(CNSNews.com) - Retired Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin—who is the former commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command, the former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and who, in the 1990s, worked with the CIA—told CNSNews.com in a video interview last week that he believes it is a reasonable supposition that the U.S. was supporting or planning to support the Syrian rebels via Benghazi, Libya.
The CIA, however, says Boykin’s supposition is erroneous and that the U.S. was not conducting or planning covert action to support Syrian rebels through Benghazi.
“These assertions are both baseless and flat wrong,” a CIA spokesperson told CNSNews.com on Tuesday.
Boykin, who retired from the Army in 2007, believes that such an action, or planned action, would help explain why Amb. Chris Stevens was in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, visiting that city for the first time since he had departed from it in November 2011 after having served there as a special envoy to the Libyan rebels who overthrew the Qaddafi regime.
“Then what was Stevens doing there on September 11 of 2012?” Boykin said in an interview with CNSNews.com. “More supposition was that he was now funneling guns to the rebel forces in Syria, using essentially the Turks to facilitate that. Was that occurring, (a), and if so, was it a legal covert action?"
Before terrorists attacked the State Department’s Special Mission Compound in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, Amb. Stevens had met there with a Turkish diplomat.
About two hours after Amb. Stevens escorted the diplomat out of the main gate of the compound, dozens of terrorists swarmed through the same gate, beginning the series of attacks that would result in the deaths of Amb. Stevens, State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who were working for the CIA.
According to the State Department Accountability Review Board report, a Greek cargo ship first delivered then-Special Envoy Chris Stevens to Benghazi on April 5, 2011. Benghazi was then the center of the Libyan rebellion, and Stevens was accompanied at that time by ten State Department Diplomatic Security agents.
Stevens stayed initially in Benghazi at the Tibesti Hotel. But because of security concerns, he moved into the CIA Annex in Benghazi on June 1, 2011.
“Benghazi, however, was still very much a conflict zone,” said the ARB report. “On June 1, 2011, a car bomb exploded outside the Tibesti Hotel, and shortly thereafter a credible threat against the Special Envoy mission prompted Stevens to move to the Annex.”
Three weeks after that, Stevens moved into the State Department’s own facility in Benghazi. “On June 21, 2011, he and his security contingent moved to what would become the Special Mission Benghazi compound (SMC),” said the ARB report.
On Oct. 20, 2011, Libyan rebels killed Qaddafi and the rebellion was over.
“Stevens continued as Special Envoy to the TNC in Benghazi until he departed Libya on November 17, 2011, after which the Special Envoy position was not filled,” says the ARB report.
After Stevens’ departure from Benghazi, the CIA Annex and the State Department Special Mission Compound remained open. However, the State Department mission had a very small and rotating temporary staff.
“Stevens was replaced by an experienced Civil Service employee who served for 73 days in what came to be called the ‘principal officer’ position in Benghazi,” said the ARB report. “After November 2011, the principal officer slot became a TDY (temporary duty) assignment for officers with varying levels of experience who served in Benghazi anywhere from 10 days to over two months, usually without transiting Tripoli. In December 2011, the Under Secretary for Management approved a one-year continuation of the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, which was never a consulate and never formally notified to the Libyan government.”
The U.S. sent Stevens back to Libya as the U.S. ambassador in late May 2012. But, as ambassador, Stevens resided in Tripoli, site of the U.S. embassy, and did not return to Benghazi until Sept. 10, 2012, the day before the terrorist attacks.
Before Stevens arrived in Benghazi on Sept. 10, there were only five Americans at the State Department mission there. One was the temporary duty principal officer, who was in the 12th day of his 13-day temporary assignment to the mission. Another was Information Management Officer Smith, who had arrived the previous week for his own temporary duty assignment. The other three were State Department security officers temporarily assigned to the mission.
Stevens brought two additional State Department security officers with him on Sept. 10, but the temporary duty principal officer left Benghazi on the morning of Sept. 11, leaving Information Management Officer Smith, Amb. Stevens himself and the five State Department security officers as the only Americans manning the facility.
A half mile away as the crow flies, there were at least six CIA security personnel at the Annex—who, on the night of Sept. 11, would rush to the State Department compound in an attempt to rescue the Americans there.
CNSNews.com asked Gen. Boykin: “What possibly was the State Department doing in Benghazi at that point with that sort of skeletal group?”
“Well, I think that they were anticipating that they would eventually be given a directive to support the Syrian rebels and that that would be the hub of that activity,” said Boykin.
