As the Benghazi Select Committee gears up for its first open hearing on Wednesday, the author of a newsmaking book on the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks has released a series of recommended questions for lawmakers to pose about the Benghazi onslaught.
Reporter and New York Times bestselling author Aaron Klein included the list of questions in his just-released book, entitled, "The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know."
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The suggested queries are based largely on the information documented in "The REAL Benghazi Story."
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Included are Klein's questions for members and former members of the Obama administration and specific questions to be posed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Questions regarding the security situation at the compound:
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- An 85-page Senate report concluded that according to the State Department the Benghazi facility "did not store classified information, and therefore no Marine contingent was present." What then was the purpose of the Benghazi Special Mission? What kinds of activities transpired at the mission? This is one of the most important questions that must be asked.
- A top State official revealed the State Department refused a request to install guard towers at the doomed U.S. facility in Benghazi, as documented in Chapter 1 of "The REAL Benghazi Story." Why were the guard towers not installed? One reason initially provided is that the towers would attract too much attention to the facility. Why was the State Department so concerned about attracting too much attention to this particular facility?
- In an interview with CNN on Nov. 18, 2013, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee, disclosed his committee had learned a directive was issued Aug. 11 – one month before the attack – telling Benghazi staff they were on their own. Is this accurate? If so, who issued this directive?
- The mission's entire external security depended on "unarmed, locally contracted Blue Mountain Libya guards," the State Department's Accountability Review Board, or ARB, relates. Why were unarmed guards protecting a U.S. compound in one of the region's most dangerous cities?
- Another critical question: Why was internal security for the compound – the quick reaction force – provided by armed 17th of February Martyrs Brigade members? The February 17 Brigade is part of the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Al-Sharia, a militia that advocates the strict implementation of Islamic law and took credit for previous attacks against other diplomatic posts in Benghazi prior to Sept. 11, 2012.
- Ultimately, Ansar al-Sharia was implicated in the Benghazi attacks, as well. How could the State Department trust an al-Qaida-tied Islamic extremist militia to serve as the armed quick reaction force within the U.S. Special Mission? Who within the State Department approved the 17th of February Brigade force?
- According to the ARB the gunmen the night of the assault "appear to have used filled fuel cans that were stored next to new, uninstalled generators at the February 17 living quarters near the C1 entrance to burn that building." That's how the U.S. Special Mission was set ablaze. Is there information indicating the February 17 militia deliberately left the fuel cans there?
- The intruders were said to have inside knowledge of the layout of the compound, including the precise location of a secret safe room where Ambassador Chris Stevens was later holed up. Is there information the February 17 militia provided the attackers with critical insider information? Were these militia members, including perhaps former guards at the compound, among the gunmen who carried out the actual assault that night?
- Libyan warlord Abdul Basit Haroun divulged to Reuters he is behind some of the biggest shipments of weapons from Libya to Syria. Most of the weapons were sent to Turkey, he said, where they were in turn smuggled into neighboring Syria. Haroun was reportedly a former member of the February 17 Brigade militia. Did the militia aid the U.S. in procuring weapons for Mideast rebels? Is this why the militia worked from within the U.S. Special Mission?
- In the months before the Sept. 11, 2012, assault, the State Department pulled government-provided Security Support Teams, or SST, special U.S. forces trained for counterattacks on U.S. embassies or threats against diplomatic personnel. Why were these forces removed? Even after their removal, why wasn't an SST temporarily redeployed to Libya ahead of the 9-11 anniversary to beef up security on the one day jihadists are known to be more motivated to attack?
- The State Department denied a request for the continued use of an aircraft to move personnel and security equipment in Libya. Such an aircraft could have aided in the evacuation of the victims after the attack. Ultimately, the U.S. Special Mission had to wait for a Libyan C-130 transport cargo aircraft and other planes to be secured to move the victims from Benghazi to Tripoli and then from Tripoli to Western hospitals. Who pulled the aircraft? Why was it removed?
- One month before the attack, a 54-page Library of Congress report warned of al-Qaida's increasing presence in Libya, including inside Benghazi. What additional security precautions, if any, were taken in light of this alarming information?
- As exposed in "The REAL Benghazi Story," key Pentagon officials, including the commander of U.S. forces in Africa, were not aware of the existence of the CIA annex that operated 1.2 miles away from the Benghazi mission and was the second target on the night of the attacks. Why were these officials not briefed on the mission's whereabouts and existence? How could the military protect the facility when top Pentagon brass, including Gen. Carter Ham, then-commander of U.S. Africa Command, did not even know it existed?
- The State Department labeled the attacked Benghazi facility a "U.S. Special Mission." Why was it given such an unusual designation?
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Secretive activities – arms to jihadist rebels?
