Senior intelligence officials and the FBI’s deputy director will face tough questioning Thursday from House and Senate intelligence committee members upset over the Obama administration’s mishandling of the Sept. 11 terror attack in Benghazi.
The intelligence and law enforcement leaders also will be grilled about the FBI cyber probe into email messages that led to the resignation Friday of CIA director David Petraeus and this week ensnared the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan in an unfolding scandal.
The scandal that led to the downfall of Petraeus one week before he was to testify on the Benghazi terror attack implicated Gen. John Allen, the commander in Afghanistan whose nomination to be U.S. European Command commander was put on hold after the discovery of up to 30,000 “potentially inappropriate” pages of emails the four-star general sent to a central figure in the affair.
Acting CIA director Mike Morell, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, and committee vice chairman Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) met late Tuesday. No details of the discussion could be learned.
The FBI agent in Tampa who first triggered the federal investigation after Tampa socialite Jill Kelley contacted him was later barred from involvement in the case after reportedly becoming obsessed with the case and for sending emails containing shirtless photographs of himself to Kelley.
FBI agents, meanwhile, conducted a raid on the Charlotte, N.C., home of Paula Broadwell, a reserve Army officer who had the affair with Petraeus and then sent a series of menacing emails to Kelley. Agents were seen removing boxes from the home.
Petraeus resigned after a year as CIA director following FBI agents questioning him about the affair last month. Broadwell had written a biography of Petraeus.
The CIA director announced his resignation in a message to agency employees that said, “I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair.”
Both House and Senate members will question Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Acting CIA director Morell, Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen on Thursday as to why Congress was not informed of the probe into Petraeus’ covert relationship with Broadwell as it was underway.
Petraeus had been slated to testify in the closed-door hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Morell will replace him because of his resignation.
The CIA’s role in Libya also will be a focus of the hearing. The agency was engaged in a still-classified covert action program in Libya involving weapons.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) told Fox News that he expects the CIA to turn over a report by Petraeus following the CIA director’s recent visit to Libya and Benghazi. “We need to see that report,” said Blunt, a member of the Intelligence Committee. “And in all likelihood, we need to talk to Gen. Petraeus and find out what he knows and what was going on while he was director, as it relates, not to his personal activities, as much as it relates to our national security activities.”
Blunt said senior members of Congress need to know “sooner rather than later” what was in Petraeus’ report on Libya.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi led to the disclosure of a nearby CIA “annex.”
One congressional aide said among the questions asked during the hearings on the Petraeus resignation will be why the FBI launched the initial probe in May and whether his indiscretion required him to resign.
According to United States officials, Clapper called Petraeus on Nov. 6—Election Day—and urged him to resign.
At issue are security questions about whether Petraeus improperly kept secret his relationship with a woman who may have been unstable and thus posed a risk to the agency director.
Petraeus’ resignation “couldn’t happen at a worse time,” Sen. Chambliss told Time. Chambliss said the compromise of classified data found on Broadwell’s computer will be probed by the committee. “And there are others that give us concerns,” he said.
The committees also will examine Petraeus’ reported use of unclassified Internet connections to send emails while director. The Washington Post reported Monday that Petraeus revealed to a reporter in late 2011 that he was the first CIA director to have an open Internet connection in his Langley, Va., headquarters office. The report said Petraeus frequently exchanged emails with reporters.
The FBI and Justice Department also are under fire from Congress for not informing congressional leaders about the probe, and for keeping the scandal under wraps until after the Nov. 6 election.
“That is absolutely inexcusable,” chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) told Today’s Matt Lauer.
“Any time something comes close to an investigation of the CIA, the committee chairmen and ranking members are supposed to be notified, and for good reason—not for ego and not for turf battles, but because they’ll know what’s going on if we’re going to effectively monitor the CIA.”
Sen. Feinstein told CNN: “I have many questions about the nature of the FBI investigation, how it was instituted, and we’ll be asking those questions.”
Feinstein was asked if there is a connection between the Benghazi killings and Petraeus’ resignation and the inspector general probe of Allen. “I’ve seen no connection whatsoever,” she said.
To fully probe the matter, including Petraeus’ visit to Benghazi, Feinstein said the committee needs “to talk directly with Director Petraeus.”
King also questioned why the FBI conducted the initial investigation. “This is not the type of case that usually becomes a federal investigation,” he told NBC’s “Today.”
“Cyber harassment between two women or between any two people, but certainly involving a love triangle or whatever it was, should not rise to this level,” King said.
King noted that the U.S. is “in cyber wars with Iran and China, which is serious enough, without putting personnel on something like this.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday that the president “has faith in Gen. Allen, believes he’s doing and has done an excellent job at [International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan].”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement issued Monday that he was informed Sunday by the FBI of “a matter” related to Allen.
“Today, I directed that the matter be referred to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense for investigation, and it is now in the hands of the Inspector General,” he said.
“While the matter is under investigation and before the facts are determined, Gen. Allen will remain commander of ISAF. His leadership has been instrumental in achieving the significant progress that ISAF, working alongside our Afghan partners, has made in bringing greater security to the Afghan people and in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.”
Panetta said Allen “is entitled to due process in this matter.”
On Petraeus, Carney said Obama was “surprised” by Petraeus’ situation when told about it on Thursday. “[Obama] greatly appreciates Gen. Petraeus’ remarkable service to his country, both in uniform and at the CIA.”
The probe that led to Petraeus’ downfall was sparked by a FBI inquiry in May after Kelley contacted a FBI agent whom she had known and told him she had received menacing emails.
The FBI’s cyber crime unit then conducted an investigation that traced the emails to Broadwell, whose messages to Kelley were sent from locations in the United States where Broadwell has been doing a book promotion tour.
The FBI probe then uncovered information indicating that an insider within the government had access to sensitive information regarding the CIA director and senior military officers at the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa, Fla.
One congressional aide said Congress wants to find out why Clapper told Petraeus to resign.
“Nobody thought this was a firing offense,” the aide said. “It may have been that Petraeus was having an affair with someone who was not particularly stable.”
Regarding the CIA role in the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, a senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters on the CIA’s response to the attack said a security team from the agency annex had a firefight with the terrorists who attacked the diplomatic mission.
“Sporadic small arms fire and RPG rounds” were fired on the annex less than two hours after the first attack and the CIA security personnel returned fire, dispersing the attackers.
An additional security team that flew by aircraft from Tripoli to Benghazi arrived several hours later. As they arrived, the terrorist attackers fired mortars at the annex, killing two security officers.
“At every level in the chain of command, from the senior officers in Libya to the most senior officials in Washington, everyone was fully engaged in trying to provide whatever help they could,” the official said.
“There was no second guessing those decisions being made on the ground, by people at every U.S. organization that could play a role in assisting those in danger. There were no orders to anybody to stand down in providing support.”
The U.S. military did not have forces in the Sept. 11 fight other than a drone aircraft that provided intelligence and medical evacuation.