Even Dana Milbank Wonders Why Darrell Issa Is Doing Mike Rogers’ Job

After it became clear that the Republicans hoped to use the Benghazi attack to turn Obama into Jimmy Carter, I predicted what would happen as Darrell Issa and Romney surrogate Jason Chaffetz investigated: there would be trouble with classified information.

And while in yesterday’s hearing they made State look like it was withholding information when Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy told Issa that a binder State had provided (presumably put together by the Accountability Review Board) was classified in its totality, even while individual documents in it were unclassified, Issa proceeded to enter a slew of unclassified documents from it into the record.

But it was Chaffetz who complained most loudly, after Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb put up a satellite image that showed both Benghazi locations (see after 55:00), and, later, after she implied there were other security resources on the ground that were not being discussed in the hearing. (Note, I’m not sure, but I think there may actually be a spook who died at the safe house, too, which would be consistent with this article’s mention of five total dead.) Chaffetz interrupted and complained that the hearing–his own hearing–was exposing sources and methods.

As Dana Milbank describes it:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was the first to unmask the spooks. “Point of order! Point of order!” he called out as a State Department security official, seated in front of an aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, described the chaotic night of the attack. “We’re getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this.”

A State Department official assured him that the material was “entirely unclassified” and that the photo was from a commercial satellite. “I totally object to the use of that photo,” Chaffetz continued. He went on to say that “I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.”

The satellite image was commercial, available to al Qaeda as readily as State. The other security resources belonged to the CIA “safe house” that had been compromised before the attack, which is one thing that led to the deaths of the two former SEALs; Chaffetz was trying to keep hidden a safe house that had already been compromised by poor spycraft or espionage. In addition, Lamb and Kennedy implied that a video showing the attack was being withheld by CIA.

Understand what this means. This hearing focused on the complaints of two security whistleblowers, complaining, credibly, about State trying to shift security responsibilities to State resources, which in this case meant relying on Libyan militia (though the February 17 Brigade appears to have acquitted itself credibly). But that part–the part Romney’s surrogate is trying to make a campaign issue–is only a part of what what went wrong on September 11. Yet Chaffetz went out his way to shield the other failures–the ones made by CIA, which traditionally has close ties to the linguistically skilled Mormon Church.

Though Issa (who kept getting whispers from a guy who apparently used to be a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee) did reveal this bit.

In this hearing room we’re not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities.

FWIW, I’ve implicitly suggested that when DOD used 3 C-130s to ferry a single FBI team to Benghazi to investigate, there may have been a lot more on those planes, some of which presumably didn’t leave with the FBI team.

In any case, this hullabaloo demonstrates what I said weeks ago: if Republicans wanted to conduct their own investigation of this attack (and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do so), they should have done it in the House Intelligence Committee. Here’s Milbank again.

The Republican lawmakers, in their outbursts, alternated between scolding the State Department officials for hiding behind classified material and blaming them for disclosing information that should have been classified. But the lawmakers created the situation by ordering a public hearing on a matter that belonged behind closed doors.

Republicans were aiming to embarrass the Obama administration over State Department security lapses. But they inadvertently caused a different picture to emerge than the one that has been publicly known: that the victims may have been let down not by the State Department but by the CIA. If the CIA was playing such a major role in these events, which was the unmistakable impression left by Wednesday’s hearing, having a televised probe of the matter was absurd. [my emphasis]

But apparently, Rogers–who as Chair of the Intelligence Committee is of course too close to the intelligence agencies–doesn’t want to get to the bottom of this. And neither, apparently, do Issa and Chaffetz, who are conducting an investigation that by its nature will be incomplete.

There’s one more irony in all this. This very hearing room is the one where, five years ago, Republicans–including Issa–defended the right of the Executive Branch to insta-declassify things like a CIA officer’s identity for political gain. This time around, Republicans went out of their way to hide unclassified information that might reveal how the CIA fucked up.

This country’s treatment of classified information–which feeds partisan selective declassification about as often as it keeps us safer–really makes us fundamentally dysfunctional as a democracy.

Update: Cryptome has the super secret publicly available images here.

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.

14 replies
  1. joanneleon says:

    This is starting to make more sense, IOW, this post helps clear up a number of other things for me that were really fuzzy in past posts.

    A few things… clearly Issa is the party mudslinger who uses his committee for this purpose. I don’t follow committee meetings as closely as I used to (so much kabuki, so much never even probed, accountability as a consequence is rare) but the impression I’ve had over the past two years is that the only time Issa has big hearings, they are for political purposes. He started his chairmanship with a big political brouhaha before he even had the chair with the situation around the Obama admin. offering a position to Joe Sestak, and hounded Sestak for a couple of months during his election campaign, and then when the time came for the big revelation and hearing, it turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. So it’s not surprising that he is doing this again, in a way, though this time he’s touching on a much more sensitive situation. Hugely more sensitive. Ambassador Stevens had not even been dead one month when he forced this hearing.

    On the other hand, if this was left to the Democrats, there would never be any hearing and is the same true of Rogers? For the Dems, the solar system revolves around Obama’s reelection campaign and they would like this whole situation to just go away too and they care not one whit whether the people of this country understand what happened in Libya or not. So there is political manipulation going on with both parties — one trying to expose things to sting the other, and one that expects Congressional committees to act in lock step with the candidate, also making decisions about Congressional business for political reasons and to continue their new habit of extreme secrecy and opacity.

