Ex-Clinton Aide Had Secret Intelligence Network, Raises Questions If Hillary Used This 'Undisclosed Back Channel’

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Apr 01, 2015 2:45 PM
Ex-Clinton Aide Had Secret Intelligence Network, Raises Questions If Hillary Used This 'Undisclosed Back Channel’

ProPublica and Gawker have joined forces to investigate whether then-Secretary of State Secretary Hillary Clinton might have received intelligence from a secret network allegedly headed by Sidney Blumenthal.  Blumenthal was a former aide to President Bill Clinton and longtime ally. With the help of a CIA agent, he reportedly sent sensitive information to Hillary Clinton's private email account while she was Secretary of State. These emails have been turned over (both publications noted that Clinton's spokesperson assisted in this story), and there is no indication if she read or responded to them. We also don’t know who funded this secretive network, but it raises questions about the former secretary of state possibly using an “undisclosed back channel” for intelligence relating to Libya and other foreign affairs, according to ProPublica. The emails were posted on the Internet in 2013 by Romanian hacker Marcel-Lehel Lazar [emphasis mine]:

Starting weeks before Islamic militants attacked the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, longtime Clinton family confidante Sidney Blumenthal supplied intelligence to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered by a secret network that included a former CIA clandestine service officer, according to hacked emails from Blumenthal’s account.

Blumenthal’s emails to Clinton, which were directed to her private email account, include at least a dozen detailed reports on events on the deteriorating political and security climate in Libya as well as events in other nations. They came to light after a hacker broke into Blumenthal’s account and have taken on new significance in light of the disclosure that she conducted State Department and personal business exclusively over an email server that she controlled and kept secret from State Department officials and which only recently was discovered by congressional investigators.

It’s unclear who tasked Blumenthal, known for his fierce loyalty to the Clintons, with preparing detailed intelligence briefs. It’s also not known who was paying him, or where the operation got its money. The memos were marked “confidential” and relied in many cases on “sensitive” sources in the Libyan opposition and Western intelligence and security services. Other reports focused on Egypt, Germany, and Turkey.

Indeed, though they were sent under Blumenthal’s name, the reports appear to have been gathered and prepared by Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service in Europe who left the agency in 2005. Since then, he has established a consulting firm called Tyler Drumheller, LLC. He has also been affiliated with a firm called DMC Worldwide, which he co-founded with Washington, D.C., attorney Danny Murray and former general counsel to the U.S. Capitol Police John Caulfield. DMC Worldwide’s now-defunct website describes it at as offering “innovative security and intelligence solutions to global risks in a changing world.”

In one exchange in March 2013, Blumenthal emailed Drumheller, “Thanks. Can you send Libya report.” Drumheller replied, “Here it is, pls do not share it with Cody. I don’t want moin speculating on sources. It is on the Maghreb and Libya.” Cody is Cody Shearer, a longtime Clinton family operative—his brother was an ambassador under Bill Clinton and his now-deceased sister was married to Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott—who was in close contact with Blumenthal. While it’s not entirely clear from the documents, “Moin” may refer to the nickname of Mohamed Mansour El Kikhia, a member of the Kikhia family, a prominent Libyan clan with ties to the Libyan National Transition Council. (An email address in Blumenthal’s address book, which was also leaked, was associated with his Facebook page.)

There’s no indication in Blumenthal’s emails whether Clinton read or replied to them before she left State on February 1, 2013, but he was clearly part of a select group with knowledge of the private clintonemail.com address, which was unknown to the public until Gawker published it this year.

You can read the Libya emails here.  It also appears Blumenthal’s reported network worked closely with the Libyan opposition at the time, even tossing the idea of putting operatives on the ground through a private contractor:

On September 12, 2012, the day after the Benghazi attack, Blumenthal sent a memo that cited a “sensitive source” saying that the interim Libyan president, Mohammed Yussef el Magariaf, was told by a senior security officer that the assault was inspired by an anti-Muslim video made in the U.S., as well as by allegations from Magariaf’s political opponents that he had CIA ties.

Blumenthal followed up the next day with an email titled “Re: More Magariaf private reax.” It said Libyan security officials believed an Islamist radical group called the Ansa al Sharia brigade had prepared the attack a month in advance and “took advantage of the cover” provided by the demonstrations against the video.

An October 25, 2012 memo says that Magariaf and the Libyan army chief of staff agree that the “situation in the country is becoming increasingly dangerous and unmanageable” and “far worse” than Western leaders realize.