“So, I think they kept the facilities open, they kept them functioning, they had somebody there that had to be there because of the communications equipment, because of the potentially classified material that was still there,” said Boykin. “And I think that they stayed there in anticipation of supporting the Syrian rebels. They’d probably been given a heads up on that.”
Boykin stressed that he could not prove that the U.S. was conducting or planning a covert action to support the Syrian rebels that would involve the facilities in Benghazi, only that he had information supporting this supposition.
“Now, with regards to supporting the rebels in Syria, I can’t prove that there was a covert action program,” said Boykin. “I’ve got a lot of information that says there was. But if there was and it was done legally, I have no issue with it. But if it was done without the proper process being followed, including the Congress being notified--and generally when the Congress is notified they appropriate money for it--I’ve got a big issue with it because we don’t operate that way. That’s outside of the way America should be functioning.”
In June 2011, when the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence considered the nomination of General David Petraeus to be director of the CIA, Petraeus submitted a written outline of the legal process for initiating a covert action. Key elements include that the action must be formally approved by the president and that key leaders in Congress must be notified.
“The CIA carries out covert action on behalf of the president,” Petraeus told the committee. “It is the president, his national security staff, or other members of the executive branch that propose ideas for covert action programs that will support the national security objectives of the U.S. CIA then develops a plan for carrying out the program, including the preparation of a draft Presidential Finding or Memorandum of Notification (MON) and supporting paperwork.
“The CIA then submits that plan to the National Security Staff, after coordination with the ODNI and the Intelligence Community, as appropriate,” Petraeus said. “The proposed Finding or MON is reviewed by the National Security Staff and then sent to the president for approval. Once approved, and after required notification to the two intelligence committees, the president typically will direct the CIA to implement the program. Once implemented, the Agency itself, as well as the NSC and the intelligence committees of Congress, review the conduct of the program on an ongoing basis.”
Petraeus told the committee he would refuse an order to conduct an illegal covert action.
“If confirmed as Director of the CIA, I would refuse to carry out any activity that I believed to be illegal,” he said. “As outlined above, the CIA has an active role in the development of any covert action program, and I intend to be a strong voice for the CIA in that process. If I assessed that a covert action proposal would be ineffective or otherwise unsuited to the Agency’s capabilities, I would recommend against such a program, and, if necessary, raise my concerns directly with the president.”
Gen. Boykin said that if there was a legal U.S. covert action in Libya to help arm the Syrian rebels, or a plan for such an action, Congress should inform the American people about it.
“In the context of why Ambassador Stephens was there that day, I think that the American public needs an explanation,” said Boykin. “And if that explanation is that he was there to meet with the Turkish General Counsel who was helping to facilitate the flow of arms, then I think that needs to come out.
“I do not think that the details of the covert action need to be explained to the American public,” said Boykin. “Otherwise, why would you have a covert action program? No, I for one don’t think we should be supporting the rebels in Syria. There’s no good outcome in Syria but I won’t get off on that tangent. I don’t think that they necessarily have to explain to us exactly the mechanism or the mechanics of a covert action program.”
Boykin said he did not believe it would harm U.S. interest for Congress to simply reveal the fact of such a covert action without going into the details.
“Absolutely, they could tell us,” said Boykin. “First of all if it was legal, the Congress has been briefed so the Congress could tell you tomorrow whether there was an operation to supply arms and material to the rebels in Syria. If it was legal.”
When told that the CIA, in responding to his interview with CNSNews.com, said that the supposition that the U.S. was conducting or planning a covert action to support the Syrian rebels through Benghazi was “both baseless and flat wrong,” Gen Boykin said: "I am totally supportive of covert action and believe it is an important method for advancing U.S. policy. I believe there must be an explanation for why the ambassador was there on 9/11. I believe there has been significant information that has come out recently calling into question whether the ambassador was either involved in or making preparations for supplying material to the Syrian resistance forces."
During his 36-year career in the U.S. Army, Lt. Gen. Boykin served as an original member of Delta Force, as the commander of Delta Force, as the commander of U.S. Special Forces Command, as the commander of the U.S. Army Special Forces Center and as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence. In 1994-1995, he did a tour with the CIA. He is currently executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
Here is the video of retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin talking to CNSNews.com about his supposition that the U.S. was conducting, or planning, a covert action to support the Syrian rebels through Benghazi, Libya: