Poor coordination in Washington and an overwhelming neglect of security risks at the U.S. mission in Benghazi exacerbated the damage cause by "a series of terrorist attacks" there on Sept. 11, an independent review of the State Department's handling of the events has found.
"A series of terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11-12, 2012, resulted in the deaths of four U.S. government personnel, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty; seriously wounded two other U.S. personnel and injured three Libyan contract guards; and resulted in the destruction and abandonment of the U.S. Special Mission compound and Annex," reads the unclassified version of the report of the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board, which was set up to investigate the attacks.
"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department ... resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the report, chaired by retired ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, says.
The "two bureaus" referenced in the report were the bureau of diplomatic security (DS) and the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA). Those bureaus are headed by Eric Boswell and Beth Jones, respectively, though the report does not mention either by name.
Instead, the board faulted "certain senior State Department officials" in those bureaus for "a lack of proactive leadership and management ability appropriate for the State Department's senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection." It did not find, however, that "any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities," and therefore did not recommend any disciplinary action.
That said, the panel's indictment of the State Department's security preparations are damning. The number of security staff in Benghazi before the attack was inadequate, despite repeated requests for more staffing, and there was an over-reliance on local Libyan guards and poorly skilled employees of a British security contractor, the report found.
"Board members found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing," the report states. "In the weeks and months leading up to the attacks, the response from post, Embassy Tripoli, and Washington to a deteriorating security situation was inadequate."
There was no protest outside the U.S. mission, the report confirms. There were also no specific, credible threats of an impending attack on the Benghazi compound, the report says.
The ARB makes 24 specific recommendations, including reexamining dependence on local security at diplomatic posts, reorganizing the diplomatic security leadership and management structure, increasing training for incidents such as these, increasing the number of Marines and diplomatic security agents at high-threat posts, and increasing foreign language training in languages such as Arabic.
"The Accountability Review Board provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I am grateful for its recommendations for how we can reduce the chance of this kind of tragedy happening again. I accept every one of them."
In her letter, Clinton outlined several steps the State Department took in the hours and days after the attack. The State Department increased security at diplomatic posts worldwide, she wrote, immediately ordered an investigation, and "intensified a diplomatic campaign aimed at combating the threat of terrorism across North Africa and bolstering the region's emerging democracies."
"We will have implementation of every recommendation underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office," Clinton wrote. "There is no higher priority for me or my Department."
Clinton initiated the Accountability Review Board, as required after any diplomatic incident resulting in a loss of life or serious injury, in the days after the attack and the board began its work in early October. In addition to Pickering, the board was led by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen (ret.), Catherine Bertini, Hugh Turner, and Richard Shinnick.
A few copies of the classified version of the report were sent to the relevant committees Tuesday afternoon. Pickering and Mullen will brief lawmakers in a classified setting Wednesday. Deputy Secretary Tom Nides and Deputy Secretary Bill Burns will testify in open session in both chambers Dec. 20.
After that, the State Department will defer comment to the FBI.
"Well, with regard to the investigation, that's, as you know, fully in the hands of the FBI now. So they will be responsible for giving whatever press information they feel comfortable with. But my understanding is that they don't intend to do any briefing on the status of the investigation, their work with the Libyans, until they're completed, which they are not yet," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's press briefing.
Nides will lead the team responsible for the implementation of the board's recommendations, a notice sent to all State Department employees Wednesday said. That team will also include Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, Director General of the Foreign Service Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Executive Secretary John Bass, and Deputy Legal Advisor Mary McLeod. State Department Counselor Harold Koh is leaving government to return to Yale Law School.
"The implementation team met today and will continue meeting regularly to ensure execution of the Board's recommendations as well as other actions directed by the Secretary. Bureaus and offices across the Department can expect to receive taskings in support of this effort from the Executive Secretariat," the notice stated.
The State Department's Inspector General's office will oversee the implementation and report on that independently, acting IG Harold Geisel said in an Oct. 26 letter to Congress.
The report stated that the State Department's diplomatic security bureau is doing a "fine job" overall but is being stretched to its limits by increased demands to protect diplomats in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The report calls on Congress to support the State Department with the proper resources to protect diplomats.
"No diplomatic presence is without risk, given past attempts by terrorists to pursue U.S. targets worldwide. And the total elimination of risk is a non-starter for U.S. diplomacy, given the need for the U.S. government to be present in places where stability and security are often most profoundly lacking and host government support is sometimes minimal to non-existent," the report stated.
The House Oversight Committee is demanding answers from the State Department regarding newly discovered documents found in the wreckage of the U.S. mission in Benghazi that reveal U.S. diplomats noticed a Libyan police officer conducting surveillance of the compound the morning before the Sept. 11 attack and that the Benghazi police department had not responded to requests for more security during the visit of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the attack that night.
Two reporters visiting the burned-out compound more than six weeks after the attack, and weeks after the FBI had visited the site, discovered an array of official and personal items that reveal the state of mind of nervous U.S. officials on the morning of Sept. 11, just hours before a group of well-armed men stormed the compound with heavy weapons, an attack that would ultimate result in the death of four Americans. In an exclusive report for Foreign Policy, journalists Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa revealed two unsigned draft letters written the day of the attack and warning that a Libyan police officer was spotted taking pictures of the compound.
"Finally, early this morning at 0643, September 11, 2012, one of our diligent guards made a troubling report. Near our main gate, a member of the police force was seen in the upper level of a building across from our compound. It is reported that this person was photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission and furthermore that this person was part of the police unit sent to protect the mission," reads the letter, addressed to Mohamed Obeidi, the head of the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs' office in Benghazi.
Obeidi said he never received the letter. Another letter states that U.S. diplomats had asked the Libyan government for added security for Stevens's visit -- security they apparently didn't get.
"On Sunday, September 9, 2012, the U.S. mission requested additional police support at our compound for the duration of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens' visit. We requested daily, twenty-four hour police protection at the front and rear of the U.S. mission as well as a roving patrol. In addition we requested the services of a police explosive detection dog," the letter reads. "We were given assurances from the highest authorities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that all due support would be provided for Ambassador Stevens' visit to Benghazi. However, we are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all."
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who have been leading a congressional investigation into the security failures surrounding the attack, fired off a letter today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the new revelations, obtained by The Cable.
The congressmen are demanding to know whether the Benghazi mission's concerns about Libyan police surveillance and their unanswered requests for more Libyan government security assistance were ever sent to Washington, and if so, why the State Department didn't reveal that before now.
"These documents paint a disturbing picture indicating that elements of the Libyan government might have been complicit in the September 11, 2012 attack on the compound and the murder of four Americans. It also reiterates the fact that the U.S. government may have had evidence indicating that the attack was not a spontaneous event but rather a preplanned terrorist attack that included prior surveillance of the compound as a target," Issa and Chaffetz wrote.
"Given the location where they were found, these documents appear to be genuine and support a growing body of evidence indicating that the Obama Administration has tried to withhold pertinent facts about the 9/11 anniversary attack from Congress and the American people."
The congressmen lamented that important information about the attack is still being discovered by the media and not being given to congressional investigators by the administration. They said the letters call into question repeated State Department claims that there were no warnings before the attack, including when a senior State Department official told reporters Oct. 9 that there had been no security incidents at the consulate that day.
"Everything is calm at 8:30 p.m," the official said during a background briefing. "There's nothing unusual. There has been nothing unusual during the day at all outside."
"These statements appear to be inconsistent with the information included in the documents uncovered by Foreign Policy," Issa and Chaffetz wrote.
The State Department must tell Congress whether the letters were included in any cables, telegrams, or emails and provide copies of those documents "no later than 5:00 p.m. on November 8, 2012," the letter said.
Other documents found at the compound include a printout of an email from Stevens to his political officer regarding the Benghazi visit, a travel itinerary sent to Sean Smith, the other State Department official killed in the attack, and an Aug. 6 copy of the New Yorker addressed to Stevens.
Obama administration officials and outside experts believe that the Sept. 11 e-mails sent by the State Department's operations center referring to claims of responsibility by an extremist group might have been wrong, especially since that group denied responsibility the next day.
On Wednesday, several outlets reported that emails sent on the night of the attack from the State Department operations center to administration officials described the assault as it was in progress and noted that the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter.
The first email, sent on Sept. 11 at 4:05 p.m. Washington time, reported that 20 armed men had fired on the compound, that explosions were heard, and that Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other personnel were in the compound safe haven. The second email at 4:54 stated that the shooting had stopped. The third email said that Ansar al-Sharia had claimed credit on Facebook and Twitter.
But the official Facebook and Twitter pages of the Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi chapter showed no such Facebook posting on the night of Sept. 11, only a posting the next day denying that the group had been responsible for the attack, according to Aaron Zelin, an expert who monitors jihadist websites. The group's official Facebook page was taken down in the days after the attack but its official Twitter feed is still active, though the most recent tweet was on Sept. 14.
The group also posted on Facebook and Twitter a YouTube video on Sept. 12 praising the attack but emphasizing that it was not organized or officially led by Ansar al Sharia. The video leaves open the possibility that individual members of the group may have been involved in the attack.
"We commend the Libyan Muslim people in Benghazi [that were] against the attack on the [Muslim] Prophet [Muhammad]," a summary of the video states. "Katibat Ansar al-Sharia [in Benghazi] as a military did not participate formally/officially and not by direct orders."
Zelin, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, captured screenshots of the Facebook page, and said they suggest that the State Department operations center got it wrong when it emailed officials saying the group had claimed responsibility.
"Based on the original reaction from Katibat Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi (ASB), the language would suggest that the attack was not planned by the senior leadership, but rather members in an individual capacity were involved," Zelin told The Cable in an email. "Further, because this video statement was not posted until 7AM EST on the 12th on ASB's official Facebook page and Twitter account, it calls into question the leaked emails, which stated there was a statement claiming responsibility the night of the attack. It is possible staffers were mistaken in the heat of the moment. Not only was there no statement from ASB until the following morning, but it did not claim responsibility."
The group also released an official statement on Sept. 12 along the same lines, stating that the attack was not an official operation, as noted by Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal.
"Ansar al-Shariah Brigade didn't participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity, but it was carrying out its duties in al-Jala'a hospital and other places where it was entrusted with some duties. The Brigade didn't participate as a sole entity; rather, it was a spontaneous popular uprising in response to what happened by the West," the statement said.
