Two groups that attacked the U.S. mission in Benghazi are about to be designated as terrorists. But officials say they aren't "official affiliates" of al Qaeda.
The State Department confirmed Wednesday that two Libyan groups reportedly set to be designated as terrorists took part in the Benghazi 9-11 anniversary attacks of 2012. But the Obama administration insists there is no evidence linking the attack to al Qaeda's central leadership.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki chose her words carefully saying the branches of Ansar al-Sharia, a militia that claimed credit for the Benghazi attack in the first hours after the incident on social media were not "official affiliates" of al Qaeda.
“Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Ansar al-Sharia in Derna have been involved in terrorist attacks in the past, of course, against civilian targets, frequent assassinations, and attempted assassinations of security officials and political actors in eastern Libya," Jen Psaki said. She added that these attacks "include the September 11th attack against the special mission and annex in Benghazi, Libya.”
Psaki was responding to a report in the Washington Post that the Obama administration would soon designate the Derna and Benghazi branches of Ansar al-Shariah as terrorist organizations.
The State Department has no intention of providing Congress more witnesses to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, despite Sen. Lindsey Graham’s threat to hold up all nominations until he gets satisfaction on the issue.
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya is seen in flames following an attack on September 11, 2012. (Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters, via Landov)
Graham’s Monday morning demand came after a new CBS 60 Minutes expose that featured an interview with a British security contractor who was on the ground and fought on the State Department compound and at the CIA annex during the attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The contractor, calling himself Morgan Jones, claimed that he had repeatedly warned officials about the vulnerability of the facility.
The expose also featured Stevens’ deputy Greg Hicks, who said he was preparing a third request for more security in Benghazi at the time of the attack, and Lt. Col. Andy Wood, one of the top security officials in Libya at the time, who said he had repeatedly warned the State Department that the Benghazi mission was going to be attacked by Al Qaeda.
In the year since the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission, no one has been arrested, even though the suspects are well known.
A year after radical Islamists attacked the U.S. mission in Benghazi in an assault that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the suspects remain at large in eastern Libya—to the mounting frustration of American officials working to bring the assailants to justice.
An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. (AFP/Getty)
Benghazi isn’t exactly a city that FBI agents have been able to spend much time in, so much of the evidence has is based on U.S. drone surveillance and on electronic intelligence.
Several of the ringleaders have been indicted in absentia in a New York court, and U.S. officials say evidence of their involvement in the attack has been shared with Libyan authorities. But so far, the Libyans have made no moves to apprehend the indicted suspects—an inaction that has some American lawmakers, including Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, fuming about the lack of consequences for the taking of American lives.
It failed to protect the most high-risk posts.
Well, well. According to an internal government report, an independent panel of experts found the Department of State failed to protect America’s high-risk embassies and consulates despite knowing they were vulnerable. This included the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, which was the site of a bloody attack on September 11, 2012. The assessment, which visited all high-risk missions, reveals that the State Department failed to identify the problematic conditions, had no matrix for determining threatened posts other than “experience and intuition,” and had no intelligence analyst on staff at the five high-risk facilities. Even after Benghazi, security officials never debriefed survivors to review what went wrong.
Secretary of State John Kerry has determined that the four State Department officials placed on administrative leave by Hillary Clinton after the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi do not deserve any formal disciplinary action and has asked them to come back to work at the State Department starting Tuesday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the September attack on U.S. diplomatic sites in Benghazi, Libya, during a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 23. (Jason Reed/Reuters, via Landov)
Last December, Clinton’s staff told four midlevel officials to clean out their desks and hand in their badges after the release of the report of its own internal investigation into the Benghazi attack, compiled by the Administrative Review Board led by former State Department official Tom Pickering and former Joint Chiefs chairman Ret. Adm. Mike Mullen. Those four officials have been in legal and professional limbo, not fired but unable to return to their jobs, for eight months ... until today.
Former deputy assistant secretary of State Raymond Maxwell, the only official from the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau to lose his job over the Benghazi attack, told The Daily Beast on Monday he received a memo from the State Department’s human-resources department informing him his administrative leave status has been lifted and he should report for duty Tuesday morning.
