Western and Iranian negotiators were putting the finishing touches on a far-reaching nuclear deal. Then, at virtually the last minute, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined in the talks. It didn't take long for the negotiations to unravel -- and for Fabius to publicly declare this round of the talks to be over.
It wasn't the answer U.S., European or Iranian teams had been expecting. One Western official said Paris hadn't been particularly involved in the painstaking negotiations that had taken place in the run-up to this weekend's talks in Geneva. "The French were barely involved in this," one Western diplomat said. "They didn't get looped in until a few days ago."
Yet the French response shouldn't have been a total surprise. The socialist government of French President François Hollande has adopted a muscular foreign policy that has put it to the right of the Obama administration on Libya, Mali, Syria and now Iran. Along the way, it has also become Israel's primary European ally and -- after the U.S. -- arguably its closest friend in the world.
Fabius, echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is said to have had two serious concerns with the deal. First, the agreement failed to prevent Tehran from continuing construction on its nuclear reactor at Arak. Once the facility is operational, a key part of Iran's nuclear program would be immune to airstrikes because bombing the plant would lead to massive, deadly, radiation leaks. Fabius was also upset that the deal didn't require Iran to reduce its stockpiles of 20% enriched uranium, which is approaching weapons-grade. The Hollande government, Fabius told French radio, would not be part of a "fool's game."
Publicly, Secretary of State John Kerry refused to say anything critical about the French, emphasizing instead that Iran and the so-called "P5+1" had made substantial headway towards a deal and would continue the talks later this month. "I’d say a number of nations – not just the French, but ourselves and others – wanted to make sure that we had the tough language necessary," Kerry said on the Meet the Press. In the French media, there were reports that the big powers were united -- and that it was Iranian negotiators who ultimately balked at making a deal in Geneva. Privately, though, many diplomats were fuming at the French.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has asked international inspectors to spare a dozen of its chemical weapons factories from the wrecking ball, The Cable has learned. The Syrians say they want to convert the plants into civilian chemical facilities. But the move is fueling concern among some non-proliferation experts that Damascus may be seeking to maintain the industrial capacity to reconstitute its chemical weapons program at some later date.
The Syrian request -- which was contained in a confidential letter from Muallem to Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- has also raised concern among some Western governments that Syria may seek to entangle the inspection agency in lengthy negotiations that could drag out the process of destroying Syria's chemical weapons.
The OPCW -- which, along with the United Nations, is overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons program -- has frequently allowed states that volunteer to eliminate their nerve agent plants to convert the facilities into a production for vaccines, medicines, and other life-saving products. But states must first make a "compelling" case to justify the preservation of such a facility. The Syrian letter does not detail how the civilian chemical plants would be used, according to an official that has been briefed on its contents. Any exception to the Syrian chemical destruction program would have to be ratified by the 41-nation OPCW executive council, which counts the United States as a member. Such decisions are typically made by consensus.
Amy Smithson, a non-proliferation expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, noted that the OPCW’s executive council will have to seriously weigh what the Syrians intend to produce. "If they want to make bubble gum or humanitarian products that are essential for the well-being of Syria's citizens, that's one thing," she said. "But if they ask to make pesticides and fertilizers, normally those plants are a hop, skip, and a jump away from the ability to make warfare agents."
The request comes as the OPCW announced that it had visited 21 of Syria's declared chemical weapons sites and found that Damascus had completed the destruction of all of its chemical weapons filling and mixing equipment a day ahead of schedule. "The government of the Syrian Arab Republic has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable," the OPCW said in a statement today. "The Joint [UN/OPCW] Mission is now satisfied that it has verified -- and seen destroyed -- all of Syria's declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment."
Four hundred thousand Defense Department employees, sent home. Internal watchdogs, defanged. Congressional investigations, stymied. A billion dollars a day in government contracts, stopped up.
If there's a government shutdown on Tuesday, the United States will continue to be able to conduct its key foreign policy, national security, and intelligence missions -- at least for a little while. But beyond that, well, it's not going to be pretty.
The effects of political dysfunction in Washington are already reverberating across the globe. Markets in Europe and Asia took a hit on Monday, and both the NASDAQ and Dow Jones industrial average fell sharply this morning when trading got under way in New York. But rattling global markets is only the first of many potential effects of the shutdown.
While government employees engaged in essential national security and intelligence-gathering activities would report to work as usual -- at least in the short term -- many could face considerable personal hardship because of delayed paychecks. Active-duty service members might be compensated; civilians, not so much.
