Sidney Blumenthal and Hillary Clinton  Photo credit: Larry D. Moore / Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0 and Nathania Johnson / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As we head into the home stretch of the presidential campaign, ever-greater scrutiny will be directed at the candidates, their policy decisions and their political and personal connections. While both the war in Libya and Hillary Clinton’s handling of her private email server have been a focus of the media since the primaries, little has been made of how her emails shed light on the build-up and ultimate failure of the war in Libya.

At the center of those emails is Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton ally and aide.

Though it is not clear that any of the emails sent between them suggest illegal conduct, their correspondence raises serious ethical concerns — including the possibility that Blumenthal was pushing Clinton to support a war whose pursuit might end up benefiting him financially.

A Taste for Conspiracies


Blumenthal got his start in politics campaigning locally for John F. Kennedy in 1960. He left Chicago to attend Brandeis University, outside of Boston, and while there joined the anti-Vietnam war group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). After graduating, he became part of the circle of progressive journalists emerging in the Boston area in the 1970s.

He spent much of his career writing for The Washington Post and The New Yorker. He met the Clintons in 1987, but did not join the Clinton administration until Bill Clinton’s second term in 1996.

Over the years, Blumenthal was known for two things: his books about conspiracies behind the assassination of both President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. — and his loyalty to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In 2003, he wrote a book claiming that the Clinton White House had been the victim of serial right-wing conspiracies. Reviewing the book for The Nation, journalist Tom Wicker said it could sometimes be “detailed and fascinating” but failed to provide any dispassionate or objective account of the Clinton years.

Hillary Clinton testifying before the Benghazi committee. Photo credit: Benghazi hearing (CSPAN)

Hillary Clinton testifying before the Benghazi committee.
Photo credit: Benghazi hearing (CSPAN)

Blumenthal has remained loyal, and Hillary Clinton’s emails reveal that she remained close to him throughout her years as Secretary of State.

Those emails suggest that Blumenthal’s unsolicited advice to the Secretary of State may have been motivated in part by his financial ties to a company that stood to benefit from US intervention in Libya.

Clinton’s “Secret Spy Network”


Although Blumenthal was denied a spot on Clinton’s staff after President Obama named her Secretary of State, he continued to serve the Clintons in other capacities.

He was paid $120,000 a year by the Clinton Foundation, the Clintons’ international charity. And he worked as a paid consultant to David Brock’s media watchdog group, Media Matters, which monitors rightwing media for accuracy and ethics. The once rightwing, anti-Clinton Brock underwent a political “conversion” in the late 1990s, and recanted all the anti-Clinton articles he had written in the previous decade, claiming he’d been deceived. In fact, it was Blumenthal who had recruited Brock to join the Clinton team in the 90s.

Still, Blumenthal’s relationship with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State had little to do with charitable giving or the media, as his work with the Clinton Foundation and Media Matters might suggest. Instead, it seems that Blumenthal took on a new role with the Clintons, as a kind of foreign policy advisor, or, as ProPublica characterized it, as the head of a “secret spy network” for Hillary Clinton.

What qualifications did Blumenthal have to be a foreign policy advisor? Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, asked Clinton that question: “We have a CIA, so why would you not rely on [the government’s] own, vetted, sourced intelligence agency?”

But Blumenthal had another reason to offer advice. He reportedly had financial ties to a military contractor that could profit from US engagement in Libya. What those ties were is difficult to define. Blumenthal has described himself as an “honest broker,” trying to bring Libyans together with defense contractors, according to Gowdy.

Specifically, Blumenthal might have benefited, through a kind of “finder’s fee,” if a company called Osprey Global Solutions got a contract in Libya. Osprey, which provided security, weapons, training and intelligence for countries and companies, was trying to line up contracts from the new Libyan government and the US.

Sidney Blumenthal Photo credit: Son of Broccoli / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sidney Blumenthal
Photo credit: Son of Broccoli / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Fanning the Flames


In lobbying Hillary Clinton to get the US involved in the war in Libya, Blumenthal was also, in effect, lobbying for Osprey to profit from the war.