Against the leader of the Libyan militia.
Charges were filed Tuesday against the leader of the Libyan militia, Ahmed Khattalah—the first criminal charges to emerge from an ongoing investigation into the September 11, 2012, attack that killed four Americans. Khattalah is one of several who authorities believe was behind the deadly siege where rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons were used against American officials. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder revealed that “significant progress” had been made in the investigation and promised that the public would soon be made aware of the developments. The initial charges are allegedly contained in a complaint filed in New York City.
During the deadly September 11 attack in Libya.
Well, this is straight out of an episode of Homeland. According to a CNN investigation, dozens of CIA operatives were on the ground in Benghazi, Libya, for a top-secret operation on the night of the September 11 attack that killed four Americans. Sources say that since then, the agency has been conducting polygraph examinations with an unprecedented frequency to ensure that no one has revealed the mission to the media or Congress. “Initially they were not afraid to come forward. They wanted the opportunity, and they wanted to be subpoenaed, because if you're subpoenaed, it sort of protects you ... Now that’s all changed,” says Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, who claims he was contacted by CIA employees in the attack’s aftermath and has repeatedly requested that Congress open a probe.
Ambassador’s thoughts leading up to attack.
Chris Stevens’s journal has been published online, revealing the innermost thoughts of the slain U.S. ambassador to Libya in his final days. SOFREP.com, a military website that promotes the opinion of a deliberate government cover-up of the attack on the compound, posted pages from the diary today—pages that provide an insight into Stevens’s personal life and professional commitment, hopeful, even amid concerns for his own security. In one entry he writes, “Islamist ‘hit list’ in Benghazi. Me targeted…” and his final entry, on September 11, reads, “Never ending security threats...”
Including a U.S. ambassador’s “endemic” prostitution use.
A drug ring near the American Embassy in Iraq; a U.S. ambassador’s “endemic” trysts with prostitutes; sexual assault by a security official in Beirut; thwarted investigations. These are just a few of the alleged juicy bits in an internal memo from the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General detailing potentially widespread misconduct by staff during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State. The memo, given to CNN by a whistleblower who worked under Clinton, could add fuel to the fire surrounding the Benghazi scandal, sully her reputation as SOS, and block any further political aspirations. But if anyone knows sex scandals need not get in the way of political goals or getting the job done, it’s Hillary. Meanwhile, the ambassador accused of engaging with prostitutes has vehemently denied doing so.
Republicans aim to use a confirmation hearing for Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s spokeswoman during the Benghazi scandal, to demand new answers about it.
President Obama’s nominee to become the State Department’s top official dealing with Europe is facing a tough confirmation battle due to her role in the administration’s reaction to the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
Victoria Nuland addresses a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September 2007. (Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty)
Some observers concluded that Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s spokeswoman during the Benghazi scandal, would have a smooth path to confirmation for the job of assistant secretary of State for Europe after GOP senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a semi-supportive statement on her last week. But behind the scenes, several other Republican senators are planning to put several roadblocks in front of her confirmation. Some of their concerns are related to her involvement in editing the official talking points following the Benghazi attack and some are related to parts of the Benghazi scandal Nuland had nothing to do with.
The McCain-Graham statement was a reflection of the unique character of the Nuland nomination. A career foreign-service officer, she has served Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney, was the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and is married to influential neoconservative writer Robert Kagan, who currently works at the Brookings Institution.
In a letter to John Kerry.
Fifteen House Republicans are demanding answers about whether the State Department officials blamed for the fatal Benghazi attack in an independent audit still have their jobs. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the lawmakers asked what steps the department is taking “to resolve the issue of their employment status.” An internal review found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” that resulted in the deaths of four American diplomats last year, but did not recommend firing anyone. So far, a few officials have been placed on administrative leave, but only one person has been let go in wake of the scandal.
In a classified hearing, a House panel is trying to figure out how the attack transpired. Did the attackers know that secret location, or did they learn it that night? By Eli Lake.
More than eight months after the 9/11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, the CIA is still trying to find out how the attack that killed two former Navy SEALs at the agency’s annex transpired.
