Decision to evacuate eastern Libya divides US Intelligence Community

US consulate in Benghazi, Libya
On September 12, just hours after heavily armed militia groups stormed the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Washington made the decision to pull out its diplomats and intelligence officers from Eastern Libya. As US government envoys, spies and contractors started arriving at the Benina International Airport in Benghazi, many Libyans noted the “surprisingly large number” of Americans that came out of the woodwork. According to reports, at least a dozen of the American evacuees were in fact Central Intelligence Agency personnel. Their evacuation, which has essentially ended the presence of the CIA in eastern Libya’s most important city, is dividing the US Intelligence Community. On the one hand, some US intelligence insiders argue that the attack on the US consulate, which killed four US personnel, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, necessitated the decision to evacuate. A number of former US government officials told The Los Angeles Times this week that the evacuation was “justified, given the dangers in Benghazi” for US personnel. Another current official told The New York Times that the evacuation of the CIA station in Benghazi does not necessarily mean that the US has lost its intelligence collection capabilities in eastern Libya. Washington can still intercept telephone calls and emails and conduct satellite reconnaissance in the North African region, said the official. Others, however, leveled sharp criticism against the decision of the White House to evacuate its diplomats and spies from Benghazi, arguing that the move marked “a major setback in [US] intelligence-gathering efforts” in the country. Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with decades of experience in the Middle East, called the move “disastrous for US intelligence-gathering capabilities”. Writing in Time magazine, Baer said that shutting down the CIA station in Benghazi would make it “almost impossible to collect good human intelligence” in the region, and described the move as a sign of “America’s declining position” there. A US official, who has served in Libya told The New York Times on condition of anonymity that the evacuation of CIA personnel from Benghazi was “ a catastrophic intelligence loss” for Washington. The same article hosts another comment, from an unnamed former CIA station chief with significant experience in the Middle East, who said that the decision to shut down the CIA station in Benghazi was “really disgraceful. Why spend billions of dollars a year on the intelligence service”, he said, only to “run away right at the moment when you most need intelligence?”. Both newspapers contacted the CIA, Department of State, and the White House, but all refused comment on the subject.

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