House Republicans release report on Benghazi terror attacks

Posted at 10:07 AM, Jun 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-28 15:32:08-04
House Republicans wrapped up an expensive and partisan two-year probe of the Benghazi terror attacks Tuesday by releasing a report faulting the Obama administration for security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans but revealing no new evidence of wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton.

The deaths of the Americans put dozens of high-ranking Obama administration officials under intense public and political scrutiny — none more than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then the country’s chief diplomat.

Clinton makes appearances in the report, but she is only one in a vast collection of foreign service officers, security agents, politicians and advisers quoted in its 800 pages, which are redacted in places and contain what Democrats describe as partisan conclusions drawn by its GOP authors.

Here are the key excerpts from the panel’s findings:

The night of the attack

A diplomatic security agent talks about his unease the night of the attack — and its relation to the unrest in Egypt, which was tied to a controversial anti-Muslim video:

You know, I wasn’t going to go to sleep that night. I was probably going to stay up throughout the night just because, one, it’s September 11, you know, and what was happening in Egypt. So if anything was to happen, it would happen late at night, early morning. So I wasn’t going to go to bed.

I believe (Agent 2) was along the same mindset, but we hadn’t ratified whether, yes, this is what we are doing. It was just people are going to stay up. I had taken my weapon and ammunition and put it in my room. (Agent 2) had done the same thing. And I believe they had — (Agent 5) had his weapon with him as well in his room.

Another diplomatic security agent, “Agent 5,” talks about the moment he realized something was wrong:

Agent 5: Okay, so the evening started with (Agent 4), (Agent 2) and I sitting at a table near the pool at the end of the night. Ambassador Stevens had come by and said, ‘I’m going to bed.’ Sean Smith said the same thing and went, you know, went inside the villa, and we were just sitting out kind of relaxing at the end of the night.

While we were talking, I started hearing some kind of chanting, I thought it was. So I told the others, you know, I told the other two, “Hang on. Just listen for a minute.” And what we heard was chanting. And it was my impression that it was coming closer. You know, so immediately when I realized, you know, that this is a potential security incident, or a potential something, I said, you know, get your gear, right now. I ran into Villa C where the Ambassador and Sean Smith were and the other two ran in a different direction.

“Agent 4” on the surprise nature of the assault on the mission:

Q: “Would it be then an accurate description to describe the attack as sort of a stealth attack?

A: It was very sudden. As I had mentioned, the only warning that I had that something was amiss was that — kind of that cry that I heard at the main gate. So it was very sudden.

Agent 4 also testified of the attack:

A: No, I never told them that there was a protest.

Q: Was it your assessment that there was a protest?

A: No.

Q: Do you believe there was a protest?

A: I don’t.

Gregory Hicks, the highest ranking official in Tripoli, testified that he talked with Stevens moments after the Benghazi attack began:

A: I punched the number that I did not recognize and called it back, to call it back, and I got Chris on the line. And he said, “Greg, we are under attack.” And I am walking outside, trying to get outside, because we have notoriously bad cell phone connectivity at our residence, and usually it’s better outside. So I say, my response is, “Okay,” and I am about to say something else, and the line clicks. I try to reach him back on the — I begin walking immediately to our tactical operations center, because I knew that everybody would be gathering there, and I could then also summon everybody that needed to be at the — to begin the process of responding. And I am trying to call back on those numbers to reconnect, and not getting — either not getting a signal or not getting a response.

Q: And did you ever make a connection with the ambassador again?

A: No. I never did.

Q: That was the last you spoke to him?

A: That was the last I spoke to him.

More from Hicks on his direct communication with Clinton and other officials while Stevens was still considered missing:

A: No. I really didn’t get — you know, about 2:00 a.m. (8:00 p.m. in Washington D.C.), the secretary called —

Q: Okay.

A: — along with — her senior staff was on the —

Q: Okay. Do you recall who was on that call?

A: It was Wendy Sherman, Cheryl Mills, Steve Mull, Beth Jones, Liz — I am not sure whether Liz Dibble was on the phone or not at that time. I know Beth Jones was. Jake Sullivan. And so I briefed her on what was going on, talked about the situation. And at 2:00 a.m., of course, Chris [Stevens] is in the hospital, although the Libyan Government will not confirm that he’s in the hospital. All they will tell us is he’s in a safe place, or they will imply that he’s with us at the [Annex] facility, which, of course, we have to feed back to them and say, no, we don’t know where he is. It is a constant conversation, and I’m still talking to the same people.

The vice minister of the Interior (of Libya) chimes in sometime before midnight. And I’m pressing him to get their firefighters to the building to put the fire out, assuming that if they go to put the fire out, that they will send some security people with the firefighters to protect the firefighters.

We tried everything that we could.

The aftermath and Obama administration response

Jake Sullivan, a top State Department aide and adviser to Clinton, answers questions from the committee on why the administration mentioned the video in the initial public statement:

Q: Do you recall whose idea it was to include that sentence?

A: I believe that it was my idea to include that sentence. It was either mine or Toria’s [State Department spokesperson] or a combination of the two of us, but I thought it was important to include that sentence.

Q: And why is that?

A: Well there are two aspects to this. One was we didn’t know the motivation of the actual attackers of Benghazi, so I didn’t want to say they did it because of the video, and so I chose the words very carefully to say that some have sought to justify it on that basis. But I thought it was really important for us to be able to express our views on the video and to say there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind, as well as to say we deplore efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others because I was deeply concerned that we could potentially face attacks on our embassies elsewhere. And, unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.

