[This is Fred. G is out this week. After writing five blogs in a row, I guess he had antagonized enough people for the moment, including some us here at Elemental Zoo Two, that he felt entitled to a vacation. I’m not sure how he decides that kind of thing. Sometimes he seems to have a plan to antagonize; charts his progress each week; and leaves when the last ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ crossed. Other times he’s in a hurry, as though he got a call in the night, warning him to get out of town, to go somewhere, anywhere to cool off for a while. Perhaps that’s what happened last week. After all, G’s most recent blog wasn’t for everyone.]

Am I being paranoid? Who knows? It’s hard to know the difference, if any, between healthy paranoia and the true facts. Sometimes there is one, but we don’t find out about it for months or years. Take Benghazi, for example. Ever since the killings there Elemental Zoo has asked a simple question: Why would our ambassador, who knew that the area was dangerous and State Department security was inadequate, want to go there?[1] After all, he was stationed in Tripoli, which is quite far away.[2] Was it to see the famous Greek and Roman ruins? There are plenty in the area.[3]

Probably not. Today we have new leaks about the Benghazi situation. Of course, being leaks, they don’t come with a Government certification of accuracy. But if they did, would that make them more trustworthy? Think back a few weeks. Edward Snowden told us that the NSA had a super strong program to spy on pretty much everybody. The Administration and Congress denied it, and then called for his blood. The relevant Congress–people, who were supposed to be overseeing intelligence, were especially vehement. But as time marches on and Snowden’s documents are released, it looks like he understands his evidence, while the Government apologists don’t.

The most recent documents involve an NSA program called XKeyscore.[4] I read the article, and XKeyscore looks to be a data base that one can mine by typing search parameters into a series of windows, then authorizing the search. It’s part of what NSA calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI), and covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.”[5] That includes phone conversations, emails and other internet activity. So much data is retrieved that it can be stored by XKeyscore for only 1 to 30 days. But “interesting” data can be offloaded to other data bases, and kept for much longer. What’s interesting? Well, whatever NSA says.

NSA’s training materials caution that warrants are required to access emails, etc. of U.S. citizens communicating within the U.S.; but XKeyscore doesn’t require proof of a warrant to do a search. It simply asks the operator to type in a “justification” that can be reviewed later. The NSA’s basic position is that none of their people would just “make up” that kind of information, but if anyone did, NSA would catch it in subsequent reviews. Recently they said they’ve caught a few, but not enough to be alarming.[6] To them, that is. And remember, they didn’t catch Edward Snowden when he worked for them.

Now that the story is out, NSA does not deny the basic facts of the matter: XKeyscore and other programs exist. So how about the State Department and Benghazi? As I mentioned, there are new disclosures about what happened there, but none of them are as well documented as Edward Snowden’s.

CNN reported on August 1 that, at the time of the riots and the killing of our ambassador, there were almost three dozen CIA operatives there in addition to the staff we’ve been told about. “Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground” the night of the Benghazi attack, and now the CIA “is going to great lengths” to ensure that there are no leaks about it.[7] What lengths? Well, how about monthly lie detector tests, false identities, and so forth?[8] And what were the CIA people doing in Benghazi? One report is that they were engaged in some sort of arms smuggling scheme.[9]

We’re not reporters here at Elemental Zoo Two; we just wait for the information to roll in, and try to analyze it. If we hear an unlikely press report we try to find corroboration before we believe (or disbelieve) it. Some stories are proved; others are unproved but interesting, because they might explain things that heretofore haven’t been; and still others are obvious fiction. The current Benghazi reports fall in the middle.

What do they explain? Well, for openers they show why our ambassador to Libya might have wanted to visit Benghazi. After all, the State Department and the CIA do work closely together from time to time. If our ambassador to a country knows that there is a major CIA operation in it, he might visit to help, or just to follow progress and report to Washington. Also, presumably he knew there were three dozen CIA operatives there, so he might have felt secure even though the general area was known to be dangerous.

Also, there was that curious disagreement that popped up between the Administration and Libya right after the Benghazi attacks. You remember, back then the Administration was spinning a story that the “riots” at Benghazi grew out of Muslim protests over an amateur film produced in California. But the President of Libya, who was visiting the U.S. at the time, absolutely disagreed. He said “It [the attack] was planned– definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who– who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their– since their arrival.”[10]

Why the difference of opinion? Who knew more about Benghazi? The State Department or the Libyans? Good question. But if foreigners had infiltrated Libya, and wanted to make a terrorist statement, it makes sense that they would go for a big, vulnerable target in a dangerous area, preferably far from the central government. Like, for instance, a CIA station in Benghazi. That would be an easier target, I think, than a better defended embassy in a more stable area, such as Libya’s capital. So given that hypothesis, how do we explain the death of our ambassador? Well, he may not have been the primary target. Perhaps he was just in the wrong place in the wrong time.

Of course, this is all just a heap of speculation. The best way to resolve these questions is to find some of the CIA people who CNN says were in Benghazi and interview them. If they exist, they can confirm or deny, and possibly explain what they were doing. I expect even now reporters are sniffing for them; there will be more news, one way or another.

And what about possible Government interference, hiding witnesses and so forth? A word of advice to the folks in the intelligence bureaucracies: It’s not the program that gets you in trouble, it’s the cover-up. You should know that by now.

This has been a great year for leaks. I learn more and more every day; but most of all, I’m reminded of something an old bureaucrat once told me: “Never say, ‘This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and nothing can top it.’ In time there will be worse. You’re talking about human beings, who are monarchs of folly and very inventive. They have no limits.”

[1] See the Elemental Zoo blog of 10/18/2012, The Great Debate: Version 2.0, available at http://elementalzoo.typepad.com/elemental-zoo/page/2/

[2] How far? About 405 miles as the crow flies. To verify that, go to http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/distanceresult.html?p1=252&p2=2178

[3] See Libyan Travels at http://www.libyantravels.com/Benghazi.htm

[4] You can find it in theguardian.com, Greenwald, XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’ at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/31/nsa-top-secret-program-online-data

[5] This is a quote from the article cited in note 4. My machine doesn’t show page numbers, so I can’t give you one.

[6] This is also from the article in note 4.

[7] The first report was on Jake Tapper’s show. See CNN, The Lead with Jake Tapper (5 PM, August 1, 2013) at http://thelead.blogs.cnn.com/2013/08/01/exclusive-dozens-of-cia-operatives-on-the-ground-during-benghazi-attack/

[8] See The Gateway Pundit, Hoft, BREAKING>>> GOP Rep: Obama WH Is Hiding Benghazi Survivors AND CHANGING THEIR NAMES (Video) (August 1, 2013) at  http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2013/08/breaking-obama-administration-is-hiding-benghazi-survivors-dispursing-them-around-the-country-and-changing-their-names-video/  The included video, with Greta Van Susteren, is the most interesting part.

[9] See The Telegraph, McElroy, CIA ‘running arms smuggling team in Benghazi when consulate was attacked’ (o2 Aug. 2013) at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/10218288/CIA-running-arms-smuggling-team-in-Benghazi-when-consulate-was-attacked.html

[10] See CBS, “Face the Nation” transcripts, September 16, 2012: Libyan Pres. Magariaf, Amb. Rice and Sen. McCain, available at http://www.cbsnews.com/2102-3460_162-57513819.html?tag=contentMain;contentBody The quote is from President Magariaf.