Washington, D.C. (October 30, 2013) – In a 30-minute speech today on the House floor, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) again called on House leadership to create a Select Committee on Benghazi, saying the threshold for creating the special panel has been reached in terms of the number of cosponsors and endorsements of the measure, as well as several revelations about the attack that have been covered in the press in recent weeks.
Wolf said that in the nearly 11 months since he first introduced the measure, the broad support that has been built “makes it clear we have more than passed the threshold for a Select Committee now … Let’s get to the truth once and for all so we can find out what happened and restore the American people’s confidence in congressional oversight.”
Just last week, a bipartisan national poll revealed that 63 percent of Americans think the Obama Administration is covering up the facts about the Benghazi attack, and just 29 percent of registered voters believe the administration has been honest. Further, 83 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Independents support the idea, and notably, nearly half of Democrats said it was important to create a bipartisan committee to learn the truth.
“Bottom line: Americans from across the political spectrum recognize that not only are they not being told the truth [about Benghazi], but they feel Congress needs to change its approach to the investigation by creating a special committee,” Wolf said.
Wolf also pointed to several recent developments that confirm the individuals involved in the Benghazi attack were senior al Qaeda associates with ties to the group going back decades, and that the plot appears to have been weeks, if not months, in the making.
Wolf said that according to Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, “sources said one of the suspects was believed to be a courier for the Al Qaeda network, and the other a bodyguard in Afghanistan prior to the 2001 terror attacks,” noting that “the direct ties to the Al Qaeda senior leadership undercut early characterizations by the Obama administration that the attackers in Benghazi were isolated “extremists” – not Al Qaeda terrorists – with no organizational structure or affiliation.”
Further, Wolf described a 60 Minutes piece that aired this past Sunday in which CBS’ sources confirmed what Wolf had detailed on the House floor this past July: “a quick reaction force from the CIA Annex ignored orders to wait and raced to the compound, at time running and shooting their way through the streets just to get there.” Alarmingly, the piece also included information saying that when the terrorists stormed the consulate property, they said “We’re here to kill Americans, not Libyans” and spared the lives of the Libyan guards, Wolf said.
CBS’ Lara Logan also addressed the pressure on witnesses she encountered during the 60 Minutes investigation, saying “An extraordinary amount of pressure on anyone in the government – the military side, the political side – not to say anything outside of official channels.”
“This is consistence with the concerns I have repeatedly raised on the House floor about efforts by this administration to silence survivors and witnesses to the Benghazi attack and response,” Wolf said. “What are they afraid of these witnesses sharing with the American people? And how can the Congress stand by and allow this to happen, knowing full well it is taking place?”
Wolf pointed out numerous intelligence failures that occurred prior to and following the attack.
“The administration’s response to the Benghazi attack over the last year has been nothing short of shameful – and that also merits a full investigation by a Select Committee,” Wolf said. “From the first hours of the attack, when it became apparent that no help was coming to assist those under attack – either from U.S. forces or our allies in the region – to the failure of the FBI to gain access to key suspects in Tunisia and Egypt over the last year, this administration has sent a signal to terrorists that the U.S. will not strongly respond to an attack on Americans abroad.”
Wolf’s measure to create a House Select Committee on Benghazi currently has 178 cosponsors – more than a supermajority in the House. It has been endorsed by the family members of the victims, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Special Operations community and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents the Diplomatic Security agents who were at the consulate in Benghazi.
For a full list of endorsements, click here.
For more on Wolf’s work on Benghazi, click here.
The full text of Wolf’s floor speech.
We need a public hearing with the principals involved in the decision making process in Washington on September 11, 2012, including former Secretary Panetta, former Secretary Clinton, former CIA Director Petraeus, former White House advisor and current CIA director John Brennan and former AFRICOM commander General Ham, as well as the White House.
We also need a similar hearing with each of their deputies and others who were witness to the calls for help and the decisions surrounding the response.
Unless we hear from these people publicly, the American people will never learn the truth about whether there were warnings prior to the attack, what calls for help were made that night, whether the CIA security team was in fact delayed in leaving to respond to the initial attack at the consulate and what the response was from Washington, among many other questions.
Until these key individuals are sitting side-by-side answering questions under oath, we will never get a clear picture of who made decisions that night and why. Failure to get those answers means there will never be any accountability, which further erodes public confidence in government.
Absent a Select Committee, the Congress will fail to learn the truth about what happened that night because the administration will continue to use the jurisdictional barriers between each committee to continue to slow walk or deny information.
