Questions Surround U.S. Gunrunning to Syrian Rebels
The CIA is gearing up to send weapons to rebel groups in Syria through Turkey and Jordan, the Washington Post reported on Friday. This is an expanded program over the effort during the past year to maintain supply routes into the war torn country for nonlethal material, U.S. officials told the Post.
But U.S. officials involved in the planning of the new policy of increased military support announced by the Obama administration Thursday said that the CIA has developed a clearer understanding of the composition of rebel forces, which have begun to coalesce in recent months. Within the past year, the CIA also created a new office at its headquarters in Langley to oversee its expanding operational role in Syria.
“We have relationships today in Syria that we didn’t have six months ago,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said during a White House briefing Friday. The United States is capable of delivering material “not only into the country,” Rhodes said, but “into the right hands.”
The confidence conveyed by Rhodes’s statement is in contrast to the concerns expressed by U.S. intelligence officials last year that the CIA and other U.S. spy agencies were still struggling to gain a firm understanding of opposition elements — a factor cited at the time as a reason the Obama administration was unwilling to consider providing arms.
Although the Obama administration policy is touted as new, in January, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her testimony on Capitol on the terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi if the CIA was involved in a gun-running operation through Turkey.
“Is the U.S. involved in any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, transferring weapons to Turkey?” he asked.
Senator Clinton responded, “To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.”
“It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons and what I’d like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?” the Kentucky Republican asked Clinton.
“Well, Senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex and I will see what information is available,” Clinton said.
“You’re saying you don’t know,” Paul clarified.
“I do not know. I don’t have any information on that,” Clinton answered.
Additionally, questions regarding Congress’ knowledge of any U.S. gunrunning going to the Syrian rebels prior the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi remain. Only members of the House and Senate’s “Super 8” (consisting of both parties’ leaders in both chambers, along with House and Senate Select Intelligence committee chairs and ranking members) would be required to be briefed on such an operation. Any information they receive from these briefings are classified.
On January 24, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told talk radio host Laura Ingraham in response to Paul's remarks on gunrunning, “I’m somewhat familiar with the chatter about this and the fact that these arms were moving towards Turkey, but most what I know about this came from a classified source and I really can’t elaborate on it.”
However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claim to have been unaware of any gunrunning going through Turkey.
“I’m not familiar with that,” Chambliss told Breitbart News in February when asked if he could respond to Paul’s assertions.
Feinstein told Breitbart News she never knew about the gun running allegations.
House Select Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-MI) was confident that there was no gun running “in any shape or form” that happened in Libya.
"I get to see all of that stuff. I have seen nothing that would allow me to conclude that the U.S. government was in any way, shape, or form involved in gun running in Libya. I looked at it all."
"If it’s there I have not seen it. I think I would have found it," he said. "I think there were some other things that were happening and people got confused, but the United States government was not running guns (from the annex)."
Ranking member of the House Intel Committee Rep. Dutch Ruppersberg (D-MD) agreed with Feinstein and Chambliss, telling Breitbart News in May, "I’ve heard nothing about it. I don’t know. We don’t get to that minutia sometimes--the Gang of 8." He explained, "We get the most sensitive information, that even our own committees can’t [get.]"
Ruppersberg added, “The checks and balances is [the White House] give us information--very sensitive information--the check and balance issue, but they don’t have to tell us everything or we’d be sitting having Gang of Eight breifings all day long. That’s the answer. I don’t know,” said Ruppersberg.