Also on Sept. 12, a spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia praised the attack and said, according to the New York Times, "We are saluting our people for this zeal in protecting their religion, to grant victory to the prophet. The response has to be firm."
A senior State Department official told The Cable that the State Department operations center heard about the alleged Sept. 11 Facebook posting claiming responsibility secondhand, from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. The State Department hasn't determined whether the ops center email was correct or not, and either way, such emails are just spot reports and are not considered intelligence products.
"Whatever claim of responsibility that was issued that first night was withdrawn soon after by the Sept. 12 statements," the official said. "While some are interpreting it otherwise, this more than anything speaks to the fluidity of information that night and the days that followed."
The White House has refused to comment on which officials received the emails or when.
Pressed Wednesday to explain how the State Department ops center emails could be reconciled with official claims in the days after that there was no evidence the attack was "pre-planned," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney referred to the Sept. 12 statements from Ansar al-Sharia disavowing responsibility.
"This was an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That's why there's an investigation underway," Carney said.
Three Republican senators -- Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) -- nonetheless sent a letter Wednesday to President Barack Obama demanding an explanation as to how the new reports reconcile with administration accounts of the attack at the time and since.
"These emails make clear that your Administration knew within two hours of the attack that it was a terrorist act and that Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group with links to Al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for it. This latest revelation only adds to the confusion surrounding what you and your Administration knew about the attacks in Benghazi, when you knew it, and why you responded to those tragic events in the ways that you did," they wrote.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday criticized the idea that the State Department ops center emails or the alleged Facebook posting they mentioned could be definitive in any way.
"Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be," Clinton said. "What I keep in mind is that four brave Americans were killed, and we will find out what happened, we will take whatever measures are necessary to fix anything that needs to be fixed, and we will bring those to justice who committed these murders. And I think that that is what we have said, that is what we are doing, and I'm very confident that we will achieve those goals."
UPDATE: After House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to the president today based on the State Department e-mails, his Democratic counterpart Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) issued a statement criticizing Issa for not mentioning that the content of the e-mails was in dispute.
Over and over again, Republicans have launched partisan accusations based on limited and inaccurate information, and in this case Chairman Issa disregarded conflicting reports that Ansar al-Sharia disavowed responsibility for the attack less than 24 hours later," said Cummings. "It’s time to stop shamelessly politicizing this tragedy and let the independent investigation complete its work without interference."
President Barack Obama and his administration did not only mislead the American people, they misled themselves on what happened the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, a top Romney foreign-policy advisor told The Cable ahead of Monday night's debate.
Regardless of whether or not Obama called the events in Benghazi an "act of terror" in the days following the attack, Mitt Romney does not believe the administration's insistence that the attack was related to an anti-Islam video was based solely on reports from the intelligence community, Romney advisor and former National Security Council official Eliot Cohen said in an interview.
"This notion that this was all because the intelligence community gave them bad information is just not correct. The idea that this was all attributable to the trailer for a crackpot movie was just not true," Cohen said. "That's a big fundamental problem that the administration has to deal with, that they did mislead people for a period of time, and what's even scarier, they misled themselves."
Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have reported that the intelligence community didn't formally revise its view that there may have been a protest related to the video until Sept. 22; the intelligence community maintains, according to the Times, that militants involved in the attack were inspired by the breach of the U.S. Embassy walls in Cairo.
But the Romney campaign's critique is broader than its claims of mishandled intelligence.
Cohen said that during Monday night's debate, Romney will likely refer to the administration's reaction to the Benghazi attack to counter the administration's claim that it has dealt a devastating blow to al Qaeda and that al Qaeda is "on its heels," as Obama has said many times in the past.
"They wanted to believe the narrative that this was an understandable if excessive and unacceptable reaction to a provocative piece of video, because the alternative would be to believe that their story, which is that the extremist problem is an essentially an al Qaeda problem, that it's a narrowly defined problem that you can deal with through targeted killings, that al Qaeda was on the verge of strategic defeat, is not true," he said. "In fact you are dealing with a larger problem which has metastasized across the Middle East. That is something they did not want to believe. You get into trouble when you try to fool other people. You get in bigger trouble when you try to fool yourself."
Cohen also criticized Obama for saying the death of four Americans is "not optimal" during an appearance last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart had used the word "optimal" in his question to Obama, but Cohen said that Obama shouldn't have taken the bait.
"For the president to get on a comedy show and say that the death of four Americans is ‘not optimal,' that is a really disturbing way to react to his event. It's absolutely glib," he said. "A president is supposed to be self-aware enough to just use words like ‘tragedy.' He's not supposed to be Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart is a comic; the president is supposed to be something else."
As for the debate, Cohen said that Obama has a natural advantage because he has access to vast amounts of intelligence and hundreds of national security officials, whereas Romney has limited foreign-policy information resources.
"There is a fundamental asymmetry here... The governor and the president both have experience creating jobs. Only one of them has been president with responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy," he said. "I think what you can expect from Governor Romney -- what is reasonable to expect -- is his assessment of how he sees the world, how he sees the larger developments that are out there, a set of principles of he thinks shape foreign policy, a sense of his leadership style, and how he makes decisions, and then an examination of the record of the guy who actually has been in charge for the last four years."
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been advertising its message about Romney's foreign-policy competence this week, including through a memo penned by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) alleging that Romney has failed the "commander-in-chief" test.
"We have that steady and strong leader today in President Obama. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, offers nothing but endless bluster and a record of dangerous blunders, failing at every turn to show he's up to the challenge. In fact, Governor Romney has outlined fewer specific policies for how he would lead on national security issues than any presidential candidate in my memory," Kerry wrote. He is an extreme and expedient candidate who lacks the judgment and vision so vital for the Oval Office, and he's at the top of the most inexperienced foreign policy ticket to run for president and vice president in decades."
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Obama called the Sept. 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi a "terrorist" attack. In fact, Obama did refer to the attack as an "act of terror," but he did not do so directly in the Rose Garden the next day.
Romney said during Tuesday night's debate that it took 14 days for Obama to acknowledge that the attack was a terrorist attack, while Obama and CNN's Candy Crowley agreed that Obama said so Sept. 12 in remarks in the Rose Garden. In those remarks, journalists noticed, he did not explicitly refer to the Benghazi attack as an "act of terror," though he did use those words.
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," he said.
Commentary's interpretation was that he made that he was referring to the original 9/11 attacks, not the Benghazi attack the day before.
"'Acts of terror' could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn't a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he'd added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks," blogger Alana Goodman wrote.
But on Sept. 13, at a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again used the phrase "act of terror" and this time tied it directly to the Benghazi attack.
"So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," he said.
Romney countered by saying that the Obama administration took too long to acknowledge that there were no protests outside the Benghazi mission before the attack and referred to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's Sept. 16 comments claiming that according to the best information at the time, the attack was "spontaneous" and a reaction to an anti-Islam video.
For the first time, Obama said he bears ultimate responsibility for the Benghazi attack, and again promised to bring the attackers to justice.
In one of the most drama-filled moments of the debate, the president said that Romney's statements during and immediately after the attack amounted to a politicization of the issue and he said he found Romney's suggestion that administration officials might have misled Americans about the attack "offensive."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Vice President Joseph Biden speaks only for himself and President Barack Obama, and neither man was aware that U.S. officials in Libya had asked the State Department for more security before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, a top White House official told The Cable.
Biden has come under fire for saying at Thursday night's debate, "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there."
The Cable asked Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes whether Biden was speaking for the entire Obama administration, including the State Department, which acknowledged receiving multiple requests for more Libya security in the months before the attacks. Rhodes said that Biden speaks only for himself and the president and neither of them knew about the requests at the time.
The State Department security officials who testified before House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's panel Wednesday never said they had made their requests to the president, Rhodes pointed out. That would be natural because the State Department is responsible for diplomatic security, not the White House, he said. Rhodes also pointed out that the officials were requesting more security in Tripoli, not Benghazi.
"All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources," the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, testified. "In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST [Site Security Team] extension.' I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway."
Nordstrom was so critical of the State Department's reluctance to respond to his calls for more security that he said, "For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
"We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met," testified Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
Issa released the unclassified cables containing those requests.
At Thursday night's debate, Rep. Paul Ryan seemed to suggest that the requests were for Marines to go to Libya, which was not the case. The requests were to extend the tours of a Mobile Security Detachments [MSD] and the Site Security Team [SST] at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which are teams of military personnel, not Marines, who can help protect an embassy and its personnel.
"What we should not be doing is rejecting claims for calls for more security in our barracks, in our Marine -- we need Marines in Benghazi when the commander on the ground says we need more forces for security," Ryan said. "There were requests for extra security. Those requests were not honored."
In his prepared testimony, Nordstrom said that "because of Libyan political sensitivities, armed private security companies were not allowed to operate in Libya." Instead, the Benghazi mission, through a British company, hired unarmed Libyan guards to work inside the compound and a local Libyan militia patrolled the exterior of the compound.
Ryan also erred when he criticized the State Department for assigning Marines to protect the ambassador in France but not Amb. Chris Stevens, who died in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
"Our ambassador in Paris has a marine detachment guarding him, shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi?," Ryan said.
According to the U.S. Embassy Paris website, there is a Marine Security Guard Detachment in the embassy, but they are there primarily to protect classified information and are not part of the ambassador's personal security detail.
Darrel Issa (R-CA), the committee chairman leading House Republicans' investigation into the Obama administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, has concealed witnesses, withheld documents, publicly aired unconfirmed allegations, and excluded Democrats from a hastily planned trip to Libya last weekend, according to his colleagues across the aisle.
"Although Chairman Issa has claimed publicly that ‘we are pursuing this on a bipartisan basis,' the Committee's investigation into the attack in Benghazi has been extremely partisan," reads a memo circulated today by the Democratic staff of the committee and obtained by The Cable. "The Chairman and his staff failed to consult with Democratic Members prior to issuing public letters with unverified allegations, concealed witnesses and refused to make one hearing witness available to Democratic staff, withheld documents obtained by the Committee during the investigation, and effectively excluded Democratic Committee Members from joining a poorly-planned congressional delegation to Libya."
