St Martin’s Press
In the memoir she published last year, “Hard Choices,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she advocated having the CIA arm the rebels in 2012, siding with Petraeus in internal White House debates.
Petraeus, Ford and other officials held weekly meetings on the issue during the summer and fall of 2012, former officials say.
Neither Petraeus nor Ford would comment about the covert plan, but Ford said in an interview that he believes ISIS would not have been able to declare a caliphate in Raqqah, Syria, if the U.S. government had taken steps in 2012 to bolster what was then called the Free Syrian Army.
“I’m confident we would be looking at a different Syria today if the president of the United States hadn’t overruled David Petraeus, head of the CIA, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, and Leon Panetta, who was secretary of defense,” Sen. John McCain (R.-Arizona) told NBC News.
President Obama has not commented on the full CIA plan, but he has said arming Syrian rebels would not have worked.
“The notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true,”
Obama told the writer Jeffrey Goldberg for the April edition of the Atlantic Magazine.
But former senior U.S. officials point out that the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, had not yet begun fighting in Syria in significant numbers in 2012. Many players in the region, they say, were waiting to see what the United States would do.
Laux said he believes U.S. policy at the time was “feckless,” and shattered American credibility in the region, even before Obama declined to take military action when Assad used chemical weapons in August 2013.
For example, he said, in August 2012, then-Secretary of State Clinton announced in Turkey that the U.S. was considering enforcing a no fly zone against Assad’s forces, a statement that made news.
“For the next few days, rebel leaders who had been suspicious of U.S. motives before happily shared everything with me — the state of their forces, where they were deployed, the names of important leaders, etc,” Laux writes. “It yielded an intel bonanza.”
Soon, though, they began to ask when the U.S. jets were coming.
“The no fly zone pledge turned out to be a bluff to try to get Assad’s allies to put more pressure on him to resign,” Laux writes. “I wasn’t told that either. What it accomplished was to flush the slim credibility we had in Syria down the drain.”
After it was clear the administration wasn’t going to move forward with covert action, Laux recommended that the CIA pull out altogether, an idea that did not win him any friends inside the agency.
He was soon overtaken by frustration.
“I had worked my ass off for almost a year, risked my life, and compromised my health and personal life because I was seriously trying to come up with a plan to help the Syrian opposition that would meet with the approval of the administration, Congress, and our Arab and European allies,” he writes.
The experience left him “starting to question what I was doing with my life.”
Laux, who had previously spent two years spying in Afghanistan, quit the agency soon afterward.
While the CIA would not comment on the Syria plan, a spokesperson did issue a statement about Laux’s book.
“Sadly, Mr. Laux’s career at CIA did not work out. We hope that someday, maybe with age and greater maturity, he will have better perspective on his time here. The American people should know that his former colleagues continue to do extraordinary work despite his departure, and do so without the need for public recognition.”