What exactly was the CIA's role in the Benghazi affair?


A man walks across the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building at the CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia.


Alex Wong

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) today hit back at criticism over its role in the US embassy attack in Benghazi, revealing fresh details to reporters about the unit's presence there amid mounting concerns over a perceived failure to respond to security warnings ahead of the September attack.

Senior CIA officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said their officers responded to the violence within 25 minutes and arrived on the scene alongside Libyan militia forces, reported The New York Times

“The officers on the ground in Benghazi responded to the situation on the night of 11 and 12 September as quickly and as effectively as possible,” according to one senior intelligence official quoted by NYT

The US intelligence unit has been accused of not doing enough to prevent the violence that killed the US ambassador and three others, particularly after the attack prompted a public apology from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Foreign Policy today published selections from draft embassy letters dated September 11, the day of the attack, which were found by journalists in Benghazi and describe the "troubling" security situation there.

Also today, The Wall Street Journal suggested the US embassy in Benghazi mostly served as a decoy for a completely different covert CIA operation bent on combating the "spread of weapons and militant influences" in Libya, Mali, Somalia and Syria. The base was set up last February, said WSJ, citing senior officials.

Only seven of the 30 American officials evacuated from the US embassy there were actually working for the State Department as advertised, unidentified US officials told WSJ

Thus, the exact role of the CIA in the Benghazi affair remains unclear, but as WSJ pointed out:  

When the bodies of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base after the Sept. 11 attack, they were greeted by the president, the vice president and the secretaries of state and defense. Conspicuously absent was CIA Director David Petraeus.

Officials associated with Petraeus told WSJ the agency's director stayed away to avoid highlighting the agency's mission there.

The Benghazi attack sparked a wave of violence targeting US consulates throughout the Middle East.