The chairmen of five House committees today in an interim report to Speaker John Boehner, R-Oh, accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of lying to Congress about reducing security in Benghazi, Libya, before last September's attacks, vowing to continue reviewing what it described as a "cover up" over the nature of the attacks and hold administration officials accountable.
The report is a compilation of investigations by the Republican staff of five House committees: Oversight, Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Intelligence, and Judiciary. The five committees have not "officially adopted" the report, it notes.
"The U.S. government did not deploy sufficient U.S. security elements to protect U.S. interests and personnel that remained on the ground," the chairmen found. "Senior State Department officials knew that the threat environment in Benghazi was high and that the Benghazi compound was vulnerable and unable to withstand an attack, yet the department continued to systematically withdraw security personnel. Repeated requests for additional security were denied at the highest levels of the State Department."
On March 28, 2012, then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz requested additional security in Libya. The chairmen point to an April 19, 2012, response cable bearing Clinton's signature that "instead articulates a plan to scale back security assets for the U.S. Mission in Libya, including the Benghazi Mission." According to the report, embassy staff interpreted this to mean that Foggy Bottom wanted a study to justify removing two security teams.
In June, Chris Stevens, the new ambassador, asked to keep the two security teams through upcoming elections, but his request was denied.
Clinton, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January, said the cables never rose to her attention. Tuesday's report to Boehner included Clinton's response at the time: "Well if I could -- 1.43 million cables a year come to the State Department. They are all addressed to me. They do not all come to me. They are reported through the bureaucracy."
It's not clear who in the State Department sent the April 19 response. But as a general rule, "every single cable sent from Washington to the field is sent over the secretary of state's name," a former State Department official noted, adding, "Though they are trying to make this new, it's not. After 30+ hearings and briefings, thousands of pages, this has all been addressed."
The chairmen pin ultimate responsibility on President Barack Obama for failing "to proactively anticipate the significance of September 11 and provide the Department of Defense with the authority to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense."
After the attacks, the chairmen argued, "The Administration willfully perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative that the attacks evolved from a political demonstration caused by a YouTube video."
The Republicans also criticized the president for putting the post-attack investigation in the hands of the F.B.I. instead of military and intelligence officials. The decision, they argued, "significantly delayed U.S. access to key witnesses and evidence and undermined the government's ability to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice in a timely manner."
The three main findings, according to the executive summary, are:
"The committees will continue to review who exactly was responsible for the failure to respond to the repeated requests for more security and for the effort to cover up the nature of the attacks, so that appropriate officials will be held accountable," wrote the chairmen.
More than half of Boehner's Republican conference has asked him to create a select committee that could concentrate on the investigation. Such a move would ramp up political pressure on President Obama, but Boehner so far has resisted that call as a move that would cost time and money.
In the report, Republicans use the Benghazi attacks as basis for wider criticism of Obama's foreign policy across the Middle East, which they argue shows a "lack of a comprehensive national security strategy or a credible national security posture in the region." The chairmen predict that "this singular event will be repeated" unless Obama "properly postures resources and security assets."
Additionally, the chairmen further accuse the president of not being forthcoming to the public about threats to the United States. They call on Congress to be "an effective counterweight to the administration's failure to adequately communicate the nature and the extent of the threats our country faces today."
The State Department referred questions to the White House, which responded with the following statement by National Security Staff spokesperson Caitlin Hayden:
"The report just released by the House Republican Conference on Benghazi appears to raise questions that have already been asked and answered in great detail by the Administration. We have taken extraordinary steps to work with five different committees in Congress in investigating what happened before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks. The Administration has provided over ten thousand pages of documents, senior agency officials have appeared in ten congressional hearings on Benghazi; agency officials have provided more than 20 briefings for members and staff; and agencies have permitted members to view classified video footage from the night of the attacks. Most importantly, the State Department’s Accountability Review Board -- the independent body charged with reviewing the attacks and evaluating the interagency response -- released its report which specifically found that the interagency response was “timely and appropriate” and “helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans,” while also making important recommendations to improve security that we are in the process of implementing."
