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On Sept. 11, 2012, the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked. Four Americans died, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. In the days and months following the deadly attack, the Obama administration has been criticized by Republicans for its handling of the tragedy. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for Secretary of State, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before Congress. But Republicans have continued to press the issue, saying the White House misled the American people. The administration denies any wrongdoing. Diane and guests discuss the ongoing controversy over the Benghazi tragedy.
- Thomas Pickering former U.S. Ambassador and former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. Pickering is now Senior Vice President of International Relations at The Boeing Company.
- Clifford May president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
- Eleanor Clift contributing editor for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and author of "Selecting a President" with Matthew Spieler.
- Peter Baker reporter for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Four Americans died in the attack on Benghazi last September. Republicans continue to question the circumstances surrounding the attacks. So far, 11 hearings have been held on the matter, and the White House has handed over more than 25,000 documents.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the ongoing Benghazi controversy: Eleanor Clift of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Peter Baker of The New York Times and Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. I know many of you have strong feelings on this subject. We do invite you to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MS. ELEANOR CLIFTGood morning, Diane.
MR. PETER BAKERGood morning, Diane.
MR. CLIFFORD MAYGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Peter Baker, give us a bit of a timeline on Benghazi and where we are now.
BAKERRight, exactly. Of course, the attack happened last Sept. 11, the anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, giving an extra salience in the political conversation. Four American personnel died, including the Ambassador Chris Stevens in the town of Benghazi, Libya. What happened from then on, of course, has been a subject of great debate, how much did the administration try to spin or hide? Some people would say what that attack was really about.
BAKERDid they misunderstand, or did they simply try to be cautious in their initial assessment, as they would put it? Since then, we've had -- it come up at various points between now and the last few months but has re-emerged in the last few -- last week or so with hearings that featured State Department employees who felt that the investigation by via the State Department's Accountability Review Board wasn't adequate.
BAKERThey felt critical of the way the department had handled various aspects of it, and we learn more from -- with the release of some emails that came out about the evolution of the talking points that the White House had put out before Susan Rice had gone on to describe the events in September. So it's mushroomed in the last few days even into a larger scandal, or if you want to call it that.
BAKERIt had gone everywhere, somewhere between the critics who call it Watergate redux and the president who says there's no there-there is, you know, some murky middle, I think, that people are looking at.
REHMPeter Baker of The New York Times. Joining us now from his office here in Washington, D.C., is Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador, former undersecretary of state for political affairs. He's now senior vice president of international relations at The Boeing Company. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. THOMAS PICKERINGGood morning, Diane, and I'm no longer at The Boeing Company. I have to make that clear.
REHMAll right. I'll --
PICKERINGBut thank you for having me on. I've always admired your program.
REHMThank you so much. Tell us about your own investigation into the Benghazi attack. What did you determine about the events that unfolded there last September and afterwards?
PICKERINGOur investigation was mandated by a congressional law that gave us five questions to answer, all focused on security lapses and security lapses and intelligence, failure of performance of individuals and so on. We met for two months. There were five of us. Two had experience in the State Department and three for outside including the vice chairman of the commission who was Admiral Mike Mullen, who has had brought an extensive experience, particularly in the military area.
PICKERINGOur report was submitted to Secretary Clinton on Dec. 19, and our report had 29 recommendations and a series of associated findings. The principal finding was that security was inadequate for a place like Benghazi and grossly inadequate to meet the exigencies of the attack on that facility on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. We found a number of people, four in particular, who failed in the performance of their duties and two, we recommended, be, in fact, transferred from their current post.
PICKERINGWe found a number of other questions, everything from the failure of the State Department to implement the recommendations of the committee that looked into Nairobi and Dar es Salaam aided and abetted in that unfortunately by a failure of congressional appropriations to continue the construction program and recommended that that construction program be carried on and, indeed, completed. There were many other recommendations covering a wide variety of failings or a wide variety of issues that we needed further attention.
REHMCan you tell us why the State Department turned down security request from officials in Benghazi?
