President Barack Obama has signed a presidential directive authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency to conduct secret operations to support rebels in Libya, according to government sources.
Government officials told Reuters on Wednesday that the president had signed a presidential "finding" within the last two or three weeks. The order is a necessary legal step to conduct secret CIA operations, but does not mean that such operations will actually occur.
In response to the report, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying he would not comment on intelligence matters.
"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," Carney said. "We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters."
The presidential finding discusses a broad range of potential operations to help rebels fighting against the regime of Libyan Dictator Moammar Gaddafi. While it does not direct the CIA to provide weapons to the rebels, it does direct the agency to prepare for such an event should the president decide to pursue it.
Meanwhile, an intelligence source told CNN on Wednesday that the CIA was currently operating in Libya to help the United States increase its "military and political understanding" of the situation.
"We are gathering intel firsthand and we are in contact with some opposition entities," the source said.
Another source told the New York Times that CIA operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks, along with British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers. The operatives are seeking to understand who the leaders of the rebel groups are and what they stand for.