House Demcrats responded to the interim report with a letter, signed by the ranking members of each of the five committees, accusing their colleagues of issuing "a partisan Republican staff report on Benghazi without any vetting for accuracy or consideration by Committee Members."
Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Everyone knows that China blocks Internet access to Facebook, but even, it seems, for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Dempsey's Facebook status, which usually actively shares the chairman's daily public appearances, has not updated since Sunday, when he was still in Seoul, South Korea.
Dempsey is in the middle of a rare visit to China, but judging from his Facebook page and most mainstream news outlets, you probably wouldn't know it.
Dempsey's visit has been virtually ignored by Western media and barely covered even by the national security press, which in the past two weeks has shifted its blanket attention from North Korea to Boston. But in the past two days, Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer, has met with China's President Xi Jingping, defense chief Gen. Fang Fenghui, and Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanguan.
True, the chairman rarely travels with press, and this trip was no exception. For his trip to Beijing, the Christian Science Monitor's Anna Mulrine was the lucky Pentagon reporter given a seat on his plane to cover "the highest-level military talks between the two superpowers in two years."
Mulrine is practically the only westerner filing copy about Dempsey's visit. ABC News's Bob Woodruff is also on board and tweeting nice pictures along the way through Alaska and Seoul to Tiananmen Square, here. The New York Times's Beijing correspondent Jane Perlez also covered Dempsey's first day, here.
On Monday, Dempsey and Feng met behind closed doors and emerged to declare their shared fears about cyber attacks, the destructive value of which Feng said could be "as serious a nuclear bomb," Mulrine reported.
Dempsey and Fang later held a press conference in which a Chinese journalist asked why U.S. military exercises are conducted so close to China. Dempsey replied that the concern is at "the core" of why he came to Beijing - alluding to the Pentagon's mission to avoid any military misunderstandings.
So far, there has not been much news to report. Dempsey said the United States had treaty obligations to maintain -- a reference to Taiwan -- while Fang said, "The Pacific Ocean is wide enough to accommodate us both."
Dempsey has two more days of meetings in China, including with Chinese soldiers.
UPDATE: Dempsey's spokesman emailed the E-Ring from China saying that they plan to post one big Facebook status update on China after their visit, instead of daily updates.
When asked if that was a cybersecurity decision, Col. David Lapan replied, "Not at all."
Photo by Andy Wong - Pool/Getty Images
The Pentagon's request to save money by closing some military bases in the U.S. beginning in 2015 appears dead on the arrival in Congress unless President Obama backs it with a veto threat.
That's the buzz among some Hill staffers, who already are arguing that unless the White House is willing to share in the political pain of closing bases, which are economic engines for many congressional districts, there's little chance lawmakers will support a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.
"Unless the White House is willing to put its own political capital on the line for a BRAC round, which they definitely did not do last year, we've probably heard the last of a BRAC round in this bill cycle," a House Armed Services Committee staffer tells the E-Ring.
In the fiscal 2013 budget, the Pentagon asked Congress for two BRAC rounds. But the Pentagon did not ask for any funding for the process, which historically has large up-front costs to conduct studies and environmental assessments and begin dismantling military installations before long-term savings are realized.
So, the fiscal 2014 spending request released this month includes $2.4 billion for one BRAC round, in 2015, intended to show that the proposal is not just a bargaining chip -- that Pentagon officials really want to close bases.
"The president's budget includes funding for BRAC, so he's serious about this responsible -- albeit tough -- process," a senior defense official told the E-Ring. "It's too early to talk about vetoes when Congress hasn't really even started the budget debate yet."
At the White House, officials seemed less than thrilled to hear they may have to issue a veto threat -- usually made via a statement of administration policy (SAP) from the office of Management and Budget -- about a bill that doesn't yet exist.
