Why Can’t Darrell Issa Read the Wall Street Journal?

In addition to the rather amusing fact that Darrell Issa is conducting an investigation that Mike Rogers should be conducting, there’s another oddity about his “investigation.” The answers to the questions he asks Hillary Clinton have been available for over 10 days in this WSJ front page article.

In his letter, Issa asks,

  1. Was State Department headquarters in Washington aware of all the above incidents? If not, why not?
  2. If so, what measures did the State Department take to match the level of security provided to the U.S. Mission in Libya to the level of threat?
  3. Please detail any requests made by Embassy Tripoli to State Department headquarters for additional security, whether in general or in light of specific attacks mentioned above. How did the Department respond to each of these requests.

In the September 21 article, the WSJ listed several of the attacks in Issa’s letter (as well as an April 10 attack on the UN’s envoy). More importantly, it provided anonymous explanations from senior State Department officials describing their thinking about security in Benghazi.

The State Department chose to maintain only limited security in Benghazi, Libya, despite months of sporadic attacks there on U.S. and other Western missions. And while the U.S. said it would ask Libya to boost security there, it did so just once, for a one-week period in June, according to Libyan officials.


State Department officials said security for the consulate was frequently reviewed and was deemed sufficient to counter what U.S. officials considered to be the most likely threat at the time: a limited hit-and-run attack with rocket-propelled grenades or improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

There was a string of attacks in Benghazi in the months before Sept. 11, including a June 6 IED explosion outside the consulate compound. “These types of incidents were the ones that were our principal concerns,” a senior State Department official said. Based on the outcome of the June 6 attack, in which a perimeter wall was damaged but no Americans hurt, a second State Department official added: “Our security plan worked.”


[After the Brits pulled out of their consulate in Benghazi] The U.S. deemed the security level sufficient and decided to stay, “given the very important mission that we have in eastern Libya to support U.S. national security interests,” said a senior State Department official. He said “robust” security improvements had been made to the compound since the Americans moved into it in May 2011, including cement barriers and barbed wire.

More importantly, the article describes who made the decision to opt for a light security approach over something more aggressive: Ambassador Stevens.

Current and former officials said the security choices in Benghazi reflected efforts by Mr. Stevens to maintain a low-profile security posture and show faith in Libya’s new leaders, despite questions about their ability to rein in heavily armed bands of militants. Officials say Mr. Stevens personally advised against having Marines posted at the embassy in Tripoli, apparently to avoid a militarized U.S. presence.

The security plan for the consulate also reflected confidence Mr. Stevens felt in a city where he worked for months with rebels battling Moammar Gadhafi’s rule.

Eli Lake was able to get a similar explanation for the security at the consulate in his story about Issa’s letter.

A senior State Department official contacted for this story said the ambassador was “not reckless” with his own security or that of his staff. But this official also acknowledged that the ambassador was “an old-school diplomat” and strongly desired to have as few barriers between himself and the Libyan people.

Issa must know this is the answer to some of his questions. Couple that with Issa’s letter’s focus on Stevens’ choice to keep running even after someone threatened him on Facebook, and some of this amounts to a political attack on a dead man.

Ambassador Stevens was in the habit of taking early morning runs around Tripoli along with members of his security detail. According to sources, sometime in June 2012, a posting on a pro-Gaddafi Facebook page trumpeted these runs and directed a threat against Ambassador Stevens along with a stock photo of him. It is reported that, after stopping these morning runs for about a week, the Ambassador resumed them.

I wonder if Darrell Issa is also going to beat up David Petraeus for insisting on taking morning runs each day?

None of this is to say that State made the right decisions on security–though Ishmael Jones probably offers a better solution than the militarized consulates Issa’s anonymous sources seem to back. He suggests that the amount of CIA activity at the Consulate is one thing that made it a target.

A hostile intelligence service can shut down an embassy just by keeping track of who walks in and out. A hostile enemy can obliterate an embassy using obsolete military weapons. Once an embassy is neutralized, it can no longer gather information to protect itself, much less serve the needs of Americans and our allies.

The solution is to have people operating outside of those embassies. I did this continuously in foreign countries – including Libya – for more than 15 of my 18 years in the CIA. I had no security, no Marine guards, not even an alarm system in my house. Except for brief tours in war zones, I never carried a weapon. The enemy did not disrupt or attack me because they couldn’t identify and locate me. The enemy would never have been able to locate the safe houses I used because they were unconnected to any embassy. I never had diplomatic immunity, and it didn’t bother me a bit. Diplomatic immunity didn’t protect our ambassador in Libya.

The Israelis, facing acute threats, figured out the disadvantages of embassies and in the 1990’s moved their information and intelligence gathering outside of embassies.