PICKERINGSome were turned down and some were approved. It was a mixed record. Some were apparently turned down over differences over what was required for security in terms of the personnel number and, indeed, other changes of a physical character that would improve the security of the post. Some were turned down extensively on financial grounds or a close and careful watch on finances, and they were not, in our view, correctly juxtaposed with the growing threat in Benghazi.
PICKERINGWe found there were over 40 threats to foreigners that actually took place in physical or other acts against foreigners in Eastern Libya from April 2012 until the date of the attack.
REHMAs I understand it, the CIA had a strong presence in Benghazi. Why wasn't the CIA responsible for security at Benghazi?
PICKERINGLet me first demur from a question that everybody knows the answer to, but still according to -- my information remains classified as to who was, in fact, in charge of the antics. I hope I've answered your question in a candid way.
PICKERINGBut let me say this. There were two facilities. Each facility was responsible for its own security. They had an informal arrangement that if one got in trouble, the other would do their best to come to their assistance. And I think that remains the situation. Each of the facilities had a separate, individual purpose, and each purpose was related to the missions of the government organizations that were involved.
REHMAmbassador Pickering, did you interview former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for your report? And if not, why not?
PICKERINGYes, we had a discussion with the secretary. It did not take the form of an investigative interview. The interview took place very close to the date on which we finalized the report. The discussion with Secretary Clinton focused on the results of our report. Our report had a primary result with respect to individual responsibility for decisions made. They clearly did not go to Secretary Clinton.
PICKERINGAnd none of us, the five members of the commission, believed that there was a further investigative work to be undertaken with Secretary Clinton. We knew both about what she did on the night of the event from people who attended meetings with her, and we knew about where decisions were made. And those were potentially the two -- excuse me -- germane issues that we might have questioned her about had there been any issue or doubt or uncertainty about what had happened in our minds.
REHMNow, you have, I gather, offered to testify before Darrell Issa's committee. At first, the offer was rejected, is that correct, and now you have been asked to testify?
PICKERINGIt's a little more complicated. The chairman, through staff, was in touch with me both by letter and by phone sometime in February. A date was proposed. Unfortunately, it was a date when I was out of the country. We had subsequent conversations. One of them concerned a request to meet informally, in which I said, I was positive about that. But that was not followed up.
PICKERINGSubsequent questions from the committee staff related to my, put it this way, interest in appetite in discussing issues with the committee, I said that I was deeply concerned that the issue seemed to be and had been so deeply polarized that discussion with the committee would not seemed to be very fruitful or helpful.
PICKERINGHowever, three days before the hearings in which deputy chief of mission or former Deputy Chief of Mission Hicks appeared, I did make clear to the minority staff and the committee I was willing to appear. Later on, a day later, that message was conveyed from the White House, according to the information I have, to Chairman Issa's committee, the majority, and they were told that the majority had rejected the idea that I could appear some other time.
PICKERINGThis is a long and sad history. I've made it very clear that I was ready to appear at the last testimony, and certainly, I'm ready to appear again. I have an invitation. I think that both Admiral Mullen and I are willing to appear in public testimony before the committee as a whole to discuss our report and discuss the allegations that it is either flawed or constitute a cover-up, both of which we firmly and I think fully reject.
REHMSo your report came out in December. Republicans are still holding hearings on this matter. Why do you believe that is?
PICKERINGI only leave it to your imagination, Diane, as to how and in what way this developed in a political context prior to the election. And it seems to have a kind of political context after the election. This issue was not the subject obvious with our investigation. I speak to you in that connection purely as what I hope is a reasonably well-informed citizen.
REHMFormer Ambassador Thomas Pickering, he is also former undersecretary of state for political affairs. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll include our other guests. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the ongoing investigation into what happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11 of last year. Here in the studio: Peter Baker, a reporter for The New York Times, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Eleanor Clift, contributing editor for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. On the line with us is U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering.
REHMClifford May, I'd be interested in your reactions to what you just heard from Ambassador Pickering about his investigation, his report and now the ongoing investigation.
MAYSure, Diane. I would argue that are three issues here, and Ambassador Pickering was not charged, was not tasked with investigating all of them. It might, for simplicity's sake, before, during and after. The before issue is why wasn't there more security. Why weren't there more assets in place in a dangerous country like Libya? We all knew that Benghazi was sort of the dodge city of Jihadism. Why wasn't there more there? And why weren't requests given better -- a better answer? We'll get back to that.
