A two-year investigation by Republican and Democratic members of the House intelligence committee rejects allegations that the Obama administration intentionally misled the public about the deadly attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Repudiating what it called “the swirl of rumors and unsupported allegations” over the Benghazi assault, the lawmakers said in a report released yesterday that there was never a “stand-down” order blocking rescue efforts and that White House officials weren’t to blame for an inaccurate initial account of the events on Sept. 11, 2012.
The committee’s report doesn’t name former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a prospective Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. Even so, an appendix written by Republican members urged further investigation of previous assertions that she and other State Department officials failed to “approve repeated requests for additional security” in Libya.
The report by Republican Chairman Mike Rogers and the committee’s top Democrat, Charles “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, was devoted mostly to defending the performance of the Central Intelligence Agency. Along the way, though, it implicitly rebuffed allegations that were lodged by Republican Representative Darrell Issa and embraced by party leaders including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The attacks on a U.S. diplomatic post and a CIA annex killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and became a flash point in President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign that year.
Much of the criticism turned on the administration’s initial “talking points” that the attacks grew out of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic video. That version was presented by Susan Rice, who at the time was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Sunday television talk shows.
The report by Republican Chairman Mike Rogers and the committee’s top Democrat, Charles “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, was devoted mostly to defending the performance of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The report said the CIA made that incorrect assessment based on “a stream of contradictory and conflicting intelligence that came in after the attacks.” It said the agency learned there was no protest only after it obtained closed-captioned television footage “two days after Ambassador Rice spoke.” Rice is now Obama’s national security adviser.
The report nonetheless documented that White House officials were eager to embrace the initial account. It cites an e-mail from Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, who urged Rice “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
In discussing the failure to bolster security for U.S. personnel in Libya, the report focuses on the role of the ambassador who died in the attack rather than on Clinton.
The CIA station chief in Tripoli testified that “he actually had a long conversation with Ambassador Stevens the Saturday before the Ambassador traveled to Benghazi and reviewed the security situation,” the report finds.
Amid a high volume of threat information provided by the intelligence community, the lawmakers concluded “that any U.S. official responsible for facilities or personnel in Benghazi had sufficient warning of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and the demonstrated intent and ability of anti-U.S. extremists in the region to attack Western, and specifically, U.S. targets.”
A mix of terrorist groups, including affiliates of al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia, along with loyalists of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, participated in the Benghazi attacks, according to the report.
Identifying the culprits was difficult because of the “lack of a coherent structure among Libyan militias and terrorists” who have “overlapping allegiances,” the committee said.
The committee also found there was no evidence to support rumors that the CIA conducted unauthorized activities in Benghazi or shipped arms to Syria, the report said. It also found no evidence of any attempts to obstruct investigations of the attacks by intimidating intelligence officers or preventing them from speaking to Congress.
The issuing of the report was one of the last acts in Congress by Rogers of Michigan, who is retiring to become a radio talk-show host.
Asked for comment from Issa, spokeswoman Becca Watkins referred questions to a House select committee that continues to investigate the Benghazi attacks.
A spokesman for the select committee, Jamal Ware, said the report will aid its “comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya, before, during and after the attack.”