Why Is Darrell Issa Doing Mike Rogers’ Job?

In his latest of a series of posts on the Benghazi strike, Eli Lake reveals that Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz have written a letter to Hillary Clinton suggesting State ignored intelligence about terrorists in Benghazi.

In the five months leading up to this year’s 9/11 anniversary, there were two bombings on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and increasing threats to and attacks on the Libyan nationals hired to provide security at the U.S. missions in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Details on these alleged incidents stem in part from the testimony of a handful of whistleblowers who approached the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the days and weeks following the attack on the Benghazi consulate. The incidents are disclosed in a letter to be sent Tuesday to Hillary Clinton from Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the oversight committee’s subcommittee that deals with national security.

The State Department did not offer comment on the record last night.

The new information disclosed in the letter obtained by The Daily Beast strongly suggests the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the late Ambassador Chris Stevens were known by U.S. security personnel to be targets for terrorists. Indeed, the terrorists made their threats openly on Facebook.

Curiously, Lake doesn’t ask a really obvious question: why would a slew of “whistleblowers” go to Darrell Issa with their complaints about missed intelligence rather than Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee? After all, if there was an intelligence failure, then it is HPSCI’s job to do something about it.

The question is all the more curious given that Issa’s Committee does not have the clearance for some levels of intelligence (the kind that sources who could well be these very same whistleblowers have already been sharing with Lake).

Meaning this letter will have an utterly predictable result: State will respond that they can’t share the information that Issa is seeking. And then Issa will escalate this, turning his “investigation” into Son of Fast and Furious.

Moreover, this intelligence should have already been shared with the House (and Senate) Intelligence Committees (note that Peter King, a leaky sieve, sits on both committees). If it hasn’t been, then Mike Rogers has all the more reason to escalate this issue. The only possible reasons for Issa to investigate this, then, is if 1) Rogers is failing to do his job and/or 2) this is just a stunt to turn a legitimate intelligence issue, the Benghazi attack, into a political attack on Obama.

Back in May, Mitt made it clear he was hoping for a hostage situation he could use as an electoral opportunity. Yesterday, Craig Unger confirmed what was already clear; Mitt intends to use the Benghazi attack as his “Jimmy Carter” strategy against Obama.

According to a highly reliable source, as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama prepare for the first presidential debate Wednesday night, top Republican operatives are primed to unleash a new two-pronged offensive that will attack Obama as weak on national security, and will be based, in part, on new intelligence information regarding the attacks in Libya that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens on September 11.

The source, who has first-hand knowledge of private, high-level conversations in the Romney camp that took place in Washington, DC last week, said that at various times the GOP strategists referred to their new operation as the Jimmy Carter Strategy or the October Surprise.

He added that they planned to release what they hoped would be “a bombshell” that would make Libya and Obama’s foreign policy a major issue in the campaign. “My understanding is that they have come up with evidence that the Obama administration had positive intelligence that there was going to be a terrorist attack on the intelligence.”

Since the presumed time of the meeting last week, Lake has written four stories about Benghazi.

But Unger’s source wouldn’t reveal what the second-prong of this attack was.

The source said that “there was quite a bit more” to the operation than simply revealing the intelligence regarding Libya. He declined to discuss what he described as the second phase of the operation.

According to Lake, Issa plans to hold an October 10 hearing on the Benghazi attack, even while Congress is out of session. That would put the hearing the day before the VP debate, and in plenty of time for Issa to create his scandal before the Presidential foreign policy debates on October 16 and 22.

I think it’s fairly clear what the second prong of this strategy is.

But the whole strategy is premised on a very flawed premise: one that says Oversight should investigate things it doesn’t have clearance for and that are solidly HPSCI’s responsibility.

I actually do want to know what happened here, and I was suggesting it was a planned al Qaeda attack longer than Lake has been. But it’s blatantly obvious Issa’s investigation is not designed to find out what happened.

Poking Our Eyes Out in Libya

The NYT reports that–as already happened in Lebanon and Iran in the last year or so–the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi seriously set back CIA’s intelligence gathering efforts in Libya.

“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.”

Curiously, the article doesn’t mention anything about my current obsession about the attack, the reports that attackers took away documents from the embassy listing those cooperating with our intelligence (as well as describing oil negotiations). If the attackers walked away with a CIA location’s files, of course the CIA’s HUMINT network and SIGINT efforts would be compromised; the attackers would have a road map of what the CIA was doing!

Instead, the article uses the number of spooks evacuated from Benghazi as an indication of how much intelligence work was going on.

Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.

Remember, when rescuers showed up at a safe house after the attack, they expected 10 people; they weren’t prepared for the 37 they found, which made the ambush on the safe house more difficult to fight.

But he had a transport problem. Having been told to expect 10 Americans and having found 37, Obeidi did not have enough vehicles to break out, despite having one heavy anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pickup truck.

