The United States has put special operations strike forces on standby and flooded northern Africa with killer drones following the murder of ambassador to Libya Chris Stephens on September 11, White House officials have revealed.
Government insiders admitted they still don't know who planned the attack on the Benghazi consulate and any "retribution" would mostly be for show as the US presidential election nears.
Republicans have accused President Barack Obama of failing to stand up for US interests and personnel over the attack - prompting Vice-President Joe Biden to vow: "If you do harm to America, we will track you to the gates of hell if need be."
One analyst told reporters that government officials had asked him to suggest targets for drone strikes, but he couldn't name any.
Now-retired Africa counterterrorism chief Lieutenant Colonel Rudy Attalah said: "They are aiming for a small pop, a flash in the pan, so as to be able to say 'hey, we're doing something'."
He said that similar motivations had been behind the 1998 bombing of a medicine factory in Sudan, which killed one person, allegedly in response to the bombing of a US embassy in Nairobi.
Critics accused Bill Clinton's government of blowing up the factory to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.
The US did not challenge a lawsuit for damages brought later by the factory's owners.
Thousands of Sudanese civilians are also estimated to have died as the supply of anti-malaria drugs was cut off.
White House officials say they have only "loosely" linked "one or two names" to the Benghazi attack - meaning that drone strikes are more likely than legal action as "the burden of proof is far lower."
But ex-CIA counterterror chief Robert Grenier admitted that drone assassinations "raise all kinds of sovereignty issues and make people very uncomfortable."
Liyba has told the US not to fly armed drones over the country, but it may do it anyway.
Many US drones are active over Mali, though they have not yet been used to kill anyone there.