John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sent a letter to each of the CIA employees who were on the ground during the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2012, inviting them to share information with Congress, according to three sources familiar with the missive. Brennan sent the letter in late May at the behest congressional intelligence committees, whose members remain interested in hearing from the survivors of those attacks.
The letter from Brennan, which remains classified, conveyed a message the CIA leadership was willing to support and facilitate communications between the CIA employees involved in the Benghazi attacks and congressional oversight committees. The letter did not generate additional responses from CIA employees in Benghazi.
The disclosure of the existence of Brennan’s letter comes amidst renewed interest in the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath triggered in part by a CNN report last week that “dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night” and “the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing remains a secret.” According to that report, “some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations,” part of “an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.”
A statement from CIA spokesman Dean Boyd provided to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and other media outlets strongly disputes any suggestion of a cover-up. “The CIA has worked closely with its oversight committees to provide them with an extraordinary amount of information related to the attack on US facilities in Benghazi. Furthermore, CIA leadership has informed officers who may want to speak with the oversight committees on this matter that it will support and facilitate such contact. CIA employees are always free to speak to Congress if they want to and there is an established process to facilitate such communication on a confidential basis. The CIA enabled all officers involved in Benghazi the opportunity to meet with Congress. We are not aware of any CIA employee who has experienced retaliation, including any non-routine security procedures, or who has been prevented from sharing a concern with Congress about the Benghazi incident.”
Members of the House Intelligence Committee received a copy of the letter on Tuesday, two days before the CNN report aired.
The congressional inquiries into the Benghazi attacks have been conducted almost entirely without input from those who participated in the fighting or witnessed it firsthand. Congressional intelligence committees have heard directly from just one CIA official who was in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. This official, who has spoken twice with members and staff of the House Intelligence Committee, provided an account that included some new details about the night but largely tracked with the official storyline on the attacks.
Republicans have long alleged that the CIA officials in Benghazi that night–often described as “survivors"–have been silenced. The CNN story offers support for those claims. On Friday, James Rosen of Fox News reported that five CIA personnel in Benghazi were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, requiring them not to discuss the attack with reporters.
Others point out that the CIA has procedures in place for officials who wish to communicate with oversight committees and that CIA employees are trained on how to reach out. The Brennan letter, they say, was intended as a reminder of those procedures and an invitation from Agency leadership to go to Congress with any concerns. More than two months after it was sent, sources tell TWS, the letter has not persuaded any additional Benghazi survivors to come forward.
The CNN report has triggered renewed scrutiny of the purpose of the still-obscure CIA mission in Benghazi. A State Department official told CNN that the U.S. government was involved in helping the young Libyan government destroy old and damaged weapons and ruled out State Department participation in any effort to transfer weapons out of Libya. According to the CNN story, the spokesman “clearly told CNN they ‘can’t speak for any other agencies.”
Officials from the intelligence community and its oversight committees on Capitol Hill have consistently downplayed to TWS reports and rumors about weapons transfers as part of the CIA mission in Libya.
But in interviews with TWS this week, several more skeptical U.S. officials pointed to an exchange between Senator Rand Paul and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a possible explanation for the CIA sensitivity about the mission. Paul asked Clinton about the possibility that the U.S. was involved in sending weapons from Libya to Syria.
“What I’d like to know is – the annex that was close by – were they involved with procuring, buying or selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries – Turkey included,” Paul said, referring to the “annex” operated by the CIA in Benghazi.
Clinton told Paul that his question would be better directed to “the agency that ran the annex.”
“You are saying you don’t know,” Paul said.
Said Clinton: “I don’t know.”