U.S. President Barack Obama presented world leaders at the United Nations with an image of America as a reluctant superpower, ready to confront Iran's nukes and kill its enemies with targeted drone strikes, but unprepared to embark on open-ended military missions in Syria and other troubled countries. That, he hinted, should give the world cause for anxiety.
"The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries," he said in his address before the 193-member General Assembly. "The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn't borne out by America's current policy or public opinion."
Obama said that "the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war -- rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world -- may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill."
Obama said that for the time being, American foreign-policy priorities in the Middle East will focus primarily on two key priorities: "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region's problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace."
In a first-of-its kind arrangement, the editors of Russian news site Pravda have tentatively agreed to publish a column by Sen. John McCain that will attack the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement comes one day after Putin criticized the United States in a widely-read column in The New York Times.
"If John McCain wants to write something for us, he is welcome," Dmitry Sudakov, the English editor of Pravda tells The Cable. "Mr. McCain has been an active anti-Russian politician for many years already. We have been critical of his stance on Russia and international politics in our materials, but we would be only pleased to publish a story penned by such a prominent politician as John McCain."
When The Cable reached the senator's office with the offer, McCain's communications director Brian Rogers responded within minutes. "On the record: Senator McCain would be glad to write something for Pravda, so we'll be reaching out to Dmitry with a submission."
The beginning of this surprising arrangement all started last night when your trusty Cable guy watched an interview between McCain and CNN's Jake Tapper about Putin's latest op-ed. In a nod to Russia's restrictive press policies (Russia is ranked 148th out of 179 in the world for respecting press freedoms by Reporters Without Borders), McCain joked "I would love to have a commentary in Pravda."
After The Cable sent this transcript to Pravda, Sudakov bristled at the idea that his news site would be prevented from publishing a column by McCain.
U.N. inspectors have collected a "wealth" of evidence on the use of nerve agents that points to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his own people, according to a senior Western official.
The inspection team, which is expected on Monday to present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon with a highly anticipated report on a suspected Aug. 21 nerve agent attack in the suburbs of Damascus, will not directly accuse the Syrian regime of gassing its own people, according to three U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the investigation. But it will provide a strong circumstantial case -- based on an examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and laboratory tests of soil, blood, and urine samples -- that points strongly in the direction of Syrian government culpability.
"I know they have gotten very rich samples -- biomedical and environmental -- and they have interviewed victims, doctors and nurses," said the Western official. "It seems they are very happy with the wealth of evidence they got." The official, who declined to speak on the record because of the secrecy surrounding the U.N. investigation, could not identify the specific agents detected by the inspector team, but said, "You can conclude from the type of evidence the [identity of the] author."
Russia's proposal for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to place his chemical weapons under international supervision and then destroy them is quickly gaining steam. Assad's government accepted the plan this morning. A few hours later, President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande announced that they'd seriously explore the proposal. It already has the backing of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a growing number of influential lawmakers from both parties. There's just one problem: the plan would be nearly impossible to actually carry out.
Experts in chemical weapons disposal point to a host of challenges. Taking control of Assad's enormous stores of the munitions would be difficult to do in the midst of a brutal civil war. Dozens of new facilities for destroying the weapons would have to be built from scratch or brought into the country from the U.S., and completing the job would potentially take a decade or more. The work itself would need to be done by specially-trained military personnel or contractors. Guess which country has most of those troops and civilian experts? If you said the U.S., you'd be right.
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
American intelligence agencies had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people and has set the stage for a possible U.S. military strike on Syria.
The disclosure -- part of a larger U.S. intelligence briefing on Syria's chemical attacks -- raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions for the American government. First and foremost: What, if anything, did it do to notify the Syrian opposition of the pending attack?
In a call with reporters Friday afternoon, senior administration officials did not address whether this information was shared with rebel groups in advance of the attack. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the information had been shared.
But at least some members of the Syrian opposition are already lashing out at the U.S. government for not acting ahead of time to prevent the worst chemical attack in a quarter-century. "If you knew, why did you take no action?" asked Dlshad Othman, a Syrian activist and secure-communications expert who has recently relocated to the United States. He added that none of his contacts had any sort of prior warning about the nerve gas assault -- although such an attack was always a constant fear.
Ammar al-Arbini/AFP/Getty Images
Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime -- and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days.
But the intercept raises questions about culpability for the chemical massacre, even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? "It's unclear where control lies," one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. "Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?"
Nor are U.S. analysts sure of the Syrian military's rationale for launching the strike -- if it had a rationale at all. Perhaps it was a lone general putting a long-standing battle plan in motion; perhaps it was a miscalculation by the Assad government. Whatever the reason, the attack has triggered worldwide outrage, and put the Obama administration on the brink of launching a strike of its own in Syria. "We don't know exactly why it happened," the intelligence official added. "We just know it was pretty fucking stupid."
