April 1st, 2011
President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorising covert United States government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters yesterday.
Mr 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 authorise secret operations by the CIA. 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. “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.
People familiar with US intelligence procedures said that presidential covert action “findings” are normally crafted to provide broad authorisation for a range of potential US government actions to support a particular covert objective.
In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorisation – for example the delivery of cash or weapons – 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, Mr Obama gave a similar authorisation for the expansion of covert US counter-terrorism actions by the CIA in Yemen. The White House does not normally confirm such orders have been issued.
News that Mr Obama had given the authorisation surfaced as the President and other US and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Col Gaddafi’s opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.
The US is part of a coalition, including NATO, which is conducting air strikes on Libyan government forces under a United Nations mandate aimed at protecting civilians opposing Col Gaddafi.
In interviews by US networks on Tuesday, Mr Obama spoke of applying “steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means”, with the objective of having Col Gaddafi “ultimately step down” from power.