Will John Brennan clash with John Kerry over Benghazi? The survivors of the Benghazi attack exactly one year ago have yet to appear before Congressional committees investigating the terrorist attack that claimed four American lives. including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the first American Ambassador murdered in the line of duty in 33 years. CNN had earlier reported that the CIA had been polygraphing the survivors to make sure they hadn’t begun talking — to Congress or anyone else. Congress has been demanding access to them, but this week John Kerry told CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson that he would not produce the witnesses:
Secy Kerry tells congress he will not honor the request to make Benghazi survivors available for questioning.
— Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) September 10, 2013
Stephen Hayes reports this morning that the CIA Director has promised to produce them himself in response to a demand from House Intelligence chair Mike Rogers:
In a three-page letter to the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Rogers, CIA director John Brennan says that his agency will provide the “relevant information” to Rogers in order to facilitate meetings between CIA-affiliated personnel in Benghazi and congressional oversight committees. The offer of cooperation, dated September 3, 2013, comes as four committees of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives prepare to reinvigorate separate inquiries into the events of September 11, 2012, and their aftermath. In the next two weeks, the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Government Oversight and Reform, and Intelligence Committees will all hold hearings looking into different aspects of the Benghazi attacks – beginning with an Intelligence Committee hearing later this week on the lack of progress in the investigation and apprehension of the perpetrators of those attacks. 60 Minutes is planning to air its investigation into the Benghazi attacks later this fall.
In his letter to Rogers, Brennan responded to several specific questions the Intelligence Committee chairman had posed in a letter dated August 2, 2013, denying that CIA officers on the ground during the attacks had been subjected to polygraphs or required to sign non-disclosure agreements. He also denied that any CIA officers – “either staff or contractor” – had been told not to speak to Congress about the attacks or threatened with consequences for any such cooperation. “To the best of my knowledge after inquiry, I am unaware of any officer who has been threatened with reprisals,” Brennan wrote. “Nor would I tolerate such behavior. To retaliate or threaten retaliation would be a violation of law.”
But the most important part of Brennan’s letter was the brief section on the possibility of meetings with Benghazi survivors. “Finally, you asked that CIA provide a list of all officers in Libya on 11 September 2012 and arrange for the committee to speak to any of those officers regardless of their current location,” he wrote. “Information identifying those officers is classified. We will work with the Committee to provide the relevant information via classified channels.”
Hayes explains that House Republicans have been torn on how hard to press for this, as it might set some uncomfortable precedents later:
The request from Rogers for access to survivors came after considerable debate among Republicans in the House. One group of lawmakers expressed concerns about demanding access to the Benghazi survivors. Doing so, they argued, would set a bad precedent for intelligence officials in the field. CIA officers have to be risk takers to do their jobs effectively, this group maintained, and calling them back to Washington after a debacle like Benghazi could well make them more risk-averse.
But others argued that any CIA officials in Benghazi that night who wanted to talk were unlikely to do so without the protection that a congressional demand – or, more formally, a subpoena – would provide. CIA officers, they reasoned, wouldn’t volunteer to share details about the events of that night that could damage the Obama administration, particularly since the CIA director had been a close adviser to Barack Obama since his 2008 campaign. The only way these officials would talk is after a demand from Congress that they do so.
This once again casts light on the tension between the CIA and State Department over Benghazi. In the immediate aftermath of the sacking of the consulate, the White House tried to blame a YouTube video, and then when that story collapsed, the CIA. The CIA responded with a series of leaks about the incompetence of State, which then leaked more about the CIA, until the leaks petered out after a month or so.
Since then, most of the focus has fallen on State and the decisions made about security, but also about what the CIA may have been doing in Benghazi — perhaps trying to collect the weapons it dispersed during the Libyan rebellion and NATO-led intervention. Clearly, Kerry doesn’t want Congress poking its head into what the State Department did or did not do, but Brennan isn’t as interested in presenting a united front, and that might mean something interesting … or just be a recognition that the CIA simply can’t contain the survivors forever.
Meanwhile, of course, the fruits of decapitating the Qaddafi regime continue:
Either way, it’s shameful that the Obama administration has blocked access to these witnesses for a full year after the attack, whose anniversary is today. The American people deserve to know what led to that humiliation and what decisions were responsible for those deaths. Let’s hope we’re not commemorating the second anniversary of Benghazi before we get those answers.