U.S. amasses data on Libya suspects
A raid is unlikely before the election
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon, CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies are assembling dossiers on suspects in the assault on the U.S. Consulate in eastern Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, a first step toward fulfilling President Barack Obama’s vow to bring the killers to justice, U.S. officials said.
The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command and intelligence agencies “are starting to look at people who might have been involved and starting to tee up options,” a U.S. official said.
The so-called target packages summarize the intelligence that links individuals to the Sept. 11 armed attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission and annex in Benghazi, two Defense officials said.
Although the United States is flying surveillance drones over eastern Libya, no decision has been made to launch drone missile strikes or take other military action against any of the individuals, said the officials, who would not be quoted by name speaking about sensitive intelligence matters.
“We don’t have the full picture yet on precisely who was involved, and so a complete nominating list (of targets) is not possible to put together,” a U.S. official said.
Libya’s fledgling government is opposed to a U.S. airstrike or military raid, complicating any White House decision, the official said.
The Obama administration could decide to share intelligence with the government in Tripoli and help it take action against those responsible for the attacks. Experts say Libyan security forces could not fulfill that role without U.S. assistance.
“There could be a decision at some point to share” intelligence, the official said.
A U.S. special operations raid, like the Navy SEAL assault that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011, is highly unlikely before the Nov. 6 election, officials said.
Target packages include details of a suspect’s location, movements, family and associates. In the counterterrorism context, target packages are typically put together with help from the CIA, and they generally are used to kill or capture a suspect, officials said.
Any use of U.S. military force in Libya could cause a strong anti-U.S. backlash, said Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the liberal New America Foundation who spent six months in Libya last year.
“They really like us now in Libya,” he said, citing the pro-American crowds that overran the headquarters of Ansar al Sharia, a militia whose members are believed to have been involved in the Benghazi attacks.
The attack killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, an embassy information specialist and two former Navy SEALs. An FBI team sent to investigate the attacks has yet to reach Benghazi because U.S. and Libyan officials believe the city is too dangerous for them to operate.