The Cable

Congress wants answers on newly found Benghazi documents

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.

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The Cable

Obama’s Iraq ambassador: I wanted troops to remain in Iraq

Obama's former ambassador to Iraq, who served during the withdrawal of U.S. forces, was in favor of keeping some troops in the Iraq past the 2011 withdrawal date, he told The Cable in an interview today.

"My feeling was we needed, for political reasons, U.S. troops in country carrying out the training mission [past 2011] ... I thought it was important to have an American presence and a new Status of Forces Agreement," said former ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who retired from government this year after serving as the Obama administration's envoy to Baghdad from 2010 until June. Jeffrey is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Jeffrey didn't necessarily support  the larger troop footprint envisioned by military leaders at the time, which reportedly ranged from 8,000 to 16,000 to 24,000 troops, depending on the military official. But he said he firmly believed that troops in Iraq past 2011 were needed and wanted by the Iraqi government.

"The troop numbers were not something I opined on. That was a military decision. My argument was we needed a troop presence to do training and that troop presence had to have the capabilities to protect itself and do counterterrorism and some other things," said Jeffrey. "The more troops you keep in Iraq, as far as I was concerned, the better, as long as the Iraqis went along with it."

Jeffrey was a key player on both the Washington and Baghdad sides of the 2011 negotiations that were meant to agree on a follow on force to extend the Bush administration's Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) after it was set to expire last December. Those negotiations ultimately failed. The White House has said the Iraqis refused to grant immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 and submit a new SOFA through their own parliament, two things the United States needed to extend the troops' mission.

Jeffrey said that he and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally discussed the idea of extending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq via an executive agreement, which would not have to go through the Iraqi parliament.

"Maliki said at one point, ‘Why don't we just do this as an executive agreement?'" Jeffrey said. "I didn't think he was serious, and I didn't think he had thought it through."

But ultimately, the Iraqis did insist that a new SOFA had to go through their parliament and they would not budge on the immunities issue, which made an extension of U.S. forces there impossible, Jeffrey said. He said the insistence on immunity was uniform inside the Obama administration.

"I know of no senior official who challenged that," he said.

Jeffrey pushed back against the growing perception in Washington that Maliki is consolidating power in Baghdad, refusing to share governance with the opposition parties, and turning Iraqi foreign policy away from American interests and toward Iranian interests, for example by supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Jeffrey doesn't see Maliki as either totally supporting Assad or totally cooperating with the United States.

"He's trying to play both sides," said Jeffrey. "For Iraqi Shia, not just Maliki, Syria is a frightening experience. They are afraid that when the jihadists finish in Syria, they will ally with the Sunnis in Iraq and come after the Shia."

"This may be unrealistic and it's not in our interest that they think this way," he said. "We Americans hate it when anyone takes an independent position, but that's the new world order. And people are going to follow their own interests."

In The Endgame, Michael Gordon's new book about the end of the Iraq war, he quotes Jeffrey as saying that Maliki has "dictatorial tendencies" and that the U.S. needed to work to counter those tendencies. Jeffrey confirmed he had said that in the past, but added that he places a lot of the blame for the delay in political reconciliation in Iraq on former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the head of the Iraqqiya party.

"I think every leader I've encountered in Iraq has dictatorial tendencies. Maliki just happens to be the one who is the prime minister," he said. "Until August of 2011, a lot of people in the political process who could be objective, if they had to put their finger on who was screwing up the agreements, they would put a lot of the weight on Iyad Allawi. Allawi never gave up his desire to be prime minister and he felt that he could bring the system down and we would eventually intervene. We didn't."

Jeffrey said he regrets that the Iraq war was initiated in 2003 without a clear plan to get out and said that the idea that the United States would be able craft Iraq into a model of Western-style democracy in the middle of the Middle East was always naïve and misguided.

"In most cases, it takes decades for countries to shape up... So us thinking that in the short run we could fix this in Iraq was totally wrong," he said.

Jeffrey said he saw the situation in Iraq as "a glass half full."

"There is a lot of commitment among Iraqis for diversity, pluralism, and independent organs of government," he said. "The final story has not been written. We'll see."

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