On Wednesday, Issa, who heads the House Oversight Committee, will hold his much-anticipated hearing on the administration's actions leading up to and following the attack that cost the lives of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The hearing, entitled, "The Security Failures of Benghazi," will feature testimony from Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya before the attacks, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
The hearing follows up on an Oct. 2 letter from Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the national security subcommittee, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which Issa said the committee had received information "from individuals with direct knowledge of the events in Libya" that the Sept. 11 attack was "the latest in a long line of attacks" on Western diplomatic assets in Benghazi.
That letter was based on testimony from Nordstrom, according to the memo, who told the committee that the State Department had ignored two cables he send requesting more security. Nordstrom blamed the allegedly low security staffing in Benghazi on Lamb, whom he claims said that only three security agents were needed because there was a "safe haven" nearby. But Issa and Chaffetz sent their letter to Clinton less than 12 hours after interviewing Nordstrom, who was not in Libya at the time of the attack, the memo alleges.
"[Nordstrom's] statements were not confirmed before the letter was sent, and the State Department was not given an opportunity to respond before the allegations were made public," the memo said.
Wood spelled out his allegations in a series of interviews this week, including one with CBS News, in which he alleged that the State Department had declined his request to maintain a "Site Security Team," in Libya past August. But Issa concealed the majority staff's conversations with Wood from the Democratic side of the committee until Oct. 5, the same day he appeared on CBS, according to the memo.
"Chairman Issa has refused multiple requests to make Lt. Col. Wood available to speak with Democratic Members or staff prior to the hearing on Wednesday. In addition, although Republican staff provided an email address for Lt. Col. Wood after he appeared on CBS Evening News, Lt. Col. Wood has failed to respond to any inquiries from Democratic staff," the memo states.
Issa and Chaffetz also effectively excluded Democratic committee members and staff from joining a congressional delegation to Libya last weekend by concealing the trip until less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to leave, the memo charges.
"Republican staff did not inform the minority until last Thursday that a delegation would be departing the next day, Friday, October 5, 2012, for Tripoli. Due to this inadequate notice, no Democratic Members or staff were able to join," the memo says. "Based on a copy of the itinerary provided to the minority staff, it also appears that this delegation was hastily and inadequately planned. The itinerary did not identify a single U.S. government official, Libyan official, or other individual the Committee planned to interview during the entire delegation. In fact, the itinerary listed as the sole Committee activity in Libya: ‘TBD.'"
The memo also criticizes Mitt Romney and several congressional Republicans for taking issue with the statements of Obama administration officials in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, especially the Sept. 16 statements by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, in which she said that the assessment at that time was that the attack was spontaneous and inspired by an anti-Islam video.
"The State Department has been cooperating fully with the Committee's investigation. It has agreed to all requests for hearing witnesses, it has offered additional hearing witnesses beyond those requested, it has promptly organized transcribed interviews with Department officials, it has been collecting documents sought by the Committee, and it has offered additional briefings for Committee staff," the memo states, although it notes that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) excluded Oversight Committee leaders from a classified briefing on the issue Tuesday.
"Contrary to House Rules, the Chairman and his staff refused to provide copies of documents obtained by the Committee during this investigation and concealed witnesses, preventing the minority from questioning these witnesses directly in order to gain a more complete understanding of their views and to vet the accuracy of claims made by Chairman Issa," the memo states.
The memo also argues that it was the House GOP that slashed funding for State Department security and embassy protections prior to the attack.
The House passed appropriations bills that cut $248 million from the administration's request for the Worldwide Security Protection account in fiscal 2011 and 2012, and $211 million from the Worldwide Security Upgrades portion of the Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance (ESCM) account in those years.
The final amounts given to both accounts after the Senate weighed in were $88 million above the House levels, but still $371 million below what the administration requested.
"Since gaining the majority in 2011, House Republicans have voted to reduce embassy security funding by approximately half a billion dollars below the amounts requested by the Obama Administration," the memo states.
Last week, committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed concern that partisanship was overtaking the investigation.
"While I fully support careful, responsible, and robust congressional oversight, I do have concerns about rushing to hold a public hearing based on incomplete information if the purpose is to meet some arbitrary political timetable. On such a critically important issue, I believe we should proceed in a bipartisan and responsible manner by gathering the facts before drawing any public conclusions," he said.
A spokesman for Issa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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In a speech Monday, former Governor Mitt Romney will criticize President Barack Obama's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and say it was probably the work of al Qaeda, the same group that brought down the World Trade Center and struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East -- a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself," Romney will say in a foreign-policy-focused address at the Virginia Military Institute, according to excerpts released by his campaign.
"The attack on our consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11th, 2012, was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on Sept. 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration's attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West."
Some in the U.S. intelligence community believe that the attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans was led by the Benghazi chapter of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group thought to have ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's North Africa affiliate.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that groups with links to AQIM were responsible for the Beghazi attack in remarks at a U.N. meeting on Sept. 26, but State Department and White House spokepersons have repeated again and again that the precise identity of the attackers remains unknown pending an FBI investigation.
Romney will invoke the original 9/11 attacks as part of his argument that Obama has failed to respond to the rapid changes in the Middle East with a proactive and coherent strategy to preserve American power and influence in the region.
"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy," Romney will say. "We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity.... It is time to change course in the Middle East."
Romney will promise to increase and tighten sanctions against Iran, permanently base one aircraft carrier group each in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, condition aid to Egypt, and "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
On Syria, Romney will promise to identify opposition groups that share American values and make sure they get weapons to defeat the Syrian regime's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. He won't say that the United States should arm the rebels directly -- only that it should make sure they get advanced weaponry.
On Afghanistan, Romney will accuse Obama of timing the withdrawal of U.S. forces based on political considerations, a reference to the fact that Obama withdrew all 30,000 "surge" forces last month. But Romney will reiterate his call to complete the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014, so long as the conditions on the ground permit and in consultation with the military chain of command.
"I believe that if America does not lead, others will -- others who do not share our interests and our values -- and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years," Romney will say. "The 21st century can and must be an American century. It began with terror, war, and economic calamity. It is our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom, peace, and prosperity."
The Romney campaign held a conference call for reporters Sunday to preview the speech, which included participation by campaign foreign-policy coordinator Alex Wong and senior advisors Rich Williamson and Eliot Cohen.
Wong said that Obama has stepped away from American leadership and undermined the basis of American power. He also said the standing of the United States has been weakened in every region of the world, and likened Obama's foreign policy to that of former President Jimmy Carter.
Williamson said that Obama has a policy of weakness that is provocative to enemies and that his administration hasn't been transparent on the Benghazi attacks.
"The foreign policy of Barack Obama in the Middle East is a mess and is failing, and that should be a part of the discussion," Williamson said.
The Obama campaign preemptively released a statement calling Romney a neophyte and flip-flopper on foreign policy who has fumbled his forays into foreign-policy issues throughout the campaign.
"If Mitt Romney wants to have a debate about foreign policy, we have a message for him: bring it on... To date, all Mitt Romney has offered is bluster and platitudes. He's erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for," Obama for America spokeswoman Liz Smith said in the statement.
"'Mainstream' foreign policy isn't what Mitt Romney is putting forward: having plans to start wars but not end them; wanting to keep 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely; exploding our defense spending to levels the Pentagon has not asked for, with no way to pay for it; insulting our allies and partners around the world on the campaign trail; and calling Russia our number-one geopolitical foe. If that's where Mitt Romney thinks the mainstream is, he needs to find a better compass. It's clear that on every measure, Mitt Romney fails the commander-in-chief test."
Two top senators on the Foreign Relations Committee don't want to wait for the State Department to do its own investigation into the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens; they want Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to show them Stevens's diplomatic cables and other correspondence now.
"While we appreciate the sensitivities associated with this ongoing investigation, we must insist on more timely information regarding the attacks and the events leading up to the attacks," wrote Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) in a letter to Clinton Tuesday.
They acknowledged that Clinton is in the process of setting up an Accountability Review Board, although its chairman former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said Monday that the panel hasn't started it work yet. But the senators don't want to wait for the board to finish its report, which might not be transmitted to Congress until next spring.
"To that end, we request that you transmit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee all communications between the U.S. Mission to Libya and the State Department relevant to the security situation in Benghazi in the period leading up to the attacks, including, but not limited to, cables sent from Ambassador Stevens," they wrote.
The senators noted that Libya officials have said they warned the U.S. government about rising threats in Benghazi just before the attacks and they referenced the CNN reports, culled at least partially from Stevens's personal diary, stating that the ambassador believed his life was in danger.
"Despite these warnings, the State Department sought and received a waiver from the standard security requirements for the consulate," the senators wrote.
"We are extremely concerned about conflicting reports over the events leading up to the attacks. Specifically, we are concerned over the apparent lack of security preparations made despite a demonstrable increase in risks to U.S. officials and facilities in Benghazi in the period leading up to the attacks."
The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said Monday that the Obama administration has not found any evidence that a former Guantánamo Bay inmate was involved in the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) emerged from a classified briefing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Sept. 21 saying that administration officials had discussed Sufyan Ben Qumu, who was released from Guantánamo into Libyan custody in 2007, as a "person of interest" in the Benghazi investigation. But today in a conference call organized by the left-leaning National Security Network, Smith clarified that he had heard nothing directly tying Ben Qumu to the Benghazi attack.
"All I meant was that the person I mentioned has known al Qaeda affiliations and was in Libya. And really, that's it," Smith said. "Whether or not he was directly involved with the people engaged in the attack, there's no evidence of that."
Smith said the Libyan government had been quick to condemn the attack and help with the investigation. But he slammed Republicans for referencing the Ben Qumu rumor and other reporting about the attack to criticize the administration's handling of the crisis.
"It is fairly disturbing the number of Republicans who have leapt to erroneous conclusions about what this means and have missed no opportunity to bash on the president rather than try to find a common approach to this," he said. "That has been extremely unhelpful."
Former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said on the call that he had not yet started work on the Accountability Review Board (ARB) that Clinton appointed him to lead to investigate the Benghazi attack.
"As far as I know no other members have been appointed and obviously the process has not yet begun," Pickering said.
The ARB will have five members, four appointed by Clinton and one appointed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to a senior State Department official. The board will investigate, "the extent to which the incident was security related; whether the security systems and security procedures at that mission were adequate; whether the security systems and security procedures were properly implemented; the impact of intelligence and information availability; and such other facts and circumstances which may be relevant to the appropriate security management of the United States missions abroad," according to the law that established the board's mandate.