"I'd just point you back to the president's budget proposal and remind you that we do not issue SAPs until bills are ready for the floor, so as not to prejudge the legislative process," said Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman.
"I'd point you to the president's budget which requests authorization for another BRAC round in 2015," echoed another administration official. "We do not issue SAPs until bills are ready for the floor."
But key senators have already issued a joint statement directing the administration to table the BRAC idea and focus on savings elsewhere. To be included in authorizing legislation, BRAC must first win approval from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
"The last BRAC round did not achieve the intended
savings," they said. "Now is not the time to spend billions of dollars on
another BRAC round, especially as the Department of Defense grounds combat
aircraft, cancels ship deployments, and furloughs workers due to
Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage
Although Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will make his first visit in office to Cairo this week to meet Egypt's military chiefs, Pentagon officials working quietly for months to maintain historically close military-to-military relations say they haven't missed a beat under the new civilian rule of President Mohammed Morsi.
"We can pick up the phone, the secretary of defense, and have his counterpart who we can talk to at any time," said a senior defense official. "Despite changes in the Egyptian military and political system, that's been constant."
Hagel's visit will mark the first meeting between U.S. and Egyptian defense leaders since former Defense Sec. Leon Panetta visited Cairo in August. Panetta met the newly installed Morsi at a time when observers wondered if the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood candidate truly would be able to take back civilian control of the country from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ruled Egypt after President Hosni Mubarak's fall in the Arab awakening.
Morsi gained global notoriety under the permissive eye of Field Marshall Tantawi, who ran the military since 1991.
"He's his own man," Panetta declared of Morsi, giving the elected civilian leader an American vote of confidence. Two weeks later, on August 12, Tantawi was force to resign and Washington lost one of its most important friends in the Middle East.
In the months since Panetta's 45-minute meeting with Morsi, U.S. military officials largely have stayed quiet, as Egypt's transition endured additional violent protests in December and ongoing constitutional challenges to Morsi's authority. This week, senior defense officials revealed the Pentagon has just been quiet, not idle.
"We have very regular interaction with the Egyptian military. I just had a phone call yesterday with the deputy defense minister," said a senior U.S. defense official, who briefed reporters ahead of Hagel's departure for the region, on Friday. The official, and two additional senior defense officials in the briefing, said they are encouraged at the Egyptian military's willingness to keep close counsel with Washington.
In November, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet and Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, the J5 at Joint Staff, or director of strategic plans and policy, attended the Military Coordinating Committee (MCC) meeting in Cairo. The U.S. side asked Gen. Sedky Sobhy, chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces, about security on the Sinai Peninsula, where security has broken down during Egypt's transition and armed forces have cracked down on militants for attacking security officials in the region.
?According to published reports, Chollet, in addition to a member of Congress and U.S. Central Command deputy commander visited U.S. troops stationed in northern Sinai.
Showing Egypt's continued importance to U.S. strategic interests, Hagel, in his first week in office, had a get-acquainted phone conversation with Tantawi's successor, Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
"It's been a very regular interaction, seamless interaction," said the senior defense official.
"We were the main interlocutor," between the U.S. and Egypt during the SCAF's temporary rule, said the defense official. "Now some of our civilian counterparts in [the Department of] State and otherwise are also dealing with the Egyptians quite intensively."
"A year ago, it was the SCAF, and it was running Egypt. Now it's proverbially gone back into the barracks. And they're very focused on supporting the civilian leadership in Egypt and not having to come into run the country again."
The official also said they are encouraged the militaries have maintained a "very open" relationship about shared security concerns -- top of which is the Sinai Peninsula's use as a base for terrorism.
"Egyptians and the Israelis have maintained close interaction in relations. Egypt played a very critical role in helping bring about the Gaza cease-fire last November. ...we still have a very open interaction with the Egyptian military on a whole wide range of issues, so there's not an issue we can't -- we feel like we can't bring up."