MAYSecond was during the attack. What happened? We know that Lt. Col. Gibson was ready to go with Special Forces, that Gregory Hicks, the number two at the embassy, wanted him to go and that he was called off that mission. I'm not sure we know why that happened, and I think it's -- that needs to be answered. Why did the assets in Tripoli end up in Benghazi to try to save the Americans?
MAYThe third thing is the -- excuse the Washington talk -- the narrative that came afterwards. It appears that in the various iterations of the talking points, the story went from a fairly truthful account of what happened, which was an attack by Ansar al-Sharia and other al-Qaida related groups against the facilities in Benghazi. At the end of the day, that seemed to change to natural protests over a very offensive video that spun out of hand. How did this happen? I'm not sure.
MAYSo I think there's a lot of questions that we have not answered that should be answered. And I also agree with Peter that it's premature for people to call this Benghazi gate, but it's also premature to call this Benghazi derangement syndrome or some kind of vast conspiracy. Now, as far as the good comments that the ambassador made, one thing that certainly strikes me is, OK, we do know that the RSO, Resident Security Officer in Libya, and the ambassador himself did ask for additional security.
MAYAnd we do know the ambassador has said that some of these requests were vetoed, were turned down. And one question that I don't think we've had answered is, at what level did that happen? Did that happen…
REHMExcuse me. Let me put that very question...
REHM...to Ambassador Pickering, a question I'm sure you investigated as well, sir.
PICKERINGWe did. And decisions were made at what is the deputy assistant secretary of state level. But we're subject to review by the superior of that person who was an assistant secretary of state. The second or third line in the department depend upon how you look at it not an inferior level. Some have argued that a senior officer should be held responsible.
PICKERINGAnd after all of my years in the State Department, I consider assistant secretary a senior officer and, perhaps, some of the broadest responsibilities that the department lodged there. Both of those individuals were recommended in our report for departure from their then current duties. And I believe they left their duties.
MAYCan I just go out one step further on this? And the ambassador knows much better than I do. But normally, if you will request from an ambassador for additional security, I would think it would go higher than that at least to the undersecretary of state, in this case, Patrick Kennedy. I would think anybody lower than that would think I can't take responsibility for saying no to an ambassador in a dangerous place asking for security.
MAYIt might not go all the way to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Patrick Kennedy, I would think, would expect to see that and would expect to make a decision whether or not he would bring in the secretary of state. Did you ask Patrick Kennedy whether he saw that?
PICKERINGYes, Mr. May. And we found, in effect, that another official aired who represented, in fact, in the regional bureau, the Near East bureau, the interest of the ambassador.
PICKERINGAnd we believe that there was a performance failure for the person in that bureau in charge with oversight of Libyan affairs, at the deputy assistant secretary, for failure to push the ambassador's position with the security people, which under the recommendation we made, is for how these issues should be handled in the future was that the regional bureau and the security bureau had to come together and either agree or immediately take to the next level up, which should've been Mr. Kennedy in this case and the undersecretary of political affairs.
PICKERINGIf they couldn't immediately agree on a solution, it then had to go to the secretary. So that was part of the recommendation we made. But we found, in fact, that the decision making stopped before Mr. Kennedy in this case.
REHMAmbassador Pickering, talk about what your investigation showed as to request for help during the attack and whether some form of assistance really was available within an immediate timeline.
PICKERINGThere are two questions here. The one to which Mr. May has referred, and thank you for raising it, had to do with four special forces troops in Tripoli engaged in training Libyans. There was a group of six. A relief plane was sent within an hour of the attack by the embassy in Libya, which included two special forces people as well as four to six others, the maximum the aircraft could take to Benghazi to do precisely what we hoped could be done was to play an active role in defense. They arrived as the State Department facility had been evacuated.