By law, the board must be convened within 60 days of the incident. Such panels typically take an average of 65 days to complete their work, and Clinton must submit the findings to Congress within 90 days of receiving them. According to that timeline, the board would issue its report in January and Congress could receive it as late as next April.
Both Smith and Pickering emphasized that they did not believe that time had run out to convince Iran not to pursue a nuclear weapon, and both argued that increased U.S. military involvement in Syria would only inflame the violence in the country.
"The situation in Syria is horrific. It is a full scale civil war," said Smith "It's a matter of whether or not there is an option that would make the situation better and reduce the violence in Syria."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was all set to get his full Senate vote today on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan; and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was set to get a vote on his resolution to establish the sense of the Senate that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option for U.S. policy.
But the entire deal was derailed by a last-minute effort by Senate leaders to add a new bill to the agreement, a "Sportsman Act" sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who is up for re-election. Tester's bill would ease restrictions on hunting, fishing, and shooting on federal public lands.
On Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he had worked out a deal with Paul to move on all of the Senate's outstanding business this afternoon, including a continuing resolution to fund the government past Oct. 1. Under the deal, Paul would get one hour of debate and a vote on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan. There would also be a one-hour debate on the containment resolution, which was also led by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA). (Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had objected to the deal late Wednesday but lifted his objection Thursday.)
Then suddenly Thursday afternoon, Reid announced there would be no more votes and he took a swipe a Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), accusing him of wanting to avoid his evening debate with challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Multiple senators and staffers said late Thursday that it was Reid, however, who derailed the deal at the last minute by attempting to add the Tester bill, prompting an objection by the GOP Senate leadership.
"Today, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell has agreed to the same UC [unanimous consent agreement] that was offered last night by Senator Reid, but now Senator Reid wants a UC that includes not just the Paul, Graham, and [continuing resolution] votes, but also a vote on the Tester amendment," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Thursday afternoon.
All Senate business is on hold while the leadership of both caucuses negotiates behind closed doors. Paul had repeatedly threatened to oppose unanimous consent to move any legislation unless he got his vote, so without a deal, Senate leaders would have to go through long voting procedures that could keep lawmakers in town well into the weekend.
Senators do hope to leave town this weekend, so a deal Friday is widely expected. A deal would also pave the way for the Senate to confirm a host of ambassadors before leaving Washington, including the nominees for envoy posts in Iraq and Pakistan.
The containment resolution has more than 80 co-sponsors and is expected to pass by a wide margin. The Paul bill to prohibit aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan is not expected to pass.
Prior to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the State Department and the Marines Corps had been discussing deploying Marines to guard the U.S. Embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli "sometime in the next five years," according to the Marine Corps.
The issue of security at U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya has been front and center as Congress and others begin to investigate whether or not those facilities were sufficiently protected before the attacks that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The State Department won't discuss the specifics of its security posture in Libya before the attack, but the Marine Corps has briefed congressional staffers on the issue, for example in a Sept. 13 email obtained by The Cable.
"Typically, when a new embassy is established, it takes time to grow a new [Marine Corps Embassy Security Group] detachment," wrote Col. Harold Van Opdorp, director of the Marine Senate Liaison office, in the e-mail. "[In conjunction with] the State Department, there is discussion about establishing a detachment in Tripoli sometime in the next five years."
The State Department did not respond to questions about how high the discussion of deploying Marines to Libya reached, whether that discussion amounted to a recognition that Marines were needed there, or why it might take five years to set it up. A Marine Corps FAST team was deployed to protect the embassy on Sept. 12 after the attack and could stay there indefinitely.
According to the Marines, out of the 285-plus U.S. diplomatic security facilities worldwide, 152 have Marine Corps detachments, primarily to protect the facilities and the classified information they contain.
"Overall, the plan is to grow the number of MCESG detachments worldwide to 173. It is also important to note the detachments are charged with protection of the chancery. Perimeter security is the responsibility of the HN [host nation] police/security forces," Van Opdorp wrote.
Many on Capitol Hill are pressing the State Department for details about the exact security arrangements at the Benghazi consulate, contesting the State Department's repeated assertion that there was a "strong" security presence protecting the facility.
One congressional aide told The Cable that the State Department initially reported to Congress that the security personnel at the embassy consisted of an unarmed local security force and six armed Libyan government personnel.
The Washington Guardian reported Wednesday that the two former Navy SEALs who were killed in the attack were not part of the ambassador's security detail but had unspecified security responsibilities related to the consulate and engaged the attackers after the firefight began.
Lawmakers are still trying to get details about the State Department's security posture in Libya and the heads of the Senate Homeland Security Committee have already called on the department to investigate the security failures surrounding the Benghazi attack.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to brief Congress on the issue Thursday afternoon. Earlier this week, she defended the security presence in Benghazi, saying, "Let me assure you that our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government security forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world."
Late Wednesday, Pentagon officials briefed House Armed Services Committee members on the Libya attacks, after which Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that he was increasingly concerned about the lack of security at U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya.
McKeon said it was "inconceivable" that that there were no military personnel stationed in Benghazi, despite a June bomb attack on the consulate, and he said he was "really concerned about the lack of support that the ambassador had, the lack of protection."
The State Department is setting up an independent, bipartisan panel to investigate what happened in the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said Wednesday that Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides told him the State Department had already begun setting up the panel, which Kerry said would be independently appointed and accountable to Congress. Kerry said the panel's existence preempted the need for Congress to quickly pass a bill, put forth by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), requiring State to report to Congress on last week's attacks in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen within 30 days.
"The State Department must convene an Accountability Review Board (ARB) in instances in which there has been loss of life or significant destruction of property at a U.S. mission abroad. The Secretary must provide the SFRC with a report on the findings and recommendations of the ARB," Kerry said at Thursday's SFRC business meeting.
Kerry said the law requires the panel be convened within 60 days of the attack, would examine all aspects of the attacks, and is required to report to Congress its findings. If the panel does not satisfy Congress's desire for information about the attacks, Kerry would then support legislation calling for more thorough reporting on the attacks as well as security procedures at all U.S. diplomatic posts, he said.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top administration officials will come to Capitol Hill to give a briefing on the attacks to all senators who wish to attend, Kerry said.
"Given all of the information that should be forthcoming already, I did not think it would be productive to take up the reporting bill at this time. But I do want to thank Senators DeMint and Corker for the initiative and let them know that I share their instincts that this warrants our close attention," Kerry said.
DeMint said Wednesday he was willing to wait for the State Department panel's report on the attacks before pressing for new legislation demanding more information. On Sept. 14 when he introduced the bill, DeMint called for transparency and accountability from the administration regarding the attacks.
"The attacks on American embassies and diplomats are outrageous. The administration owes the American people detailed answers on how this happened and how it can be prevented in the future," DeMint said then. "It now appears these violent acts may have been coordinated terrorist attacks against America around the anniversary of 9/11. There may have even been warnings beforehand. Americans need to know if we were properly prepared and what steps must be taken to protect our diplomats in these dangerous environments."
The committee also approved nine ambassadorial nominations at the hearing, including the nomination of Richard Olson to be ambassador to Pakistan. The committee held its hearing for Robert Stephen Beecroft to become the next ambassador in Iraq on Wednesday morning, so he was not on the committee agenda, but aides said that there was broad support for dispatching the Beecroft nomination out of committee without a formal vote so he could be confirmed this week before the Senate leaves town.
All of the ambassador nominations could fall victim to the ongoing dispute between Senate leadership and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) over Paul's demand for a floor vote on his amendment to cut off all U.S. aid to Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signaled progress but no resolution in the dispute with Paul on Wednesday afternoon and Reid pledged to work to confirm Olson and Beecroft this week.
"I'd love to get the ambassador to Pakistan. We have two countries, Iraq and Pakistan, who do not have an American ambassador because the Republicans have held these up," Reid said. "We're going to be here as long as the Republicans force us to be here. We could finish this stuff tomorrow, but it's up to them."
Carjackings, robberies, kidnappings, and militia violence all are on the rise in Libya, prompting the State Department to warn U.S. citizens to stay away from the North African country, nearly a year after Libyan rebels seized the capital Tripoli from Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces.
Ironically, the State Department resumed full consular services for travel to and inside Libya today, but simultaneously advised Americans the country was too dangerous to visit. Militias are rounding up foreigners with little regard to the actual law or due process and the State Department has little influence with them, the department is warning.
"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Libya," reads the new travel warning issued today. "The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem. In addition, political violence in the form of assassinations and vehicle bombs has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli."
The warning is the first the State Department has issued since September 2011 and the first since the July 7 elections in Libya, which saw the Transnational National Council, which has been running the country since Qaddafi's fall, replaced this month by the General National Congress. Those elections were deemed to be free and fair, but now political uncertainly has been replaced by insecurity on the streets of Libya's major cities.
"Despite this progress, violent crime continues to be a problem in Tripoli, Benghazi, and other parts of the country," the travel warning said. "In particular, armed carjacking and robbery are on the rise. In addition, political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country."
The State Department noted the kidnapping of 7 members of the Iranian Red Crescent delegation by an Islamic Libya militia late last month. The delegation had been invited by the government but was being questioned by the militia "to determine whether their activities and intentions aimed to spread the doctrine of Shiite Islam," a Libyan official told AFP.
Islamic extremists are also blamed for a string of attacks on historical and sacred religious sites over the past days aimed at Muslims of the Sufi sect and conducted in some cases with the help of uniformed members of Libya's Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al resigned due to the scandal Sunday night.
Militias are also apprehending foreigners for "perceived or actual violations of Libyan law," and the State Department might not be able help because the militias may not be sanctioned or controlled by the government.
The U.S. Secret Service arrested a Libyan national Monday at the Watergate building for threatening to blow up the iconic Washington commercial and residential complex, following a protest at the Libyan embassy.
Secret Service spokesman Max Milien confirmed to The Cable that one man was arrested at the Watergate office building, which houses the Libyan embassy, on the charge of "felony threats" Monday.
The Secret Service declined to give the name of the individual or specify the nature of the threats, but according to an eyewitness account provided to The Cable, the man arrested, a member of a group of Libyan graduate students protesting at the Libyan embassy Monday and Tuesday, was taken into custody after threatening to blow up the building to a member of the property management staff.
