Two former CIA officials who fought in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, were asked to sign additional nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) more than six months after those attacks. The two officials, who will testify Thursday before a subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, were presented the nondisclosure agreements during a memorial service in May at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, honoring Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, two of the CIA-affiliated personnel who died during those attacks.
CIA officials have rejected persistent accusations that the Agency has sought to keep Benghazi survivors from sharing their stories. In a letter obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD earlier this fall, CIA director John Brennan categorically denied claims that the CIA discouraged its operatives or contractors from speaking out about their experiences.
In a letter dated September 3, 2013, and addressed to House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, Brennan posed and answered several questions responding to allegations the Agency had discouraged Benghazi survivors from talking.
1. Has any officer, either staff of contractor, been forced to undergo any polygraph because of their presence or their participation in any activity related to Benghazi attacks?
2. Has any officer, either staff of contractor, been required to sign any non-disclosure agreement because of their presence at Benghazi or their participation in any activity related to the Benghazi attacks?
The truth is more complicated. Several members of the team on the ground in Benghazi that night were presented with new non-disclosure agreements at a CIA ceremony on May 21, 2013, honoring CIA officials killed in those attacks. Some of these CIA officials were asked to sign the new NDAs despite the fact that they were leaving government service and despite the fact that they were still bound by previous NDAs. According to testimony that two of these officials are expected to provide at classified hearings before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday, the new NDAs were both unexpected and unnecessary.
Intelligence officials, in both public statements and private assurances dating back months, have insisted that that no one affiliated with the CIA was asked to sign an NDA because of Benghazi. According to sources familiar with the NDAs provided the Benghazi survivors at the memorial service, the documents did not specifically mention the Benghazi attacks and are thus technically consistent with Brennan’s letter.
That’s a generous interpretation.
The new NDAs were presented to Benghazi survivors after they had flown in from around the country (or world) to attend a CIA memorial for the Benghazi fallen at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia—where the attacks in Benghazi were the focus of the day. It’s hardly a leap to imagine that these NDAs, perhaps not even necessary, were intended to remind CIA officials a little more than six months removed from their service in Benghazi that the U.S. government would prefer that they not discuss what happened there.
In a letter dated May 30, nine days after these officials were presented with the new NDAs, Brennan wrote to all CIA-affiliated personnel on the ground in Benghazi on 9/11/12. That letter was first reported by THE WEEKLY STANDARD on August 3, two days after CNN aired an investigative report that concluded that the CIA “is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing remains a secret.” According to that report: “CNN has learned that he CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.”
In the letter to the CIA’s Benghazi survivors, Brennan explained that CIA officials in Benghazi were allowed to discuss the matter with the congressional oversight committees. “As you are probably aware, Congress remains interested in understanding the events surrounding the 11 September 2012 attacks on US facilities in Benghazi,” Brennan wrote. Congressional oversight committees “have asked that CIA leadership reach out to officers who were in Benghazi during the attacks to let them know of the committees’ interest in hearing first-hand accounts.” Brennan’s letter reminded CIA officers of the official procedures for talking to Congress – “contact your front office leadership, which will work with the CIA Office of Congressional Affairs, the committees, and you to set up the meeting.”
Mark Zaid, a national security attorney representing the three Benghazi survivors testifying Thursday, says the NDAs his clients were asked to sign were related to their experiences in Benghazi. Zaid, who says “the executive branch has continued to be cooperative – no threats, no intimidation” and “more responsive than what I am actually used to,” says the documents were redundant.
“There is no doubt that the NDAs would not have been presented to them had it not been for Benghazi. That is their impression and my analysis based on twenty years of experience.”
What’s more, says Zaid, “the NDAs in no way changed the legal landscape. They had already signed NDAs that bound them to certain obligations. These new ones were legally unnecessary.”
When pressed about whether being given "legally unnecessary" NDAs at a Benghazi memorial service might not be an attempt to intimidate, Zaid responded: "It was a subtle reminder of an already existing obligation, but they were not intimidated."