For those of you following the new round of Benghazi hearings, I thought you might be interested in an estimate of what you will and won’t be hearing…and why not. If you have already read Surprise Attack you know all this of course….
Questions quoted from CNN article by Elise Labott
1. Why did the United States remain in Benghazi despite the escalation of violence and even as other consulates were closed? Committee staff say they hope to hear from Clinton what the “vital national interests” in Benghazi were that outweighed the obvious risks.
…..the vital American interests were not diplomatic but relate to a large scale arms interdiction and weapons transfer program being carried out by the CIA station in Benghazi; the diplomatic mission was used as an employment cover. Clinton is legally restrained from talking about CIA operations as would be any members of the Benghazi committee actually briefed on the operation if it has been revealed to the House and Senate intelligence committees. That simple fact makes this particular line of inquiry a nonstarter and simply political theater.
2. Why wasn’t Clinton aware of requests for additional security in Benghazi?
……..this one is more complex but Stevens himself rejected military security for his trip to Benghazi and the facility itself was not officially registered with the Libyan government and was considered temporary. We do know that there was only a single diplomatic officer stationed there and that was on a rotating basis, there appear to have been plans to turn it into a real diplomatic facility but deterioration of the security situation in the country argued against that. This one will be really hard to address without bringing in its role as a cover for operations at the separate CIA station about a mile and a half away. Referred to as the “annex” for cover purposes, that station itself violated a number of historic practices which traditionally had not placed CIA operations bases near American facilities. Intelligence activities are routinely hidden inside State Department missions but that type of cover is far different than providing a physical cover for field stations.
3. What was Clinton’s involvement in discussions about a military response?
…..this one is much easier to talk about. The State Department FEST response teams have no military component and only respond to an incident after security is restored. Legally national command authority (President/SecDef) are the only ones empowered to direct a military response and that is a matter of giving an order to the appropriate unified military command – in this case AFRICOM. That was done, Clinton was not involved and should not have been. If anything the CIA and its military element should have been consulted and involved – that appears to have happened but earlier investigations suggest AFRICOM was not even initially aware of the Annex. On the other hand, JSOC task force Trans-Sahara, with personnel in Tripoli, was operating a surveillance drone east of Benghazi and appears to have been involved in at least some of the covert CIA operations. That could not be addressed by Clinton and the committee is carefully avoiding pursuing these areas of classified operations….which legally could not be discussed with them due to compartmentalized security restrictions even if they did. With the intelligence committees yes, with the Benghazi committee, no.
Beyond that there is a lot to say about the whole concept of military defense for diplomatic facilities, what was not available in terms of quick reaction then and what is now. Clinton can talk about that but it would be far better to question AFRICOM, SecDef and the Joint Chiefs. I haven’t checked but not much attention seems to have been paid to questioning SecDef Rumsfeld, who actually carried the military responsibility in regard to the capabilities available for responding to any attacks.
One point that may come is the rumor of some stand down order in regard to the military response. While that has been thoroughly debunked in earlier inquiries, it’s still being used for political points. However based on actual statements from the CIA security personnel at the annex we know that response was delayed because, as in earlier incidents, the CIA station chief was charged with maintaining a low profile and the preference was for local militia response. This is another non-starter for Clinton as she cannot talk about the reality of the CIA operation so any dialog in this are is going to be non-productive and largely for political effect.
4. Why did the State Department keep the Benghazi facility as a “temporary mission”?
……this one is really a tangent to the first question and has to do with the CIA operation and probably with failed hopes for a more stable and supportive situation in Libya. The Ambassador had extensive relationships in Benghazi, dating back to the revolution and no doubt initially saw it as a positive place for contacts. Earlier investigations suggested that he may not have realized how far the situation in eastern Libya had deteriorated as he had not been there in a year. Certainly the reason for his trip, and the ship that had sailed out of Libya for Turkey with a load of arms destined for CIA vetted groups in Syria is not going to be explored.
5. Could security improvements have been made before the attacks?
…..this one is easy although an interesting area for debate. Clinton will obviously have her own opinions. I discuss this whole are extensively in Surprise Attack. It’s the one place where she might be able to offer some positive input for the record but of course it’s Congress who funds all areas of the security and it’s an expensive thing. To date these discussions of what should be provided have repeatedly outstripped funding, which might make for a touchy area if Clinton wants to push back.