Funny. General Petraeus Didn’t USE to Avoid Testifying to Congress…

ABC follows up on the point I made yesterday–that Congress is now getting interested in David Petraeus’ October 31 trip to Egypt and, we now find out, Libya–and reveals that he now doesn’t want to testify about his trip.

In late October, Petraeus traveled to Libya to conduct his own review of the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

While in Tripoli, he personally questioned the CIA station chief and other CIA personnel who were in Benghazi on Sept. 11 when the attack occurred.

The Libya stop was part of a six nation trip to the region. Petraeus intended the review as a way to prepare for his upcoming testimony before Congress on Benghazi.

[snip]

But now Petraeus is telling friends he does not think he should testify.

Petraeus has offered two reasons for wanting to avoid testifying: Acting CIA Director Morell is in possession of all the information Petraeus gathered in conducting his review and he has more current information gathered since Petraeus’ departure; and it would be a media circus.

So David Petraeus, after charging taxpayers for the cost to take his own plane to the Middle East to prepare for this testimony, doesn’t want to deliver it himself, preferring instead to let Acting Director Mike Morell tell secondhand about what Petraeus learned on that very expensive fact-finding trip?

Note, ABC doesn’t question CIA’s claim that they can’t hand over the trip report to the intelligence committees because it’s not done yet, in spite of Dianne Feinstein’s complaints yesterday about someone else having already read a copy of it.

Which leads me to believe Petraeus wants to prevent or delay Congress from getting this information in the first place.

To get an idea of what Petraeus might want to withhold from Congress, let’s take a look at the CIA timeline (using David Ignatius’ apparent transcription of it), which was based on a briefing while Petraeus was still overseas. The timing means it’s unclear whether this incorporated some of what Petraeus learned while there, or whether the CIA released this timeline before Petraeus got back, effectively deliberately giving the press outdated information. Moreover, it’s possible Petraeus had others deliver the timeline so his own credibility wouldn’t be impacted if it turned out to be false.

Of all the timeline bullet points, Petraeus’ personal interviews with the station chief and other CIA personnel would have resolved one of the key details that remains contested: why CIA waited 24 minuets before heading to the Mission to rescue Chris Stevens.

10:04 p.m.: A six-person rescue squad from the agency’s Global Response Staff (GRS) leaves in two vehicles. The team leader is a career CIA officer; the team includes a contractor named Tyrone Woods, who later died. During the previous 24-minute interval, the CIA base chief calls the February 17 Brigade, other militias and the Libyan intelligence service seeking vehicles with .50-caliber machine guns. Nobody responds. The team leader and the base chief agree at 10:04 that they can’t wait any longer, and the squad heads for the consulate.

The senior intelligence official said that he doesn’t know whether Woods or any of the other team members agitated to go sooner but added that he wouldn’t be surprised. “I want them to have a sense of urgency,” he said. [my emphasis]

Note, the CIA timeline here doesn’t really answer one key allegation made by Fox, that the Global Response Staff were told to wait before going to rescue the Mission employees. And it conveniently blames the Libyan militia–the one party to the rescue who will likely not have representatives in the closed testimony this week–for the delay.

Now consider what the WSJ reported in its much more balanced version of the CIA timeline: After the attack, CIA claimed State had misunderstood CIA’s obligation to protect the Mission.

Congressional investigators say it appears that the CIA and State Department weren’t on the same page about their respective roles on security, underlining the rift between agencies over taking responsibility and raising questions about whether the security arrangement in Benghazi was flawed.

[snip]

Protecting the CIA annex was a roughly 10-man security force. The State Department thought it had a formal agreement with the CIA that called for that force to be used in emergencies to bolster security for the consulate.

The State Department has been criticized by lawmakers and others for failing to provide adequate security for its ambassador, especially in light of an attack there in June and after other violence prompted the U.K. to pull out of the city. In October, Mrs. Clinton took responsibility for any security lapses.

Among U.S. diplomatic officials in Libya, the nearby CIA force and the secret agreement allayed concerns about security levels.