There are a number of new developments in recent weeks that make a Select Committee more timely than ever.
First, our colleague Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, confirmed earlier reports telling Fox News that the plot against the consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi appears to have been weeks, if not months, in the making and that at least two of the plot’s leaders had close connections to senior al Qaeda leadership.
Nearly a year ago, I circulated a memo to all Members prepared by respected terrorism analyst Thomas Joscelyn detailing the apparent connections and likely coordination between al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen that resulted in threats and attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in those countries the week of September 11, 2012. Unfortunately the committees have not held public hearings looking at the connection between these threats.
Last week, Fox News’ Catherine Herridge first reported that: “At least two of the key suspects in the Benghazi terror attack were at one point working with Al Qaeda senior leadership, sources familiar with the investigation tell Fox News. The sources said one of the suspects was believed to be a courier for the Al Qaeda network, and the other a bodyguard in Afghanistan prior to the 2001 terror attacks.”
Herridge noted that, “The direct ties to the Al Qaeda senior leadership undercut early characterizations by the Obama administration that the attackers in Benghazi were isolated “extremists” — not Al Qaeda terrorists — with no organizational structure or affiliation.”
Then, on Sunday, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a segment by Lara Logan further explaining what happened that night and the increasingly clear connection to al-Qaeda. Logan reported that “Just a few weeks ago, Abu Anas al-Libi was captured for his role in the Africa bombings and the U.S. is still investigating what part he may have played in Benghazi. We’ve learned that this man, Sufian bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and long-time al Qaeda operative, was one of the lead planners along with Faraj al-Chalabi, whose ties to Osama bin Laden go back more than 15 years. He’s believed to have carried documents from the compound to the head of al Qaeda in Pakistan.”
It is particularly notable that al-Chalabi reportedly delivered documents from U.S. facilities in Benghazi to “the head of al Qaeda in Pakistan,” establishing a direct link between the Benghazi attacks and most senior leadership of al Qaeda.
Among the other revelations in the 60 Minutes segment:
• Al-Qaeda stated its intent to attack Americans in Benghazi, along with the Red Cross and the British mission well in advance of September 11. Lt. Col. Andy Wood, the top American security official in Libya in the months leading up to the attack told CBS that both the State Department and Defense Department were well aware of the threat and the attacks on the Red Cross and British mission and it was “obvious” to the Americans in Libya that it was only a matter of time until an attack on the U.S. facilities.
• When the terrorists stormed the consulate property, they said: “We’re here to kill Americans, not Libyans” and spared the lives of the Libyan guards.
• Confirmation of information I detailed on the House floor in July noting that “a quick reaction force from the CIA Annex ignored orders to wait and raced to the compound, at times running and shooting their way through the streets just to get there.”
• The Americans faced a “professional enemy” as they encountered waves of intense fighting on the CIA annex in Benghazi during the early morning of September 12. Mortars fired during the final wave of the assault hit the roof of the annex three times in the dark. Lt. Col. Wood described hitting a target like that as “getting the basketball through the hoop over your shoulder” and that it took “coordination, planning training, experienced personnel” to pull off such a “well executed attack.”
• Two Delta Force operators who fought at the CIA annex, apparently as part of the impromptu team that flew in from Tripoli with Glen Doherty during the attack without permission from Washington, have “been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross – two of the military’s highest honors.”
• The U.S. already knew that senior al Qaeda leader Abu Anas al-Libi was in Libya and was “tasked by the head of al Qaeda to establish a clandestine terrorist network inside the country. Al-Libi was already wanted for his role in bombing two U.S. embassies in Africa.” Notably, the administration made no mention of his connection to the Benghazi attacks in its announcement of his capture last month.
• Some of the key questions that remain unanswered are why the CIA security team was ordered not to respond to the attack at the consulate and “why no larger military response ever crossed the border into Libya – something [U.S. deputy chief of mission] Greg Hicks realized wasn’t going to happen just an hour into the attack.”
It’s particularly noteworthy that Logan addressed the pressure on witnesses she encountered during her investigation, saying: “An extraordinary amount of pressure on the people involved not to talk. And an extraordinary amount of pressure on anyone in the government – the military side, the political side – not to say anything outside of official channels.”
This is consistent with the concerns I have repeatedly raised on the House floor about efforts by this administration to silence survivors and witnesses to the Benghazi attack and response.
What are they afraid of these witnesses sharing with the American people? And how can the Congress stand by and allow this to happen, knowing full well it is taking place?
CNN in July reported that: “Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency’s workings. The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress.”