PICKERINGThey then shifted their focus at the airport to finding Ambassador Stevens, who was then known to be missing. They received word in part that he might be at a hospital. The people at the airport in Libya who were delegated by the Libyan government to be responsible for assisting these people, particularly in their movement since they didn't arrived with vehicles in a chartered jet, refused, in effect, and delayed movement to the hospital for reasons that only they can explain, but it may have been a sense of further danger.
PICKERINGIt may have been a sense of some order somewhere. We don't know the full answer to that. Some of that, I hope, will come out in the FBI investigation. Anyway, as soon as the body was fully located and they shifted their focus to the annex facility, and it was then clear that people had agreed that Ambassador Stevens' body would be brought to the airport. They were allowed to proceed and got there.
PICKERINGAnother aircraft in Libya was alerted. It was a Libyan aircraft, a government air force airplane, a C-130. It was not ready to leave until about the time that all of our people were fully evacuated to the airport with the assistance of Libyan militia, including a large number perhaps up to 60 armed vehicles. They were then at the airport, and it was clear that they were safe and that they were in good hands.
PICKERINGAnd indeed, before the Libyan C-130, which -- in which it was proposed to send the four additional special forces personnel, was able to land, the evacuation of all the wounded had taken place. And indeed, the four special forces personnel were a value in receiving the wounded in Tripoli and assisting in getting them to the hospital with the special skills that they had.
PICKERINGIt was also true that over night, as DCM Hicks has made clear, it was decided to move all of our people in Tripoli from one facility to another, which they felt was more secure. They had no certainty that they would not be subject to attack as well, and they had already reduced some of their guard force to support Benghazi.
PICKERINGAnd so I think in retrospect, the four special forces soldiers were of more use in Tripoli that night given the flow of events. This is complicated. It is not easy. I still don't know precisely who made what decision about the four special forces officers. But I understand how and in what way that decision was backgrounded against the events. And in the end, I felt it was the correct decision even if it were possibly made for the wrong reasons.
REHMAmbassador Pickering, I know you have to leave us very shortly, but what about Clifford May's third point, and that is regarding the shifting narrative of the talking points?
PICKERINGI'm glad you've asked me about that as well, Diane. The after was not part of our mandate. To the extent that things that happened after related to security -- failures in security, failures in intelligence, individual responsibility for duties or other related matters -- we would have taken them into account. It was not clear to us at the time, and it is not clear to me now, that the business of the talking points, if I could put it that way, had any relationship to our mandate to our investigation.
PICKERINGSo on my frequent appearances when this issue has come up, I've explained that, said I don't consider myself the expert on this issue and, with respect to mirth in trying to respond to questions, only feeling that I could possibly add to the confusion rather than the other way around. So I hope you understand.
REHMI do indeed. Former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, thank you so much for joining us.
PICKERINGDiane, thank you. It's always a pleasure to hear your program, and it's even more of an honor to be on it. Thank you.
REHMThank you very, very much. And turning to you, Eleanor Clift, let's talk about this shifting narrative of the talking points, which now includes the release of these emails.
CLIFTWell, first, I wanna say, listening to him tell the story from his perspective is every bit as riveting as it was to listen to Gregory Hicks tell the story from his perspective sitting in Tripoli that night, you know, hundreds of miles away from where the attack was taking place, but nonetheless giving it more of an immediacy. And obviously Ambassador Pickering has talked to all these people and has basically embedded himself in this story.
CLIFTOn the talking points, it seems to me that some of the confusion grows out of the fact that the parties involved were trying to conceal the fact that the diplomatic outpost was not a State Department consulate at all, that it was basically a CIA compound operating with a State Department front. And the ambassador is even not free to say this because it remains still classified, but it's now become apparent to everyone that the CIA was heavily involved here.
CLIFTSo in doing the talking points, you see what has been characterized by The Washington Post fact checker, Glenn Kessler, as a knife fight between two agencies -- the State Department and the CIA -- each wanting to shift blame to the other for obvious security lapses or intelligence failures or this wouldn't have occurred or the people could have been saved. And so you see that going on, and then you see the White House mediating.
CLIFTAnd I do think there was genuine confusion initially and, you know, that there was some thought that it was a organized protest that was opportunistic in the context of this airing of this film. And as somebody who has operated in journalism, 12 iterations of anything, especially when it's the product of a bureaucracy, I don't find that unusual at all.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Peter Baker, talk about those emails and how they are contributing to what some see as a conspiratorial cover-up.
