Someone Doesn’t Want the Sanaa Embassy Storming Investigated

I have hesitated to comment on this Thomas Joscelyn piece, which basically plays a game of Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden to suggest al Qaeda “was responsible” for all the attacks on US diplomatic locations last month. Partly, Joscelyn pulled together such a hodge podge of speculation, claims that have already been debunked, and tangential ties, it didn’t seem worth it. Partly, using Joscelyn’s standard of evidence we’d have “proof” that the right wingers who made the Muslim Innocence movie were in cahoots with al Qaeda.

But I confess I did hope someone was nearby to give Joscelyn smelling salts when this news first started breaking: a Yemeni security employee at the US Embassy in Sanaa (at one point reported to be in charge of security there) was killed today, using tactics that made the murder look like an AQAP hit.

Of course, the murder makes it likely that neither the murder nor the storming of the Embassy–which was apparently aided by insiders–were committed by al Qaeda. That’s because the victim, Qassem Aqlani, was likely killed because he was investigating the storming of the Embassy.

Aqlani had been working for the U.S. Embassy for nearly 20 years, said the officials who spoke to the AP condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Most recently, he was in charge of investigating a Sept. 12 assault on the U.S. Embassy by angry Yemeni protesters over the anti-Islam film.

Protesters stormed the embassy and set fire to a U.S. flag before government forces dispersed them with tear gas.

As Gregory Johnsen notes today, AQAP usually claims credit when their attacks are successful. And while they might have reason to claim credit for the storming of the Embassy but still kill the guy investigating it (to hide the insiders they’ve recruited), it seems more likely that both events have been made to look like AQAP to give someone else cover (something Yemen-based lawyer Haykal Bafana was joking about yesterday).

Of course, it’s possible that the culprit is someone–perhaps someone close to Ali Abdullah Saleh–who has convenient ties to AQAP figures, but who is operating to serve a different power.

There’s some weird shit going down in the Middle East–and I definitely include Syria in this–and I think we all risk oversimplifying when we jump to conclusions who is pulling the strings.

All that said, there is an uncomfortable tie to Benghazi. In yesterday’s hearing Charlene Lamb pointed to our Embassy security in Sanaa as an optimal form of cooperation with locals. I figured the second she said it, she would live to regret the comment, if for no other reason than the storming of the Embassy the day after the Benghazi attack. Sadly, I didn’t expect someone with a key role in that cooperative security would be targeted for his cooperative role.

Update: Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron says Aqlani had nothing to do with the investigation into the storming last month.

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.