Next Assignment: Benghazi
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Nov 01, 2013
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, your boss
comes into your office or cubicle and says,
“Your next assignment is to investigate the disaster
that is Benghazi.” Would you flinch?
Kevin Kolbye, FBI assistant special agent in charge
(ASAC) in the Dallas, Texas office, didn’t think twice.
He packed his bags and was away on assignment. But,
wait a minute; this is the FBI. Aren’t they a domestic
law enforcement agency? Do they have duties overseas?
The answer is yes, and yes. The FBI does have efforts
overseas, such as investigating the kidnapping of
a U.S. citizen or working at a U.S. embassy.
Kolbye took about 30 minutes to relate his efforts
to the leader of an investigative team who traveled to
Libya to investigate the bombing. The team leader explained
what explosives were used and how U.S. citizens
were treated during and after the bombing.
In that Sept. 11, 2012 embassy attack, U.S. Ambassador
J. Christopher Stevens was killed. Three other
patriots perished that day: Sean Smith, information
management officer, along with Tyrone Woods and
Glen Doherty, both security officers and former Navy
SEALs. Their goal is not to determine who is responsible
at home, but what happened abroad.
You have to understand that democracy is an unknown
ideal in Libya. The people of Libya, until recently,
have not known what freedom is like or what it is
about. Even now, their ideas and concepts of freedom
are skewed by warlords of every ilk, fighting for power.
If you’ll remember, it was Muammar Gaddafi who
seized power in 1969 and controlled the country by
fear for decades. During his evil siege, the economy
was weakened and unemployment climbed as high as
40 percent. In February 2011, civil war gripped the
nation, and in August of that year, Gaddafi was ousted
Lawful conduct and security had no place in Libya.
To simply fly into Libya, an airline pilot was risking
the safety and security of crew and passengers, as
gunfire was a constant threat to airplanes.
Kolbye met with the North Texas Crime Commission
on Oct. 10 to explain his mission, or, at least what
he could comfortably talk about within non-classified
relevance, bringing to attention his journey to get to
Benghazi and the complicated mission of investigation.
Once on the ground, however, the investigation
took shape as law enforcement collected and analyzed
physical, photographic and video evidence.
“This took multiple hours to stage the story,” Kolbye
said. “The crime scene reminded me of the remnants
of a fraternity party.”
Kolbye continued, “One key difference is, in the
United States, when a bomb goes off, people run from
the explosion. When a bomb goes off in Libya, people
run to it. It is difficult to tell who is an aggressor and
who is a bystander.”
Law enforcement faced numerous challenges. Public
support had to be discrete because locals didn’t
want to appear as though they supported the FBI. Intelligence
was spotty, and the FBI had to play a role in
protecting their sources. Agents on scene found a lack
of support from the host country in terms of capabilities
and capacity to work an investigation. There was
lack of evidence, lack of mobility and lack of willingness
by some Libyans to cooperate.
When evidence was found, though, Kolbye said
that it was placed in a “secure” evidence locker. FBI
agents found the room that housed the locker more
dangerous than the outside world because it often
contained live explosives just lying around. And, they
could not depend upon local police because the government,
itself, was in chaos.
“The country was ruled by a president of congress,”
Kolbye said. “They do a lot of talking but offer
little action. There were 1,800 police in Benghazi, and
there were no laws to enforce; in fact, they didn’t even
know what the laws were.”
Benghazi was made up of numerous tribes and
factions, so the FBI had to filter much of their work
through indigenous terrorists, those seemingly still in
power: radical Islamic groups, federalist groups and
Libyan Shield Forces, tribes who had been recruited
to be a revolutionary militia. The FBI also faced international
terror groups, some of whom were operatives
for al-Qa’ida, Shiite radicals (Hezbollah)—criminals
who relied on kidnapping, murder, carjacking
and drug smuggling traders.
“Every country is different in the Middle East,” Kolbye
said. “Jordan and Saudi Arabia are more forward
leaning, but Libya is still a fragile country. We also
found that in building each case, it had to be done by
eyewitness testimony. People there are very frightened
about coming to the United States and testifying.”
Kolbye said that no one agency can fight terrorism
alone as it takes federal, state and local authorities to
win the war on terror.
Offering a prolific quote from former President
George W. Bush, Kolbye recited, “In the war on terror,
sometimes we bring people to justice, and sometimes
we bring justice to the people.”
I applaud Kolbye and his associates for doing what
seemed to be nearly impossible. Searching for clues in a
mine field is a daunting task. Thankfully, we have men
and women of courage that are equal to the mission.
This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Security Today.