BAKERRight. I think Eleanor made a good point, which is to say that any document, including a news story, is edited often, and if -- to actually look at the sausage making of it might be ugly. And in a lot of cases, I hope nobody ever looks at the editing of my stories. And people therefore impute or infer or deduct motive and intent from that.
BAKERHaving said that, the evolution of these talking points, as you look through the 12 versions, do take a direct trajectory, and the trajectory is to produce less and less information for the public, to say less and less on the record, take out any reference to al-Qaida, take out any reference to al -- Ansar al-Sharia, to minimize the use of the word attack and talk about the word demonstration, violent demonstration.
REHMWhy? Why? Why?
BAKERWell, that's the $64,000 question. Of course 64,000 doesn't buy you as much as it used to, but the White House will tell you this is an abundance of caution. It is, as Eleanor said, a function of a fight between agencies. That's politics as well. Not all politics in Washington is Republican and Democrat. Sometimes it's CIA and State Department, and there was a blame thing going on here. Victoria Nuland was a State Department spokeswoman who was trying to edit these, and she did not want the CIA, which -- as she perceived it, to be casting blame on the State Department.
REHMShe worked for both...
REHM...under President Bush and...
BAKERYes. Yes. Victoria Nuland is the assistant secretary for public affairs. She worked as a top national security adviser to Dick Cheney. She's a career professional. She worked under President Clinton as well. She's not a partisan in this context because she has served both sides, but she was a partisan for the State Department in that sense, and she did not want these talking points to, in effect, lay blame on them.
BAKERBut, again, as you -- the end result of this editing process, whatever the motivations, was to withhold information or withhold at least suspicions, speculation that the White House would say about what had happened there and to leave the focus on something that turned out not to be what people would eventually conclude as the real story.
REHMHow much was the White House itself involved in the editing of those emails?
BAKERThis is part of the problem, of course, is that -- we know from -- we've known for months that the talking points were edited and had been brought back to a more sanitized version. Part of what we learned this week is, of course, how involved the State Department was and therefore the White House. The White House presided over an interagency discussion on the Saturday before the Sunday talk shows in which all these things were mediated.
BAKERAnd then they're sent back to the CIA to produce another set of talking points, having taken in the input. But the problem for the White House is that the White House has specifically said, by press secretary Jay Carney, that the White House had only changed one word, in effect. They changed the word consulate to diplomatic post, and at one point in November, he even said the White House and the State Department had made no changes, in effect, other than this one word, which obviously we now know not to be the case.
REHMSo, Clifford May, that sort of gives those who believe there was a kind of conspiracy ammunition to go on.
MAYIt does, and I've got to say I'm always very reluctant to ascribe motivations or draw conspiracies until we have all the facts, and I don't think we have all the facts. I think we have some new facts, thanks to your interview with Ambassador Pickering this morning. There are things he told me in answer -- in a response that I didn't know. There is a context that people are going to see is relevant here. Let me paint it for you quickly, very quickly.
MAYDuring the campaign, the Obama surrogates and people like Peter Bergen, for whom I have great respect, were saying al-Qaida is dead. The tide of war is receding. To have an attack on the anniversary of 9/11 by al-Qaida affiliates suggests the tide of war is not receding and al-Qaida is alive and well.
REHMClifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Obviously lots more to say. You'll hear when we come back.
REHMAll right. I'm going to read the first of our emails which apparently reflects a number of those we've gotten in. It's from Peter. He says, "This is nothing more than a political fishing expedition by the GOP. The GOP believes Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. They believe she will clobber anyone they feel. They're doing everything in their power to discredit her. Were there mistakes? Probably. Were there lies? Probably.
REHM"People conveniently forget Colin Powell's address to the U.N. where he lied to the world." I'm not sure we can use that word as far as Colin Powell is concerned. But there are an awful lot of people who feel, as you well know, Clifford May, that this is an ongoing effort on the part of some Republicans to discredit Hillary Clinton.