The threat came as a group of Libyan graduate students, who were protesting the terms of their academic study in the United States, were being removed from the building by Secret Service. It was not clear if the Libyan arrested actually had any plans or means to carry out an attack on the Watergate building or if the comment was made offhand in anger.
Peter Greenwald, a senior advisor at Penzance, the company in charge of managing the Watergate complex, told The Cable, "This is a matter that is now being handled by the appropriate law enforcement agencies and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further."
Abdelmajeed Ali, a Libyan national and graduate student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (MS&T) and a leader of the protests, told The Cable he had driven from Missouri to Washington with 30 other MS&T students to call for more Libyan government support to struggling Libyan students in the United States.
"There are many students that have lots of problems regarding the scholarships they got from the government," he said. "Students are struggling to figure out how to survive."
The MS&T students, who were joined by 30 Libyan graduate students from various other universities, tried to protest on the street outside the Watergate building Monday but were told to stop because they didn't have a permit. They then managed to get inside the building and up to the floor that houses the Libyan embassy.
The Secret Service and the State Department sent several personnel to the scene and, according to Ali, the State Department directed the Secret Service to remove the students from the building. As the students were being removed, one of them made the threat and was promptly arrested. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"There was a big crowd and the head of the embassy said we needed to get out of the embassy because it was too crowded," said Ali. "So they decided to kick us out of the embassy by calling the police."
The Libyan ambassador, Ali Aujali, was out of the country but the deputy chief of mission told the students he would communicate their grievances to the government in Tripoli. The students tried again on Tuesday to protest but the embassy was closed, so they drove back to Missouri emptyhanded, student leader Abdelmajeed Ali said.
The Libyan embassy did not respond to requests for comment. The man arrested was taken to the Washington Metropolitan Police Department's 2nd district headquarters, according to the Secret Service. His current whereabouts are unknown.
UPDATE: A Secret Service spokesman tells The Cable the man has been released from custody and faces a Sept. 21 court date.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Libya's interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department Thursday, but let's hope he didn't check the State Department's website, which still has Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi listed as the head of the country.
Sure, the Arab Spring must keep the State Department web teams busy with revisions, but Qaddafi has been dead for months now. You wouldn't know that by reading the State Department's website, though, as it still shows the all-green Qaddafi flag on its Libya page and refers to Libya as the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." The Libya page was last updated in July 2011, after NATO forces had begun attacking Libya but before the Qaddafi regime fell. (And yes, the State Department gift shop still sells flag pins with the old Libyan flag juxtaposed with the stars and stripes.)
Clinton celebrated the new Libyan government in her remarks after her meeting with Keib.
"Just think, this time last year, the United States was working to build an international coalition of support for the Libyan people, and today we are proud to continue that support as the people of Libya build a new democracy that will bring about peace and prosperity and protect the rights and dignity of every citizen," she said.
"We've seen progress in each of the three key areas of democratic society -- building an accountable, effective government; promoting a strong private sector; and developing a vibrant civil society. And we will stand with the people of Libya as it continues this important work."
Clinton lauded Libya's new election law and endorsed the goal of holding constitutional assembly elections this June. She praised Libya's increasing oil production and acknowledged the country still has a ways to go in the areas of border security, integrating militias, and working toward national reconciliation.
Keib thanked the entire Obama administration "for having been a tremendous support and for their strong leadership in supporting the Libyan revolution," and asked Clinton for help in retrieving the billions that Qaddafi is thought to have stolen from Libya and returning it to the Libyan people.
"In the past year, the dynamics between the U.S. and Libya has been dramatically transformed for the better," he said.
On Wednesday morning, Keib met with President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon at the White House. He spoke at the U.N. Security Council in the afternoon and attended a dinner at the official residence of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, sharing a table with actress Angelina Jolie and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Keib said Thursday he was not aware of any training camps in Libya for Syrian rebels, as the Russian government has alleged exist, but said he supports the Syrian opposition and formal recognition of the Syrian National Council. Libya has pledged $100 million for the Syrian cause.
Clinton said the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC) could be a model for the Syrian opposition.
"[The NTC] presented a unified presence that created an address as to where to go to help them, a lot of confidence in their capacities on the ground, their commitment to the kind of inclusive democracy that Libya is now building," Clinton said. "And we are working closely with the Syrian opposition to try to assist them to be able to present that kind of unified front and resolve that I know they feel in their own -- on their behalf is essential in this struggle against the brutal Assad regime."
And Clinton was quick to mention that she raised with Keib the issue of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 108 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the U.S. desire to see the convicted plotter Abdelbaset al-Megrahi returned to prison.
"You know where I stand. I believe that Megrahi should still be behind bars," she said. "We will continue to fight for justice for all the victims of Qaddafi and his regime. And in this particular case, the U.S. Department of Justice has an open case, and it will remain open while we work together on it."
As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama's administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.
Critics on Capitol Hill accuse the Obama administration of being slow to react to the quickening deterioration of the security situation in Syria, where more than 5,000 people have died, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many lawmakers say the White House is once again "leading from behind," while the Turks, the French, and the Arab League -- which sent an observer mission to Syria this week -- pursue more aggressive strategies for pressuring the Assad regime. But U.S. officials insist that they are moving cautiously to avoid destabilizing Syria further, and to make sure they know as much as possible about the country's complex dynamics before getting more involved.
The administration does see the status quo in Syria as unsustainable. Bashar al-Assad's regime is a "dead man walking," State Department official Fred Hof said this month. Now, the administration is ramping up its policymaking machinery on the issue after several weeks of having no top-level administration meetings to discuss the Syria crisis. The National Security Council (NSC) has begun an informal, quiet interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable.
The process, led by NSC Senior Director Steve Simon, involves only a few select officials from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant agencies. The group is unusually small, presumably to prevent media leaks, and the administration is not using the normal process of Interagency Policy Committee, Deputies Committee, or Principals Committee meetings, the officials said. (Another key official inside the discussions is Hof, who is leading the interactions with Syrian opposition leaders and U.S. allies.)
The options under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.
"The interagency is now looking at options for Syria, but it's still at the preliminary stage," one official said. "There are many people in the administration that realize the status quo is unsustainable and there is an internal recognition that existing financial sanctions are not going to bring down the Syrian regime in the near future."
After imposing several rounds of financial sanctions on Syrian regime leaders, the focus is now shifting to assisting the opposition directly. The interagency process is still ongoing and the NSC has tasked State and DOD to present options in the near future, but nothing has been decided, said the officials -- one of whom told The Cable that the administration was being intentionally careful out of concern about what comes next in Syria.
"Due to the incredible and far-reaching ramifications of the Syrian problem set, people are being very cautious," the official said. "The criticism could be we're not doing enough to change the status quo because we're leading from behind. But the reason we are being so cautious is because when you look at the possible ramifications, it's mindboggling."
A power vacuum in the country, loose weapons of mass destruction, a refugee crisis, and unrest across the region are just a few of the problems that could attend the collapse of the Assad regime, the official said.
"This isn't Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher," the official said. "Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow."
The option of establishing a humanitarian corridor is seen as extremely unlikely because it would require establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which would likely involve large-scale attacks on Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.
"That's theoretically one of the options, but it's so far out of the realm that no one is thinking about that seriously at the moment," another administration official said.
Although the opposition is decidedly split on the issue, Burhan Ghalioun, the president of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), earlier this month called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.
"Our main objective is finding mechanisms to protect civilians and stop the killing machine," said Ghalioun. "We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights."
Is the U.S. bark worse than its bite?
Rhetorically, the administration has been active in calling for Assad to step aside and emphasizing the rights of Syrian protesters, despite the lack of clear policy to achieve either result. "The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Dec. 21.
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, the administration hinted at stronger action if the Syrian government doesn't let the Arab League monitors do their work. "If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The SNC, the primary organization representing the opposition, has been very clear that it is seeking more than rhetorical support from the United States and the international community. An extensive policy paper titled, "Safe Area for Syria," edited by SNC member Ausama Monajed, laid out the argument for armed intervention by the international community to aid Syrian civilians.
"The Syrian National Council (SNC) is entering a critical phase in the Syrian revolution whereby the hope of a continued campaign of passive resistance to an exceptionally brutal and unrestrained regime is becoming more and more akin to a suicide pact," the paper stated.
But Washington is uncomfortable acting in concert with the SNC: Officials say there is a lack of confidence that the SNC, which is strongly influenced by expatriate Syrians, has the full support of the internal opposition. U.S. officials are also wary of supporting the Syria Free Army, made up of Syrian military defectors and armed locals, as they do not want to be seen as becoming militarily engaged against the regime -- a story line they fear that Assad could use for his own propaganda, officials said.
There is also some internal bureaucratic wrangling at play. This summer, when the issue of sending emergency medical equipment into Syria came up in a formal interagency meeting, disputes over jurisdiction stalled progress on the discussion, officials told The Cable. No medical aid was sent.
For now, the administration is content to let the Arab League monitoring mission play out and await its Jan. 20 report. The officials said that the administration hopes to use the report to begin a new diplomatic initiative in late January at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad and authorize direct assistance to the opposition.
The officials acknowledged that this new initiative could fail due to Russian support for the Assad regime. If that occurs, the administration would work with its allies such as France and Turkey to establish their own justification for non-military humanitarian intervention in Syria, based on evidence from the Arab League report and other independent reporting on Assad's human rights abuses. This process could take weeks, however, meaning that material assistance from the United States to the Syrian opposition probably wouldn't flow at least until late February or early March. Between now and then, hundreds or even thousands more could be killed.
There is also disagreement within the administration about whether the Arab League observer mission is credible and objective.
"This is an Arab issue right now, and the Arab League is really showing initiative for the first time in a long time," said one administration official.
"[The Arab League monitoring mission] is all Kabuki theatre," said another administration official who does not work directly on Syria. "We're intentionally setting the bar too high [for intervention] as means of maintaining the status quo, which is to do nothing."
Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the administration was caught offguard by how the opposition became militarized so quickly. The administration's message had been to urge the opposition to remain peaceful, but that ship has now sailed, he said.
