Lawmakers, Activists Seek Info from Administration on Sept. 11 Anniversary

Say administration continues to prevent investigation

U.S. consulate in Benghazi / AP
• September 11, 2013 10:00 am


One year after jihadist militants stormed a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, lawmakers and former military personnel say the Obama administration continues to stonewall investigations into the incident.

Multiple advocacy groups and lawmakers released new information detailing what they say are significant security gaps at the compound on Tuesday, the eve of the first anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

"The most ‘critical error’ leading to the deadly attack in Benghazi was, ‘the [State] Department’s unexplained decision to create a new category of diplomatic structure,’" former State Department Diplomatic Security Special Agent Raymond Fournier stated in a report released by the advocacy group Judicial Watch.

"The level of security at the [U.S.] Compound" was only just "meeting or slightly exceeding the established security standards for a residence (not a diplomatic mission or workplace) in a high or critical threat environment."

Congressional investigators and watchdog groups have published reams of evidence over the past months that show how the White House and State Department failed to provide adequate security at the compound and later declined to send reinforcements once the terrorist attack got out of hand.

But key questions remain unanswered, many say.

Judicial Watch has questioned the administration on the issue this past year. The group released the comprehensive report Tuesday evening outlining what they said are gaps in the White House’s official narrative.

Calling the administration’s refusal to answer questions about the attack a "Benghazi stonewall," Judicial Watch has brought the issue into federal courts, filing lawsuits aimed at uncovering unreleased materials.

"The degree to which State Department officials are guilty of the ‘systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies’ in Benghazi is just one of the unresolved issues regarding the event," Judicial Watch wrote in its latest report.

However, even an internal State Department investigation into intelligence failures related to the attack falls far short of its goal, according to Judicial Watch.

"Who at the Department of State was responsible for opening and continuing the operation of the ‘Special Mission Compound’ in the unstable environment of Benghazi, overriding physical security standards for diplomatic facilities?" Fournier asks in the report, which outlines dozens of lingering questions.

Additionally, the lack of security at the compound struck Fournier as concerning and suspicious.

"One can reasonably assume that the compound contained classified documents and/or classified communications equipment," he said in the report. "However, it is self-evident that the compound failed to meet security standards required of all diplomatic facilities regarding the minimum stand-off time required for cleared American staff to destroy classified holdings and equipment."

The State Department failed to address this issue in its internal investigation.

Judicial Watch also wants to know, "What was the purpose of Ambassador Stevens' travel to Benghazi on the anniversary of the worst terror attack in American history?"

Key U.S. personnel have traditionally been instructed to limit their movements on Sept. 11 due to increased security risks. Stevens, however, was ordered into Benghazi.

"The decision for Ambassador Stevens to travel to Benghazi on that date seems odd," the report states.

Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), have speculated that Stevens may have been overseeing or involved with a so-called "gun running" operation to arm Syrian opposition fighters.

"The administration should reveal why [Stevens was] engaged in such seemingly routine and non-essential travel to Benghazi at a time when the security situation was deteriorating rapidly," according to the report.

Others have blamed Congress for failing to fulfill its obligation to investigate the attack.

A group of military veterans and former Special Operations officers released their own report detailing what they dubbed a "failure of leadership."

"With an indifferent presidential administration and a unicameral, five-sided congressional investigation, it is no surprise that many fundamental questions about the attack in Benghazi and failure to provide military assistance to those under fire still remain," wrote the veterans, who refer to themselves as OPSEC.

"A year since the attacks, the congressional investigation so far has failed to use the tools at its disposal to compel those answers from the agencies involved," OPSEC said.

Lawmakers also publicly pushed the issue in statements released Tuesday evening.

"Tomorrow, we should all take a moment to remember both the victims of the 9/11 attack in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania who perished that dark day 12 years ago as well as the four Americans killed last year in Benghazi—and the other wounded survivors who fought valiantly to protect American lives that night," Wolf said in a statement. "If we never properly investigate this attack, we will never be able to honor the memory and service of the American heroes who served in Benghazi."

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) demanded that the State Department stop preventing him from interviewing those who witnessed the Benghazi attack.

"The survivors of the attacks are the only people who can give testimony to the committee about what happened on the ground in Benghazi," Issa said in a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State John Kerry. "Details provided by the survivors will not only help the committee determine what took place during the attack, but will also help the committee and other interested parties determine ways to prevent future tragedies."