During the rebellion against Gaddafi and in the aftermath of his death, Libya and North Africa became a staging ground for a dizzying array of operations by SpecOps, paramilitary, and international private military contractors working for everyone from European nations to multibillion-dollar oil corporations.

At the same time, militant Islamic groups began taking advantage of the power vacuum across North Africa and consolidated their strength in places like Benghazi instead of sending their home-grown fighters abroad to Afghanistan and elsewhere. These groups were keeping JSOC in business. Meanwhile CIA operatives fanned out across Libya searching for Gaddafi’s stores of chemical weapons and yellow cake uranium.

Amid this caldron of (often violent) covert activity, diplomats like Ambassador Chris Stevens were in-country attempting to practice statecraft and establish relationships with the new leaders of Libya.

This chapter aims to provide a sense of the scale and scope of the “secret war” raging in Libya that created the conditions for three of the major players mentioned above-State Department diplomats, CIA and JSOC covert operators, and militant Islamist groups-to collide on 9/11/12.


On December 17, 2010, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was immortalized by setting himself alight in protest to harassment by local officials in Tunisia. Tarek’s self immolation and the disclosure of documents which showed evidence of government corruption by Wikileaks fueled a revolutionary movement in Tunisia that ultimately unseated the government in early 2011.

What became known as the Arab Spring then jumped to Egypt in a campaign of civil disobedience against authoritarianism that much of the Arab world had waited nearly fifty years for. The leadership of both Tunisia and Egypt were soon toppled while protests were breaking out all across the Middle East.

With protest movements directed against authoritarian regimes springing up throughout the Middle East, people took the streets and quickly taking control of Benghazi before moving into Tripoli. Libyan security forces attempted to fight back against the protestors.