Is This a Benghazi Question?

Particularly given some of the rumors about what the CIA was doing in Benghazi when Ambassador Chris Stevens got killed, I wonder whether this question — from the follow-up to John Brennan’s confirmation hearings — pertains to Benghazi.

In your responses to the Committee’s pre-hearing questions, you wrote that Chiefs of Mission must be kept fully and currently informed of the activities of U.S. government agencies in their countries, consistent with the provisions of 22 USC 3927. That statute also requires that U.S. Ambassadors “shall have full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all United States Government officers and employees in that country,” and that “any department or agency having officers or employees in a country shall… comply fully with all applicable directives of the Ambassador.

Is it your understanding that intelligence activities are subject to the approval of the Chief of Mission?

Yes. Pursuant to the President’s instruction, codified in a 1977 agreement between the Department of State and the CIA, the Chief of Mission has a responsibility to express a judgment on all CIA activities in his or her country of accreditation in light of U.S. objectives in the host country and in the surrounding areas and to provide assessments on those activities to Washington. Further, if the Chief of Mission believes a CIA activity might impair U.S. relations with the host country, the Chief of Mission may suspect a CIA or other intelligence activity. If disputes arise between the Chief of Mission and the Chief of Station that cannot be resolved locally, they are referred to Washington for adjudication by Principals. In order to enable the Chief of Mission to meet these responsibilities, the Chief of Station must keep the Chief of Mission fully and currently informed of CIA activities in the host country (unless the President or Secretary of State has directed otherwise).

“Unless the President or Secretary of State has directed otherwise.” A rather big caveat.

MInd you, this question could be as much about Pakistan as it is about Libya. After all, the Pakistan exception to the drone rulebook arose, in part, because of Cameron Munter’s past objections to the drone strikes in Pakistan. Nevertheless, as written, the drone rulebook appears to let the CIA — that is, John Brennan, once he is confirmed — to do whatever he wants with drones in Pakistan.

None of those rules applies to the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan, which began under President George W. Bush. The agency is expected to give the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan advance notice on strikes. But in practice, officials said, the agency exercises near complete control over the names on its target list and decisions on strikes.

Imposing the playbook standards on the CIA campaign in Pakistan would probably lead to a sharp reduction in the number of strikes at a time when Obama is preparing to announce a drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan that could leave as few as 2,500 troops in place after 2014.

Officials said concerns about the CIA exemption were allayed to some extent by Obama’s decision to nominate Brennan, the principal author of the playbook, to run the CIA.

None of those rules applies to the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan, which began under President George W. Bush. The agency is expected to give the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan advance notice on strikes. But in practice, officials said, the agency exercises near complete control over the names on its target list and decisions on strikes.

Imposing the playbook standards on the CIA campaign in Pakistan would probably lead to a sharp reduction in the number of strikes at a time when Obama is preparing to announce a drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan that could leave as few as 2,500 troops in place after 2014.

Officials said concerns about the CIA exemption were allayed to some extent by Obama’s decision to nominate Brennan, the principal author of the playbook, to run the CIA.

So it’s not clear what weight Brennan’s answer has given that it appears the President has already written an exception for Pakistan and drones.

All that said, given the many reports that Chris Stevens didn’t know what the CIA (or, allegedly, Brennan, running ops out of the White House) was doing in Benghazi, I find DiFi’s effort to get Brennan on the record on this question rather interesting.

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3 Responses to Is This a Benghazi Question?

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz Wow, Jerry Brown's letter to Rick Scott is throwing serious shade. https://t.co/WFjA2ehLva
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bmaz RT @carolrosenberg: BREAKING Navy reinstates nurse who refused to force-feed at Guantánamo. @MiamiHerald https://t.co/6PS3DYSg1L @cori_crid
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bmaz @aliarau @RebekahLSanders @violentfemmes The concert is a better use of your time than the mental midgets at #azleg
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bmaz RT @amilst44: From day one I thought "evident partiality" the best issue, not procedural missteps. NFLPA did not agree to sham arbitrations.
48mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @RMFifthCircuit Who knows what sticks in the crania of appellate judges? There is always hope!
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bmaz RT @amilst44: Hopefully 2d cir. en banc will take note of NFL classless move to oppose extension for new counsel. https://t.co/DaKRLNgWH7
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bmaz This from CRS is an excellent look at what Garland on SCOTUS would likely change from Scalia https://t.co/hjz0INqHcU
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bmaz @BlanksSlate Yeah. Parts of it old stuff you can skim, but some worthwhile background in there. It's long, but worthwhile.
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bmaz @DanCBarr Including McCain himself I bet.
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bmaz @ScottGreenfield Also, you KNOW Preet is beaming with pride.
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bmaz @ScottGreenfield Ugh, do I have to pick a side on this one? No Hastert old age benefit of doubt I guess.
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