Updated Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 05:49 AM
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.
Libya's deputy interior minister, Omar al-Khadrawy, and the deputy interior minister for Benghazi, Saleh Daghman, told McClatchy Newspapers they didn't know that the CIA had kept a base there. Neither did the second in command of Benghazi's largest revolutionary brigade, the Libyan Shield. Two consuls from allied nations who met frequently with Americans said they didn't know the CIA annex existed until after the deadly Sept. 11 attack.
Ahmed Langhi, Benghazi's representative to the country's congress, the General National Council, said he didn't think that anyone in the top levels of the Libyan government knew that the CIA was housed there; neither did he.
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.
During an Oct. 26 question-and-answer session at the University of Denver, Paula Broadwell, who's been named as the woman whose affair with CIA Director David Petraeus led to his resignation Friday, told the audience that two Libyan militiamen were being held at the CIA annex and suggested that the attackers were targeting the annex, rather than the consulate.
"Now, I don't know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner, and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that's still being vetted," she said.
But most here don't believe that. The guard, who stayed around the consulate for the duration of the assault, said he thought that the subsequent attack on the CIA compound happened because the attackers had followed the Americans who were fleeing the consulate to the CIA annex.
"They came to kill Americans," he said.
The assault at the consulate began somewhere between 9:25 and 9:40 p.m. The CIA annex came under fire twice in subsequent hours, according to a timeline released by the CIA. The first attack consisted of what the agency called "sporadic small arms fire and RPG rounds," a reference to rocket-propelled grenades. That assault lasted about 90 minutes, from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The second, more serious attack took place at 5:15 the next morning, according to the CIA, when assailants lobbed mortar rounds into the compound for 11 minutes. It was during this assault that CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both former Navy SEALs, were killed.
Since the attacks, events have unfolded very differently for the two compounds.
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.