The United States appears to be closer than ever to deploying a series of surgical strikes on Syrian targets. But a key architect of that strategy is seriously and publicly questioning the wisdom of carrying it out.
In the last 48 hours, U.S. officials leaked plans to several media outlets to fire cruise missiles at Syrian military installations as a warning to the Syrian government not to use its chemical weapons stockpiles again. On Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker, who was briefed by administration officials twice over the weekend, said a U.S. "response is imminent" in Syria. "I think we will respond in a surgical way," he said. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to set the groundwork for a U.S. military incursion.
Now, a former U.S. Navy planner responsible for outlining an influential and highly-detailed proposal for surgical strikes tells The Cable he has serious misgivings about the plan. He says too much faith is being put into the effectiveness of surgical strikes on Assad's forces with little discussion of what wider goals such attacks are supposed to achieve.
An effort by the Obama administration to reinforce the powers of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in Syria Wednesday evening foundered in the face of Russian and Chinese opposition in the U.N. Security Council, according to council diplomats.
Seizing on rebel claims that Syrian authorities massacred hundreds of civilians by firing chemically-laced rockets onto a Damascus suburb, the United States joined Britain and France in calling for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to rally international support for an investigation into the incident. The three Western powers also wrote a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, signed by 32 other governments, calling for an urgent investigation. But the efforts failed to result in anything other than a tepid statement from the Security Council thanks to some final edits by the Russians and Chinese.
U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts are looking into claims of a new and massive chemical weapons attack that's left hundreds dead. From the limited evidence they've seen so far, those reports appear to be accurate. And that would make the strike on the East Ghouta region, just east of Damascus, the biggest chemical weapons attack in decades.
The early analysis is based on preliminary reports, photography and video evidence, and conclusions are prone to change if and when direct access to the victims is granted. Over the past nine months, the Syrian opposition has alleged dozens of times that the Assad regime has attacked them with nerve agents. Only a handful of those accusations have been confirmed; several have fallen away under close scrutiny. But Wednesday's strike, which local opposition groups say killed an estimated 1,300 people, may be different.
"No doubt it's a chemical release of some variety -- and a military release of some variety," said Gwyn Winfield, the editor of CRBNe World, the trade journal of the unconventional weapons community.
While the Obama administration says it has conclusive proof that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in the recent past, the White House has been reluctant to take major action in response to those relatively small-scale attacks. ("As long as they keep body count at a certain level, we won't do anything," an American intelligence official told Foreign Policy earlier this week.) But this attack appears to be anything but small-scale. If allegations about this latest attack prove to be accurate, the strike could be the moment when the Assad regime finally crossed the international community's "red line," and triggered outside invention in the civil war that has killed over a hundred thousand people.
Videos and pictures allegedly taken from the Ghouta incident show young victims who are barely able to breathe and, in some cases, twitching. Close-up photos show their pupils are severely constricted. All of these are classic signs of exposure to a nerve agent like sarin. And sarin is the Assad regime's chemical weapon of choice.
"There's no smoking gun here, but it's all consistent with nerve gas exposure," a U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. "This video is consistent with all of the other ones where we believe it [chemical weapons use] actually happened."
For years, the Central Intelligence Agency denied it had a secret file on MIT professor and famed dissident Noam Chomsky. But a new government disclosure obtained by The Cable reveals for the first time that the agency did in fact gather records on the anti-war iconoclast during his heyday in the 1970s.
The disclosure also reveals that Chomsky's entire CIA file was scrubbed from Langley's archives, raising questions as to when the file was destroyed and under what authority.
The breakthrough in the search for Chomsky's CIA file comes in the form of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For years, FOIA requests to the CIA garnered the same denial: "We did not locate any records responsive to your request." The denials were never entirely credible, given Chomsky's brazen anti-war activism in the 60s and 70s -- and the CIA's well-documented track record of domestic espionage in the Vietnam era. But the CIA kept denying, and many took the agency at its word.
Now, a public records request by Chomsky biographer Fredric Maxwell reveals a memo between the CIA and the FBI that confirms the existence of a CIA file on Chomsky.
Dated June 8, 1970, the memo discusses Chomsky's anti-war activities and asks the FBI for more information about an upcoming trip by anti-war activists to North Vietnam. The memo's author, a CIA official, says the trip has the "ENDORSEMENT OF NOAM CHOMSKY" and requests "ANY INFORMATION" about the people associated with the trip.