“I was being bombarded by calls from all over the country by Libyan government officials who wanted me to hurry and get them out,” he said. “But I told them that we were in such difficult circumstances and that I needed more men and more cars.”

Eventually dozens more vehicles were dispatched from pro-government militia brigades and, with the sun rising, the convoy headed back to the airport where an aircraft flew a first group of U.S. personnel out to the Libyan capital.

Though I’m wondering whether at least some of the 37 were DIA, since right after this happened, DOD announced it would hire contractors–including Blackwater–to train DIA personnel deploying overseas.

In any case, the number of people evacuated must have led to the discovery that many the people working at the Consulate were working off the books, because in addition to the Libyan Special Forces partnering with us to protect the Consulate, the number was also a surprise to Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister.

Though the agency has been cooperating with the new post-Qaddafi Libyan intelligence service, the size of the C.I.A.’s presence in Benghazi apparently surprised some Libyan leaders. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal last week saying that he learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.

“We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key,” said Mr. Abushagour.

Ah sovereignty. That pesky issue keeps biting us in the ass with our so-called allies.

All of this is not to ignore the really big news from Libya over the weekend: the large protests against militias in the city, which the Administration is hailing as proof of the democratic instincts of the Libans. Though I suspect we’ll learn this was more about Libyan counter-offensive (possibly with US assistance) than just spontaneous protests (that is, as the original attack used cover of a protest, I suspect this counter-offensive did too).

But the subtext of this NYT story seems to be that we had a bunch of CIA guys working in two undefended locations-purportedly “safe houses” that the attackers knew enough about to deploy mortars to attack them. And that leaving the spooks like sitting ducks rather unsurprisingly led to the attackers compromising all their intelligence-gathering going on in Benghazi.

How Does a Paper Personal Journal Survive a Fire?

Michael Calderone catches CNN not disclosing that their reporting purportedly based on “a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking” was actually working off his personal journal which they had obtained and not disclosed to the FBI team investigating his killing.

On Wednesday on his show, “Anderson Cooper 360,” Cooper told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that “a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking told us that in the months before his death he talked about being worried about the never-ending security threats that he was facing in Benghazi and specifically about the rise in Islamic extremism and growing al Qaeda presence.” The source, Cooper continued, “also mentioned [Stevens] being on an al Qaeda hit list.”

But what Cooper didn’t reveal at the time was that CNN’s sourcing was tied, at least partially, to Stevens’ thinking as written in his personal journal.

In one version of their explanation CNN said they “came upon” the journal (Calderone has the transcription).

We came upon the journal through our reporting and notified the family.

In another, they describe it consisting of seven pages in a hard-bound book.

The journal consists of just seven pages of handwriting in a hard-bound book.

Several things stink about this story. First of all, consider that the attack was in Benghazi, not Tripoli, where Stevens was stationed and where he presumably kept his personal affects. So for CNN to have “come upon” it in Benghazi, it presumably would have been on Stevens’ person when he was attacked. If that’s the case, how did it survive the fire [correction, smoke] that killed Stevens?

And consider the role of this picture. CNN included in its spread of pictures of the trashed Consulate. While it clearly shows that some papers did survive, the picture immediately following shows just ashes survived the flames. Also, this image shows the papers having been ransacked; we know that the attackers got sensitive papers. How likely is it that the attackers wouldn’t have taken the Ambassador’s personal journal, even while taking everything else of interest?

That suggests two possibilities. That the journal was on Stevens’ person when he was brought to the hospital, and the person who brought him (or someone in the hospital) gave it to CNN. Or, that the attackers got the journal and one of them got it to CNN (which might explain why CNN’s language here is so sketchy).

There is, of course, one other possibility: that the journal always remained in Tripoli, at the Embassy or the Ambassador’s residence, and one of the staffers shared it with CNN.

In any case, I suspect the reason CNN didn’t reveal they had the journal at first has to do with how they found it. But that may mean they have other relevant information about the attack.

Fox News Blames Benghazi Attack on Gitmo Detainee

Fox News quotes sources claiming that former Gitmo detainee Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamouda Bin Qumu was involved in–and may have planned–the attack on American’s Consulate in Benghazi.

Intelligence sources tell Fox News they are convinced the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was directly tied to Al Qaeda — with a former Guantanamo detainee involved.

That revelation comes on the same day a top Obama administration official called last week’s deadly assault a “terrorist attack” — the first time the attack has been described that way by the administration after claims it had been a “spontaneous” act.

[snip]

Sufyan Ben Qumu is thought to have been involved and even may have led the attack, Fox News’ intelligence sources said. Qumu, a Libyan, was released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2007 and transferred into Libyan custody on the condition he be kept in jail. He was released by the Qaddafi regime as part of its reconciliation effort with Islamists in 2008.

