The State Department initially approved a weapons shipment from a California company to Libyans seeking to oust Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 even though a United Nations arms ban was in place, according to memos recovered from the burned-out compound in Benghazi.
The documents, obtained by The Washington Times, show U.S. diplomats at the Benghazi compound were keeping track of several potential U.S.-sanctioned shipments to allies, one or more of which were destined for the Transitional National Council, the Libyan movement that was seeking to oust Gadhafi and form a new government.
At least one of those shipments, kept in a file marked “arms deal,” was supposed to come from Dolarian Capital Inc. of Fresno, California, according to an end use certificate from the State Department’s office of defense trade controls licensing that was contained in the file.
The shipment was to include rocket launchers, grenade launchers, 7,000 machine guns and 8 million rounds of ammunition, much of it new and inexpensive hardware originally produced in the former Soviet bloc of Eastern Europe, according to an itemized list included in the end use certificate.
Dolarian Capital, part of a small network of U.S. arms merchants that has worked with U.S. intelligence, confirmed one of its licensing requests to ship weapons via Kuwait to Libya was approved by the State Department in spring 2011 and then inexplicably revoked before the armaments were sent.
“Dolarian Capital submitted the end user certificate in question to the U.S. Department of State for review and issuance of a license to transfer the arms and ammunition to Libya. The U.S. Department of State responded with a approval, which was revoked shortly thereafter,” one of its attorneys said in a statement issued to The Washington Times. “As a result no arms or ammunition was shipped or delivered to Libya under the end user certificate.”
Nonetheless, the existence of the documents and the temporary approval of at least one U.S. arms shipment provides the most direct evidence that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department was aware of efforts to get weapons into the hands of rebels seeking to oust Gadhafi.
Mrs. Clinton is set to testify Thursday during a highly anticipated appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
The Obama administration has been ambiguous about the exact role the United States played in arming the rebels who overthrew Gadhafi, even as arms merchants and former CIA officials have stated publicly that a covert program facilitated such weapons transfers through a network of friendly weapons brokers and third-party countries.
The issue is sensitive because a U.N. ban on weapons shipments to Libya was in place at the time, although the State Department had the authority to deem a specific shipment in the United States interest and permit its transference, officials said.
State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach declined to comment Tuesday, as did the CIA public affairs office.
To date, the public evidence of U.S. involvement in weapons trafficking to Libya has been episodic.
Reuters reported in 2011 that President Obama signed a special presidential directive that authorized covert U.S. action to destabilize Gadhafi and stand up a new regime, up to and including facilitating weapons transfers if it was deemed in the U.S. interest.
The New York Times, quoting anonymous officials, reported a year later that the Obama administration gave its secret blessing to some weapons shipments to Libyan rebels routed through Qatar during the height of the country’s revolution.
Fox News this summer quoted a former CIA official as providing testimony in a court case that the U.S. almost certainly ran a covert weapons operation to help arm the Libyan rebels.
But to date, no evidence has emerged publicly that the State Department had direct knowledge or involvement in reviewing potential shipments.
The Benghazi documents, however, show that U.S. diplomats in the consulate were monitoring a series of potential exports in spring and summer 2011 to third-party countries and that one or more were likely to land in Libya.
For instance, a June 28, 2011, email chain contained in a file titled “arms deal” documents an exchange among State Department employees about eight export licensing application numbers, indicating one or more of the shipments involved Libya’s Transitional National Council.
“DRL recommends BA L181-11 T6-F RWA — need decision from higher level on TNC,” reads one of the notations in the email.
DRL stands for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and TNC is the interchangeable acronym for the Transitional National Council, the NATO-supported Libyan rebel government.
The email also references the office of defense trade controls licensing, the State directorate in charge of registering arms exports.
The Dolarian Capital papers, dated May 18, 2011, include an end-user certificate that outlines a long list of heavy former Eastern-bloc weaponry and artillery to be shipped from the California-based arms dealer first to Kuwait, and then to Libya.
“This is to certify the following items are to be delivered by Dolarian Capital, Inc. [of] Fresno, California, United States and secured by M/s Specter Consultancy Services G.T.C. [of] Kuwait City, Kuwait to the Ministry of Interior of the Translational [sic] Government of Libya. The Ministry of Interior has agreed the items are for the exclusive disposition of the Ministry of Interior of the Translational [sic] Government of Libya and will not be re-exported or transferred to any third countries,” the certificate reads.