When Hagel visits this week, Egyptian officials will have to weigh American domestic politics, as well, which have not stopped at the proverbial water's edge. In February, the newly designated top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, called Morsi an "enemy." Not long after the Obama administration announced it would proceed with the sale of F-16 fighters to Cairo despite ongoing protests to Morsi's rule, Inhofe suggested withholding U.S. arms sales as to sway Egypt's military into ousting Mubarak's elected successor.
"Morsi has already distanced himself from the military," Inhofe said, at the time. "To me that's a first good step. And I would like to think that we could reinstate a friend - a friend in that area."
CORRECTION: This post was updated to indicate the U.S. would sell additional F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, not F-15s.
Photo by Jim Watson - Pool/Getty Images
The week began with two bombs exploding at the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday. On Friday, nearly the entire city was in lockdown as U.S. military helped in a massive manhunt for Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev. The 19-year-old was on the run after escaping a shootout with police during which his brother, Tamerlan, 26, was killed while reportedly wearing explosives. The duo allegedly killed an MIT police officer, held up a 7-11, and then carjacked a Mercedes-Benz before police caught up to them.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
U.S. officials say they are not discussing or preparing to send Patriot missiles to the Jordanian border with Syria.
"We are unaware of any discussions of sending Patriots to the Jordanian border," a U.S. defense official told the E-Ring, on Friday. "It's patently false."
State Department officials also say they know nothing of the claim first made in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. The paper cited one "unnamed Jordan source," which was enough to cause a stir in Washington on Friday, claiming that the United States is shifting a Patriot missile battery from Qatar and one from Kuwait.
Middle East Monitor also picked up the item, including it in a larger article about U.S. plans to send a U.S. Army headquarters element to Amman, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced publicly this week: "The sources also said that Jordan asked Washington for Patriot batteries during the recent visit by President Barack Obama to Jordan, and the U.S. administration promised to secure two batteries from Qatar and Kuwait during the next week."
Hagel leaves Saturday for Middle East trip that includes visits to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
In a background briefing early on Friday, a senior defense official, when asked about the report of Patriot missiles being moved to Jordan, said, "I don't want to comment on anything specifically regarding what might be on or off the table, in terms of what we're talking about with the Jordanians," and pointed instead to the headquarters element the U.S. had just offered.
"Part of the point of the trip is to hear directly from the Jordanian military officials about their needs, which are considerable, obviously -- but their specific needs and what we may be able to do to help them."
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
Boston's not the only thing on lockdown. Inside the Pentagon, lips are as sealed as Watertown.
How concerned is the Pentagon about terrorism in Chechnya? How much has the U.S. military kept eyes on the conflict there? What about expatriate radicals who associate with the region and may be influenced by or connected to the conflict?
Did anyone in the Pentagon see this coming?
Good questions, all of which nobody in the Pentagon is willing to answer.
On Thursday, the United States awoke to wall-to-wall news coverage reporting that police had killed one of the two suspected Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and that his brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was on the run.
Their distraught uncle faced a bank of news cameras and said the family moved to the United states roughly 10 years ago from Kyrgyzstan, where the older brother was born. The younger brother was born in Dagestan, a Russian region near Chechyna, where anti-Russian separatists have engaged in a violent conflict for years.
Quickly, the social media world linked the brothers to Chechnya.
From the New York Times: "The brothers have substantial presences on social media. On Vkontakte, Russia's most popular social media platform, the younger brother, Dzhokhar, describes his worldview as "Islam" and, asked to identify "the main thing in life," answers "career and money." He lists a series of affinity groups relating to Chechnya, and lists a verse from the Koran, "Do good, because Allah loves those who do good."