His Guantanamo files also show he has ties to the financiers behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The declassified files also point to ties with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a known Al Qaeda affiliate.

Like Fox, I strongly suspect the Benghazi attack was planned in advance.

But Fox has grasped on one of the most damning pieces of evidence in Hamouda’s Gitmo file to insinuate close ties to al Qaeda–that his alias was found on Mustafa Al Hawsawi’s laptop–without considering that his role as a truck driver for an Osama bin Laden company might explain it. Nor does it look at Hamouda’s participation in an LIFG splinter group, which may have caused him financial troubles and might make his role in factional politics today rather interesting.

Plus, there’s more interesting details about Hamouda in the public record. For example, in a July 2, 2007 Administrative Review Board, Hamouda reportedly said he didn’t want to go back to Libya for fear he’d be held responsible for earlier drug charges. But a September 25, 2007 WikiLeaks cable records his lawyer saying he had no such fears–both in June 2007 (so before the ARB) and again in September. Read more

Beginning of the End in Afghanistan? Most Joint Operations Below Battalion Level Suspended

In the most significant move yet that suggests the NATO plan for Afghan security forces to take over as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 has failed, the US has halted most joint activities between US and Afghan forces below the battalion level. Any joint action at the lower force level will require approval from a General before it is permitted. Because the bulk of the training and joint patrol work of US and Afghan forces occurs at these lower force size levels, this order effectively brings training to a close until the order is reversed.

Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News first reported this development last night:

Most joint U.S.-Afghan military operations have been suspended following what authorities believe was an insider attack Sunday that left four American soldiers dead, officials told NBC News.

“We’re to the point now where we can’t trust these people,” a senior military official said. So far this year, 51 NATO troops have been killed in these so-called blue-on-green attacks. Sunday’s attack came a day after two British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman, Reuters reported.

“It’s had a major impact on our ability to conduct combat operations with them, and we’re going to have to back off to a certain degree,” the official said.

The suspensions of the joint operations are indefinite – according to one official, they “could last three days or three months.”

ISAF took issue with some of the early reporting and issued this “clarification” this morning:

 Recent media coverage regarding a change in ISAF’s model of Security Force Assistance (SFA) to the Afghan National Security Forces is not accurate. ISAF remains absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our ANSF counterparts. The ISAF SFA model is focused at the battalion level and above, with exceptions approved by senior commanders. Partnering occurs at all levels, from Platoon to Corps. This has not changed.

In response to elevated threat levels resulting from the “Innocence of Muslims” video, ISAF has taken some prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks. This means that in some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased. These actions balance the tension of the recent video with force protection, while maintaining the momentum of the campaign.

We’ve done this before in other high tension periods, and it has worked well. Under this guidance, and as conditions change, we will continue to adapt the force posture and force protection. The SFA model is integral to the success of the ANSF, and ISAF will return to normal operations as soon as conditions warrant.

It seems to me that just as the “Innocence of the Muslims” video and its associated protests was used as cover for the sophisticated attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, ISAF now is using the film and protests as cover for suspending training even though this suspension was a development that was easily predicted when Special Forces halted training of the Afghan Local Police on September 2. As I said at the time: Read more

How Many of the Protests Have Gotten Diplomatic Documents?

Here’s a few data points to suggest that the protests in Muslim countries may have been, in part, an effort to grab sensitive diplomatic correspondence.

I noted–but did not quote–this report on the documents taken from the US Consulate in Benghazi.

Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the “safe house” in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed “safe”.

Some of the missing papers from the consulate are said to list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups, while some of the other documents are said to relate to oil contracts.

Then on Saturday, Yemeni lawyer Haykal Bafana suggested we might soon see secret files taken from the Yemeni Embassy last week.

Forecasted in the local press : #Wikileaks #Yemen soon from secret info in computers & documents looted from the US Embassy, Sanaa.

Here’s a picture of “protestors” in Sanaa carrying out computer equipment.

Today, Tim Shorrock described a military person on Fox admitting that Marines at Embassies prioritize protecting classified information over lives.

Military guy on Fox: Marines’ priorities at the embassies are 1) protect classified communications & 2) protect human lives. In that order.

Now, possibly it’s only the Libyan attack that got or even deliberately sought documents. Libyans have proven to be master information operatives in the past. After all, somebody conveniently left documents implicating the US and UK in rendition to Libya and torture. Human Rights Watch used those files to compile its recent report on torture.

But the US Embassy in Tunis was also breached (though not, I think, sufficiently to get files). And the German Embassy in Khartoum was overrun, so the “protestors” there probably got close enough to get files as well (I’m less sure about the breaches at the British and US Embassies in Khartoum).

In all of these successful breaches, there seems to have been some cooperation from local guards who allowed the protestors to get close or into the diplomatic properties, so they may also have had information on where to look for the most sensitive files.

