The Curious Murder of CIA Targeter William Bennett
By Jeff Stein | April 15, 2009 5:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
The case of former CIA contractor William Bennett, slain while out on
a walk with his wife in rural Loudoun County, Va., gets interestinger
Bennett, it turns out, was involved in the disastrously mistaken, May
1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO warplanes.
That, and other curious facets of the case, has prompted the attention
of influential national security bloggers Laura Rozen, who writes The
Cable for Foreign Policy.com, and Pat Lang, the former top Middle East
analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Drawing on the reporting of the local Loudoun Independent's John L.
Geddie and Jim Plowman, Lang tidily summed up the story so far in his
eclectic "Sic Semper Tyrannis" blog.
"He and his wife were having a morning walk for exercise on a well
known path when they apparently were set upon by several assailants
reportedly armed with clubs. Bennett was beaten to death and his wife
left nearby in such a condition that the attackers must have
anticipated her death. As is recounted in this story, the sheriff of
Loudon County is inclined to think this is the handiwork of gang
members, perhaps in some bizarre initiation ritual," Lang wrote.
"There are a lot of Central American immigrants in Virginia now and
there have been incidents of violent criminality, usually among rival
gang members. Incidents against 'gringos' have been few. To be fair,
most Latino immigrants in Northern Virginia are hard working family
people who contribute to the community. To assume that immigrants are
the killers seems a bit 'hasty' in the absence of evidence."
Bennett's widow Cynthia has recovered enough to begin talking with
investigators, the Loudoun Indepedent reported last week. The FBI has
also been called into the case.
Geddie said Wednesday investigators have confided to him that they
have started to rule out an esoteric CIA connection to his death.
"That said," he told me, "there are very few unsolved murders in
It was local NBC-4 reporter Matthew Stabley who revealed the Belgade
"Bennet was involved in a mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in
Belgrade on May 7, 1999, during the conflict with Kosovo, according to
intelligence sources. . .Bennett was one of the officials who helped
identify targets in Belgrade, according to a retired senior
Geddie also confirmed Bennett's employment with the CIA as a
Rozen expanded on the Belgrade connection in her April 4 blog.
"In 1999, sources bring to our attention, Bennett was a retired Army
lieutenant colonel working at the CIA on contract as a targeter during
the 78-day NATO air war on Kosovo. He was one of the people, according
to a former U.S. intelligence source, found responsible by the Agency
for feeding the target into the system that resulted in the May 7,
1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade."
"The former U.S. intelligence source," Rozen added, "says Bennett was
fired as a consequence of the CIA investigation into how the Chinese
embassy was targeted."
Lang brought up another fascinating angle:
"He is reported to have worked on the analytic problem of the reverse
engineering of 'Patriot' missile technology by foreign companies. The
goal would have been for the country or company doing the reverse
engineering to include that technology in missile systems or anti-
missile defense system intended for export and sale on the
international market. He is reported to have had a good deal of
success in this work."
As it stands now, no matter what police say, or whoever is arrested,
the Belgrade-CIA factor is not likely to go away soon, if ever.
In that way, the case is reminiscent of two other curious deaths of
CIA officials, both in the Chesapeake Bay.
One was that of ex-CIA Director William E. Colby, who drew the wrath
of many longtime agency operatives for giving up the agency's "family
jewels" - its secret covert action files, including coups d'etat and
assassination plots - to congressional investigators in the mid-1970s.
Colby died in 1996 "from drowning and hypothermia after apparently
collapsing from a heart attack or stroke and falling out of his
canoe," the Maryland state's medical examiner said in news reports.
Even more improbable was the 1978 boating accident death of John
Paisley, who had been the CIA's liaison to the so-called White House
Plumbers, the former CIA agents arrested in the Watergate offices of
the Democratic National Committee, among other controversial roles.
The body of Paisley, whose widow was convinced foul play was involved,
was never convincingly identified. Investigators ruled it a suicide,
despite contradictory evidence. His yacht was found adrift with
advanced radio equipment on board. No one was arrested in connection
with his death.
It's inevitable that the CIA connection of William Bennett will loom
larger with every day that his murderer remains at large.