In July of 2011, Blumenthal sent Clinton an email titled “TNC,” referring to the opposition government in Libya that opposed longtime Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi. In the email, Blumenthal let Hillary know about Osprey.

“You should be aware that there is a good chance at the contact meeting in Turkey the TNC ambassador to the UAE, a man you have not met, whose name is Dr. Neydah, may tell you the TNC has reached an agreement with a US company.

The company is a new one, Osprey, headed by former General David Grange, former head of Delta Force, Osprey will provide field medical help, military training, organize supplies, and logistics to the TNC. They are trainers and organizers, not fighters. Grange can train their forces and he has drawn up a plan for taking Tripoli (the capital of Libya) similar to the plan he helped develop that was used by the first wave of Special Forces in the capture of Baghdad.

This is a private contract. It does not involve NATO. It puts Americans in a central role without being direct battle combatants. The TNC wants to demonstrate that they are pro-US. They see this a significant way to do that……

The strategic imperative: Expecting Qaddafi to fall on his own or through a deus ex machina devolves the entire equation to wishful thinking. The TNC has been unable to train and organize its forces. The NATO air campaign cannot take ground. The TNC, whose leaders have been given to flights of fancy that Qaddafi will fall tomorrow or the day after, have come to the conclusion that they must organize their forces and that they must score a military victory of their own over Qaddafi that is not dependent solely on NATO in order to give them legitimacy.”

One day after Blumenthal sent the email, Hillary Clinton recognized the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya, and pledged $30 billion of Libyan assets seized by the American government to the Libyan rebels.

On March 2011, 11 days into the NATO bombing of Libya, Blumenthal sent an email to Hillary Clinton titled “Win The War.” In the email he listed the motivating factors for a US interest in overthrowing Qaddafi.

“The positive case for national interest in terms of removing Q(addafi), establishing stability in North Africa, security democracy in Egypt, economic development, effect throughout Arab world and Africa, extending US influence, counterbalancing Iran the humanitarian motive offered is limited, conditional and refers to a specific past situation”

Blumenthal ended the email “Read the poll. Win the War. No Way Out” and went on to stress how important defeating Qaddafi could be to Obama’s 2012 reelection.

Fighters arrive from around the region to join the National Transitional Council's push into Bani Walid, September 10, 2011. Photo credit: Elizabeth Arrott / Wikimedia

Fighters arrive from around the region to join the National Transitional Council’s push into Bani Walid, September 10, 2011.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Arrott / Wikimedia

They Were Warned


To be fair, in other emails in February and March 2011, Blumenthal let Clinton know some of the risks of intervention. Both Blumenthal and Clinton received information that pointed to the chance that outside intervention might tip Libya into the chaotic and violent state it in fact became after the fall of Qaddafi.

Islamist activity: Libya’s Islamist activists have maintained a low profile since the start of the insurgency in late February; fearing that their activities would give credence to Qaddafi’s claims that the rebels are terrorists. As the LNC is taking shape, they are now working to make their voice heard, and influence events within the LNC. Ali Sallabi, Salem Al Shiki and Mohamed Al Guirtili, leading Islamic figures who had taken refuge in London (and are close to the Moslem Brotherhood), drafted a “national pact” which looks like a road map for organizing the role of the Islamist movement in the transition to a post — Qaddafi Libya……

Traditionally, the eastern part of Libya has been a stronghold for radical Islamist groups, including the al Qaida-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. While Qaddafi’s regime has been successful in suppressing the jihadist threat in Libya, the current situation opens the door for jihadist resurgence. Egypt has a growing interest in keeping a close eye on jihadist movements in eastern Libya. This is especially true as the Egyptian Military is already concerned about Islamist militancy overflow from Gaza, after their forces were pulled back to Cairo during the uprising against Mubarak.”

It is also clear that Blumenthal and Clinton had information that the “rebels” they supported were dangerous and a threat to Black Africans in Libya. In an email from February of 2011, Blumenthal wrote:

At the same time, a number of these foreign troops have fallen into the hands of demonstrators and been killed, with their bodies set out for public view. There have also been  instances where Africans not involved in the fighting have been attacked and killed by the demonstrators.