But this earlier WSJ article shows that a week before Republican operatives met to plot out their Jimmy Carter strategy, and 10 days before Issa wrote his letter, some of the same issues were being reported in the press. (Note, too, that the WSJ story quotes Susan Collins responding to a Hillary Clinton briefing on this, suggesting that some of this reporting may come from a briefing State already did to the appropriate committees.)

Now, I’m sure Issa would like to force these anonymous State Department officials to go on the record–and frankly, State should explain these on the record.

But journalists have already done much of the work that Issa–and much of the press–is pretending is a legitimate attempt to answer questions.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. klynn says:

    Hey, the Romney camp can try their strategy…

    Let’s just remember this GOP — Richard Clarke, and a memo marked urgent, were ignored by Bush. And we know what happened next.

  2. erichwwk says:

    First, I love your blog, and generally read ALL posts. However, I think you may be seriously misled here.

    Eli Lakes latest response, including the Issa letter is here: http://bit.ly/Pqvck0

    My general comments, dealing mostly with what this compound and safe house really where, and what the Ambassador was really doing in Benghazi are at the Occupy Taos site. IMO, a more reasonable explanation is that this site was intended to be covert, perhaps co-coordinating the suppression of remnants of the Qaddafi military, as well as supplying arms and bodies to Syria.


    You are likely aware that on site witnesses claim nor a SINGLE protestor, and even the President of Libya was publicly stated as much. Why then, blame it on a video and protestors?


  3. erichwwk says:

    @ klynn. Not only did Stevens own diary reveal a threat, but there was indeed a threat assessment made, not unlike the study that Clarke got Condolesa Rice to reveal, a month prior. Sorry, the WH explanation does not pass the smell test. Follow links on Occupy Taos or start from scratch and do your own investigation.

  4. klynn says:

    There have been threat assessments made like this in Libya since the 1969 coup. The threat level was not new and the difference between my point and yours is one of geography. And here is a good read for you:

  5. Frank33 says:

    Why blame Susn Rice? We can blame the Secret Government. The spies told the White House people, and the Congress kritters what the cover story would be. This was certainly a massive “Intelligence” failure, again needing a coverup.

    They had so many spies running around, and nowhere to put them and nothing to do with them.

    The private contractors seem worse than worthless.

    “In the immediate aftermath (of the assault), there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo,” spokesman Shawn Turner said in the statement. “We provided that initial assessment to executive branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly.”

    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates and sets policies for the 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies, is led by retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in August 2010.

  6. OrionATL says:

    ew writes:

    “…More importantly, the article describes who made the decision to opt for a light security approach over something more aggressive: Ambassador Stevens.

    Current and former officials said the security choices in Benghazi reflected efforts by Mr. Stevens to maintain a low-profile security posture and show faith in Libya’s new leaders, despite questions about their ability to rein in heavily armed bands of militants…”

    this is what i thought could have happened. the ambassador took a very courageous gamble for a particular diplomatic purpose. he lost that gamble.

    that kind of courage, with its attendant loss, would be applauded had it been enacted by an american military commander.

    how many colonels, et al., have been killed in iraq or afghanistan because they insisted, as they should, on going into the field with their jr. officers and their soldiers?

    the ambassador was described as an “old school diplomat”. personally, i think this kind of diplomatic leadership is not old-fashioned but precisely the kind we need more of.

    i am still bothered by some things:

    – why were there so few armed guards on duty at that time of day (night, actually)? i think there were only two.

    – what caused the fire and what caused the dense smoke? was the fire set or was it incidental?

    – why was the “safe-room”, if it existed, vulnerable to smoke and fire?

    though a tragedy and a loss of talent and opportunity, this incident is still small potatoes compared to the kenyan and tanzanian embassy bombings.

    it requires a losing and desperate republican presidential campaign relying on unprincipled congressional allies together with the greatly amplifying media echo chamber to try to transform this 6 volt tragedy into a 220 v. opportunity.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @erichwwk: I talked about the Lake at length in the last post. You’ll note that all but one of Lake’s reports on this post-date the Rove meeting turning this into Jimmy Carter. That is, they are a product of the Republican hit job.

    Yes, the ADmin was lying–as I pointed out in the first days after the attack, weeks before Lake did. Yes, I suspect Stevens was doing something the govt doesn’t want to tell us about.

    But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this Issa investigation is very clearly bullshit. If it were a real investigation, Mike ROgers would be doing it. Please read the last post. People treating Issa’s investigation seriously are embarrassing themselves.

  8. OrionATL says:

    “… Yes, I suspect Stevens was doing something the govt doesn’t want to tell us about…”

    almost certainly he was. he had unusual training (concerning nuclear weaponry proliferation ?).

    i have wondered if the attack on the benghazi consulate was intended to gain info from the consulate files by some ultra-right militia – the story being bruited about –

    or if it was really intended to prevent information gathering and to destroy both information gathered and the further opportunity to gather it.

    as david kelly wrote to judy miller a decade ago: “there are many dark players”.

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