“They were the cavalry,” a senior U.S. official said of the CIA team, adding that CIA’s backup security was an important factor in State’s decision to maintain a consulate there.

There’s also the intriguing detail that Hillary called Petraeus to make sure they were on the same page.

At one point during the consulate siege, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned the CIA director directly to seek assistance.

[snip]

At 5:41 p.m. Eastern time, Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Petraeus. She wanted to make sure the two agencies were on the same page.

The timing of this would place it at 11:41 Benghazi time, just as the CIA team was leaving the Mission without Chris Stevens. But it is interesting that Hillary made that call.

There are other details where the State timeline and CIA timeline conflict, notably as to the identity of the people who ran into the burning safe haven to look for Stevens’ body, with both agencies claiming their own people made heroic attempts to find Stevens.

It looks like Petraeus would have answers to a lot of key questions, but he’d rather Morell give them.

And remember, at the same time as CIA orchestrated this oddly-timed briefing, Scott Shane was writing a valedictory to Petraeus’ untarnished image. As with the briefing, I’m wondering how much of that story relied on information Petraeus learned while on his very expensive fact-finding trip.

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.

18 replies
  1. mcville says:

    Another big problem with the CIA’s handling of Benghazi was mentioned by Senator Feinstein yesterday: its narrative that the consulate attack was an extension of 911 related protests.

    That version of events – the one that Ambassador Rice went on Sunday news programs promoting — appears to be false, and was most likely known very early on. What most experienced military people point to is the type of weapons used — mortars and RPGs. Mortars, in particular, take both skill and planning to use accurately.

    One would assume that if McCain correctly made this analysis, so could General Petraeus.

    Not sure how this relates to recent sex scandal.

  2. Gitcheegumee says:

    This is probably tangential,but the timing IS interesting-and apologies if this has been posted elsewhere:

    Two Afghan intelligence officials missing in the U.S. – CBS News

    http://www.cbsnews.com/…/two-afghan-intelligence-officials-miss...

    by John Miller – More by John Miller

    Nov 2, 2012 – Both officers work for the National Security Directorate (NDS), which is Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. Both were supposed to meet their …

    PressTV – Afghan intelligence agents missing in Washington

    http://www.presstv.ir › Asia-Pacific › Afghanistan

    Nov 3, 2012 – Both missing officers work for Afghanistan’s intelligence service, known as the National Security Directorate. Their whereabouts have been …

    Afghan intelligence officials ‘missing’ in the United States, page 1

    http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread898538/pg1

    On November 2, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that two highly trained Afghan intelligence officers had gone missing in the …

  3. marksb says:

    CIA looks very bad at this point, IMO. Ambassador Rice reports what she’s told, looks like she was led down the primrose path.
    When I read this
    “The State Department thought it had a formal agreement with the CIA that called for that force to be used in emergencies to bolster security for the consulate.”
    I’m thinking that State knows a formal agreement from an informal one. CIA is the party in hot water here, and now the director has conveniently resigned in disgrace.

  4. greengiant says:

    @mcville: Mortars are October Surprise fodder. They were only used at the BIG annex 7 or so hours after Stevens was dead. They are commonly falsely misused in the Faux big O did not defend the consulate spin.
    With no drone in area until 11:11, the White House situation room and the BIG annex only had audio reports of the situation.
    We know Stevens and Smith feared for their lives. From the guard interviews we know there was a massive attack which included non Libyans. Smith reported gunfire at 9:42. This sounds like the same time zone as the 10:04 CIA response timeline.
    The 5 security people on site were seen fighting back and the one with Stevens, Strickland, was able to try to go back and get him. Albeit the CIA timeline does not talk about the 4 security people who were originally reported to be in another building at the consulate site. The original story and wiki have them.
    The 6 Global Response Staff who showed up around 10:25 should be getting some medals.

  5. mcville says:

    @greengiant:
    Did not know mortars were only used at CIA annex. But I do know that this was discussed frequently in the days after the attack — and not just by Fox News.

    Agree that the ones who showed up at 10:25 deserve medals.