For decades, a so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S. government's mammoth broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American audiences. But on July 2, that came silently to an end with the implementation of a new reform passed in January. The result: an unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption in a reform initially criticized as a green light for U.S. domestic propaganda efforts. So what just happened?
Until this month, a vast ocean of U.S. programming produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks could only be viewed or listened to at broadcast quality in foreign countries. The programming varies in tone and quality, but its breadth is vast: It's viewed in more than 100 countries in 61 languages. The topics covered include human rights abuses in Iran, self-immolation in Tibet, human trafficking across Asia, and on-the-ground reporting in Egypt and Iraq.
The restriction of these broadcasts was due to the Smith-Mundt Act, a long-standing piece of legislation that has been amended numerous times over the years, perhaps most consequentially by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. In the 1970s, Fulbright was no friend of VOA and Radio Free Europe, and moved to restrict them from domestic distribution, saying they "should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics." Fulbright's amendment to Smith-Mundt was bolstered in 1985 by Nebraska Senator Edward Zorinsky, who argued that such "propaganda" should be kept out of America as to distinguish the U.S. "from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity."
Zorinsky and Fulbright sold their amendments on sensible rhetoric: American taxpayers shouldn't be funding propaganda for American audiences. So did Congress just tear down the American public's last defense against domestic propaganda?
Broadcasting Board of Governors / Washington Forum
The day before he returned to Benghazi after a nine-month absence, Chris Stevens was brooding. The U.S. ambassador to Libya had just finished reading The Troubled Man, the 10th and final novel in Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell's series about a sullen police detective named Kurt Wallander. Stevens was unnerved by the downward spiral of the 60-year-old investigator, who dives headlong into his work to distract him from the blank walls of his life closing in around him.
"He's divorced, lives alone with his dog, and slowly descends into Alzheimer's," Stevens wrote in his journal on Sept. 9, 2012. "I'm only 8 years away from 60 -- I need to avoid such an ending!"
Stevens hadn't been sleeping well. "The usual bundle of worries -- family, bachelorhood, embassy and work-related issues.… Too many things going on, everyone wants to bend my ear. Need to pull above the fray."
But then, at the end of a day beset by anxieties, Stevens wrote a hopeful note: "Benghazi and friends tomorrow -- something to look forward to."
Lost in the debate and warring conspiracy theories about the attack that took the life of Stevens and three others at the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September has been a fuller sense of the man at the center of the story. ("Chris never would have accepted was the idea that his death would be used for political purposes," his father wrote in an op-ed Wednesday.) Stevens's colleagues in the Foreign Service regarded him as one of the hardest-working and most thoughtful diplomats of his generation. "A rising star" in the annals of American diplomacy, said Wendy Chamberlin, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the president of the Middle East Institute. Joel Rubin, the director of policy and government affairs at the Ploughshares Fund, who met Stevens when Stevens served as a congressional fellow, recalled in a blog post that "he wasn't partisan; he worked across the aisle; he was professional and kind. And above all, he was friendly."
Until now, the testaments of Stevens's friends and colleagues have stood in for him. But his personal journal, portions of which were published this morning by the military website SOFREP.com, reveal an unvarnished, touching self-portrait. Electronic copies of the seven-page document have been circulating in diplomatic and media circles since shortly after the attack on the Benghazi mission. At the request of Stevens's family, however, Foreign Policy and other publications declined to discuss the journal in detail. However, in the wake of the decision of SOFREP to publish the diary, Foreign Policy felt it important to focus attention on those parts of the now-public diary that offer new insights into the personal side of the diplomat who sacrificed so much in the course of doing a job he clearly loved. We note however, we cannot verify the contents of the diary. While Foreign Policy could not independently verify the document's authenticity, the diary entries closely match public accounts of events in Libya during September 2012.
Today, spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the White House view that the attacks in Benghazi have already "been looked at exhaustively." But despite the Obama administration's reflexive posture, Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing -- which followed a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 7 and a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Jan. 23 -- offered a few juicy revelations that observers on both sides of the aisle should find illuminating.
1. The moment the phrase "Islamic terrorists" first left the State Department's lips
The charge that President Barack Obama is afraid to use "the t word" is a rather tired attack line, something he disputed forcefully in the second presidential debate. But legitimate questions remain about why his administration misrepresented the nature of the deadly assault after evidence quickly emerged that it was a terrorist attack, not a "spontaneous reaction" to a YouTube video, as U.N. Amb. Susan Rice repeated on five Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16.
