The Clinton Record on Libya: The Emails Show More than You Might Think
June 15, 2015
On August 21, 2011, a top aide to Hillary Clinton penned a memo lauding his boss for steering U.S. policy in Libya, aimed at convincing the media of her accomplishments as Secretary of State.
“HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in administration deliberations, at NATO, and in contact group meetings—as well as the public face of the U.S. effort in Libya. She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime,” Clinton aide Jake Sullivan wrote.
Sullivan’s memo to Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle is, of course, embarrassing today, which is one reason you are not reading about it on the front pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post.
But that’s not the only reason.
The memo, as well as other critical State Department correspondence, was withheld from multiple committees in Congress that have been investigating the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department communications officer Sean Smith, and two former Navy Seals then working on contract to the CIA, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
It finally surfaced on May 22, 2015, in response to a subpoena from the Select Committee on Benghazi chaired by South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy. That was six months after Gowdy’s initial request to the State Department for all documents relating to Benghazi, and more than two-and-a-half years after a similar request from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which initiated its investigation into Benghazi just days after the attacks.
In Sullivan’s memo, Mrs. Clinton was the driving force in getting the Russians to drop opposition to a UN-imposed no fly zone on Qadhafi’s Libya. She alone got Turkey, Qatar and Jordan to join the coalition military operations and to provide critical support to the anti-Qadhafi forces.
To convince skeptical allies to embrace her policies, Sullivan noted that Mrs. Clinton had traveled to Paris, London, Berlin, Rome, Abu Dhabi, Addis Ababa and Istanbul. She visited with “House Democrats and Senate Republicans to persuade them not to de-fund the Libya operation.”
Sullivan’s memo provided background for media appearances by Secretary Clinton in the ensuing months, including a famous encounter with a TV news reporter in Afghanistan, just three days after Mrs. Clinton’s October 2011 visit to Libya to proclaim victory against the then-still-missing Libyan dictator.
In video outtakes, Clinton aide Huma Abedin hands the Secretary a Blackberry, with information that Colonel Qadhafi has been killed, apparently just hours after Mrs. Clinton’s brief visit to the country.
“We came, we saw, he died,” Mrs. Clinton joked.
In short, without Mrs. Clinton’s vigorous intervention, Qadhafi would still be in power, Libya would still be a country, and the jihadis who now own the place would be toast. And, of course, Chris Stevens, Smith, Doherty and Woods would still be alive.
After the attacks, Mrs. Clinton quickly forgot her leading role on Libya, sending a clueless Susan Rice to the Sunday talk shows to be the “public face” of the Obama administration’s Libya policy.
In her only public appearances to address what happened in Benghazi, she portrayed herself as a disengaged onlooker, called upon to pick up the pieces when the hired help failed to get things right. “[It] was very disappointing to me that the [Accountability Review Board (ARB)] concluded there were inadequacies and problems in the responsiveness of our team here in Washington to the security requests that were made by our team in Libya. And I was not aware of that going on. It was not brought to my attention,” she told the House Foreign Affairs committee in January 2013.
She reminded House and Senate panels in January 2013 that the State Department’s ARB, which she appointed, had determined that the failures in Benghazi were entirely the responsibility of lower level officials, even though Libya was among the top ten most dangerous postings in the world at the time of the attacks. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler busily helped to reinforce that fiction in a “fact-checking” blog aimed to show that there were simply too many cables going in and out of the State Department for a busy Secretary to see all of them.
Interestingly, in the approximately 300 Clinton emails the State Department has released so far, there is no record of Mrs. Clinton’s original request to her staff to draft a memo lauding her achievements in Libya. Did Sullivan simply dream up the idea and forward it up the chain of command to see if it would please his boss? Or was Mrs. Clinton’s request for these talking points one of the 30,000 “personal” emails the former Secretary of State deleted as irrelevant to her official duties?
Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills forwarded Sullivan’s August 2011 memo to a second private Hillary email address. Remember how she insisted that she had just one private email account? The memo included a note that said, “Here’s the memo.” That sounds an awful lot like, “Here’s the memo you requested.”
Hillary sent it on to her personal assistant with the instruction, “Pls print for me.”
This type of exchange gets repeated many times in the Clinton emails released so far, suggesting that Mrs. Clinton was not given to making substantive comments via email, or that she deleted material that is relevant to the House Select Committee on Benghazi and is therefore guilty of obstructing justice. The other possibility is that the State Department Freedom of Information office is inexplicably dragging its feet in clearing Mrs. Clinton’s correspondence, even though the delay casts Mrs. Clinton in an embarrassing light.
Judicial Watch and other watchdog organizations—including this author—had been trying to get Mrs. Clinton’s emails and other U.S. government documents relevant to the Benghazi attacks for the past two-and-a-half years without success until the subpoena from the Select Committee on Benghazi compelled a response.
Now, thanks to a federal court order in Washington, DC, compelling the State Department to produce additional documents it previously had said did not exist or were properly categorized as classified, we can now put Mrs. Clinton’s emails into a broader context.
As the first reports of the attacks on Benghazi were whizzing through the State Department Operations Center, bouncing off the computers of lower level employees, one is impressed by their professionalism.
For example, the British security firm that had the contract to guard the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi sent several ungrammatical missives through a State Department contact to update him on what was happening during the attacks.
Dylan Davies, one of the contractors working for the security firm, was apparently holed up in his hotel room (not at the scene of the Compound leading a daring rescue attempt, as he told CBS’ 60 Minutes), with no information at 11:55 p.m. local time—by which time, Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith were dead, the CIA contractors led by Ty Woods had driven the attackers away from the burning diplomatic compound, and evacuated back to the CIA Annex.