MAYAnd they may not be entirely wrong. I think it's wrong and a mistake for Republicans to go and, for example, make ads over this. That's just a stupid thing to do. It's very hard, as you well know everyone in this table knows, to get rid of politics here in Washington. But on something like this, a failure on many levels, a kind of perfect storm of failures, which may have had to do with ineptitude and stupidity and that sort of thing rather than conspiracy, you want this to be as little politicized as possible by either side.
MAYWe want to find out, I think, what happened, what went wrong, why this has been so bad, why the American people were misinformed about this. So the charge that this is political in some cases is right, but there are issues here, serious issues that need to be addressed. I think a select committee would be the best way to go about that, by the way.
REHMAnd that's what's been called for by John McCain, Eleanor.
CLIFTWell, if Colin Powell had run for president, what he said before the U.N. would've come up repeatedly, and if Hillary Clinton runs for president, this will come up. And I do think there's a political incentive to keep this alive for the next three years if the Republicans can manage to do that. They may be doing her a favor by getting it out there now, and all indications are that the American public is really not all that interested in this.
CLIFTA Pew survey says 44 percent of the people are following it very closely or somewhat closely which, apparently, is a low number. So I think it's morphed from could these four Americans have been saved, and I think it's been pretty clearly established that planes couldn't have gotten there from Aviano. And I thought Ambassador Pickering's description of what four people tried to do coming out of Tripoli would not have -- are you trying to interrupt already, no?
MAYNo, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, no. No.
CLIFTWould not have -- they would not have been able to change the course of events. And it's morphed into now whether the administration deliberately misled people in the heat of an election campaign, referring it to -- to it as an act of terrorism rather than a terrorist act, which somehow people on Capitol Hill say there's a distinction between that, that the administration downplayed what had happened.
CLIFTAs I recall, the Republican nominee immediately characterized the attack, and there was a real blowback from the American public that he was politicizing four deaths and attempts to have this issue stick during the campaign. Really, it didn't work. So in some, ways we're refighting just the 2012 election and maybe some I's and T's here that need to be dotted. But I don't think there are big questions remaining over whether the administration was derelict that evening in trying to save these individuals.
CLIFTIt's been hinted that the administration would rather have a good story to tell than save those lives, and I think, you know, that's not really what this should be about. And if we're talking about, you know, doctoring talking points, I think that's done in Washington all the time. And I think the American people figured out pretty quickly what had happened in Benghazi, and it was a real tragedy.
REHMPeter Baker, as a reporter for The New York Times, what are the questions that remain in your mind?
BAKERWell, I think there are a number of questions. I was -- I don't know that they'd rise to overarching fundamental questions, I suppose, but I would've liked -- actually, I didn't have a chance to ask Ambassador Pickering. I will ask a little more about why he didn't go ahead and question Secretary Clinton even if he thought he already knew what she did at whatever meetings.
BAKERI haven't heard too many reviews or investigations that didn't at least try to confirm with the principal if they felt the principal was in meetings, or did -- wouldn't -- why wouldn't you at least ask the questions, you know? Is this what you knew at the time?
REHMHe said he talked with her.
BAKERHe said he talked with her. We don't know much about that. He didn't -- his report, the unclassified version only mentions her in the context of having assigned the review board. It doesn't say anything about what she knew, when she knew it, what involvement she had or what involvement she didn't have.
BAKERAnd just in the context of this highly polarized, highly political environment, I'm a little surprised you wouldn't have done that just in an abundance of caution so the people wouldn't look at this and say, well, are you trying to cover up for her? Are you -- you were not asking her question because you don't want to know the answers fairly or unfairly. That's what people will ask. That's at least one question to ask.
REHMClifford May, on the issue of security, do you really believe that lives could have been saved if U.S. forces had attempted a rescue after the attack?
MAYI don't actually know. I think what we do know is this that Gregory Hicks was in charge in Tripoli and Lt. Col. Gibson, who was a special forces officer. They really wanted to make an attempt to save lives, and they were called back. And as Ambassador Pickering said, and I found this interesting, we don't know who said, don't go. It's more important that you stay in Tripoli than -- that to go to Benghazi. I do think that's a question that needs to be answered.