Fox News, in a separate piece in July, reported: “At least five CIA employees were forced to sign additional nondisclosure agreements this past spring in the wake of the Benghazi attack.”
As someone who represents thousands of federal employees and contractors, including many who work for the CIA, FBI, State Department and the Defense Department, I know from years of firsthand experience how agencies can sometimes use various forms of pressure and intimidation to keep employees from sharing information of concern with Congress.
I know the Benghazi survivors and other witnesses that night from those agencies need the protection of a “friendly subpoena” to compel their testimony before Congress, particularly on a matter as sensitive as this.
So far, the committees have failed to provide this protection to allow survivors and other witnesses to allow them to share their story publicly.
Based on disclosures in recent news reports, I now believe that the Benghazi plot represents a significant intelligence failure by the U.S. at several levels. Understanding these failures – as well as the government’s inexplicable response during and after the attack – is critical to preventing future attacks.
I want to outline a number of the apparent intelligence failures leading up to the attack, which I believe a Select Committee investigation would confirm:
First, the State Department and CIA apparently failed in their assessment of the militia groups working for the Americans in Benghazi, including the February 17 Martyrs Brigade responsible for guarding the consulate property, which abandoned the Americans and may have even facilitated access to the compound for the terrorists. According to a May 21 article by Eli Lake on The Daily Beast, CIA “officers were responsible for vetting the February 17 Martyrs 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.”
Second, the State Department, Defense Department and CIA apparently failed to adjust their security posture to support the Americans in Benghazi based on the growing number of attacks on Western targets in Benghazi during the summer of 2012. To date, no one has explained or been held accountable for why the U.S. mission was so poorly secured, despite pleas for assistances from the Embassy staff in Tripoli to Washington. No one has adequately explained why the Defense Department’s emergency response team was on a routine training mission in Croatia during the week of September 11, when it should have been on alert to respond – especially given the threats to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt earlier in the day before the Benghazi attacks.
Third, the intelligence community apparently failed to understand the size and scope of the attack brewing in Benghazi in the months leading up to September 11. As Chairman Rogers acknowledged to Fox News’ Catherine Herridge last week, this was a well-coordinated attack that was many weeks, if not months in the making. Earlier this year, CNN reported on the number of foreign fighters that arrived in Benghazi to participate in the attack in the days leading up to September 11.
A witness in the 60 Minutes report noted how black al-Qaeda flags were openly flying in the months before the attack, and also noted the announced threat against U.S., British and Red Cross facilities. How did the government miss these warnings? Or were they simply ignored?
Fourth, the intelligence community seems to have more broadly failed to understand and anticipate how al-Qaeda was metastasizing in North Africa.
This administration has been quick to take credit for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and declared throughout the 2012 presidential campaign that as a result of its efforts that “core al-Qaeda” had been decimated.
However, the facts don’t support the administration’s narrative.
As CNN reported on Monday, terrorist attacks hit a record high in 2012 and, “More than 8,500 terrorist attacks killed more than 15,500 people last year as violence tore through Africa, Asia and the Middle East.” Increasingly, this includes North African countries, like Libya.
CNN also said that “Despite the death of Osama bin Laden and capture of other key al Qaeda leaders, the group has exported its brand of terrorism to other militant Muslims.” These groups include affiliates like Ansar al Sharia in Libya.
Additionally, CBS’ Lara Logan noted earlier this week following her report on Benghazi that, “it became evident to us during the course of our research that very little is known publicly about the true nature of al Qaeda’s network in Libya. And that has consequences beyond Benghazi and beyond Libya. It has consequences that speak to the national security interests of the United States of America.”
Most of these affiliate terrorist groups have sworn an allegiance to al-Qaeda and appear to closely coordinate their activities and plots with the “core al-Qaeda” leadership, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor. To dismiss or minimize their relationship with al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is misguided and dangerous, as we have seen over the last several years.
I fear that this administration’s insistence in treating “core al-Qaeda” in Afghanistan and Pakistan differently than groups like Ansar al Sharia in Libya has led to a dangerous mischaracterization of the threat – and has apparently resulted in a failure to anticipate attacks like the one that occurred in Benghazi.
Fifth, it appears that documents were taken from the consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi in the wake of the attacks. As I said earlier, 60 Minutes reported that terrorist Faraj al-Chalabi, whose ties to bin Laden go back nearly two decades, is “believed to have carried documents from the compound to the head of al Qaeda in Pakistan.” What was taken from the consulate and annex and given to al Qaeda’s leadership?
