The Cable

Issa’s Benghazi document dump exposes several Libyans working with the U.S.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) compromised the identities of several Libyans working with the U.S. government and placed their lives in danger when he released reams of State Department communications Friday, according to Obama administration officials.

Issa posted 166 pages of sensitive but unclassified State Department communications related to Libya on the committee's website afternoon as part of his effort to investigate security failures and expose contradictions in the administration's statements regarding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

"The American people deserve nothing less than a full explanation from this administration about these events, including why the repeated warnings about a worsening security situation appear to have been ignored by this administration. Americans also deserve a complete explanation about your administration's decision to accelerate a normalized presence in Libya at what now appears to be at the cost of endangering American lives," Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) wrote today in a letter to President Barack Obama.

But Issa didn't bother to redact the names of Libyan civilians and local leaders mentioned in the cables, and just as with the WikiLeaks dump of State Department cables last year, the administration says that Issa has done damage to U.S. efforts to work with those Libyans and exposed them to physical danger from the very groups that had an interest in attacking the U.S. consulate.

"Much like WikiLeaks, when you dump a bunch of documents into the ether, there are a lot of unintended consequences," an administration official told The Cable Friday afternoon. "This does damage to the individuals because they are named, danger to security cooperation because these are militias and groups that we work with and that is now well known, and danger to the investigation, because these people could help us down the road."

One of the cables released by Issa names a woman human rights activist who was leading a campaign against violence and was detained in Benghazi. She expressed fear for her safety to U.S. officials and criticized the Libyan government.

"This woman is trying to raise an anti-violence campaign on her own and came to the United States for help. She isn't publicly associated with the U.S. in any other way but she's now named in this cable. It's a danger to her life," the administration official said.

Another cable names a Benghazi port manager who is working with the United States on an infrastructure project.

"When you're in a situation where Ansar al-Sharia is a risk to Americans, an individual like this guy, who is an innocent civilian who's trying to reopen the port and is doing so in conjunction with Americans, could be at risk now because he's publicly affiliated with America," the official said, referring to the group thought to have led the Benghazi attack.

One cable names a local militia commander dishing dirt on the inner workings of the Libyan Interior Ministry. Another cable names a militia commander who claims to control a senior official of the Libyan armed forces. Other cables contain details of conversations between third-party governments, such as the British and the Danes, and their private interactions with the U.S., the U.N., and the Libyan governments over security issues.

"It betrays the trust of people we are trying to maintain contact with on a regular basis, including security officials inside militias and civil society people as well," another administration official told The Cable. "It's a serious betrayal of trust for us and it hurts our ability to maintain these contacts going forward. It has the potential to physically endanger these people. They didn't sign up for that. Neither did we."

One administration official accused Issa of doing harm to the investigation for the sake of creating negative news stories days before the final presidential debate, which will focus on foreign policy. In previous investigations, Issa has acknowledged and respected the need to protect information that could be important to completing the administration's own investigations, the official noted.

"He's trying to gather all the facts, but he's blurting out all the evidence before the State Department and FBI investigation is done," the official said.

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for the Oversight Committee, defended the release of the documents in a Friday afternoon interview with The Cable. He said some of the documents had been released by the committee after the Oct. 10 hearing Issa held with State Department officials and the State Department has not directly complained to the committee so far.

Hill said it was the administration that had endangered lives by failing to put adequate security measures in place before the attack.

"Certainly there are people who made reckless decisions and put lives in danger in this situation and these people have motivations to discredit efforts to hold them accountable rather than having their true motivations be the security of people on the ground," he said.

The administration failed to protect sensitive information when it fled the compound during the attack, so its complaints about Issa's release are hypocritical, Hill argued.

"This is the administration that had all sorts of information sitting around the consulate. Where was their outrage and urgency when all that was happening?" he said.

Hill discounted the administration's official's assertion that the public outing of U.S. government sources and contacts on the ground in Libya places those people in any danger.

"None of these folks would seem to be surprising folks to be talking to U.S. officials considering the organizations they represent and the types of activities they were involved in," he said.

The Cable pointed out that even WikiLeaks had approached the State Department and offered to negotiate retractions of sensitive information before releasing their cables. Hill confirmed that Issa did not grant the State Department that opportunity but said it was the State Department's fault for not releasing the documents when they were first requested.

"We gave them the opportunity to have them present us with documents and have them tell us at that time what they were concerned about," he said.

Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD) responded to Issa's letter late Thursday, writing that Issa's letter "completely ignores sworn testimony provided to the Committee, recklessly omits contradictory information from the very same documents it quotes, irresponsibly promotes inaccurate information, and makes numerous allegations with no evidence to substantiate them."