"We have a pretty strong policy of not engaging the Syria Free Army directly, because earlier it was agreed that peaceful protesters had the moral high ground over the regime and were more able to encourage defections," he said. "But there was no clear light at the end of that peaceful protest strategy. We assumed, incorrectly, that the civil resistance strategies used in Egypt and Tunisia were being adopted by the Syrian opposition, but that didn't happen."
Most experts in Washington have a deep skepticism toward the Arab League monitoring mission. For one thing, it is led by a Sudanese general who has been accused of founding the Arab militias that wreaked havoc in Darfur. Also, many doubt that 150 monitors that will eventually be in Syria can cover the vast number of protests and monitor such a large country.
The Assad regime has also been accused of subverting the monitoring mission by moving political prisoners to military sites that are off-limits to monitors, repositioning tanks away from cities only when monitors are present, and having soldiers pose as police to downplay the military's role in cracking down on the protesters.
"It seems awfully risky for the U.S. to be putting its chips all in on that mission," said Tony Badran, a research fellow with the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "There never was a serious mechanism for it to be a strong initiative."
Badran said that the Arab League monitoring mission just gives the Assad regime time and space to maneuver, and provides Russia with another excuse to delay international action on Syria.
"Now you understand why the Russians pushed the Syrians to accept the monitors," he said. "It allows the Syrians to delay the emergence of consensus."
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the administration is trying to balance the value of protecting civilians with the interests of trying to ensure a measure of stability in Syria.
"The biggest thing is extensive consultation with as many international allies as possible. That's another feature of this administration," said Katulis. "And when change does come to Syria, the Syrians have to own it."
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to requests for comment.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Certain GOP presidential candidates, such as Herman Cain, need to "step up their game" and prove that they know enough about foreign policy to be president, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable.
"There are individual candidates that need to step up their game," Graham said on Tuesday, when asked about Cain's cringe-worthy interview on Monday with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Libya.
"Each candidate has to demonstrate for the public that they're ready for the job. And no one expects a person who hasn't been commander-in-chief before to know everything about every topic, but Libya? I think it's fair to ask our candidates to articulate a position," Graham said. "Cain has got to convince people that he's got the depth of knowledge [to be president]."
Graham compared Cain's mission to that of candidate Barack Obama in 2007, when people doubted Obama's foreign policy bona fides. In that case, Obama managed to convince the electorate that he had enough foreign-policy knowledge to handle the issues.
Graham, who just wrote a big National Review article on Obama's foreign policy, also said that felt good about the Nov. 12 CBS/National Journal GOP debate on foreign policy, because all of the leading contenders unified around a basically hawkish agenda and didn't succumb to the wing of the GOP that is advocating for more isolationist policies.
"Six months ago, I was worried about this unpopularity of Iraq and Afghanistan changing the party's historical position of shaping the world," Graham said. "After Saturday's debate I feel more reassured that we're going back to the party of Reagan."
"[Jon] Huntsman and Ron Paul have a legitimate view, but it's not the mainstream view of the Republican Party," Graham said. "The national security debate was well received by many [in the GOP]. It was a hawkish debate."
The top U.S. official at NATO said Monday that there is zero planning -- or even thinking -- going on about a military intervention in Syria.
"There has been no planning, no thought, and no discussion about any intervention into Syria. It just isn't part of the envelope of thinking, among individual countries and certainly among the 28 [full NATO members]," said Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO. "If things change, things change. But as of today, that's where the reality stands."
Daalder, speaking to an audience at the Atlantic Council, is in town along with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will meet later today with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They will be discussing the NATO summit to be held in Chicago next May and taking a victory lap following the fall of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Daalder said that there were three overarching conditions that need to be met before the Obama administration would even consider any future military intervention such as occurred in Libya.
"The formula was that there needs to be a demonstrable need, regional support, and sound legal basis for action," said Daalder. "It's those three things we need to look for before we even think about the possibility of action. None of them apply in Syria."
Daalder also noted that there is not enough evidence that air strikes would be effective in Syria, that the opposition and the Arab League have not asked for intervention, and that the U.N. Security Council has refused to act.
Daalder said several times that the United States had not been "leading from behind" in Libya, and he offered his take on the Obama administration's foreign-policy philosophy, as implemented during the Libya intervention.
"The administration came to power with a particular view about how the world worked. And that was a view that in an age of globalization, security was no longer principally determined by geography, but developments anywhere in the world could have a major security impact at home, so as a result you had to find a way to work with others," he said. "The lynchpin of Obama foreign policy was rebuilding partnerships and alliances."
"As part of that analysis, there was also a belief that the era when the United States could decide, determine, and do everything by itself had also come to an end," he said.
The United States is conducting an exercise to examine the lessons learned during the Libya intervention. However, Daalder said that although the European countries ran short of key items such as precision missiles during the war, the United States was perfectly well-prepared and did everything basically right throughout the mission.
"I'm not sure there is a lesson we need to learn for the United States," Daalder said. "In terms of capabilities, we know where the shortfalls are, but they are European shortfalls.... We could have done this campaign by ourselves. But the wise decision was not to do something we could, because others could help too."
Daalder also acknowledged that NATO-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation are at an impasse over a dispute regarding Russian demands for written assurances that U.S. systems are incapable of being used against Russia. The United States has no intention of giving such assurances, according to Daalder.
"We have put on the table numerous proposals for cooperation, which in many ways take their proposals as the basis," he said.
"They want a written guarantee that is legally binding that says the system will be incapable and will never be directed against them," he said. "And we have said that a legal guarantee like that is not something we want nor something we could ratify."
The death of Muammar al-Qaddafi today shows what's in store for the leadership of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which will probably be the next group of tyrants to be thrown out of office and potentially killed, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), told The Cable.
"If you're the leaders of Syria, you're looking at today's events as a preview of what your future may hold," Rubio said in a Thursday interview.
"I believe that dictators in that region are unsustainable," he said. "The Syrian regime is doomed and it's just a matter of time, whether it's weeks, months, or even a year, their position is unsustainable. The people there want a better life. They're tired of living under this ineffective, incompetent, and repressive regime. And so, I think their days are numbered."
He called on the Obama administration to ratchet up the pressure on the Syrian government and redouble its efforts to convince other countries to do the same.
Rubio wasn't ready to endorse the idea of an internationally imposed no-fly zone over Syria, as his colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), did earlier this month in an interview with The Cable.
"There are major differences between Syria and Libya," Rubio said, claiming that the Syrian regime isn't using planes to attack its people and the Syrian opposition hasn't asked for an international military intervention.
"I think it's important that if you're assisting someone that you know who they are and that they are asking for your help," he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Rubio told Fox News that the bulk of the credit for the success of the military effort in Libya belongs to the British and the French, and that if President Barack Obama had acted faster, Qaddafi's death would have come months ago.
"It's the French and the British that led on this fight and probably even led in the strike that led to Qaddafi's capture and death," Rubio said."[President Obama did] the right things but he just took too long to do it and didn't do enough of it."
Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) will begin its handover of power and set up elections following the death of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the Libyan ambassador to Washington told The Cable.
"That's what they declared before and that's what they have to do now. Now they have to start work for the election and the institution building for the new Libya," said Ambassador Ali Aujali today.
Aujali also outlined the help that Libya was seeking from the U.S. government and the American business community in the wake of Qaddafi's death. The NTC wants U.S. assistance in training its military, protecting its borders, and setting up the foundations of the new government and civil society. He invited American companies to participate in the reconstruction of Libya.
"Qaddafi was the one who was always an issue and an obstacle to a relationship based on confidence and mutual interest," Aujali said.
He specifically called for U.S. medical aid for injured Libyan fighters, a proposal that senators such as John McCain (R-AZ) have also supported. Medical assistance was part of the $11 million aid package that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on her visit to Tripoli earlier this week.
(Clinton learned of Qaddafi's death over her Blackberry during a stop in Afghanistan earlier on Thursday.)
Aujali said that Qaddafi was killed by rebel militias and his death was not related to any NATO airstrike missions. He also said that he had heard, but could not independently confirm, that Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam was dead.
"These types of regimes always end in tragedy," he said.
The Libyan embassy in Washington is tasked with expressing the NTC's gratitude to its American interlocutors for the role the United States played in the months-long struggle against the Qaddafi regime.
"Thanks to the U.S. and NATO and the Arab countries that supported us and came forward to help the Libyan people," Aujali said.
President Barack Obama made brief remarks about Qaddafi's death at the White House this afternoon and called for a quick formation of an interim government and a stable transition to Libya's first free and fair elections.
"You have won your revolution and now we will be a partner as you forge a future that provides dignity, freedom, and opportunity," he said "For the region, today's events prove once more that rule by an iron fist inevitably comes to an end."
The death of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi vindicates the Obama administration's multilateral military strategy in Libya, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA).
"The United States demonstrated clear-eyed leadership, patience, and foresight by pushing the international community into action after Qaddafi promised a massacre," Kerry said in a statement. "Though the administration was criticized both for moving too quickly and for not moving quickly enough, it is undeniable that the NATO campaign prevented a massacre and contributed mightily to Qaddafi's undoing without deploying boots on the ground or suffering a single American fatality."
Some have argued that the Obama administration was pushed into military intervention in Libya by the international community, led by the French and the British. Regardless, Kerry emphasized that he was one of the voices that supported the intervention.
"This is a victory for multilateralism and successful coalition-building in defiance of those who derided NATO and predicted a very different outcome," he said.
Kerry's statement also referenced his Wall Street Journal op-ed published in March, in which he defended the NATO-led action and made clear that it never had the goal of forcing Qaddafi from power.
"The military intervention was not directly intended to force Qaddafi from power, but the international community will remain united in maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on a thug who has lost any legitimacy he ever possessed," Kerry wrote at the time.
Kerry's counterpart, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), expressed hope that the new Libyan government's foreign policy would be more Western-leaning.
"If Qaddafi is confirmed dead and his loyalists defeated, it marks a critical moment for the Libyan people to turn their nation away from its grim past as a rogue state and toward a future of freedom marked by alliances with the United States, Israel, European democracies, and other responsible nations," she said in her own statement.
Both Kerry and Ros-Lehtinen urged the National Transitional Council government to adhere to standards of political inclusion, transparency, and move quickly toward establishing a democracy.
"The Libyan people must seize this opportunity to realize their democratic aspirations and not squander it through factional fighting over the political spoils," Ros-Lehtinen said. "The new leaders must demonstrate a commitment to working with the U.S., and to securing control over dangerous weapons and rooting out extremist groups."