Blumenthal’s email warnings, of course, followed a year of Libyan hawkishness on the part of Clinton. In February of 2011, she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that "it is time for Gaddafi to go.” The next month, after having described Russian reluctance over military intervention as “despicable,” Clinton met with rebel leaders in Paris and drummed up support for a no-fly zone while in Cairo. On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council voted to back Libyan rebels against Gaddafi.

It’s this buildup, which Clinton still proudly recalled in her 2014 memoir, that Blumenthal appears to join in on 2011. In addition to the intel memos, his emails also disclose that he and his associates worked to help the Libyan opposition, and even plotted to insert operatives on the ground using a private contractor.

A May 14, 2011 email exchange between Blumenthal and Shearer shows that they were negotiating with Drumheller to contract with someone referred to as “Grange” and “the general” to place send four operatives on a week-long mission to Tunis, Tunisia, and “to the border and back.” Tunisia borders Libya and Algeria.

“Sid, you are doing great work on this,” Drumheller wrote to Blumenthal. “It is going to be around $60,000, coverting r/t business class airfare to Tunis, travel in country to the border and back, and other expenses for 7–10 days for 4 guys.”

Gawker and ProPublica allege that “the general” is David L. Grange, who ran special operations from the Pentagon until 1999. He went on to found Osprey Global Solutions, which is a government contracting/consulting firm that specializes in intelligence, arms sales, and security training. Through documents posted by Lazar, Gawker and ProPublica, noted that a memo cited that Osprey would work with the National Transition Council–the governing authority in post-Qaddafi Libya–to “assist in the resumption of access to its assets and operations in country” and train Libyan forces in intelligence, weaponry, and ‘rule-of-land warfare.’”

Everyone involved, including the agencies investigating the hack, are refusing comment. Both publications reported that Drumheller’s business partner admitted that the former “worked” with Blumenthal, but stopped commenting from there. The FBI refused to comment, with Shearer saying he would heed to the advice of the Bureau and not talk about it.

Yet, the article also noted a Blumenthal memo on August 23, 2012 that detailed a series of kidnappings of foreign workers and diplomats in the Libyan cities of Benghazi, Tripoli, and Misrata, along with bombings that highlight a security situation devolving into chaos. Again, we do not know if Clinton read or replied to these correspondences, but if she did; it leaves her wide open to scrutiny, especially since she said no U.S. intelligence officials had “advance knowledge of the threat.” Granted, while the memo cited an increasingly hostile environment, it did not specifically say that U.S. foreign workers were at risk. Though, I doubt anyone will see it that way.

Though this network emailing Clinton’s private email address raises questions, the publications also mentioned that it was necessary to a certain degree:

Whatever Blumenthal, Shearer, Drumheller, and Grange were up to in 2011, 2012, and 2013 on Clinton’s behalf, it appears that she could have used the help: According to State Department personnel directories, in 2011 and 2012—the height of the Libya crisis—State didn’t have a Libyan desk officer, and the entire Near Eastern Magreb Bureau, which which covers Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, had just two staffers. Today, State has three Libyan desk officers and 11 people in the Near Eastern Magreb Bureau. A State Department official wouldn't say how many officers were on the desk in 2011, but said there was always "at least one" officer and "sometimes many more, working on Libya."

Reached for comment, a State Department public affairs official who would only speak on background declined to address questions about Blumenthal’s relationship to Clinton, whether she was aware of the intelligence network, and who if anyone was paying Blumenthal. Asked about the Tunisia-Libya mission, the official replied, “There was a trip with the secretary in October of 2011, but there was also a congressional delegation in April, 2011. There were media reports about both of these at the time." Neither trip involved travelling via Tunis.

Gawker updated its post to include that State had at least one desk officer assigned to Libya, despite no records of one in 2011 and 2012.

Still, who bankrolled this network? The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf aptly noted that just one of these missions, cited above, cost tens of thousands of dollars:

Who was paying for all this intelligence and analysis that wound up on Secretary Clinton's desk? Was this an expensive favor from someone? Did she bankroll it from her personal fortune? Was it hidden somewhere in the State Department's budget? The public deserves a true explanation, whatever it is, before they consider entrusting the presidency to her. So far, she is content to let voters wonder.

Bonus: Since we’re back on the issue of Clinton’s emails, James Carville conceded that the questions surrounding Clinton’s email server are “fair.” (H/T America Rising)

Here’s Ed’s post about this network over at Hot Air.