Just one month earlier, Mrs. Clinton privately endorsed inside the State Department the idea of using arms merchants to help the Libyans. “Fyi. The idea of using private security experts to arm the opposition should be considered,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in an email to her most senior aides.
Dolarian Capital and other U.S. arms merchants — all legally registered with the State Department — have worked with U.S. intelligence over the years to move covert shipments into hot spots around the globe such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
It applied for several State Department licenses to ship weapons to Libya, but only one got approved and then only temporarily before being revoked. The one export listed in the certificate was among the smaller shipments the company proposed for Libya, according to people familiar with the applications. In each instance, State and other U.S. agencies were directly aware the end destinations for the weapons were in Libya.
Dolarian Capital also is listed in court records as the source of weapons for another U.S. arms dealer, Marc Turi, who sought permission to ship weapons to Libya during the same time frame. Mr. Turi since has been charged criminally with making false statements in his application for those shipments, and has publicly asserted that Mrs. Clinton’s State Department and other U.S. officials sanctioned his involvement.
His attorney, J. Cabou, told The Times on Tuesday his client intends to show the United States facilitated the possible weapons shipments to Libya, which never occurred.
Mr. Turi strongly believes he had the permission of the U.S. government to engage in the actions for which he is now charged with and he is vigorously trying to prove that fact,” Mr. Cabou said in a phone interview.
Supporting Mr. Turi’s case is a former CIA officer named David Manners, who has told a federal judge in the case that “It was then, and remains now, my opinion that the United States did participate, directly or indirectly, in the supply of weapons to the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC).”
The end-user certificate for the one Dolarian transfer, obtained by The Times, details an itemized list of Soviet developed weapons including 10 Konkrus missile launchers, 6,900 RPK, AKM, SPG-9 machine guns and 100 grenade launchers. It also included two Soviet SVD sniper rifles and nearly 8 million rounds of ammunition.
An authorization letter signed by TNC Defense Minister Omar Hareery accompanied the certificate “call[ing] upon” TNC Interior Minister Esam M.T. Shibani and representatives from Specter Consultancy GTC to “supply all military surplus and hardware to the Transitional National Council of Libya [and] provide military and security consultancy for both civilian and government elements within Libya.”
The sensitivity of U.S. involvement in arming the Libya rebels stems from a U.N. embargo.
On March 17, 2011, the U.N. passed Resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and also established a panel of experts to monitor the arms embargo.
However, on March 27, 2011, only days after the intervention began, Mrs. Clinton argued that the arms embargo could be disregarded if shipping weapons to rebels would help protect civilians, a claim that came under immediate fire from British defense officials who disagreed with her interpretation of international law.
“We’re not arming the rebels. We’re not planning to arm the rebels,” British Defense Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC the same day Mrs. Clinton hinted otherwise.
In February, The Times published as part of a series on the 2011 NATO intervention classified Libyan intelligence reports including a 16-page weapons list corroborated by Gadhafi aide, Mohammed Ismael.
The weapons list revealed where and when arms were brought to both terror and jihadi groups in Libyan cities including the rebel fortress of Benghazi by the country of Qatar. It did not detail the weapons’ point of origin, but in February 2012 Qatari officials sent a letter to the U.N. “categorically” denying they had “supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunitions.”
Tape recordings obtained and released by The Times earlier this year depicting secret calls between a U.S. intelligence asset and members of the Gadhafi family revealed the then Libyan regime believed NATO was helping Qatar and other countries illegally smuggle arms across their country’s borders to aide rebel forces in an attempt to destabilize Libya.
In a May 2011 telephone call between U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and heir apparent Seif Gadhafi, Mr. Gadhafi alleged illegal arms shipments were coming into his country.
Mr. Kucinich, an outspoken critic against the Libyan intervention who has since retired from the Congress, told the Times he would not be surprised to learn the U.S. violated the arms embargo.
“Violating the arms embargo to send heavy weapons to Libyan rebels was a phase in engineering a crisis to establish a pretext for U.S. intervention and overthrow of the Libyan government, a very dirty business indeed,” Mr. Kucinich said.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously reinforced the embargo in May when the 15-member panel declined a request from the TNC for fighter jets, attack helicopters and munitions, fearing the weapons could get into the wrong hands.