The attack on a consular office and "safe house" in Libya has set back CIA operations in eastern Libya. About a dozen CIA operatives were among personnel evacuated from Benghazi. CIA agents were stationed in Benghazi to engage in surveillance of militant groups. One American official said: "It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss. We got our eyes poked out.” Among the militant groups targeted by the CIA are Ansar al-Sharia, whom some have blamed for the attack, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Although there was public anger against militants after the Benghazi attack, there are still entrenched militant groups in the region. They are obviously aware of U.S. intelligence operations in the region. Frederic Wehrey, a policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “The region’s deeply entrenched Salafi community is undergoing significant upheaval, with debate raging between a current that is amenable to political integration and a more militant strand that opposes democracy,” The CIA and U.S. contractors are helping track shoulder-fired missiles, and Libyan chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as training Libya's new intelligence services. Obviously, Libyan and U.S. intelligence operatives will have close connections.
The CIA operations in Benghazi began within months of the beginning of the Libyan rebellion in February 2011. The former prime minister of Libya, Mustafa Abushagur, was surprised at the number of U.S. operatives who appeared at Benghazi airport to be evacuated. He said he learned about some of the operations only after the attack. So even the former head of the Libyan government, has no idea what the U.S. is doing. Abushagur, who was recently sacked by the Libyan parliament, said :“We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key." He, himself, is a U.S. trained engineer who lived in the U.S. for years.
The militant attacks were not only on the consular compound but also on a so-called safe house about a half-mile away that had four buildings in a compound. This compound was supposed to be secret. No doubt CIA agents operated out of it as well. The N.Y. Times agreed to withhold details of these operations at the request of the U.S. government, as disclosing the information could harm sensitive government activities and put U.S. personnel at risk. However, it is clear that the U.S. is very much involved in Libya. The militants know this and they will paint the Libyan government as a puppet of the U.S. Should the U.S. try to act unilaterally to attack those it thinks responsible for the Benghazi attacks, this would just confirm the militant narrative.
A U.S. review board is to investigate the attacks. The F.B.I. sent its own investigators from New York but they apparently are having difficulty because of the security situation. Some analysts believe that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may have been involved in the attack, as communications were intercepted between the attackers and members of the group. Representative Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee said that there was: “a high degree of probability that it is an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated group that had a very specific target in mind, and that was to attack the consulate and cause as much harm, chaos and death as possible.”
Reuters provides different details about the so-called safe house. Reuters describes the house as a secret CIA base and identified as such by Libya. The post was described as 1.2 miles from the consular mission. Two special forces troops were killed at this base when it was also attacked by militants.