The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is demanding answers from four senior United States military officers about whether there was advance warning of terrorist threats and the need for greater security prior to last month’s terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
However, an aide to the chairman, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, (R., Calif.), said the office of secretary of defense Leon Panetta blocked the senior officers from providing the answers last night.
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"The chairman is disappointed that the administration won’t respond to this basic request for information," the aide said.
"It is nearly unprecedented that the office of the secretary of defense would prohibit a member of the uniformed military from answering direct questions posed by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee."
Pentagon spokesman George Little told the Free Beacon: "We received the letters last night and are working expeditiously to provide a response."
The chairman’s letters are dated Thursday. They were sent to Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, which is responsible for military activities in Africa; Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command; Vice Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, director for operations at the Pentagon’s Joint Staff; and Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
McKeon asked the officers to provide answers to questions about security threats by the close of business Friday.
The questions reveal that there may be information within the military revealing warnings about terrorist threats and the need to increase security that were ignored by the State Department or other civilians within the Obama administration.
McKeon asked each of the four officers in separate letters whether prior to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi anyone under their command had notified the State Department or other agencies about growing dangers in Libya.
"Given the steadily deteriorating threat environment in Libya prior to Sept. 11, 2012, did you or anyone in your command advise, formally or informally, that the Department of State or any other agency take action to increase security for U.S. personnel in Libya?" McKeon asked.
He also wants to know if there were any requests to increase security in Libya for U.S. personnel.
Also, the letters to the four officers asked whether any military officers under their command had recommended "deployment of additional U.S. military forces to Libya due to the threat environment."
Other questions focused on determining if the officers were aware that officers under their command recommended increasing security in Libya prior to the deadly attack on the consulate that killed Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
"To your knowledge, has the Department of State or any other federal agency requested additional U.S. military forces to augment security for U.S. personnel in Libya?" McKeon asked.
Since the attack took place five weeks ago, McKeon said he wanted answers by the close of business Friday.
The committee aide said the chairman also had asked for a briefing on events leading up to the attack, and so far the Pentagon has failed to provide the briefing.
McKeon, according to the aide, does not believe any failures related to the deadly terrorist attack can be traced to the U.S. military, which has a limited presence in the region, including special operations engaged in counterterrorism operations.
"He believes it is important whether or not the State Department and the administration were using all the information available at the time" on the terrorist threat and the dangers to U.S. diplomats and intelligence personnel.
McKeon sent the letter as a supplement to an earlier letter to President Obama sent by McKeon and seven other House Committee chairmen, which sought details on the intelligence leading up the attack, security for personnel, and the role played by former Guantanamo detainees in the attack.
The House leaders said in that Sept. 25 letter that administration statements attributing the attack to protests spawned by an anti-Muslim film disturbed them. They emphasized that the consulate murders were "a terrorist attack."
"Decades after al Qaeda attacked our embassies in East Africa, which catalyzed a series of events that led to the attacks of 9/11, it appears they executed a highly coordinated and well-planned attack against us again," the Sept. 25 letter states.
"Clearly the threat from al Qaeda and affiliated groups has metastasized; yet we do not appear to be learning from the past."
The House leaders said it appears the administration has reverted to a past policy of treating terrorism as a criminal matter "rather than also prioritizing the gathering of intelligence to prevent future attacks."