By Kerry Picket:
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.”
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