Are CIA agents being pressured to keep quiet about Benghazi?

There may be a Benghazi scandal after all

American embassy in Benghazi
(Image credit: AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

CNN is reporting that dozens of CIA operatives were on the ground during the Benghazi attacks, and that they are being pressured by the government to stay silent about what they were doing there.

The attack by armed militants on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd denied that CIA agents are being pressured not to speak to Congress:

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The CIA enabled all officers involved in Benghazi the opportunity to meet with Congress. We are not aware of any CIA employee who has experienced retaliation, including any non-routine security procedures, or who has been prevented from sharing a concern with Congress about the Benghazi incident. [CNN]

But the "inside" sources talking to CNN tell a different story.

Why are CIA agents allegedly keeping quiet?

Well, aside from being part of one of the most secretive agencies in the U.S. government, because they are being polygraphed every month to find out if they are talking to the media or Congress, asserts CNN's sources.

CNN analyst Robert Baer notes that "it's absolutely not routine at all to be polygraphed monthly, or bi-monthly."

One CNN source says, "You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation." Another says, "You don't jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well."

It all suggests that the CIA really, really does not want its agents talking to anyone about what they were doing in Benghazi.

What could the CIA be trying to hide?

CNN claims, "Speculation on Capitol Hill has included the possibility the U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels."

That Libya is a major source of weapons for Syrian opposition groups is no secret. In June, The New York Times reported that arms stockpiles belonging to deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi are regularly being funneled into Syria in operations mainly funded by Qatar.

Publicly, the United States has given the rebels aid in the form of medical equipment, trucks, and generators. Deliveries of weapons, however, have been stalled by debate in Congress, due to fears that they could end up in the hands of Islamist opposition groups like the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front.

How big of a deal is this?

If the CIA is secretly supplying arms to Syrian rebels without informing Congress, that would, obviously, upset many lawmakers and members of the public alike.

Regardless of why the CIA agents were in Benghazi, the fact that they are being pressured not to talk should concern us, argues The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf:

If CNN's report is correct, the CIA is at minimum trying to hide something huge from Congress, something that CIA agents might otherwise want to reveal — itself a reason for Congress to press hard for information. And if speculation about moving weapons is grounded in anything substantive, that would be an additional reason to investigate what the CIA is doing in Libya. [The Atlantic]

Republican politicians are using this latest report as more evidence that more Benghazi investigations are needed.

"I think it is a form of a cover-up, and I think it's an attempt to push it under the rug, and I think the American people are feeling the same way," Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) tells CNN. "We should have the people who were on the scene come in, testify under oath, do it publicly, and lay it out."

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Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.