MAYWe also don't know why there wasn't more security on the ground in Benghazi. This was a place where there had been attacks against the Red Cross, against the British consulate...
REHMBut there were Libyan forces trained as police who simply left.
MAYYes. And it was not unforeseeable that these forces were not going to be adequate to the mission. So that could've been -- again, that's not a conspiracy. That's maybe absolute ineptitude. There's also this interagency fact that I think is relevant, just to understand. Normally, State Department is in charge of its own security even if there are CIA people. If it's a CIA facility, CIA may be in charge of its own security.
MAYIf the ambassador comes, State Department would be in-charge of the security. So you can see a reason for a lot of interagency fighting about who was responsible and who did not meet their responsibilities.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Virginia Beach, Va. Good morning, Ryan.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
RYANI had a question about -- I hadn't really heard talked about much. Gen. Carter Ham was ready to send in reinforcements to Benghazi and was told to stand down. But reportedly, he disobeyed that order and was still gonna send reinforcement. And his second-in-command relieved him of duty.
REHMPeter Baker, do you know anything about that?
BAKERI don't. That doesn't -- I haven't reported on that. I don't -- that does not ring familiar to me. But if the caller has a source for that, I'm happy to look at it.
CLIFTYeah. You know, these are the kind of things you're gonna find on the Internet and on various sites. They're gonna -- this is just ripe to come up with all sorts of scenarios where these war individuals could be helped. And I must say Gregory Hicks, listening to him testify, he said when he was getting phone call saying the ambassador is at the hospital, and he thought about maybe we should be sending reinforcements, that it occurred to him that it could be a trap because he knew it was a hospital that was controlled by the rebels...
CLIFT...or whatever we call them.
BAKERIt is worth also noting that Bob Gates, who was the secretary of defense under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said on the shows on Sunday that he would not have ordered a military, you know, their special forces or air fly over because he didn't think it was well thought out enough to do, so that's worth noting.
REHMAll right. To Annandale, Va. Good morning, Andy.
ANDYHello. I want to apologize in advance for blaming the victim here. But I remember at the time of this attack hearing that Ambassador Stevens was a man of the people, that he often refused security, he liked to be out among the Libyans and shaking hands and so on. And that he was advised not to go Benghazi. And, you know, as I say, I'm very sorry to have to say this, but, you know, I think that the people responsible here are the attackers and the people responsible for the lack of security are but one, and that is Ambassador Stevens himself.
BAKERWell, I think this goes to a very fundamental tension in the diplomatic core, right, especially in dangerous parts of the world like Libya and other places. When I traveled, I've been struck by how many times Americans have been insulated from the people that they are, in theory, engaging with by these large packages of security and Humvees and armed men, and that inhibits the diplomat from doing his job.
BAKERAnd as the caller says, you know, Ambassador Stevens didn't like that sort of approach. That he did, in fact, feel like to do his mission correctly, he had to do be more engage and, therefore, some, perhaps, greater risk. Obviously, finding that right middle ground between, you know, being engaged and taking proper security cautions is something that's being looked at, I think, right now.
REHMI still don't get it. If, in fact, this was a CIA headquarters, wouldn't that have been protected by CIA personnel rather than State Department?
MAYThat was a point I was attempting to make earlier, Diane. If it was a diplomatic headquarters in which CIA were housed then it would be up for the State Department to provide security. If it were...
REHMFor the CIA?
MAYYes, yes, exactly. If it were surely a CIA facility, the CIA might be in charge with some security, but the ambassador would have separate security. It would not be usual -- I can't say it didn't happen -- usual for the ambassador to say, I'll rely on the CIA to provide my security.
BAKERWell, and Ambassador Pickering pointed out a very interesting dichotomy here. He said, basically, each of the agencies is responsible for the security of its own facility in Benghazi, which you can obviously see the potential for, you know, miscommunications and confusion.
REHMBut what about Andy's point that Ambassador Stevens did proceed knowing that security was lax in that entire area between Tripoli and Benghazi?
CLIFTThing is he spoke the language, he'd live there for some time, he considered that area -- he thought they were his friends. I think he understood the risk but maybe felt that he was insulated from it.