Minutes before the President Barack Obama’s Rose Garden speech, the report quotes Sullivan’s email Ben Rhodes, the President’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting:

There Was not really much violence in Egypt. And we are not saying that the violence in Libya erupted “over inflammatory videos.”

The committee questions the initial messaging and intelligence briefs after the attacks

While the title of this text box (in an early report) was “Extremists Capitalized on Benghazi Protests,” nothing in the actual text box supports that title. The summary paragraph in the text box, through which the rest of the text box would flow, read:

We assess the attacks on Tuesday against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi began spontaneously following the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the Consulate and a separate US facility in the city. Extremists with ties to al Qaeda were involved in the attacks, according to signals intelligence.

Asked by the committee about the title of an initial intel report, the manager of the analysts who wrote it told the committee that it was a “mistake” — they meant for “Benghazi” to say “Cairo”:

Q: The title here: “Extremists Capitalized on Benghazi Protests.” So we talked to (the OTA Director) about this. She called it an unfortunate title?

A: It was a — we made a mistake.

Q: Okay. So when you say “we made a mistake,” I mean, where — how would that have been —

A: So, God, how do I begin? … So “Extremists Capitalized on Benghazi Protests.” Benghazi was supposed to be Cairo. So —

Q: Okay.

A: But let me explain that. So — and, frankly, it’s a mistake that we didn’t even notice until we published the (World Intelligence Review) on the 24th, where I was talking to a senior person as he was reviewing it, and he was looking back and asking, I thought: Oh, my God, we were talking about Cairo.

Arriving in Libya and early communications with Amb. Stevens

A diplomatic security agent on his impressions upon arriving at the Benghazi mission in November 2011:

While I was in Benghazi … the compound was woefully inadequate in terms of physical security. There were a whole number of things that we didn’t have, and a lot of things that we did have were completely insufficient … Our perimeter security is nonexistent, we have walls with lattices that somebody can shoot through; we have walls with footholds people can climb over; we have a 4 foot wall back here; we have no lighting. So all these physical security standards, especially around the perimeter of the building were completely insufficient, and we needed large amounts of money and this was going to take time, it was going to be expensive, but we needed this desperately to make this place safe.”

The committee on the threat facing diplomats in Libya and the State Department’s response:

Saying Stevens “understood” the risks without also acknowledging he repeatedly tried to guard against and defend against those risks is unfortunate. Yes it is clear Stevens knew the risks associated with his service in Libya from the moment he landed in Benghazi in 2011 on a chartered Greek boat until his final phone call to Gregory Hicks saying “we’re under attack.”

Washington D.C. dismissed Steven’s multiple requests for additional security personnel, while also asking for help in messaging the very violence he was seeking security from.”

The committee on State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland’s communications with Ambassador Chris Stevens:

Washington D.C. dismissed Stevens’ multiple requests for additional security personnel, while also asking for help in messaging the very violence he was seeking security from.

In this email, Nuland asked Stevens in June 2012 for “messaging” help following a rise in violence in the area:

I know you have your hands full but we’d like your advice about our public messaging on the spate of violence in Libya over the past ten days.

Should we now move to something a bit sharper than calling on all sides to work it out? What cd/wd we say about whether the incidents are linked, why they are going after NGO and Western targets now, impact on electoral environment etc…

Emails, secret documents and the investigation

The committee on Clinton’s contact with Sidney Blumenthal in the run up to the military intervention in Libya:

During this period, the Secretary received extensive and regular communications from Sidney S. Blumenthal. Blumenthal frequently offered commentary about developments in Libya (as well as more general commentary about other matters) — (REDACTED) — and recommending various courses of U.S. action. Although Blumenthal had been rejected by the White House for employment at the Department of State, and (REDACTED) Secretary Clinton responded to his emails and in some cases forwarded them to her top policy aides and career foreign service officers in the Department for their reaction and comment. The Secretary described Blumenthal’s emails as “unsolicited.”

The committee excoriates Clinton and her legal counsel for, they say, giving them the run-around on her email:

This “who’s on first” routine orchestrated between the Secretary’s private counsel and the State Department, which is ostensibly an apolitical governmental diplomatic entity, is shameful.

At one point, they detail the absurdity of the situation, calling it a “Catch-22”:

[D]elaying document productions for these senior officials in turn delayed the interviews of the same senior officials, which in turn delayed the interview of the Secretary. It is readily apparent this was by design and presented the Committee with a ‘Catch-22’: either interview senior State Department officials, including the Secretary, without the benefit of the documents needed for a constructive conversation, or postpone those interviews pending document production and be criticized for taking too long.

The committee received a lot of documents, but in the report did not seem satisfied that the agencies and individuals that supplied them had been fully transparent:

The Committee issued three additional subpoenas to the State Department (detailed below) and made nine individual document requests.22 Committee document requests resulted in approximately 75,420 pages of new material:

• The State Department produced approximately 71,640 pages of documents not previously provided to Congress.

• The CIA produced 300 pages of new intelligence analyses.

• The White House produced 1,450 pages of emails.

• Sidney S. Blumenthal produced 179 pages of emails.

• The FBI produced 200 pages of documents.

• The Defense Department produced 900 pages of documents.

• The National Security Agency produced 750 pages of documents. It is important to rebut a frequent talking point.

The number of documents produced is in isolation meaningless without knowing the relevance of the documents actually produced and the number of relevant documents not produced. An agency that compliments itself on the number of pages provided to investigators when it alone knows the number of relevant pages withheld is engaged in propaganda, not transparency.