The United States is in discussions with the National Transitional Council (NTC) about a possible role for international forces in military training and counterterrorism in the new Libya, according to Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman.
Feltman conducted a press call on Wednesday following his visit to Tripoli, where he met with NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and civil society representatives. There are four U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya now, trying to figure out how to secure the battered U.S. embassy, but Feltman said there's a possibility of more U.S. military cooperation with the new Libyan government.
"There are a number of countries including the U.S. that would look favorably on such as a request.... The Libyans themselves have to make clear what they are comfortable with," Feltman said. "We think the Libyans should find a way to define these missions in a way that are respectful for Libyan sovereignty and independence and also protect Libya's security."
Feltman added that U.S. policymakers "will certainly be encouraging Libya to work with us" on counterterrorism issues, noting that there are U.S. government teams on the ground helping the NTC locate dangerous weapons, such as MANPADS and land mines.
Feltman also addressed concerns that groups associated with the new Libyan government might contain Islamist elements, which could push the new government toward an anti-Western stance.
"The Islamists, as we would probably define them, seem to be a relatively small percentage of both the leadership and the rank and file [of the NTC], as best as we can tell," said Feltman. "It is a very religiously devout population and heavily tribal. The tribal allegiances are kicking in to soften or mitigate or cancel out the more Islamic leanings, pulling those who might go astray back into the tribes."
"The debate over this whole question has shifted significantly, evolving away from the fear that some people had about is the revolution being kidnapped by others, to how do we centralize the demands of the fighters, how best do we build an inclusive system for the interim period that allows people to work out their differences," Feltman explained. "It's really a far different debate than it was even a few weeks ago."
What about the U.S. embassy in Tripoli? Feltman surveyed the scene today, and the building is not looking good.
"I think it's no secret that the building was largely looted and it's in pretty serious damage," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "So the assessment is that it's pretty severely compromised, but no decision has been made yet on what we're going to do moving forward in establishing an embassy there."
A State Department team led by the embassy's second-in-command Joan Polaschik arrived in Tripoli this past weekend to reestablish the U.S. diplomatic presence there. Ambassador Gene Cretz remains in Washington leading the State Department's Libya Task Force and envoy to the NTC Chris Stevens remains in Benghazi.
At a press conference in Tripoli, Feltman also admitted the U.S. government worked with the regime of Muammar al Qaddafi to round up terror suspects, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Watch Feltman's explanation here:
The State Department has opened a brand-new office to manage U.S. policy toward countries attempting democratic transitions in the Middle East.
William Taylor, senior vice president for conflict management at the U.S. Institute of Peace, has moved over to Foggy Bottom to lead the new office, called the Middle East Transitions office, which began operations this week. His deputy is Tamara Cofman Wittes, who is now dual hatted, also continuing on deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Taylor's chief of staff is Karen Volker, who until August was director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is now directed by Tom Vajda. MEPI also falls under Wittes' portfolio. Taylor reports up to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
In a Monday interview with The Cable, Taylor said his office will begin by leading State Department coordination on policy toward Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the three Middle East countries that are trying to make the shift from dictatorship to democracy.
"The idea is we want to focus energy and policy attention on how we support these three transition countries," he said. "The idea is to be sure this gets top-level attention in the department."
Taylor's office will have about 10 to 12 people, and he said he hopes to soon add a resident senior advisor from both USAID and the Pentagon. The office is meant to be permanent, and would expand its operations to cover countries like Syria and Yemen -- if and when those countries attempt a democratic transition.
Taylor's first job will be to lead an effort to develop support strategies for Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Then, his office will go about trying to implement those strategies by working within State, around the interagency process, and then with international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders on the ground. Taylor said he will attend National Security Council meetings on issues related to his brief.
In President Barack Obama's May 19 speech on the Middle East, he promised to work on establishing enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia, which are accounts meant to support start up programs and activities abroad, and said that U.S. support for democracy will "be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy -- starting with Tunisia and Egypt."
Taylor said that the administration was still eager to pursue enterprise funds for these countries, but that legislation would be needed to get it done.
"We're looking at the possibly of enterprise funds model as a possible model for these transition countries but we're going to need a lot of support from Congress," he said, adding that State would also ask Congress for authorizations and appropriations to support the new transitions initiative at State. New funding for diplomatic initiatives is a tough sell in this tight fiscal environment, but transition funding does have some support in both parties.
Taylor was chosen for the job in part because he played a key role in a similar diplomatic effort following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the State Department put together the Freedom Support Act Office, which managed relations with former members of the Soviet bloc.
That office was run by Ambassador Richard Armitage and reported up to Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Taylor worked for Armitage in that office and eventually became its director, a position he held until 2001. The Freedom Support Act Office was combined with the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) office and still exists today.
Taylor was U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, and before that served as Washington's envoy to the Mideast Quartet. In 2004 and 2005, he directed the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office in Baghdad, and from 2002 to 2003 he served in Kabul as coordinator of U.S. government and international assistance to Afghanistan.
Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for a top State Department post, told senators on Wednesday that the U.S. will surely veto a Palestinian request for recognition of statehood if it reaches the U.N. Security Council, seemingly getting out ahead of the Obama administration on the issue.
Sherman's remarks came toward the end of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an exchange with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who pressed her to comment on the Palestinian Authority's plan to seek full member state status at the United Nations later this month.
"The administration has been very clear as well ... if any such resolution were put in front of the Security Council, that we would veto it," Sherman testified. She also said that the administration did not expect the issue to come up at the Security Council, as administration officials were working hard to seek an alternate path.
"So it sounds like you're very confident that the United States would remain committed with great resolve to the veto threat," Lee said, making sure he heard her correctly.
"The United States is very resolved to a veto threat in the Security Council. What we are very resolved about as well is urging the parties to enter into direct negotiations again," Sherman responded.
Sherman noted correctly in her testimony that the issue could be raised in the U.N. General Assembly, in which case the United States would not have a veto option.
In his May 19 speech on the Arab Spring, Obama said that symbolic Palestinian actions at the United Nations "won't create an independent state" and that efforts to delegitimize Israel "will end in failure."
State Department officials, however, have avoided promising a veto or making any other direct commitments on U.S. actions, although officials have said repeatedly that they don't believe the Palestinian strategy is a good idea or would be constructive in their drive for a peaceful two-state solution.
"We are going to continue to work right up till the U.N. General Assembly, if necessary, to get these parties back to the table, and we'll continue to work afterwards," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And as you know, we will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N. and we're making that clear to both sides."
Administration officials are ramping up their diplomacy on the issue this month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. Also, the National Security Council's Dennis Ross and Acting Special Middle East Envoy David Hale are in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and Abbas today.
"My understanding, from briefings I've had at the State Department, is there has been a very broad and very vigorous demarche of virtually every capital in the world, that this is high on the agenda for every meeting the secretary has with every world leader," Sherman said.
Overall, Sherman was well received by the committee members and, for the most part, skillfully handled a barrage of questions on issues ranging from foreign aid to Libya.
Sherman was once chief of staff for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced Sherman at the hearing. "She is a strategic thinker, a seasoned diplomat, and an experienced and skilled negotiator," Mikulski said.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the committee, didn't talk much about Sherman in his opening statement, but rather used his time to criticize what he saw as a broad lack of strategic direction in the Obama administration's foreign policy.
"I remain concerned that our national security policy is being driven without sufficient planning or strategic design. The expansion of the Afghanistan mission and the intervention in Libya, in particular, have occurred with limited reference to strategic goals or vital interests," Lugar said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) focused on the case of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Menendez is calling for Megrahi to be rearrested by the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).
Menendez said he will introduce today the "Pan Am 103 Accountability Act" which would require the president to consider Libya's cooperation on the Lockerbie investigation and would condition the thawing of frozen Libyan assets on the administration's certification that the NTC was cooperating with the United States on the issue.
The only critical comments directed at Sherman came from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who compared what he saw as two philosophies in current American foreign policy: One that he described as "strength," "firmness," and "verification"; another that depends on "friendliness," "appeasement," and "trust." He said Sherman's time as North Korean policy coordinator in the Clinton administration might indicate she was in the latter camp.
Sherman humored DeMint and said if she had to choose, she favored "strength," over "appeasement," but she also said that DeMint was offering up a false choice.
"I don't believe that engagement is the antithesis of strength and verification," she said.
The American victims of several terror attacks perpetrated by the regime of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi are asking the State Department to break off some of Qaddafi's frozen assets and give it to them.
There are about $37 billion of frozen Libyan assets in the United States, some of which were Libyan government funds and some of which were the personal fortune of Qaddafi and his family. When Qaddafi made nice with President George W. Bush's administration, he agreed to pay the U.S. victims of his crimes $1.5 billion in restitution. But now, those victims are saying that isn't enough money to cover the cost of what they were promised, and they want the Obama administration to divert more funds to make up the difference.
"The State Department under President Bush didn't get enough money from Qaddafi to pay the awards. They are likely $200 million to $400 million short," Stuart Newberger, the lead attorney for victims of UTA flight 772, told The Cable. UTA 772 exploded in 1989 over the Sahara desert, killing 171 people, including 7 Americans, one of whom was Bonnie Pugh, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Chad, Robert Pugh. High-ranking members of the Qaddafi regime were implicated in the attack.
The families of the UTA 772 victims, like those of several other Qaddafi attacks, were engaged in litigation against Qaddafi before the State Department made a deal to settle all claims for $1.5 billion. The State Department transferred responsibility for doling out the money to a foreign claims settlement commission run by the Treasury Department in 2008, and dozens of victims are still waiting for their payments.
The victims are entitled to specific awards - such as $10 million if a family member died and $3 million if a family member suffered a severe injury - but their advocates always suspected that the $1.5 billion wasn't enough to cover the awards promised. They also said the State Department underestimated the number of victims of Qaddafi's crimes.
"The issue is how to make sure the awards are paid in full, the way the State Department and the Bush administration intended," said Newberger. "What we want is either the president, the secretary of state, or the Congress to use a very small portion of the frozen Qaddafi assets to be applied to make sure there is no shortfall. Otherwise, these American victims of Qaddafi's terrorism will get much less than was recommended."
Six members of Congress today asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do just that, in a letter obtained exclusively by The Cable.