- Were the U.S. Special Mission or the nearby CIA annex in Benghazi involved in any way in procuring weapons to the jihadist rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad of Syria or to any other rebels fighting in the Middle East or Africa?
- Ambassador Chris Stevens' original role in Libya was to serve as the main interlocutor between the Obama administration and the rebels based in Benghazi. Was Stevens himself involved in recruiting and/or vetting jihadists or coordinating arms shipments to the gunmen fighting Assad's regime in Syria or to any other rebels fighting in the Middle East or Africa?
- The New York Times reported that from offices at "secret locations," American intelligence officers "helped the Arab governments shop for weapons … and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive." The CIA declined to comment to the Times on the shipments to Syria or its role in them. Where were these purported secret offices located?
- Was this a reference to the secret CIA annex and obscure U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, where Stevens held his final meeting with a Turkish diplomat? Turkey, of course, was one of the main backers of the Syrian rebels.
- The New York Times reported in December 2012 that Stevens himself facilitated an application to the State Department for the sale of weapons filed by one Marc Turi, whom the Times' describes as an "American arms merchant who had sought to provide weapons to Libya." Why was Stevens aiding in an application for an arms merchant? Is this an ordinary activity for a U.S. ambassador? Was Stevens involved in activities in Libya beyond the diplomatic realm? If so, could these activities have any relation to the Benghazi attacks?
- One source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi the very night of the attacks "to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists." Is this accurate?
- In August 2013, there was speculation on Capitol Hill that U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi "were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels." Were these activities indeed taking place? Were such activities transpiring in the U.S. Benghazi facilities? Did the movement of these weapons provoke the Benghazi attacks?
- The New York Times reported U.S. intelligence officers aided Arab governments obtaining weapons "including a large procurement from Croatia." The C-110 40-man Special Ops force was reportedly "training" in Croatia during the Benghazi attacks. The force was not deployed to help the embattled Benghazi facilities. Was the C-110 in Croatia to protect, collect or ship the weapons reportedly procured in that country?
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Why no reinforcements, Special Forces the night of the attack?
The ARB report provided a timeline of the attacks, an accounting adopted by the Obama administration. The ARB claims the initial assault on the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi started between 9:45 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. local time and lasted until about midnight, when all but two Americans were evacuated to the CIA annex about a mile away. According to the ARB, at midnight the annex was attacked intermittently for an hour by gunfire and RPGs. The next phase of the attack started at about 5:15 a.m. local time, the ARB claims, describing the second wave of attacks as consisting of heavy mortar and RPG assaults.
However, witnesses on the ground, including CIA contractors who were inside the Annex, said there was no lull in the fighting at all. The "lull" claim is central to the Obama administration's explanation for why no air support or special forces were deployed to Benghazi.
- Was there a lull or not? If not, why didn't the Obama administration immediately deploy reinforcements? If there was no lull, why did the State Department claim there was?
- Why were no reinforcements sent the night of the attacks? The government's standard response is patently absurd. They say they thought the attack was over following the initial assault so therefore there was just not enough time to send a rescue mission or air support. But how could they have known what the gunmen had planned or that the "first wave" was the only attack to be carried out?
- After the initial assault Stevens went missing. The acting assumption of the decision makers that night was that Stevens had been kidnapped, as documented in "The REAL Benghazi Story." Why were Special Forces not immediately deployed for a potential hostage situation involving a supposedly kidnapped U.S. ambassador?
- On the night of the attack, Gen. Carter Ham was placed in charge of the C-110, a 40-man Special Ops force maintained for rapid response to emergencies. The force exists for the very purpose of responding to events such as the Benghazi attacks. Why was command of the C-110 transferred from the military's European command to Ham's Africa Command in the middle of the attack?
- Instead of deploying to Libya from their "training" position in Croatia, the C-110 was reportedly told on the night of the Benghazi attacks to begin preparations to return to its normal operating base in Germany. Why was this order given? Why was a special force that exists for the very purpose of an emergency like Benghazi told in the middle of a massive attack on our U.S. mission to return to their normal operating base?
- Former deputy Libyan ambassador and whistleblower Gregory Hicks said he contacted Africom the night of the attack but received no support. What justified the lack of support?
- U.S. government agencies, including the CIA, have long denied the persistent claim there was a "stand down" order during the attack. However, CIA agents on the ground in Benghazi testified to lawmakers they were loaded into vehicles and ready to aid the besieged U.S. special mission on Sept. 11, 2012, but were told by superiors to "wait," a congressman privy to the testimony revealed. Were any U.S. personnel ready to mount a rescue operation told to wait?
- If so, this would further contradict claims made by the State Department's ARB, which states that the response team one mile away in the CIA annex was "not delayed by orders from superiors." How does the State Department explain this discrepancy?