    There was a time when I would be right along with you objecting to this and I used to be one of those people out there objecting loudly to the meme that Democrats are just as bad as Republicans. But after what I’ve seen during the past four years, I’m off that train. They are not equivalent in that it is not an easy line by line comparison because their corruption is done in different ways. But in this case, how different is it to drag things into a Congressional hearing for political purposes than it is to want to hide things and keep them out of public hearings and discourse? This time it’s an easier comparison.

    After what I’ve seen from my party, my motivation to defend against things like this is gone. In fact, my party is gone, from my perspective. When I registered to vote, I registered as a Democrat but that D beside my name won’t be there for long. Several times I came close to leaving the party and backed away from it, wanting to stay to do what little I can to try to change it and pressure them to move closer to the FDR Democratic philosophy but there are only so many ways that you can beat your head against a brick wall.

    So I guess that this is one of the few times that I completely disagree with Marcy’s take on something. I don’t think the story is about Issa using this hearing as a political football. Both parties are so disgusting and so corrupt that nothing is off the table anymore. Both are obsessed with elections and political warfare and will do anything, use every possible surrogate to do their dirty work.

    I am actually glad that this hearing was held. Everything about this war in Libya, this supposedly organic revolution, this supposedly humanitarian effort, and its rotten (and predictable) aftermath has been a lie to the American public, IMHO. I’ll take whatever transparency that I can get on this situation. There are a lot of reasons why my perspective on these things has changed, not the least of which is the fact that two of my sons are now old enough to become fodder for the corrupt war machine and the third one is just a few years away from being of age. When Marine recruiters show up at your front door two months after your kid turns 18, offering college money and shiny cars, when they are bombarded with military recruitment propaganda, at a time when you don’t know how you are going to handle college tuitions or even keep a family’s head above water, things start to look a lot differently. But that is hardly the only reason. I strongly believe that nonpartisan, outsider pressure is the only “way forward” now.

  2. joanneleon says:

    Another thing — I had no idea that there were close ties between the Mormon church and the CIA. I’m not sure how to broach this subject without sounding prejudiced so let me just say that I’m a person with little or no religious bias other than the fact that I was raised in one religion but for two decades I’ve stayed as far away from all of them as much as I possibly can. And while I chose to keep myself and my kids out of any religious community or influence (I believe in letting them decide for themselves as adults) I support everyone’s right to practice whatever they want — just don’t try to push me into it.

    But is this one possible source of the documents mentioned yesterday?

  3. emptywheel says:

    @joanneleon: I don’t think we’re in that much disagreement.

    I’ve said Rogers should hold a hearing. He’s a hack too. He’s just the correct political hack. I’ve also said that Kerry could have and should have had a hearing to talk about the State side of things–as well as the question about what the proper balance between DOD and State in diplomatic security is.

    By the same token, I am not willing to let certain people treat this hearing as if it were an avenue to the truth. The leaking that went on before the hearing was so deceptive as to be just as problematic, and that served to hide the fundmanetal problem with militias generally rather than one particular militia the right has decided is the problem. This post is about pointing out the half (or more) of the reality that this hearing was designed to hide, every bit as much as Obama would like to hide the state stuff.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @joanneleon: It’s not meant to be a theological comment at all.

    If you think about it Mormons make great CIA recruits for some cultural reasons: they tend to be conservative, and be hard to blackmail. They spend their lives in a culture of secrecy. And for those who have served a mission overseas, they have some of the best linguistic skills available in the country.

    I’m more disturbed by the number of Mormons tied to the torture program than at all disturbed that we recruit a lot of them into the CIA, which makes a ton of sense.

  5. Brindle says:

    Mother of slain State Dept official rips Onama admin….and rightfully so. Panetta is really a weasel, never trusted him.

    —““The things they are telling me are outright lies,” she said. “Leon Panetta actually took my face in his hands and he said, ‘Trust me, I will tell you what happened.’ And so far he’s told me nothing.”

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1012/82279.html?hp=r3

  6. Rich2506 says:

    Gotta love Soldead O’Brien’s interview of a Republican Congressman over Benghazi security problems. The look on her face as the Congressman admits that well, yes, for the Republican Congress to demand that State cut it’s “extravagant” budget for security while at the same time State is “irresponsibly” denying agents in the field enough resources to do their job would be hilarious if the subject weren’t so deathly serious.

  7. posaune says:

    @emptywheel: I’ve heard that the CIA recruits from Lafayette College (Easton, PA); while the FBI recruits from Bucknell and Grinnell. But that could have been a while ago.

  8. joanneleon says:

    @emptywheel: Agree, I did not think that it was a theological comment at all and yes, cultural. It was just an aspect that I had not considered at all. I know very little about the culture and the connections so it’s just another thing to think about and consider. In fact the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. I always realized that the complexity was high but I do know a lot more than I did in past years. But I wasn’t thinking about that dot at all.

    My disclaimer was for myself because anything around religion and politics is a minefield.

  9. greengiant says:

    @joanneleon: The CIA has been using anyone with ex-pat experience since before it was the CIA. All those quiet interviews after returning home from XYZ. Then add in the foreign nationals and immigrants. Unfortunately, all missionaries, medical and other aid workers, journalists, transport workers etc should be suspected of being on the payroll. The other side(s) have done the same.

Comments are closed.