News / Africa

CIA Secretly at Work Inside Libya

A Libyan rebel scans the field as they wait for the signal to advance at an intersection just outside Brega, April 3, 2011
A Libyan rebel scans the field as they wait for the signal to advance at an intersection just outside Brega, April 3, 2011

Multimedia

Audio

Published reports say CIA officers are at work inside Libya.  But just what they are doing is not clear and, in keeping with practice, the CIA would not comment on the reports.  The Obama administration has said it has not yet decided whether to arm the Libyan rebels.  But, there is much the CIA may be doing in Libya short of that.

Analysts say it should come of no surprise that the CIA is already at work in Libya.  Reva Bhalla, Middle East analyst for the private intelligence firm, Stratfor, says gathering intelligence is the most basic function of the CIA.

"Obviously when you have a military campaign like this under way you’re going to need people on the ground, painting [identifying] targets for air strikes, [and] not only on the military aspect but just in trying to figure out just who is the opposition - who are they actually dealing with, are there any viable leaders who show the potential for unifying this very fractious country," said Bhalla.

Beyond gathering intelligence

According to published accounts, an unknown number of CIA officers, along with British intelligence and special forces counterparts, are working with the Libyan rebels.  The CIA has its own paramilitary component, known as the Special Activities Division.  But what the CIA might be doing in Libya beyond just gathering intelligence is unclear.

By all accounts, the Libyan rebels are poorly trained and equipped.  They made some advances, but have been pushed back by Libyan army counterattacks. The Obama administration has said it has not yet decided to arm the Libyan rebels, but has said firmly it will not send in U.S. ground troops, preferring to stick with the enforcement of the no-fly zone.

Offering what he says are personal views, former senior CIA officer Emile Nakhleh says it is likely the CIA is providing some form of non-lethal assistance to the rebels, especially in terms of communications and organization.

"They probably would provide them with communications gear, from the most basic walkie-talkies to a bit more advanced cellular telephones," said Nakhleh. "Two, they might perhaps help train them in how to attack or how to anticipate Gadhafi’s attacks.  I mean, the fact is, they’re just a bunch of ragtag enthusiastic opposition people to the regime but have no idea even of how to organize."

Nakhleh believes, however, that there is nothing stopping CIA officers from training the rebels on captured weapons.

"We would need to train them how to use the weapons they have already captured from the Gadhafi forces. Some of them have captured some of these rockets and they don’t know how to fire them.  So we can, I think, do all kinds of things before, even way below, the level of arming them with U.S. arms," said the former CIA officer.

But many analysts believe that for the rebels to turn the tide back in their favor, they will need sophisticated weapons, such as those the U.S. provided to Afghan rebels fighting Soviet occupation in the 1980s - and specialized training on how to use them.

Secret authorization

According to published accounts quoting Obama administration sources, President Barack Obama signed a secret authorization, known as a presidential “finding,” authorizing possible future training and arming of the rebels.

But such a program carries great risks.  In 1961, a CIA-trained force made an unsuccessful attempt to land at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba and topple Fidel Castro.  It was a humiliation for the then-new president, John F. Kennedy.

In the 1980s, the CIA, in concert with Pakistan, armed and trained anti-Soviet Afghan rebels. The rebels, known as mujahedin, drove the Soviet army out, but many of their members went on to form the nucleus of the Taliban and al-Qaida. And many of the sophisticated weapons the mujahedin received, such as shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles, were unaccounted for at war’s end.

Reva Bhalla says the governments involved in the anti-Gadhafi coalition are worried about both a kind of Bay of Pigs in the desert, where the rebels are defeated, and possible infiltration of the rebels by radical Islamists.

"I think that’s the biggest question that’s on the minds of many of these governments because it just isn’t clear," said Bhalla.  "This is not a very sophisticated or militarily capable opposition force.  And then there’s the concern of whether some of the more Islamist militant types are mixed in within this opposition.  And if they’re going to be moved to arm and supply these rebels, is that something that is going to have serious blowback down the line.

What the CIA actually ends up doing in Libya may never be publicly known.  But, as former CIA officers have pointed out, the larger an operation, the more difficult it is to keep it secret.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More