Obama signs executive order to arm al-Qaeda in Libya

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Reuters is reporting that President Obama has authorized secret assistance to the al-Qaeda-led rebels in Libya (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter.
Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. This is a necessary legal step before such action can take place but does not mean that it will.
As is common practice for this and all administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "I will reiterate what the president said yesterday -- no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya."
The CIA declined comment.
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People familiar with U.S. intelligence procedures said that Presidential covert action "findings" are normally crafted to provide broad authorization for a range of potential U.S. government actions to support a particular covert objective.
In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorization -- for example the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gaddafi forces -- the White House also would have to give additional "permission" allowing such activities to proceed.
Former officials say these follow-up authorizations are known in the intelligence world as "'Mother may I' findings."
In 2009 Obama gave a similar authorization for the expansion of covert U.S. counter-terrorism actions by the CIA in Yemen. The White House does not normally confirm such orders have been issued.
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Sending in weapons would arguably violate an arms embargo on Libya by the U.N. Security Council imposed on February 26, although British, U.S. and French officials have suggested there may be a loophole.
Getting a waiver would require the agreement of all 15 council members, which is unlikely at this stage. Diplomats say any countries that decided to arm the rebels would be unlikely to seek formal council approval.
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U.S. officials also have said that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose leaders despise Gaddafi, have indicated a willingness to supply Libyan rebels with weapons.
Members of Congress have expressed anxiety about U.S. government activities in Libya. Some have recalled that weapons provided by the U.S. and Saudis to mujahedeen fighting Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s later ended up in the hands of anti-American militants.
There are fears that the same thing could happen in Libya unless the U.S. is sure who it is dealing with. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, said on Wednesday he opposed supplying arms to the Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi "at this time."
"We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them," Rogers said in a statement.
But who says Rogers and his committee will be asked? Obama didn't ask Congress' permission before starting to enforce the no-fly zone. What could go wrong?

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