Today, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) divulged a previously undisclosed e-mail revealing just how early senior members of the State Department concluded that Benghazi was a terrorist attack. In a Sept. 12 e-mail from Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Beth Jones to Amb. Susan Rice and several other top State officials, Jones said, full-stop, "The group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists." The e-mail provides new fodder for Rice critics wondering why she actively rebuffed questions about a planned terrorist attack on TV while her own colleagues had been saying just that for days. Update: Pushing back against Gowdy's remarks, State Department senior adviser at the bureau of public affairs Moira Whelan tells The Cable that the e-mail Gowdy referenced mentions "Islamic extremists" not "Islamic terrorists," as Gowdy recounted. The second time Gowdy read the e-mail on Wednesday, he cited it correctly. It still stands that the State Department e-mail attributed the attack to Ansar al-Sharia, a group with ties to al Qaeda. In addition to Jones, Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, said he knew immediately that the assault on the compound was a terrorist attack. Here's Rep. Gowdy's rather theatrical reading of the e-mail:
2. Hillary engineered a mass Benghazi coverup, debunked
One of the more interesting flash points today was an exchange between Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the State Department. For days, Thompson's leaked testimony made headlines with the claim that on Sept. 11, Hillary Clinton cut the State Department's counterterrorism bureau out of the chain of reporting for political reasons. However, when Norton pressed Thompson on the issue, he rescinded the allegation that he was pushed out of the loop for political reasons and confessed to not knowing why he wasn't included. "The quote isn't entirely accurate?" asked Norton. "Correct," said Thompson.
3. Gregory Hicks was demoted
Star witness Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 U.S. official in Libya prior to the Benghazi attack, was unexpectedly demoted after the Sept. 11 assault, according to his testimony. Hicks said that after the tragedy he was told by Ambassador Laurence Pope -- who replaced the slain J. Christopher Stevens as America's top diplomat in Libya -- that he could expect a "good level of assignment." Instead, he was made a foreign affairs officer.
"It's a demotion," he testified. "‘Foreign affairs officer' is a designation that is given to our civil service colleagues who -- frankly, who are desk officers.... So I've been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer." This is an especially interesting revelation given Hicks's sterling reputation at the State Department prior to the Benghazi attacks.
The State Department, however, says the story is more complex. "The Department has not and will not retaliate against Mr. Hicks," Whelan tells The Cable. She explained that after the Benghazi attack, Hicks opted to shorten his assignment in Libya and began a "standard" employment process. "Since Foreign Service Officer assignments work on annual cycles, by shortening his assignment Mr. Hicks was in the position of finding an 'off-cycle assignment,'" she said. "The Department worked with him to find a suitable temporary assignment and succeeded." She noted that Hicks now receives the same salary and employment status as he did previously and is under consideration for a new assignment.
4. Emotions over Benghazi still run high
Even though the text of testimonies was released Wednesday, reading doesn't do it justice. The powerful delivery of the witnesses offered a blunt reminder of the deep scars left by the attack, and the lingering despair over the death of Amb. Chris Stevens. All three men gave stirring testimonies of the events of that day, but Hicks's wrenching account is especially worth watching:
5. Eulogies can not be re-gifted
In his attempt to comfort the grieving State Department whistleblowers, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) recycled a eulogy he used "for a relative." Unfortunately, the phrase "death is a part of life" doesn't resonate quite so well when the purpose of your gathering is to find answers to a tragedy that may have involved negligence.
6. Hicks was told not to meet with Republican investigator Jason Chaffetz
Another new tidbit from today was the revelation that Hicks said he was told by a top State Department official not to talk to a congressional delegation investigating the Benghazi incident. "I was instructed not to allow the RSO, the acting deputy chief of mission -- me -- to be personally interviewed," said Hicks. "We were not to be personally interviewed by Congressman Chaffetz." In the end, Hicks went ahead and met with Chaffetz and other congressional investigators, but not without controversy. He said that Cheryl Mills, who was then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, "demanded a report on the visit."
"The phone call from that senior of a person is, generally speaking, not considered good news," Hicks said. While the incident is intriguing, it's still plausible that senior State Department officials were simply following protocols rather than covering up embarrassing testimony.
Whelan disputes the charge that the State Department was not accomodating to Chaffetz's investigation. "This was not an ordinary congressional delegation but part of an announced congressional investigation," she said. "When congressional investigators ask the Department to make employees available for interviews that are part of a congressional investigation, it is the Department's practice to seek to have Department counsel present during the interviews. As confirmed by the portion of the transcript read into the record by Ranking Member Cummings and Representative Speier, Mr. Hicks was not instructed to withhold information."
This post has been updated to reflect a response from the State Department.
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