The CIA knows more than they're letting on about the attack on the consulate building in Benghazi last September. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)
The attack on the CIA base came more than seven hours after an armed mob stormed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, setting the compound ablaze and killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department communications officer who was with him.
On Wednesday, Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell—along with CIA officers who were at the agency’s Benghazi base on the night of the attack—testified at a classified hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In the closed hearing, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the proceedings, Morell was asked by Republican members about how the second wave of attackers knew to go to the CIA annex, which was a mile away from the diplomatic mission. Morell responded that at this point the CIA did not know whether the attackers had known the location of the annex or learned about it on the evening of the attack, according to these sources.
Part of why the State Department has taken the brunt of the political blame for the Benghazi attack, writes Eli Lake, is that clandestine services by definition have very little public oversight.
At a secret February ceremony at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., the chief of the CIA’s base in Benghazi the night of the 9/11 anniversary attacks there was awarded one of the agency’s highest intelligence medals, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.
The interior of the burnt US consulate building in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)
The honor given behind closed doors to “Bob,” the officer who was in charge of the Benghazi intelligence annex and CIA base that was attacked in the early morning of September 12, 2012 and then abandoned for nearly three weeks, illustrates the murky lines of command that preceded the attack, and helped make it a politically volatile issue. While the State Department was responsible for elements of the security for the diplomatic mission at Benghazi, the mission itself was used primarily for intelligence activities and most the U.S. officials there and at the nearby annex were CIA officers who used State Department cover.
That purposeful ambiguity between diplomatic and intelligence efforts abroad has meant that at home, the State Department has taken almost all of the public blame for an error that was in part the fault of the CIA. And while CIA contractors performed heroically on the evening of the Benghazi attacks, Bob was also responsible in part for one major failure the night of the Benghazi attack: his officers were responsible for vetting the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade, the militia that was supposed to be the first responder on the night of the attack, but melted away when the diplomatic mission was attacked.
Raymond Maxwell, the only official at the State Department's bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to lose his job after the attacks, tells Josh Rogin that he’s been scapegoated by Hillary Clinton’s team.
Following the attack in Benghazi, Libya, senior State Department officials close to Hillary Clinton ordered the removal of a midlevel official who had no role in security decisions and has never been told the charges against him. He is now accusing Clinton’s team of scapegoating him for the failures that led to the death of four Americans last year.
Hillary Clinton laughs as she testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in January. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Raymond Maxwell was placed on forced “administrative leave” after the State Department’s own internal investigation, conducted by an Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by former State Department official Tom Pickering. Five months after he was told to clean out his desk and leave the building, Maxwell remains in professional and legal limbo, having been associated publicly with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American for reasons that remain unclear.
Maxwell, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from August 2011 until his removal last December, following tours in Iraq and Syria, spoke publicly for the first time in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast.
Why the CIA bears the main responsibility for the intelligence failures that led to the atrocity in Libya last year. By Christopher Dickey
On September 12 last year, President Obama made a vow in the White House Rose Garden. The previous night attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost and a nearby CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation,” Obama declared. “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”
NBC NewsWire via Getty; AFP/Getty; Ben Curtis/AP
Of all the questions being asked in Washington these days about what happened in Benghazi, the most important should be this: Has justice been done? And the answer to that is ‘no.’
And so, if not, why not?
The agency seemed unaware prior to the attack of how unreliable or possibly compromised the February 17 militia actually was, reports Eli Lake.
The mother of former State Department officer Sean Smith, who was killed during last fall's consulate attack, joined CNN's 'The Lead' to slam the administration's handling of the situation and blame former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying 'It's her department; she's supposed to be on top of it.'
The president needs to start by making some big changes at the White House, by showing Valerie Jarrett and Kathleen Sebelius the door. Then he’s got to take a hard look in the mirror.
Welcome to D.C., David Cameron. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron held a joint press conference today, but the duo was met with a barrage of questions on the Benghazi embassy attack and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups. Obama dismissed questions about Benghazi, saying, “There’s no there, there.” As for the allegations about the IRS, Obama promised to investigate. “I have no patience for it. I will not tolerate it,” he said. “You don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased.”