- It is known the Libyan rebels looted Muammar Gadhafi's reserves of Man-Portable-Air-Defense-Systems, or MANPADS. Were the anti-aircraft missiles in the hands of the Libyan rebels or other jihadists a major threat that impeded the possibility of dispatching U.S. aircraft to aid the American targets during the Benghazi attack? Was the MANPAD proliferation taken into consideration when deciding whether to send air support to Benghazi?
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What happened to Stevens?
- Was Stevens or his body held hostage at any point; and if so by whom? How was the corpse of Stevens eventually released? Were there negotiations to secure the remains? What promises did we make for Stevens' body and to whom? If Stevens' body were held hostage, why do we not know about it?
- Is any U.S. agency in possession of intelligence indicating the Benghazi attack was a kidnap operation gone awry? Was there a plan to kidnap Stevens and hold him for the exchange of high-level prisoners?
- Raising some eyebrows, Thomas Pickering, the State Department's lead Benghazi investigator and author of the State-sponsored Accountability Review Board report refused to deny there was a plan to kidnap Stevens. The response took place at a House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on Benghazi in mid-September 2013, when Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wy., asked Pickering directly about a potential kidnap plot. Pickering should be questioned again.
- Abdallah Dhu-al-Bajadin, who was identified by U.S. officials speaking to the Washington Free Beacon as a known weapons experts for al-Qaida, wrote on a jihadi website that Stevens was killed by lethal injection after plans to kidnap him during the Benghazi assault went awry. Obviously we need to take anything a terrorist says with a more than a grain of salt. However, is there any information that would indicate Stevens was killed by lethal injection? Was a full autopsy performed? If so, why haven't the results been made public? Was any toxin found in Stevens' blood?
- The State ARB claims "ARSO 1, who was protecting Ambassador Stevens and IMO Smith in the safe area, heard intruders breaking through the Villa C front door. … Men armed with AK rifles started to destroy the living room contents and then approached the safe area gate and started banging on it. ARSO 1 did not want to compromise their location in the safe area by engaging the intruders, and he warned the ambassador and IMO Smith to prepare for the intruders to try to blast the safe area gate locks open. Instead the intruders departed, and the lights in Villa C appeared to dim." Why would the intruders simply depart before attempting to blast their way into the safe area?
- The ARB itself noted the intruders appeared to have inside knowledge of the compound. The ARB asks us to believe that just as these knowledgeable, well-coordinated intruders had Stevens cornered, they decided to leave Villa C where the ambassador was holed up without even attempting to gain entry to the safe room. Are we sure the ARB details are accurate?
- The ARB states the intruders smoked up Villa C, likely to make breathing so difficult that anyone inside the safe room would need to come out. And that's just what happened, the ARB states, claiming Stevens and his guards had no choice but to exit the safe room for fresh air. How did Stevens and his guards make it from the safe room, where they were being smoked out, into a bathroom in the Villa without any of the intruders noticing?
- An Obama administration email released in May 2014 states a phone call from a local Libyan hospital reported Stevens was at the medical center and was "alive and well" in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. The email entirely contradicts the ARB report, which states the caller at the hospital said a man matching Stevens' description was brought to the medical center and was "unresponsive." How does State explain this discrepancy? Was the hospitalized ambassador "alive and well" or "unresponsive"? If Stevens was "alive and well," as the Obama administration email claims, then how did he die?
- How did Stevens' body get from a heavily besieged compound to the Benghazi Medical Center? The ARB authors write they believe Stevens was transported by "good Samaritans." How did these "good Samaritans" make it past Ansar al-Sharia roadblocks with the body of the most high-profile American in Libya? And just who are these "good Samaritans" in Benghazi who risked their lives to make it through these checkpoints all the way to the hospital?
- The Benghazi Medical Center was controlled by the rebels. The ARB called the facility "dangerous for American personnel" because of Ansar Al-Sharia's known presence inside the hospital. Did Ansar or any other Islamic extremist group become aware of Stevens' presence at the hospital?
- The ARB relates, "Annex personnel continued to reach out to Libyan contacts to coordinate the transport of the presumed remains of Ambassador Stevens to the airport. The body was brought to the airport in what appeared to be a local ambulance at 0825 local, and the TDY RSO verified Ambassador Stevens' identity." The ARB does not explain how these "Libyan contacts" managed to get Stevens body out of the "dangerous" hospital. Who were the Libyan contacts? How was Stevens body transported and by whom? Were any promises made by the U.S. for the release of the body?
- The 85-page Senate report for the first time reveals new details about "negotiations" to transport Stevens body and how the corpse arrived at the tarmac with the waiting evacuation airplane. The report states: "After more than three hours of negotiations and communications with Libyan officials who expressed concern about the security situation at the hospital, the Libyan government arranged for the Libyan Shield Militia to provide transportation and an armed escort from the airport." This begs even more questions about the negotiation process: Who was holding Stevens' body and how were the remains eventually released?