Additionally, as Lara Logan noted following her report, “We did not expect that we would find the U.S. compound in the state that we found it. There was still debris and ammunition boxes and a whiteboard that had the day’s assignment for the security personnel at the compound as of September 11, 2012.” Clearly in the chaos of the fighting and evacuation that night, information was left behind at the facilities that may have consequences for Americans operating in the region.
I also believe the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack over the last year has been nothing short of shameful – and that also merits a full investigation by a Select Committee. From the first hours of the attack, when it became apparent that no help was coming to assist those under attack – either from U.S. forces or our allies in the region – to the failure of the FBI to gain access to key suspects in Tunisia and Egypt over the last year, this administration has sent a signal to terrorists that the U.S. will not strongly respond to an attack on Americans abroad. The failure to either arrest or kill any of the scores of terrorists responsible for the attacks more than a year later is inexcusable and reflects unwillingness by this administration to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on countries harboring these terrorists.
I am increasingly convinced that this administration is more comfortable using the ongoing FBI investigation as an excuse not to answer questions than they are in bringing these terrorists to justice. As I said on the House floor in July, last year, Tunisia detained the first suspect in the Benghazi terror attacks, Ali Harzi, after he was deported from Turkey in the weeks following the attack. Tunisia, despite being the beneficiary of more than $300 million in U.S. foreign aid, refused to allow the FBI access to this suspect for nearly five weeks. It was only after Congressional threats to cut off the aid that the government of Tunisia reconsidered its position. Ultimately, the FBI interrogation team returned to Tunisia and was allowed just three hours to interview Harzi, with his lawyer and a Tunisian judge present. Not long after the FBI interview, Harzi was inexplicably released by Tunisian authorities, and his release was celebrated by Ansar al Sharia terrorists.
Last month, it was confirmed that Harzi has been involved in at least one assassination of a Tunisian political leader.
In another equally concerning case in Egypt, the FBI has been denied access to Muhammed Jamal, an al Qaeda-connected terrorist who ran training camps in Egypt and eastern Libya prior to the Benghazi attacks. Several of Jamal’s associates are believed to have participated in the Benghazi plot, and terrorism analysts believe that Jamal may have communicated directly with Zawahiri and al Qaeda leadership about this and other terrorist attacks. Although Jamal has been in Egyptian custody for more than a year on other terrorism-related charges, the U.S. has never been provided access to him under both the Morsi government and now the military government. I personally delivered a letter to former Ambassador Patterson in Cairo asking then-President Morsi to provide the FBI access to Jamal and his documents. I don’t believe the ambassador ever even delivered my letter, despite her assurances. Jamal’s connection to the Benghazi attack is particularly noteworthy given that both the U.S. and the United Nations formally designated him as a terrorist earlier this month. However, in another example of this administration’s aversion to discussing terrorist connections to the Benghazi attack, the UN designation clearly notes Jamal’s connection to the Benghazi attack, whereas the State Department designation omits it.
I believe there has been pressure from the administration to omit this type of information from U.S. intelligence products, sending conflicting signals to both our allies and to countries that may have Benghazi suspects of interest to the FBI. But if we’re unwilling to identify their involvement in the attacks, it further erodes U.S. credibility in asking for access to these individuals. This willful blindness is disingenuous and, ultimately, dangerous.
In early January, when I offered an amendment to create a Select Committee in the House Rules package for the 113th Congress, Speaker Boehner told the Republican Conference he didn’t believe that we had “reached the threshold” for a Select Committee. He suggested that we might get to the threshold, but the committees of jurisdiction just needed a little more time.
That may have been the case in January, but nearly 11 months later, I think the broad support that has built over the last year makes clear we have more than passed the threshold for a Select Committee now. I believe the “threshold” has clearly been reached in terms of cosponsors, endorsements and new revelations from press reports.
I was particularly struck by comments made by Ambassador Stevens’ deputy Greg Hicks in the 60 Minutes segment on Sunday: “for us, for the people that go out onto the edge, to represent our country, we believe that if we get in trouble, they’re coming to get us. That our back is covered. To hear that it’s not, it’s a terrible, terrible experience.”
It is not enough for the administration to just say there’s nothing more that could have been done, especially given that evidence indicates that they didn’t try much at all to assist the Americans under fire in Benghazi.
Mr. Speaker, it’s time for a unified, bipartisan Select Committee. Let’s get to the truth once and for all so we can find out what happened and restore the American peoples’ confidence in congressional oversight.