UPDATE: A senior State Department official wrote in to The Cable to contest Hill's assertion the State Department had an opportunity to work with the committee to identity sensitive information in the documents before they were released by Issa.

"Many of the documents the committee posted weren't provided by State. So there wasn't any discussion about their sensitivity prior to the committee revealing them for all to see," the official said. "Had State been given that opportunity, we'd have taken it and pointed out what documents needed to be handled with extreme care so as not to endanger anyone."

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The Cable

New poll: Egyptians turning toward Iran, want nuclear weapons

A poll of Egyptians conducted last month shows that they have increasingly positive views of Iran, believe that both Iran and Egypt should obtain nuclear weapons, and still trust their own military more than any other institution in Egypt.

The poll of 812 Egyptians, half of them women, was conducted in a series of in-person interviews by the firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and sponsored by the Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy organization with offices in Washington and Jerusalem. According to the poll, Iran is viewed favorably in Egypt, with 65 percent of those surveyed expressing support of the decision to renew Egypt-Iran relations and 61 percent expressing support of the Iranian nuclear project, versus 41 percent in August 2009.

Sixty-two percent of those polled agreed that "Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are friends of Egypt," though 68 percent held unfavorable views of Shiite Muslims.

Iran's deputy defense minister said recently that the Iranian regime is seeking more military cooperation with Egypt. "We are ready to help Egypt to build nuclear reactors and satellites," he said on the occasion or Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy's meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month. Morsy's office has said the two didn't discuss military cooperation.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents want Egypt to have its own nuclear bomb.

Israel Project CEO Josh Block told The Cable that the statistics show the effect of Morsy's outreach to Iran and the danger of regional proliferation of nuclear weapons if Iran is successful in obtaining a nuclear bomb.

"Very scary to people opposed to proliferation of nuclear weapons, let alone to unstable countries in the world's most turbulent part of the world, is the 87 percent who want Egypt to build nuclear weapons," he said. "Morsy's dangerous embrace of Iran is leading a surprising shift in favor support for Tehran, which has for decades been seen by Egyptians as their top threat, as well as for their work on nuclear weapons."

Egyptians are overwhelmingly focused on the dire state of their domestic economy. Only 2 percent of those polled said that "strengthening relations with other Muslim countries" should be one of Morsy's top two priorities, and 45 percent agreed with the statement that "Egypt needs to focus on things at home and should be less involved in regional politics."

Nevertheless, 74 percent of those polled said that disapprove of Egypt having diplomatic relations with Israel -- an increase from 26 percent in August 2009 -- and support for a two-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at only 30 percent. Seventy-seven percent agreed that "The peace treaty with Israel is no longer useful and should be dissolved."

Block blamed that result at least partially on the stance of leading Egyptian politicians like President Morsy, who has indicated recently he does not plan to abrogate the Israel-Egypt peace treaty but whose Muslim Brotherhood party identifies Israel as a racist and expansionist state.

"The fact that Morsy and other leading politicians in Egypt regularly express disdain for the peace treaty leads to such decay in public attitudes," Block said. "Then again, nearly half the public voted for a presidential candidate who openly declared his intent to travel to Israel and support for the Camp David accords."

Block was referring to retired Air Force general Ahmed Shafiq, who served as prime minister under Hosni Mubarak and was defeated narrowly in a runoff election earlier this year.

The poll found that 64 percent of Egyptians still feel warmly about the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ran Egypt in the interim period before Morsy was elected, and 81 percent approve of the job they are doing. Forty-nine percent of Egyptians polled felt warmly about Morsi, and 43 percent felt warmly about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Forty percent felt warmly about the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, but only 11 percent felt warmly about the Salafist Nour Party, a hard-line Islamist party that fared well in the parliamentary elections.

American politicians fared poorly in the poll, but among them Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the most popular at 25 percent favorability. President Barack Obama scored 16 percent and Republican nominee Mitt Romney only 8 percent, although only half of Egyptians polled knew who Romney was. (Ahmadinejad's favorability rating? Forty-three percent.)

Most Egyptians don't seem to buy Romney's line that Obama has "thrown Israel under the bus," but they're not too happy about his handling of the region, either.

Asked, "Do you think that President Barack Obama is more on the side of Arabs or more on the side of Israel?," 68 percent of Egyptians said Israel, and 60 percent said that Obama's presidency had been "a negative thing" for the Arab world.

39% of the Egyptians polled expressed interest in learning more about Israel, especially it's political system. The Israel Project runs an outreach program to the Arab world, focusing on social media. Its Facebook page is called "Israel Uncensored."