A half hour later, Davies sent a second report, claiming there had been “no casualties,” and relaying a hearsay report from his “Benghazi facilitator,” who claimed that sources on the street were telling him the attack was either a September 11th anniversary attack, or caused by an Internet movie “disrespecting Mohammed.”
In relaying those reports, the State Department’s Command Center cautioned that they should be “taken with a grain of salt as the Employee may not be aware of the extent of the situation.”
And yet, less than four hours later—with no other independent reporting that had been released—Hillary Clinton issued her statement blaming the attacks on an Internet video.
What happened in the meantime? Who pushed the idea of the Internet video?
The short answer is that:we still don’t know. Either Mrs. Clinton destroyed the emails and other documents showing how she latched onto a report her own specialists had rejected as hearsay, or perhaps the Archangel Gabriel whispered in her ear while she had her head in a closet in her 7th floor office suite.
Several emails released to Judicial Watch show the intense involvement of the Bureau of Public Affairs in scouring the Internet for information on the attacks, but nothing to suggest the Secretary of State was asking the intelligence community what they knew.
At 9:30 p.m,—just 40 minutes before Mrs. Clinton issued her official statement blaming the attacks on a YouTube video—Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Dana Shell Smith sent out a request to her reporting officers to find information “in the aftermath of today’s demonstrations at Embassy Cairo.” For whatever reason, her request failed to mention Benghazi.
Rebecca Brown Thompson, head of a State Department media office called the “Rapid Response Unit” (reminiscent of the Clinton campaign “war room”), responded by sending snippets from Facebook postings gleaned by Arabic language media analysts.
“I see a variety of responses spanning from conspiracy theories (that is what the Americans and Israelis are doing on purpose to hurt Arabs and Muslims, they financed the offensive movie), to those who condemn the attacks as ‘UnIslamic and barbaric,’” one analyst reported.
Two hours after Mrs. Clinton issued the statement blaming the attacks on the “inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” a second Arabic media analyst tasked with justifying that statement found a lone tweet about the film, but also reported that “some Twitter users in Libya and Egypt are spreading reports that the attacks in Libya may not be related to the infamous film but to the killing of Al Qaeda’s second in command, who is Libyan.”
The “infamous” film, which was much less well known in Libya than in Egypt, became the subject of a scurrilous account appearing the very next morning that was penned by Max Blumenthal, son of the infamous Sid “Vicious” Blumenthal who was advising Mrs. Clinton. It was picked up and amplified in a second attack blog posted at 6:56 a.m. the same morning, suggesting that the real blame for the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi fell on Mitt Romney and his “extremist” backers who produced this YouTube video in the first place.
Once information from the professionals rose to the level of Jake Sullivan, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills in Clinton’s office, it just seemed to disappear, replaced with a weird concoction of politics, public relations and outright fantasy, such as the YouTube video concoction or the Sid Blumenthal “intelligence” reports. (When Mrs. Clinton sent those around to the professional diplomats, the comments she received in response were rarely complimentary.)
The 300 recently released Clinton emails give the impression that the 7th floor of the State Department was inhabited by a bunch of grad students, pretending to be government officials.
The most tragic example of the apparent ignorance of how the State Department and the federal government actually worked appeared in Mrs. Clinton’s order to not engage the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), an interagency team on 24/7 stand-by alert, that had been created to respond to just such an emergency as the Benghazi attacks.
Counterterrorism Bureau official Mark Thompson, who helped to establish the FEST after the 1998 Africa embassy attacks, testified at length before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about this on May 8, 2013.
The Judicial Watch emails include a frustrated note he sent to the State Department Operations Center at 9:01 p.m. on the night of the attacks, complaining that Secretary Clinton was trying to get the FBI to send an evidence response team to Libya, when “the State (CT) led Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) would include those folks, along with experts from other agencies. We should avoid multiple requests for assistance and rely on the comprehensive FEST approach.”
In his Congressional testimony, Thompson said he had tried to get Mrs. Clinton’s office and the White House to approve activating the FEST as soon as he first learned about the attacks from the State Operations Center, but was told “it was not the right time and it was not the team that needed to go right then.”
The redacted portions of Thompson’s email undoubtedly included a reference to the heavily-armed special operations component of the FEST whose job would be to secure the facility under attack. Had Secretary Clinton not told the FEST to stand down early on, there’s a chance they might have arrived in Benghazi before Woods and Doherty were killed in the 5 a.m. mortar attack the next morning.
At the very least, they would have been able to secure the compounds and gather evidence on the spot, instead of waiting three weeks as the FBI was ultimately forced to do.
Mrs. Clinton’s aversion to any overt U.S. military presence in Libya was well-known at U.S. Africa Command, which had been supplying the ambassador’s security detail up until just weeks before the attacks. “We were not allowed to wear uniforms outside the embassy compound, not even our boots,” the head of Stevens’ U.S. Special Forces security detail told me. “People high up at State resented like Hell us being there and doing what we did.”
And in the end, those same people ordered the Ambassador’s Special Forces security detail to leave Libya—with disastrous consequences.
This column was originally published at Accuracy in Media. It is exclusive to Accuracy in Media and reprinted by permission.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of "Dark Forces: the Truth About What Happened in Benghazi" and other books. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 2006 for his work on Iran and received the Reed Irvine award for Investigative Reporting in 2011 from Accuracy in Media.