Exclusive - New emails obtained by Fox News show that in March 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring revolution inside Libya, dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saif was willing to talk peace from the ground in Libya – but a source told Fox News the offer was rejected by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In the years since Qaddafi was forced from power, Libya's government has collapsed, and extremist groups including ISIS have exploited the power vacuum. While the Obama administration has promoted the use of "soft power" and diplomacy, the documents suggest the option was not vigorously pursued here.
One key email describing the offer of talks was dated March 18, 2011 and sent at 7:27 a.m. EST to three members of The Joint Staff. It states, "Our contact will arrange a face-to-face meeting with Saif [Qaddafi], or a Skype/video-telecon [teleconference] to open communications if time does not permit ... A peaceful resolution is still possible that keeps Saif on our side without bloodshed in Benghazi."
The response from a senior policy adviser, on her government email account, was sent to 11 staff members at 7:57 a.m. The adviser writes, "Sirs, the JCSWG's [the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Working Group] contact is ready to arrange a meeting with Saif on a skype/video-telecon. Might be worth passing to folks who do this stuff routinely." These "working groups" are stood up to deal with specific issues or challenges.
Copied on that same email is then-Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby. During March 2011, Jacoby served as director of strategy, plans and policy for The Joint Staff and was responsible for planning coalition and NATO operations in Libya.
As explained to Fox News, what happened next was a high-stakes drama which played out at the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House.
The source told Fox News that a staffer was sent to look for Jacoby at the Pentagon, and somewhere between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Clinton instructed Jacoby "to not take the call from Saif and that Ambassador Gene Cretz was the only one she authorized to talk to Saif." At the time, Cretz was the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Clinton’s instructions effectively meant no high-level administration official took the call. The following day, on March 19, the U.S. began participating in airstrikes over Libya – Muammar Qaddafi himself would be killed seven months later.
While it is not possible to independently assess the credibility of Saif's offer, his father did follow through on a 2003 pledge to come clean on Libya's weapons of mass destruction program, after the U.S. invaded Iraq, and Qaddafi met with then-deputy director of the CIA Steve Kappes.
A review of Clinton's public schedule shows March 18, 2011, was indeed a pivotal day during her tenure as secretary of state. Clinton was in Washington, D.C., that day and made three trips to the White House. Brad Blakeman, former adviser to President George W. Bush, said the number of trips was unusual, and most likely reflected sensitive foreign policy deliberations.
"This is a crisis. It's a high-level decision that is being made and for there to be shuttle diplomacy to be made between the White House and the State Department tells me it is so highly compartmentalized that there's no use of phones," Blakeman explained. "It's all personal communication between the president or the senior staff at the White House and the Secretary."
While the offer to engage directly with the U.S. government, and its apparent rejection, were first reported by the late journalist Michael Hastings for Rolling Stone in October 2011, the new emails document that the offer was real – and show it was known at senior levels of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who advise the president. The Washington Times in January 2015 reported a five-part series called "Hillary's war" that concluded the Pentagon did not trust Clinton's strategy on Libya. The series included taped conversations between then-Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a critic of the war, and Saif Qaddafi sometime later in May 2011.
Jacoby received Fox News’ request for comment, but did not respond over a two-day period. A similar request was put to the press office for The Joint Staff seeking comment from others copied on the emails. The use of military sources to identify opportunities in highly volatile environments, such as discussions with Saif during the Arab Spring, is in line with the group’s mandate.
Clinton's team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The account appears to stand in contrast with Clinton's autobiography "Hard Choices," which does not mention the March 18 episode. Rather, on page 371, the Democratic presidential candidate notes that the day before, on March 17 while she was in Tunisia, she called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the deteriorating situation in Libya. "We don't want another war," she wrote.
In addition, a redacted account of Clinton's schedule that week in March from top aides Jake Sullivan and Cheryl Mills, called "tick tock on Libya," was among the emails released in May. The content is marked "B-5" which refers to the deliberative process and can be withheld from the public and Congress. However, it does state: "March 14-16-"HRC participates in a high-level of video- and teleconferences…”
Seventeen months later, the US mission in Benghazi would be attacked and four Americans would be killed, including Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, former Navy Seals Ty Woods, Glen Doherty as well as Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Saif Qadaffi was sentenced to death in July, and is jailed in Libya.
Pamela K. Browne is Senior Executive Producer at the FOX News Channel (FNC) and is Director of Long-Form Series and Specials. Her journalism has been recognized with several awards. Browne first joined FOX in 1997 to launch the news magazine “Fox Files” and later, “War Stories.”
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.