Defense Department officials on Friday denied several E-Ring requests to hear from officials who could explain the U.S. military's current and past concerns about Chechnya or Chechen-related terrorism outside of the region. The E-ring asked just for some basic background facts, unrelated to Boston manhunt, but instead received a firm "no comment" from a DOD spokesman who cited the ongoing law enforcement manhunt in Boston.
DID BILL BURNS WARN US?
To get a sense of how the United States has struggled to approach the Russian-Chechen conflict, read this long 2006 State Department cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian, in which Deputy Secretary of State William Burns writes, "Is There a Role for the U.S.?"
Burns, who was U.S. ambassador to Moscow at the time, argued that the U.S. ability to influence Russia in the region "is small." Instead, he felt the United States should convince key top Russians that their policies only fueled terrorism.
"What we can do is continue to try to push the senior tier of Russian officials towards the realization that current policies are conducive to Jihadism," Burns wrote.
Burns called for the United States to delicately employ European allies to keep talking with Putin, while the State Department found a way to get aid into Chechnya without making the Kremlin look bad.
Then Burns gives a prescient warning: Without Russian help, the conflict likely would worsen, and spread.
"But we must be realistic about Russia's willingness and ability to take the necessary steps, with or without our assistance. Real stabilization remains a low probability. Sound policy on Chechnya is likely to continue to founder in the swamp of corruption, Kremlin infighting and succession politics. Much more probable is a new phase of instability that will be felt throughout the North Caucasus and have effects beyond."
"He is right. That was a brilliant post," Eric Lohr, director of the Initiative for Russian Culture and associate history professor at American University,, told the E-Ring.
"I'm not sure it took people by surprise that something of this nature might come out of that region, Lohr said, "not necessarily in Boston or New York or America but there certainly were worries about this spreading beyond Russian borders."
Lohr feels the United States has paid close attention to the conflict as a national security issue since the Burns cable, and particularly since the Obama administration's attempted "reset" with Russia. "My sense is this has been on the radar screen for quite a while."
Security in the region has worsened since the Burns cable, as has corruption and unemployment under the thumb of "brutal" police and jihadist influences moving north.
"The disintegration of the situation in Dagestan over the last few years, I think they were worried that this chaotic situation gives [terrorists connected to al Qaeda] a place out of which to operate."
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
In a late addition to next week's Asia tour, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit in South Korea on Sunday, the E-Ring has learned, as tensions between North Korea and U.S. allies show signs of easing.
Dempsey takes off on Friday for a long-scheduled trip to China, his first visit, and Japan. Pentagon officials wanted to gauge the North Korean standoff closer to his departure date before deciding whether to touch down in Seoul.
The visit gives Dempsey a chance to makeup a face-to-face meeting with South Korea's Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, which was supposed to happen this week during U.S.-Republic of Korea talks at the Pentagon. But because of the Korean crisis, Jung remained home on the peninsula, as did U.S. Forces Korea commanding general, Gen. James Thurman, who would have been in Washington for the talks and to appear before the House Armed Services Committee. The bilateral talks instead were conducted as a secure video teleconference, and included the U.S. Pacific commander, Adm. Samuel Locklear.
In a joint communiqué, Dempsey and Jung declared the U.S.-ROK alliance "stronger than ever," on Wednesday.
"They also reaffirmed that both countries will respond firmly to any provocation by North Korea," according to the document. In October, both sides will seek approval on the specifics for a new command structure for combined forces on the Korean Peninsula.
Dempsey leaves Washington on Friday and after stopping in Alaska will visit South Korea on Sunday. He then is scheduled to spend four days in China, visiting with his counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, and other senior defense and political officials.
Dempsey may meet China's Presiden Xi Jinping, according to the chairman's staff, but Chinese officials have yet to finalize their schedules.
Dempsey also will visit several People's Liberation Army units, which officials declined to name, citing security measures.
In his second visit to Japan as chairman, Dempsey will meet his counterpart Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of the Joint Staff, to talk about North Korea and the gamut of "regional issues," a Dempsey spokesman said.
DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.