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Ben Bonk dies at 56; CIA official helped stem Libya's weapons development

By Timothy R. Smith and Jeff Stein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 8:13 PM

Ben Bonk, 56, who as deputy director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center from 1999 to 2002 played a role in getting Libya to stop developing weapons of mass destruction, died Feb. 26 of skin cancer at his home in McLean.

In October 2001, Mr. Bonk, a career CIA officer and Middle East expert, went to London and met with Musa Kusa, Libya's then-intelligence chief and future foreign minister.

After its involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Libya became an international pariah. But the Libyan government had broad knowledge of terrorist organizations, information the United States needed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Libya, after years of isolation, was ready to restore relations with the United States, Kusa said.

"Everything has changed after 9/11," Mr. Bonk said, according to Ron Suskind's 2006 book "The One Percent Doctrine," about U.S. intelligence agencies in the age of terrorism. "Two things. We're going to need you to give up your destructive weapons. And, most importantly, we'll need assistance to fight the terrorists."

Kusa gave Mr. Bonk the names of top al-Qaeda operatives, according to Suskind's book, including one of the most senior in Libya, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who in late 2001 became the first major American captive of the war on terrorism.

In May 2006, after Libya discontinued its weapons of mass destruction program, the United States restored diplomatic relations.

Benney Leo Bonk was born Nov. 26, 1954, in Warren, Mich. He received a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University in 1976 and a master's degree from Georgetown University in 1980, both in economics.

He joined the CIA in 1976 as an oil analyst. Soft-spoken and meticulous, he moved steadily up the agency's career ladder.

In September 2000, Mr. Bonk delivered an hour-long presentation to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., according to the 2004 9/11 Commission Report. Mr. Bonk said that Americans would certainly die in terrorist attacks within the next four years.

Five weeks after the presentation, two men in a bomb-laden speedboat attacked the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors.

When he retired in January, Mr. Bonk was director of the CIA's Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program.

His marriage to Leslie Richardson ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of six years, Deborah Yoder Bonk of McLean, and three brothers.

Ken Robinson, a former Army Special Forces officer, recalled meeting Mr. Bonk during a patrol against Iranian gunboats that were attacking Western shipping in the Persian Gulf in 1987 and 1988.

Mr. Bonk was an analyst in the Joint Intelligence Liaison Element, which was supporting U.S. combat operations. Analysts usually sat at desks, far from the action, writing reports. But Mr. Bonk asked to join Robinson on combat operations.

"It was important to him not to be the second or the third source, but to smell the cordite and to understand the issues," Robinson said in an interview.

"He was not swashbuckling or arrogant, and he was not there doing it for his manhood. He was doing it to be able to accurately define what is the issue. And to do that, you had to get out and get salt in your face and see it for yourself."

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