The three legs of the Benghazi scandal:
1. The criminally reckless refusal to increase security at Benghazi despite full knowledge of the increasing threat.
2. The failure to respond to the terrorist attack in Benghazi with any military assets.
3. The post attack actions of the Obama administration, from lying about the nature of the attacks to stonewalling and witness intimidation.
Today's hearing on Benghazi before the House Committee On Oversight and Government Reform informed on all of these legs, but brought to light more questions than answers.
Hicks Testimony Contradicts The Accountability Review Board
As regards the refusal to increase security at Benghazi, Gregory Hicks, former top deputy to Ambassador Christopher Stevens, said that Ambassador went to Benghazi on Sep. 11 because Sec. of State Clinton was going to convert the Benghazi mission to a permanent constituent post. Yet the Accountability Review Board, in their whitewash of Clinton and the State Dept., justified the failure to increase security in Benghazi on the grounds that it was a "temporary" post whose future was "uncertain." Those assertions are in direct contradiction - one that might have been answered if the Accountability Review Board had actually interviewed Secretary of State Clinton. It raises yet more questions as why increased security was refused. If you will recall, there are indications that it was done in respect to a policy decision referenced in certain e-mails.
Military Assets & FEST Were Denied Permission To Repond
As regards the lack of any military response, Hicks testified that a four man special ops detachment was twice denied clearance to travel from Tripoli to Benghazi to respond to the attack. No justification was given, and Hicks speculated that the stand down order came from AFRICOM.
Mark Thompson, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism at the State Department, on duty when the first reports of the terrorist attack reached Washington, testified that he immediately sought White House approval to activate FEST, described by the State Dept. as an:
. . . on-call, short-notice team poised to respond to terrorist incidents worldwide. Led and trained by the Operations Directorate of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, it assists U.S. missions and host governments in responding quickly and effectively to terrorist attacks. The FEST, which has deployed to over 20 countries since its inception in 1986, leaves for an incident site within four hours of notification, providing the fastest assistance possible.
The FEST provides round-the-clock advice and assistance to Ambassadors and foreign governments facing crisis. The Team is comprised of seasoned experts from the Department of State, FBI, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the Intelligence Community. Once on the scene, FEST members help Ambassadors assess the emergency, advise on how best to respond, and assist in managing consequent operations. . . .
Thompson testified that the request was denied by the White House with no justification given. Hicks further testified that the defense attache said that jets from Italy could've been there in 2-3 hours, but there were no tankers to refuel them. To add, an F22 has a range of about 1,800 miles. Using back of an envelope calculations, a flight from the air base in Italy to Benghazi would have eaten up about half or more of the fuel, so refueling would be an issue. That said, where were the tankers and what would there response time have been?
The testimony as to FEST is indeed significant, but on the larger issue of a lack of military response, it is little more than walking around the margins. The day of the attack was Sept. 11. Hours earlier there had already been a potential incident at the Embassy in Cairo. I spent too long in the military as an infantry officer, including doing plans and operations in Korea, to believe anything other than that AFRICOM, responsible for military operations in Egypt and Libya, would have had contingency plans operational and soldiers suited up and on alert for just such an attack as occurred in Benghazi. Knowing what I know, anything else is inconceivable. The one person we have yet to hear from is General Ham, the Commander of AFRICOM on Sep. 11, 2012. He has not been heard from since Sept. 11, 2012, but he was relieved of his command early, a little more than a month after the attack. Get him in front of a hearing and we will get full and honest answers to why there was a complete lack of military response, leaving our State Dept. and CIA personnel in Benghazi to fight and die wholly on their own.
On a related note, the Hill is running a story today that Obama's Pentagon is refusing to comply with a request from the House to provide "access to documents on last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi."
Post Attack Cover-up
Lastly, on the issue of the post attack actions by the White House and Sec. of State, Hicks testified that no one from the State Dept. mission in Libya ever characterized the attack as anything other than a terrorist attack. There was never even a suggestion that it was a movie review gone rogue. This from PJM:
Hicks testified to a pattern of behavior that leads to the reasonable conclusion that many officials within the State Department wanted him to remain silent after the Benghazi attack. He said that on the night of the attack he was personally commended both by Secretary Clinton and President Barack Obama. But he later questioned why Ambassador Rice blamed the YouTube movie, and from that point on his superior, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, questioned his “management style” and told him directly that no one in State should want him on their team in the field again. He was eventually demoted to a desk job after having been deputy to Ambassador Stevens, and remains in that post. Hick also testified that the Accountability Review Board, convened by Clinton last fall allegedly to determine the facts of the attack, never had stenographers in the room during his tw0-hour interview. Nordstrom concurred. Thompson was not even allowed to testify to the ARB despite having direct knowledge of the attacks due to his position on the U.S. Foreign Emergency Support Team. Thompson testified that the FEST was designed to go from zero to wheels up very quickly but was not deployed at all. He wanted to tell his story to the ARB, but was not allowed to. Hicks also testified that for the first time in his career, the State Department assigned a lawyer/minder to attend witness interviews with the ARB. He also testified that Jones told him not to be personally interviewed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican House member who was investigating the attack on behalf of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. It all adds up to a pattern of witness control and intimidation.
Questions Raised Or Left Unanswered
In sum, as regards the three legs of this scandal, this hearing scratched a bit below the surface, but left more questions than answers on each of the issues. We still don't know anything approaching the full story behind the criminally reckless refusals to increase security, only now we know that the ostensible reason for the refusal given by the Accountability Review Board is likely false.
We now know that some military assets were withheld and we now know that someone in the White House made a decision to sideline the FEST team. Who and why remain unanswered. Further, as to all available military assets, we need to hear directly from Gen. Ham. Lastly, never addressed during the hearing - but still out there - is Obama's role in the non-response. I can guarantee that if he said deploy to Benghazi and deploy now, the military would have had assets on the ground long before the last two Americans died some seven hours after hostilities began.
As to the post attack cover-up, there seems to be no question that we were lied to by the Sec. of State and the President in the days and weeks following the attack. There is a real question as to whether the Accountability Review Board report, issued in Dec., was a whitewash. I will add that it seems obvious that it was.
Finally, let me speculate on what I think happened as to the three legs of this scandal. The refusals to provide additional security despite the dangerously increasing threat were the result of a policy approved by or at least known to Clinton, if not Obama. Do remember the e-mails discussing a decision made to "normalize" our security posture in Libya. As to the second leg, when the attack came, Obama did precisely as I forecast he or Clinton would do in such a situation in a post I wrote in 2008 - he made a purely political decision not to deploy assets and risk a major embarrassment prior to the election. Lastly, the charges of a cover up really go beyond speculation at this point. Obama will stonewall this for as long as possible, and every left wing media outlet in the nation has already circled the wagons around Hillary. The reality is that their cover-up may work - or at least it will until the House gets Gen. Ham under oath. Then I will be proven wrong or the dam will break.