REHMAll right. To Orange Beach, Ala. Good morning, Will.
WILLGood morning. I've always heard that the ambassador and his visitors from Congress and so forth were protected by a private contract -- by private security contractors, like Blackwater, and that the embassy itself, the hardware was to take it by the Marines. Well, am I wrong?
BAKERWell, in general, that's -- there is a mix of these types of security arrangements depending on the embassy around the world. You're right, Marines obviously are stationed at most embassies, and there are a number of contracts with Blackwater, DynCorp, a number of these types of organizations that provide additional security depending on the particular country and the particular circumstances.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Peter Baker, a new poll out yesterday on this issue. How much are Americans really following it, and who do they blame?
BAKERWell, as I earlier said, I don't think it's necessarily across the board, but it's very intense in certain parts of the country. Certain, you know, groups of people find this very engaging. I'm struck by the email I get, by the phone calls and the input we get for a lot of conservatives in particular but also some others. It's a very passionate subject, which is very interesting. A lot of other parts of the country don't find it as engaging, find it to be a tragedy that not really related to the political conversation.
BAKERI think, as Eleanor pointed out and as Clifford pointed out, that obviously, there is politics overlaying this. It's almost inevitable in Washington these days. And it's hard, I think, to separate for everyday readers and listeners what is the substantive issues here versus what is the two parties kind of going at it.
CLIFTWell, I think the White House made a mistake by releasing those emails only to congressional committees. They have release them to the public because it's not exactly an impartial judge and jury on Capitol Hill. They should have known that these emails would come out. If they could've framed the discussion, we'd probably be having a very different debate it today. And I think the issue was intensely interesting to the Republican base.
CLIFTSpeaker Boehner has -- according to news accounts, has basically charged -- I think there are five committees -- charged with looking into various aspects of this. We are going into, believe it or not, another election year next year. And the congressional -- the House wants to hold to their majority, so I think the politicization of this is quite obvious.
REHMWell, between Benghazi and the IRS, you got two huge scandals that are taking up lots of time, lots of airtime, lots of energy. What's getting done in Washington?
BAKERWell, not a lot this week obviously. But I think the convergence of those two things plus we learned the Department of Justice went after reporters' phone records and you can argue even the Health and Human Services Department was seeking cash from insurance companies to help promote the benefits of the new health care program, all of that kind of adds up to a lot of sort of a lot of Americans as worrisome trends that strike at the heart, especially the IRS that strikes at the heart of the notion that there's something going on here that's sinister. Whether it was just...
REHMPeople are calling it Watergate.
REHMYou spoke to John Dean?
CLIFTI did. I asked him if he was experiencing deja vu watching what was going on here. And he said, no, not at all. This isn't Watergate even close. On the IRS, you know, Richard Nixon had someone planted in the IRS. And the enemy's list basically was who he wanted audited. And when Nixon discovered some of his friends, like John Wayne and Billy Graham, were scheduled for audits, he got furious. Our friends should be getting audited.
CLIFTHe himself had been audited a couple of times when he was out of office. Now, it's an independent agency. I would be truly shocked if I found this was orchestrated any way out of the White House. It would be insane.
REHMIs Hillary Clinton likely to come before Darrell Issa's committee?
MAYBoy, I'm not where that's the case or not. And for the reasons you talked, about all these different committees being involved in it and the fear, suspicion of politicization -- let me just make this point. This is why do think a select committee would be the right way to go. On a select committee, you can pull from various committees that should have involvement -- intelligence, Armed Forces.
REHMBut doesn't that simply elevate something?
MAYNot on -- here is the way it should be done. That the speaker of the House should pick for this committee members of Congress who put principle over partisanship and make that very clear that the goal here is to get to the bottom of this to find out what happened. We know what things went wrong. We need to know who is...
CLIFTI trust very few people on Capitol Hill to put principle over party.
MAYI hope the jurors can do that.
CLIFTYou're not gonna find a whole committee.
REHMEleanor Clift of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Peter Baker of The New York Times, Clifford May of Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The conversation will continue. Thank you all.
MAYThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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