  6. sailmaker says:

    To add confusion to the pot: the CIA is disavowing Paula Broadwell’s statement, “In an answer to a question reading the CIA chief’s handling of the incident, the biographer said: “Now, I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being vetted.”
    She added: “The challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position, he’s not allowed to communicate with the press. So he’s known all of this – they had correspondence with the CIA station chief in, in Libya. Within 24 hours they kind of knew what was happening.”

    “Any suggestion that the agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless,” agency spokesman Preston Golson said.
    Source.

    Any remaining black holes in Libya? Who would have thought? Nahh. Couldn’t be.

  7. greengiant says:

    @mcville: Yes you were spun. They found 6 shells at the Annex.
    First media reports from on site interviews were somewhat ambiguous as to film riot versus planned attack. One local said they went back home for the AK-47s after a rumor that one of their own had been shot.
    RPGs are not heavy weapons in the MidEast. Just remember to open your mouth when you fire one, or your ear drum will have problems.
    So for the first week an unplanned riot at the consulate was copacetic with a trained, more organized attack at the Annex. None of the military defenders at the consulate were killed at the consulate. More and more it seems the spin was a Murdoch conspiracy.

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    @greengiant: General comment: Think carefully about what media the reports come from. As near as I can tell, there is no longer any source in the western press that isn’t spinning.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @sailmaker: It’s a non-denial denial.

    They’re not saying prisoners weren’t there, only that they weren’t technically CIA prisoners. Doesn’t rule out contractors holding prisoners, and we know there were South African contractors tied to the annex in some way.

    Or JSOC prisoners.

  10. Bill Michtom says:

    @eCAHNomics “CIA often kills its own operatives.
    (al Awalaki for example).”

    the evidence supporting this is where?

  11. Frank33 says:

    Petraeus was always a failure as a leader. He was successful with his self promotion. I blame the dee cee corporate journalists. One of “Petraeus Bitches” tells his story.

    But the misery inflicted upon us by Petraeus didn’t end with a hideous haircut and an absurd grip. Since we were the asphalt that paved his road to glory, we had to do other silly things.

    We had to go over to his house during the holidays and make nice with his wife, Holly. We had to eat her cookies and sip her tea while we exchanged bullshit pleasantries, calling her “ma’am” and always being mindful of our language. We had to compliment her cooking and smile with our whitened teeth. We had to don our dress blues and sing Christmas carols.

    We always made nice—and this was on our supposedly free time. We quickly learned that in order to make it in Uncle Sam’s Army, we had to be grade-A bullshitters.

  12. greengiant says:

    @emptywheel: JSOC, just what I was about to type, where Bush-Cheney buried everything they did not want the CIA to tell congress. What is JSOC up to these days?
    If congress wants to be informed on JSOC they will have to pass a law?

  13. Lefty665 says:

    @emptywheel: Nice call EW. There are lots of ways that putting the arm on guys who had been shooting at you is different from being in the “detention business”.

    A non denial denial by any other name would smell and reek. Weasel words haven’t changed much in the last 40 years have they?

  14. Mr.Murder says:

    First thought of mine was leftovers from our other ops. Libya? The place where the dated Yellowcake material was mistakenly applied to Iraq? JSOC? What about Liz Cheney? She was part of the North/Central Africa state team back at that time. Her husband had similar legal assignments to the region? How far back do we have to go before ending up in their tack?

  15. dalloway says:

    Is there any hope Democrats in Congress will grill Petraeus on exactly what security the CIA was supposed to provide to the consulate and why it delayed its response so long that Ambassador Stevens and 3 others were killed? It seems to me the horrendous dereliction of duty Republicans want to pin on President Obama, Hilary Clinton and Susan Rice was really that of a leading Republican — General David Petraeus. And that’s the most charitable explanation. A more uncharitable one is that this is related to the curious comment Romney made on the 47% tape, about how if Obama screwed up in the Middle East the way Carter did in 1980, he (Mitt) would look for ways to “take advantage” of the situation.

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