A leading Republican wants to expand the House investigation into the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack by adding a Senate probe, as a new House Intelligence Committee report Friday concluded that the initial CIA assessment found no demonstrations prior to the assault and a primary purpose of the CIA operation in eastern Libya was to track the movement of weapons to Syria.
The report described the attack as "complex" with the attackers affiliated with Al Qaeda. It also said the initial CIA assessment concluded there were no demonstrations outside the State Department Consulate in Eastern Libya.
Referring to the House Select committee Chairman, and the Democratic ranking member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said the current House investigation should be expanded.
"(Republican) Trey Gowdy and (Democrat) Elijah Cummings have done a good job,” he said. “I can't imagine the U.S. Senate not wanting to be a part of a joint select committee. We'll bootstrap to what you've done, but we want to be part of discussion," Graham told Fox News. "What I would suggest to (incoming Senate majority leader) Mitch McConnell is to call up Speaker Boehner and say 'Listen, we want to be part of this’."
Graham, along with his two Republican colleagues, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, have been outspoken advocates of a special investigation, because they say then-acting director of the CIA Mike Morell misled them about his role in crafting the so-called media talking points that blamed an opportunistic protest gone awry for the assault.
"Number one, Mike Morrell misled three senators," Graham said of their November 2012 meeting on Capitol Hill, where Morell accompanied then UN Ambassador Susan Rice to explain her flawed explanation on national television five days after the attack.
"I think it's important that for future CIA personnel to understand, that if you come to Congress and you’re asked a question and you give a deceptive answer, you tell half the story, not the entire story, you play word games, it will follow you and will be unacceptable," Graham said.
On Friday, with little fanfare, the House Intelligence Committee released the findings of its two year, bi-partisan investigation into the terrorist attack. The 37 page report found that the first, internal CIA assessment was accurate -- that no protests were involved -- but then-CIA Director David Petraeus, Morell and the administration latched onto information that supported the flawed demonstration scenario.
Fox News was first to report on September 17, 2012, one day after Rice's controversial Sunday talk show appearances, that there were no protests when the attack unfolded.
"One day after the assault, on 9/12/12, the first CIA assessment about the attacks, a September 12th Executive update, said ‘the presence of armed assailants from the incident’s outset suggests this was an intentional assault and not the escalation of a peaceful protest,” investigators found. And while intelligence gaps remain, "No witness has reported believing at any point that the attacks were anything but terrorist acts,” the report added.
On Saturday September 14, 2012, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in an email titled "PREP CALL with Susan," that one of the goals for the administration's public statements should be "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy." The House report says these conclusions were "incorrect."
Judicial Watch, not Congress, obtained the Rhodes email as the result of a federal lawsuit.
The Obama White House did not move away from the protest explanation for the attack that killed four Americans - Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and former Navy Seals and CIA contractors Ty Woods and Glenn Doherty - until September 20, when then White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters 'It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” and the State Department did the same much later.
The report found the CIA's Office of Public Affairs made three “substantive” changes to the talking points that included the removal of references to Al Qaeda and swapping the word "attacks" with "demonstrations." It is not clear from the publicly available, and heavily redacted emails exactly who made the changes and who directed them, since the CIA public affairs office would be unlikely to make these changes unilaterally.
When Morell retired from the CIA last year, he told The Wall Street Journal he hoped to advise a presidential campaign, with anonymous sources telling the paper Morell was close to Hillary Clinton. Morell now works as a counselor at Beacon Global Strategies, a Washington D.C. firm closely aligned with the former secretary of State. He is also a national security analyst for CBS News. The President of CBS News is David Rhodes, the brother of Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
An appendix filed by Democrats did not find evidence of “political motivations,” and Morell is praised for testifying “freely and openly” about the process. Four Republicans, including chairman Mike Rogers, concluded “Mr. Morell operated beyond his role as CIA Deputy Director and inserted himself into a policy making and public affairs role….It is simply unfathomable that the White House’s policy preferences, or the concerns of the State Department senior officials, did not factor into his calculation about what was fair. For these reasons, we believe that Mr. Morell’s testimony was at time inconsistent and incomplete.”
The House report leaves no doubt that the attack drew heavily on “those affiliated with al-Qai’da,” including AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb), AAS (Ansar al-sharia), AQAP (Al Qaeda in Yemen), AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) as well as the Egypt based Jamal Network. As Fox News was first to report, and the committee investigation affirms, at least two long time Al Qaeda operatives, Faraj al-Chalabi, and former Guantanamo detainee Sufian bin Qumu, were significant players in the assault.
House investigators concluded that "CIA accurately assessed on September 12, and 13, 2012 that members of AAS (Ansar al-Sharia) and of various al-Qai'da affiliates perpetrated the attacks." And that as more was known about the attacks the "CIA gained corroborating reporting to support their previous assessments."
The House report adds more weight to the conclusion that the attack was pre-meditated because it pulled together more than 80 operatives -- some from outside of Libya --for the assault and it drew on a skilled mortar team. "The Tripoli security chief recalled that the mortar fire was far more accurate than anything he had seen during his tour in Afghanistan," it said.
The report also shed new light on the CIA operation in Benghazi. Morell said the CIA annex was in eastern Libya “collecting intelligence about foreign entities that were themselves collecting weapons in Libya and facilitating their passage to Syria. The Benghazi Annex was not itself collecting weapons.”
Newly declassified testimony before the House Intelligence Committee attached to the House report from the Director of National intelligence, James Clapper, as well as Morell, confirmed to lawmakers that the weapons shipments were known at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Rep. Devin Nunes: Are we aware of any arms that are leaving that area and going into Syria?
Mr. Morell: Yes, sir.
General Clapper: Yes
Nunes: And who was coordinating that?
Mr. Morell: I believe the (redacted) are coordinating that.
Nunes: And were the CIA folks that were there, were they helping to coordinate that, or were they watching it, were they gathering information about it?
Mr. Morell: Sir, the focus of my officers in Benghazi was (redacted) to try to penetrate terrorist groups that were there so we could learn their plans, intentions and capabilities (redacted.)
The discussion is cut short by Rogers, who says not all members present have sufficient security clearances to hear further details. Fox News was first to question in October 2012 the significance of weapons shipments from Libya to Syria via Turkey, and who in the administration was read in on the program.
In a joint statement, the committee's Republican chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan, and ranking member, Dutch Ruppersburger, D-Md., said "...there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks but the early intelligence assessments and the Administrations’ public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attack were not fully accurate. A mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with al-Qa’ida, participated in the attacks. Finally, the Committee found no evidence that CIA conducted any unauthorized activities in Benghazi and CIA did not intimidate any officer or otherwise dissuade them from telling their stories to Congress"
Pamela K. Browne is Senior Executive Producer at the FOX News Channel (FNC) and is Director of Long-Form Series and Specials. Her journalism has been recognized with several awards. Browne first joined FOX in 1997 to launch the news magazine “Fox Files” and later, “War Stories.”
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.