A letter from three relatives of the Benghazi attack victims is renewing questions over whether House Speaker John Boehner was briefed on covert operations in Libya and whether a proposed “Select Committee” might reveal politically damaging details.
At the same time, new reports and documents, reviewed by Fox News, are providing a broader picture of complex weapons-collection efforts in Libya – months after concerns were first raised that the U.S. was facilitating the movement of weapons, from Libya via Turkey, to Syrian rebels.
“Some analysts believe your inaction and passivity towards getting to the truth concerning Benghazi is because you were briefed on the intelligence and special operations activities in Libya,” the letter to Boehner said. It was signed by the father of former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, the mother and uncle of Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and 70 others including retired generals.
“You may possess ‘guilty knowledge,’” the letter alleges, before drawing a comparison to Nancy Pelosi’s conflict several years ago regarding the CIA’s interrogation program.
”We recall how then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi developed a form of ‘amnesia’ concerning a documented briefing she received on so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ – later termed ‘torture’ for political purposes. Are you in the same position as your predecessor? Are you dodging a legitimate, thorough, coordinated investigation of Benghazi because it will damage your political position as Speaker?”
The letter questions why Boehner is resisting calls for an independent investigative committee – similar to the type of panel that investigated Watergate -- when nearly 80 percent of House Republicans support it. Boehner last year indicated he was privy to classified information about U.S. operations in Libya.
In an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham in January 2013, Boehner was asked about reported weapons transfers raised by Sen. Rand Paul during questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Benghazi. The speaker responded: “I’m somewhat familiar with the chatter about this and the fact that these arms were moving towards Turkey, but most of what I know about this came from a classified source, and really can’t elaborate on it.”
Fox News asked the speaker’s office to clarify his comments to Ingraham, in light of the Benghazi relatives’ letter, specifically whether Boehner was briefed on the covert operations in Libya, and if those briefings covered weapons transfers.
Boehner’s spokesman emphasized that no one has been more dedicated to laying out the facts about Benghazi, adding: “The Speaker does not ever discuss classified information in public. In this case, he simply said he was aware of the rumors that were circulating publicly.”
During her January testimony on Benghazi, Paul pressed Clinton on the weapons issue, referring to reports that weapons from Libya were moving to the Syrian opposition via Turkey. “Is the U. S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?”
“To Turkey?” Clinton asked. “I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.”
“It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that may have weapons,” Paul continued.
“And what I’d like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?”
Clinton replied: “Well, senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency [CIA] that ran the annex. I will see what information is available.”
“You’re saying you don’t know?” asked Paul.
“I do not know,” Clinton said. “I don’t have any information on that.”
After the hearing, the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Thomas B. Gibbons, wrote to Paul on Feb. 11, 2013. The letter said: ”… you asked whether the United States is involved in the transfer of weapons out of Libya to Turkey. The United States is not involved with any transfer of weapons from Libya to Turkey.”
But one month later, in March, a New York Times report claimed that the CIA was aiding Turkey and Middle Eastern governments in procuring weapons for the Syrian rebels since early 2012, “expanding a secret airlift” for the anti-Assad uprising. The newspaper reported that “senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments.” The Times also reported that then-CIA Director David Petraeus was “instrumental” in the project.
And the recent New York Times piece, “A deadly Mix In Benghazi,” described a CIA operation that gathered intelligence on Islamists and bought up weapons.
In October 2013, the State Department wrote a two-page letter to Republican Rep. Frank Wolf who first proposed the resolution to create a select committee to investigate Benghazi. The letter, obtained by Fox News, provides exhaustive details of the State Department efforts to round up loose weapons, specifically MANPADS in Libya, adding, “…while we endeavor to address your questions regarding this assistance, we respectfully refer you to the Central Intelligence Agency for any questions regarding its activities.”
Wolf said the White House should fully explain the CIA operation, and why two separate weapons collection programs were necessary.
“The New York Times in its recent article confirmed that the CIA base in Benghazi was ‘buying up weapons’ from Libyan militias and terrorist groups. Why was the CIA running a parallel weapons collection program from the State Department’s well-publicized $40 million program to collect and secure Libyan weapons,” Wolf told Fox News.
“In light of reports that during the same time period the CIA was ramping up its support and weapons transfers to Syrian rebels, the White House and CIA have an obligation to explain why it was running a separate, covert weapons collection program and where those weapons ended up.”
Wolf said a new book by former Defense Secretary Bob Gates shows the administration’s close hold on virtually every decision. “His (Mr. Obama’s) White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost,” Wolf said. “Gates’ assessment makes clear that the White House needs to answer the role it played in authorizing and overseeing the CIA activities in Benghazi and any transfer of collected weapons.”
Fox News reported in December 2012 that the CIA, as well as other U.S. intelligence agencies, have been working with Libyan militias to track down and secure alleged WMDs after it was alleged that Muammar Qaddafi's program was not entirely shuttered in 2004. The CIA did not comment at the time on its operations in Eastern Libya.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.