It’s possible that none of these breaches was designed specifically to get diplomatic correspondence (and remember, these would presumably be far more sensitive than what we’ve seen from WikiLeaks, none of which were Top Secret) and only in Libya is it clear attackers did get documents.

But it’s worth considering that all the places we’ve sent Marine response teams, there may be very compromising documents floating around.

Update: The AP reports the Lebanese Embassy is preemptively destroying classified documents. (h/t TPM via fatser)

What “Desert Warriors” Attacked Us in Libya?

There’s a weird bifurcation in the coverage of yesterday’s Libya tragedy.

The Islamist plot in Benghazi

One strand of coverage revised the initial claims that the mob that burned the consulate in Libya were responding solely to  an anti-Mohammed film, The Innocence of Muslims. Jihadist chat rooms and–presumably–SIGINT made it clear that the attack on the consulate was planned in advance, probably as retaliation for the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, whom we killed in a drone strike in June.

The officials said there were indications that members of a militant faction calling itself Ansar al Sharia – which translates as Supporters of Islamic Law – may have been involved in organizing the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya’s second-largest city.

They also said some reporting from the region suggested that members of Al-Qaeda’s north Africa-based affiliate, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, may have been involved.

“It bears the hallmarks of an organized attack” and appeared to be preplanned, one U.S. official said.

Not only does it suggest that Moon of Alabama was (once again) right. But it also made me remember this post from All Things Counterterrorism, which warned that killing Abu Yahya al-Libi might make Al Qaeda even more extreme.

One seriously underplayed piece of evidence that this was planned is that after Consulate employees evacuated to a safe house and a helicopter of commandoes came to recuse them, they were ambushed at the purportedly secret location.

Capt. Fathi al-Obeidi, whose special operations unit was ordered by Libya’s authorities to meet an eight-man U.S. Marine force at Benghazi airport, said that after his men and the Marines had found the American survivors who had evacuated the blazing consulate, the ostensibly secret location in an isolated villa came under an intense and highly accurate mortar barrage.

“I really believe that this attack was planned,” he said, adding to suggestions by other Libyan officials that at least some of the hostility towards the Americans was the work of experienced combatants. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any regular revolutionaries.”

[snip]

Speaking of the rescue mission, he said: “A team of commandos arrived by air and went to a farm which we thought was a secret location. Once they got there, they came under heavy fire from heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, which resulted in the death of two others.”

(Note, I’m not sure, but this may suggest two safe locations were compromised, an urban villa and a farm, each attacked with different weapons; I’m trying to clarify this. Update: Yes, two sites were compromised–apparently because the US shared the information with the Libyan militia.)

This suggests not only that professionals launched this attack with advance warning and serious weaponry (this is part of the reasons Libyans initially blamed it on Qaddafi dead-enders), but that they did it with either inside knowledge or incredibly good intelligence.

The Islamophobic plot in California

The second strand of coverage has puzzled through who was responsible for the film itself.

The film was made by a “Sam Bacile,” who claimed to the WSJ and AP to be Israeli. Then a “consultant” on the film, the militant Christian Steve Klein, refuted that claim, while claiming to know little of the film-maker’s real story.

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know “Bacile”‘s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California.

[snip]
When I asked him to describe Bacile, he said: “I don’t know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the radical Christian Quran-burning pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”

Then the AP figured out “Sam Bacile” is actually a Coptic Christian with 2010 check kiting conviction named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who lied to them about his identity.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and may have caused inflamed mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. Read more

US Ambassador Christopher Stevens Dies in Attack on Benghazi Consulate

The US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed earlier today in an attack on the Consulate in Benghazi.

An armed mob attacked and set fire to the building in a protest against an amateur film deemed offensive to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, after similar protests in Egypt’s capital.

The ambassador was paying a short visit to Benghazi when the consulate came under attack on Tuesday night, Al Jazeera’s Suleiman El-Dressi reported from the eastern Libyan city.

He died of suffocation during the attack, along with two US security personnel who were accompanying him, security sources told Al Jazeera. Another consulate employee, whose nationality could not immediately be confirmed, was also killed.

Earlier in the attack, there was another Consular employee killed.

And in our Embassy in Cairo, protestors pulled down the American flag and replaced it with an Islamic one–reportedly an al Qaeda one. There were reports that Ayman al-Zawahiri’s brother was involved in the Egyptian attack.

Note that Stevens was also the liaison with the Libyan National Transitional Council. This man helped Libya overthrow Moammar Qaddafi. Already, there have been a lot of condemnations of the killing from Libyans and other Arabs.

Details about both attacks are still coming out, and State is trying to play down the degree to which Salafists were involved in both. I’ll be curious to learn whether the mob had reason to know Stevens was at the Consulate when they attacked.

Condolences to Stevens’ family and the families of all of those killed in these attacks.

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