In his emails to Clinton, the onetime anti-Vietnam-War activist and critic of the CIA, consistently took a hawkish position. Before the US began pushing the UN to sanction a no-fly zone in Libya, Blumenthal advised Clinton to back such a proposal. And Blumenthal pushed Clinton to arm the rebels, even advising her to provide them with armor-piercing bullets.

In the end, the West’s intervention in Libya left the country in a humanitarian crisis and destabilized North Africa, with multiple militias and jihadists spilling over from Libya to neighboring countries like Tunisia. More than a thousand civilians were killed in the NATO airstrikes and thousands more died in the civil war.

Osprey never received a contract, and actually lost money pursuing one.

But in the first flush of victory, Blumenthal rushed to congratulate Clinton and urged her to take credit for the Libyan war — which Obama later called the “worst mistake” of his presidency. In August 2011, a month before Qaddafi was killed, Blumenthal sent the Secretary of State an email that contained the following paragraphs:

“First, brava! This is a historic moment and you will be credited for realizing it. When Qaddafi himself is finally removed, you should of course make a public statement before the cameras wherever you are, even in the driveway of your vacation house. You must go on camera. You must establish yourself in the historical record at this moment……

Do not skimp on the reasons in the US interest behind the successful strategy: We prevented a humanitarian tragedy on a vast scale. Qaddafi, who had already killed 2,000 people in April, threatened to massacre the residents of Benghazi, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people….

We have supported the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people for democracy and freedom. We have ousted a murderous dictator who has been a source of terrorism, civil war throughout Africa and a prop for dictators elsewhere. By acting in Libya we have helped advance the cause of democracy and freedom throughout the Arab world. We have provided an important support for neighboring Egypt. We have put Assad on notice that the sands of time have run out for him as well. Our successful strategy in Libya stands as a warning that our strategy will work again.

This is a very big moment historically and for you. History will tell your part in it. You are vindicated. But don’t wait, help Clio (the Greek goddess of history) now.”

Following Blumenthal’s advice, Hillary Clinton did indeed take credit for the Libyan war and the eventual murder of Qaddafi on camera, telling a reporter gleefully, “We came, we saw, he died.” When the reporter asked if Qaddafi’s death had anything to do with her recent visit to Libya, she replied, with a laugh, “No…I’m sure it did.”

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Sidney Blumenthal (New America / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and Hillary Clinton (CSPAN)

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5 years ago

It is a terrible blending of what should never happen–U. S. government functioning at the highest level–international diplomacy–and private solicitation of donations to a private foundation by foreign governments, with a promise of special treatment by agencies of our government in exchange for these private donations! All of this being done on the government clock (payroll), secretly, and without any government oversight of foundation funds-how they are used, distributed, salaries, duties etc. In the case of Blumenthal, he is being paid a handsome sum, in secret, to perform advice on government policy to a government official! All under the table! This should have been State Dept. employees, whose existence and general duties are “on the books”, to be scrutinized by the public as our Constitution dictates! Indeed, Gowdy was on the money when he asked WHY Hillary didn’t utilize fedgov agencies for her intelligence needs to perform her SoS duties!

5 years ago

Blumenthal’s unsolicited emails to HRC seemed to be efforts at trying to make himself relevant, imposing himself as an “insider.” Indeed, he was just as erroneous re: the Qaddafi-about-to-kill-civilians threat as the State Dept.

In a just society, the pro-war cheerleaders would be publicly shunned. Too bad they can’t be compelled to serve for a year in the countries the U.S. helped to destroy: Let them get their hands bloody helping the victims of freedom bombs and democracy missiles.

Cathleen McGuire
Cathleen McGuire
5 years ago

Excellent reporting. Clearly when it comes to Libya, Blumenthal steered Clinton wrong. I’d wager it is because his efforts had little to do with helping Clinton or profiting from Osprey chump change.

