BENGHAZI, Libya — Just more than a mile from the group of villas that served as the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was another set of U.S.-leased villas — an annex where the CIA had set up shop, and from where would-be rescuers set out on the night of Sept. 11 in response to the attack at the consulate.
Despite speculation to the contrary, no Libyan or non-American diplomats stationed in Benghazi say they knew of the existence or purpose of the CIA annex.
Top Libyan security officials in Benghazi and Tripoli, as well as diplomatic representatives who worked closely with Americans here, said they had no idea about the compound, which unlike the consulate had no signs of American life outside its tall gates. There were no concrete barriers in front or barbed wire on the top of its concrete wall.
Of the dozen people McClatchy asked in Benghazi and Tripoli, only an unarmed 31-year-old security guard who was stationed at the main gate of the consulate on Sept. 11 had heard about a possible second U.S. compound in Benghazi. And he said he didn’t know the CIA had been based there.
“All I heard about was a secret building,” the guard said, adding that he didn’t know where it was. The guard asked not to be further identified, fearing reprisals from extremists for working with Americans.
At the consulate, gawkers and looters still could enter the property, and no repairs had been made to the burned-out buildings. Two months after he died here of smoke inhalation, Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ clothes still hung in the closet; his ties were strewn on the floor. In the building that served as an office and operations center, State Department stationery littered the floor and lettered Post-it notes left by the FBI on the day agents came here to investigate were stuck throughout the compound buildings.
But at the CIA safe house, American officials cleared their property within days of the attack. By Sept. 14, three new families had moved into the four houses that make up the compound, according to a gatekeeper at the door. Nearby residents said the landlord wanted Libyans living there as soon as possible, so his property wouldn’t be destroyed by extremists angry that the CIA had been stationed there.
At the annex, which looks like any other upscale residential compound in Benghazi, the gatekeeper clearly was used to reporters coming by. He opened the gate only slightly and refused to engage in the kind of friendly talk that’s common in the city. He said no one was allowed inside and that there’d been no damage from the attack, something difficult to believe if mortar rounds were what killed Woods and Doherty, who reportedly were on the roof when it was struck by mortar fire.
When he was asked whether reporters could assess whether there was any damage, the gatekeeper had a ready answer. He opened the gate slightly wider, allowing a quick peek at the pristine property, which had no signs of its former use.
“Libyans live here now,” he said before quickly shutting the door.