In a May 30, 2013, letter to CIA officers on the ground last fall in Benghazi, Libya, CIA director John Brennan notified survivors of those attacks that congressional oversight committees remain interested in hearing from them.
HPSCI (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) and SSCI (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence), Brennan wrote, “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 account. While the committees have asked that we make those in Benghazi during the attacks aware of their interest in hearing from our officers, they also wanted to make clear that you are under no compulsion to engage in such discussions.”
The letter explains that CIA personnel wishing to speak with Congress should arrange to do so through official CIA channels. “The Agency will support and facilitate contact with the committees if that is your wish…If you wish to respond to HPSCI and SSCI’s interest, please contact your front office leadership, which will work with the CIA Office of Congressional Affairs, the committees and you to set up the meeting.”
The various investigations into the attacks on the Benghazi consulate and annex have had virtually no input from those on the ground during the assaults on September 11, 2012. The House Intelligence Committee has heard twice from one Agency official who was present but none of the transcribed interviews conducted so far by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has done much of the serious investigating of the Benghazi attacks, were with on-the-ground survivors of the attack.
Critics of the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi, including several Republicans in Congress, have long alleged that U.S. government officials in Benghazi that night have been warned against talking about what happened. Gregory Hicks, a career State Department official who became the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Libya after the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, testified before Congress that administration officials had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep him from talking to members of Congress. When Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican on the Oversight Committee, tried to speak with Hicks in Libya, the State Department sent along a minder who tried to prevent Hicks from speaking with the congressman. And after Hicks met with Chaffetz he received a stern lecture from Cheryl Mills, then chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Last week, CNN reported that the Agency was going to extraordinary lengths to keep secret the details of its mission in Benghazi. Survivors of those attacks were subject to regularly – in some cases “monthly” – polygraphs in an effort to keep them from sharing their stories, according to the CNN report. Intelligence officials have disputed those claims. James Rosen of Fox News reported late last week that at least five survivors had been required to sign additional nondisclosure agreements after returning from Libya.
Among the 35 Americans in Benghazi that night, CNN reported that 21 were working at the annex – a CIA outpost. Sources tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the actual number of CIA-affiliated personnel – to include employees and contractors – was slightly higher, just over two dozen. The exact number remains classified.
Mark Zaid is an attorney representing several U.S. government officials who were in Benghazi that night. His clients signed a contract in June with Twelve Books, reportedly worth $3 million, to tell the story of their experience in Benghazi.
Zaid would not answer “any questions that tie them to any specific agency of the USGOVT,” but acknowledged that his clients include “several of the elite security force members who were based at the Annex in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.” He tells TWS that his clients have not been discouraged from telling their story. “My clients have not received any pushback regarding the telling of their story,” he wrote in an email. “In fact, the USGOVT has repeatedly offered on its own to facilitate meetings and discussions for my clients with congressional staff. For now, the USGOVT has been cooperative but time will tell if that continues.”
The letter from Brennan has not resulted in any additional CIA-affiliated Benghazi personnel coming forward, according to two sources familiar with the investigation. So as Congress continues its attempt to learn exactly what went happened in Benghazi it is doing so largely without input from many of those with firsthand knowledge of the day-to-day CIA work there and the minute-by-minute understanding of what happened that night.