Anne Nonymus
Anne Nonymus
5 years ago

Something really bothers me a lot about some issues that have been reported recently: First, there is the Kennedy family connection to the Bushes…and Poppy’s decision to vote Clinton. The Kennedys must know about at least the possibility that Bush Snr knew something about what was happening on 22 Nov ’63. He also – so far as I can remember – received an award from a Kennedy-linked foundation a year or two ago (this is from memory, but I could be wrong). Then there is this issue. Blumenthal is a bona fida ‘conspiracy theorist’ who – apparently – doesn’t believe in the Warren Report fiction. Then there is the ARRB. Signed into law by none other than Poppy Bush (my understanding is that he was a bit reluctant; wonder why)…but eventually pushed forward under Clinton’s administration. BUT… Bush Junior and Bill Clinton are ‘brothers from another mother’ apparently. I don’t get it. To top it all off…Michelle Obama gave W a hug. And Obama (POTUS) stalled on releasing more records on the Kennedy assassination. If I was a Kennedy I’d be really keen to find out what the hell happened. If there was a whiff that a post-JFK president was remotely linked to any aspect of the assassination, I’d have some reservations about cozying up to that person. Two possibilities: either the idea that Kennedy died by political conspiracy is nonsense OR…there are some really strange relationships being formed.

franco aventine
franco aventine
5 years ago
Reply to  Anne Nonymus

There is a political oligarchy in this nation. It controls the levers of the two political parties and it passes those controls along to each generation that follows. They vet individuals to make sure they are Establishment Party System first and foremost. They can do this because they believe this is good for the US. They believe that a talented, intelligent, more capable group of individuals must emerge from every generation to govern the masses for the good of us all. In truth they are right about this.

The founding fathers’ concept of the US government was designed for such individuals to be the “representatives” of the people, in service to them, in a government whose power was limited so as those representatives could not be corrupted by it.

But human nature always finds a way to eventually corrupt government. Since the Civil War, the Democrat-Republican oligarchy of that day came to realize that in times of mass distress, they could outright ignore the Constitution, and in times of moderate trouble they could circumvent it with the complication of laws, creating an ever more powerful federal government. This continues today.

They also realized after WWI, that if they concentrate power into the administrative branch, they could use that power globally without the hindrance of Congress. So they then set up the “game” to be a contest among themselves (Democrats vs Republicans) to gain the Presidency while at the same time providing “political sport” for the population’s consumption and appeasement…a political beauty contest of sorts to make use believe we have a say. In reality, it is just a manipulation to keep the population placid, but with just enough discontent and frustration to vent steam at a level that is not threatening to their Republic.

All the people you have spoken of are part of this Establishment, not because they were given some secret handshake, but because they had to fight their way up within that system to either be one of the political player or one of the helpers. In either case, on the way up they learned how the “cow eats the cabbage” so to speak, and have no illusions that they could ever survive outside of that reality.

But every so often a “populist” comes along who survives long enough to make it to the show. In my lifetime that was Perot, and now Trump. Perot had no chance as a third party. It “seems” Trump has timed his gambit perfectly, appearing to have performed a soft “coup” of the Republican party. Perhaps the appearance is what was intended, as it was no surprise that there was mass declension in the ranks. In either case, if he is elected, having seen how much damage they can do to his reputation just as a candidate, and then realizing that they have enough controls outside of the Administrative branch to neutralize him or worse sabotage him, he will become one of the Establishment and throw the angry mob a bone or two and some bread, make things better but in the end…be assimilated to the political oligarchy…and be hugging Obama 10 years from now.

Marv Sannes
Marv Sannes
5 years ago

Ugh. Addicted to power and money. Can justify the most sordid, brutal, criminal behaviors. This woman is going to be a disaster of biblical proportions.

Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson
5 years ago

It gets old seeing surface issues hashed and rehashed. Chasing these puppets and shills such as Blumenthal and Clinton is like a game of whack- a-mole…another one always pops up.

The insider of The Network, Carroll Quigley, said it all and the summary of Quigley’s work: Tragedy and Hope 101 via Joseph Plummer whittles it down to the core issues that move the world.

It is understood that if independent journalists gang-tackled such core facts it might be too effective and real change might happen. (sarcasm intended)

5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wilson

If you dismiss the next president as not even worth talking about, you take a very broad view of “what matters.” Analysis of “deep political” structures does not happen in a vacuum. There are real people out there, doing real things, too.

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