"We are concerned that the amount of money not yet distributed from the $1.5 billion Libya Claims Program...may be insufficient to fairly compensate some victims," said the letter, spearheaded by Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress.
Other signers of the letter were Robert Hurt (R-VA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Jean Schmidt (R-OH). They want the State Department to confirm that there will be a shortfall, explain what they plan to do about it, and detail any legal obstacles to using the frozen Qaddafi funds.
The victims and their advocates became especially worried when several victims received a letter on Aug. 25 from the Treasury Department stating that some victims would only be given 20 percent of the money they were promised.
"Treasury is prepared to make an initial payment of $1,000. Treasury is further prepared to make a partial, pro-rata distribution totaling 20% of the unpaid balance that remains on your award," stated the letter, also obtained by The Cable.
Newberger said that paying pro-rata portions is a clear indication that the Treasury is aware there is not enough money in the fund to pay the victims. But he also acknowledged that the administration may not be able to peel off Qaddafi funds for the victims without some backing from Capitol Hill.
"The president probably only has limited legal authority for transferring some of this money," he said. "To make his authority stronger under U.S. law, he really needs Congress to pass a law. If the Congress does that, the president is in a much safer and stronger legal position."
In fact, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) were able to add an amendment to Sen. John Kerry's bill to authorize the Libya war that directed the administration to use the frozen funds to pay victims. But now that the war is mostly over, that bill has little chance of reaching the Senate floor, much less Obama's desk.
For the administration, it's a no-win situation. If it tries to take the money from the frozen funds, it risks upsetting the Libyan National Transitional Council, which thinks it should decide how to spend Qaddafi's money. If it doesn't act, it could appear to be abandoning the victims of Libya terrorism in the United States.
"They've been very careful not to take a position on this," Newberger said.
The State and Treasury Departments did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
The victims involved in this effort include those who were part of several Qaddafi-inspired attacks in addition to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie and the bombing of UTA flight 772. They include:
The State Department is denying any knowledge or connection to the meetings this month between senior Qaddafi officials and former State Department official David Welch.
Al Jazeera reported today that files found in Muammar al-Qaddafi's intelligence bureau after the fall of the regime show that Abubakr Alzleitny and Mohammed Ahmed Ismail, two top Qaddafi officials, met with David Welch, former assistant secretary of state under George W Bush, on Aug. 2, 2011, in Cairo. Welch was the man who brokered the deal to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya in 2008.
"During that meeting Welch advised Gaddafi's team on how to win the propaganda war, suggesting several ‘confidence-building measures', according to the documents," Al Jazeera reported, noting that the meeting was held at the Four Seasons hotel, only blocks from the U.S. embassy.
The minutes of the meeting also include Welch's purported advice that Qaddafi should feed the Obama administration damaging intelligence on the rebels by laundering it through allied governments and that Qaddafi should take advantage of the "double standard" in U.S. policy toward Libya and Syria.
"The Syrians were never your friends and you would lose nothing from exploiting the situation there in order to embarrass the West," Welch reportedly told Qaddafi's officials. Welch, who now works for Bechtel, did not return requests for comment. But Nuland confirmed that the trip occurred.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's briefing that Welch was acting on his own. "David Welch, a former assistant secretary, is now a private citizen. This was a private trip. He was not carrying any message from the U.S. government," she said.
Al Jazeera also found a memo of a conversation between an intermediary for Qaddafi's son Saif Al-Islam and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (R-OH). The memo included a request from Kucinich to Saif asking for dirt on the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), such as evidence of corruption or links to al Qaeda.
"Al Jazeera found a document written by a Libyan bureaucrat to other Libyan bureaucrats," Kucinich said in a statement e-mailed to The Cable. "All it proves is that the Libyans were reading the Washington Post, and read there about my efforts to stop the war. I can't help what the Libyans put in their files."
Kucinich chief of staff Vic Edgerton would not confirm or deny that Kucinich did in fact have a conversation with a Qaddafi official.
"My opposition to the war in Libya, even before it formally started, was public and well known," Kucinich said. "My questions about the legitimacy of the war, who the opposition was, and what NATO was doing, were also well known and consistent with my official duties. Any implication I was doing anything other than trying to bring an end to an unauthorized war is fiction," Kucinich said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for a halt to U.S. aid to the new Libyan government if it refuses to re-arrest Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the State Department not to help the National Transitional Council (NTC) -- which is struggling to stand up a government in the wake of the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi -- with either direct aid or by giving them access to frozen Qaddafi funds, unless it jails Megrahi.
"If the new Libyan government continues to shield this convicted terrorist from justice, then they should not get one more cent of support from the United States," said Schumer. "We put American lives and money on the line to help the Libyan people secure their freedom. It's time the Libyan government lives up to its commitment to create a free and accountable society by handing over al-Megrahi so that justice can finally be done."
Megrahi was released by the Scottish government in 2009 on compassionate grounds, because he was supposedly dying of cancer. He enjoyed a hero's welcome when he returned to Libya and has since stubbornly refused to die on schedule. Since the fall of Qaddafi, Schumer, along with several other senators and GOP presidential candidates, have been calling on the NTC to lock him up.
Mohammed al-Alagi, the NTC justice minister, said on Monday that the senators' request had "no meaning" and that the new Libyan government had no intention of extraditing Megrahi to the United States or anywhere else.
CNN's Nic Robertson actually found Megrahi and visited him in his Tripoli home this week, where he appeared to be slipping in and out of a coma and near death. But Schumer doesn't believe the video or the NTC's claims that Megrahi really is going to die soon.
"This would not be the first time that Libyan officials claimed al-Megrahi was in a ‘near death' state. The American people deserve more verification than the word of local Libyan officials," he said. "There is no justifiable basis for the rebels' decision to shield this convicted terrorist."
Clinton travels to Paris on Thursday for a ministers-level meeting of the Libya Contact Group. The State Department won't say whether it will press the NTC on the issue but the Justice Department maintains that the Lockerbie investigation is still open and active.
Full text of Schumer's letter after the jump:
The U.S. government has issued a new policy that allows the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) to do business with U.S. organizations and financial institutions, one more step in helping the country establish a new government.
The United Nations agreed last week to let the United States release $1.5 billion of the $37 billion of frozen Qaddafi assets. The State and Treasury Departments are working with the United Nations on thawing more of the Qaddafi money, but that might take a while. In the meantime, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued a general license that would nullify the part of the executive order that prevents U.S. institutions from dealing with the "Libyan government," in order to allow the NTC to conduct new business with those institutions.
"All transactions involving the TNC are authorized," reads the new General License, signed Aug. 19. (The U.S. government still uses TNC to refer to the new Libyan leadership, though the rebel leadership council has officially changed its name to NTC.)The license explains that this new policy does not affect the frozen Qaddafi assets, but simply allows U.S. institutions conduct future transaction with the NTC.
"It was necessary because the executive order blocks all transactions with the ‘Government of Libya,' and now could impact the TNC" said Treasury Undersecretary David S. Cohen. "So we wanted to clear away that inadvertent technical problem by issuing this license, which says that any interactions with the TNC or any entity the TNC controls is permitted."
Recently, at least one transaction between the NTC and a U.S. institution was blocked, Cohen said.
Of course, the NTC's main goal -- to get its hands on the rest of the frozen Qaddafi assets -- is still a work in progress. The United Nations needs to take action to amend the U.N. Security Council's resolutions to unfreeze those funds, and the U.S. mission at the U.N. is working that issue hard now.
"The general license addresses new transactions, not the frozen assets," Cohen added, pointing out that some of the frozen assets are personal assets of the Qaddafi family and some are the assets of the Libyan government.
"We're going to continue to work through the issues with our colleagues at State and our allies both through the U.N. and the contact group to figure out whether there are additional funds that will be unfrozen and delivered up to the TNC, but that's the next step," said Cohen. "Right now we're focused on transferring over the $1.5 billion that's already been approved for release."
The new Libyan government won't hand over the man convicted for planning the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, but the Justice Department plans to keep hunting down the perpetrators, with or without him.
Senior lawmakers and GOP presidential candidates said last week that the top priority of the new Libyan government should be the rearrest and extradition of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was sentenced in Scotland for the bombing, but then released in 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was supposedly dying of cancer.
CNN's Nic Robertson actually found Megrahi and visited him in his Tripoli home yesterday, where he appeared to be comatose and near death. But Mohammed al-Alagi, the justice minister in Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), said yesterday that the senators' request had "no meaning" and that the NTC had no intention of extraditing Megrahi to the United States or anywhere else.
"We will not hand over any Libyan citizen. It was Qaddafi who handed over Libyan citizens," Alagi said. He also criticized Qaddafi for handing over Megrahi to the Scots in the first place.
Pressed on the issue at today's briefing, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland would only say that the Obama administration was in touch with the NTC on the issue and that White House officials didn't think the NTC had made any final decisions on what to do about Megrahi.
"We need to let them get their feet under themselves as a governing authority, and then they have agreed that they will look at this … and I don't think we're there yet," she said, adding that the Justice Department had the lead on the issue.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd told The Cable that even if Megrahi is not rearrested or if he dies, the DOJ will continue to hunt down the remaining culprits of the attack.
"We remain firmly committed to bringing to justice everyone who may have been involved in the Pan Am 103 bombing," he said. "The Justice Department investigation into the Pan Am 103 bombing that was initiated on December 21, 1988, remains open and active."
He declined to comment on what exactly DOJ is doing in the Lockerbie investigation, nor did he give any reaction to the NTC's comments on the issue.
There's no consensus on what to do with Megrahi, even among those in Washington calling for his rearrest. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wants him brought to the United States. Mitt Romney suggested that he be brought to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
In an interview with The Cable, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he thinks Megrahi should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. "There were a lot of people besides Americans who were killed in that bombing," he said.
"I think this guy should see justice, but I also understand that the Libyans want to handle it themselves," McCain said. "Let's see how they handle it. As long as we can ensure justice was done, I think the families of the victims would be OK with that."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) doesn't believe that Megrahi is near death, and he is angry at the NTC for refusing to hand him over.
"This wouldn't be the first time that Libyan officials claimed al-Megrahi was on his deathbed. We're going to need a lot more verification than the word of local Libyan officials," Schumer said. "There is no justifiable basis for the rebels' decision to shield this convicted terrorist."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.