapons to rebel fighters.

Now we understand the reluctance of the Obama Administration to respond in a high profile way to events in Benghazi on 11 September 2012. They were covering up an unauthorized intelligence activity. If FBI agents had been allowed to arrive on scene and start questioning survivors, they would have uncovered an unusual number of foreign intelligence operatives that were not part of the official CIA presence there. It is now clear that on the evening of September 11, 2012, as U.S. and foreign personnel battled Islamic extremists, Barack Obama transformed himself from the Slayer of Bin Laden into Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes–he saw nothing, he heard nothing and he knew nothing.

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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.