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood connection?
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- Are any of the attackers tied to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, or any other Muslim Brotherhood figures?
- As documented in "The REAL Benghazi Story, most immediately following the Benghazi attacks the U.S. possessed information indicating some Egyptian participation in the assault. Why did the Obama administration initially keep this critical piece of information from the public?
- Unsubstantiated Arabic-language reports from the Middle East claim a passport belonging to the alleged killer of Stevens had been recovered at the home of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat Al-Shater. Is this true? Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reportedly visited al-Shater in prison in August 2013, spending over an hour talking to the Brotherhood leader. What did the senators discuss with al-Shater?
- The White House sought at first to connect the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack to protests that same day in Cairo, Egypt, in which rioters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy and tore down the American flag. Those Cairo protests were widely reported to be acts of defiance against the anti-Muhammad movie. However, the protests were actually announced days in advance as part of a movement to free the so-called blind sheikh, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Is there information suggesting any of the Benghazi attackers were motivated by the campaign to release Rahman?
- There were unconfirmed reports Egypt's former Morsi government would not allow the U.S. to interrogate suspects in the attack. Is this accurate?
- One day before the Benghazi assaults, on Sept. 10, 2012, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video calling for attacks on Americans in Libya to avenge the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of the most senior al-Qaida operatives, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike. Is there information indicating the attackers were sent by Zawahiri or were part of an effort to avenge al-Libi's elimination?
- Is there information indicating Iran or any other state actor was in any way involved in the Benghazi attacks?
- Questions need to be raised about the timing and manner in which the U.S. in October 2013 seized wanted militant Abu Anas al-Libi, who was living openly in his home in Libya and likely could have been captured at a different time. "The REAL Benghazi Story" cites evidence strongly indicating the decision to capture al-Libi all but thwarted an ongoing operation in which covert U.S. operatives were hours from arresting Ahmed Abu Khattalah, a senior leader of the Ansar Al-Sharia militia wanted for the Benghazi attack.
- Why was Al-Libi seized in a public operation in Tripoli by U.S. Special Forces on Oct. 5 in a daylight raid outside his home while his family looked on? Family members immediately and predictably told the news media about the raid. That raid sent Khattalah underground and halted the U.S. operation that was potentially hours from capturing Khatallah.
- Obama previously vowed to make it is a "priority" to bring the Benghazi suspects "to justice." Did he personally make the call to arrest al-Libi before Khatallah and to do so in such a public manner?
Specific questions for Hillary Clinton:
- Because the U.S. Benghazi facility was so dangerous and did not meet the security standards set by the State Department, the Benghazi Mission actually required special waivers in order to be occupied by American personnel. Such a waiver could have only been issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself. Did she issue this waiver? If so, was she adequately briefed on the glaring security lapses at the facility?
- If she was not fully briefed, how can Clinton justify issuing this waiver? (Some of the necessary waivers, the Senate affirmed, could have been issued at lower levels within the State Department. However "other departures, such as the co-location requirement, could only be approved by the Secretary of State." The "co-location" requirement refers to unusual housing setup in Benghazi where intelligence and State Department personnel were kept in two separate locations.)
- The decisions to deny guard towers and pull a special reaction team from the hot zone of Libya were made by top Clinton deputies, as "The REAL Benghazi Story" documents. We know Clinton took particular interest in Libya, the lynchpin for the so-called Arab Spring. Was Clinton herself aware of these and other perplexing security decisions made by her deputies regarding the Benghazi compound?
- Not only were Clinton's deputies the ones who made central perplexing security decisions, they were also involved in drafting the now discredited talking points on the Benghazi attacks. Was Clinton herself involved with the talking points drafting?
- Did Clinton know the attacks were coordinated jihadist assaults when she publicly blamed the attacks on an obscure YouTube video?
- Did Clinton mislead lawmakers and the public under oath when she testified on Jan. 23, 2013 that no one within the government ever recommended the closure of the U.S. facilities in the Libyan city? Clinton's testimony is contradicted by Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who led the U.S. military's efforts to supplement diplomatic security in Libya. Wood testified that he personally recommended the Benghazi mission be closed.
- Did Clinton play any role in Stevens' decision to go to the dangerous facility on the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, a day when jihadists are particularly motivated to strike our country's assets?
- According to congressional testimony by Gregory Hicks, the former State Department deputy chief of mission and chargé d'affairs who was in Libya at the time of the attack, Stevens went to the compound that day in part because Clinton wanted to convert the shanty complex into a permanent mission in a symbol of the new Libya. Hicks said Clinton wanted to announce the establishment of a permanent U.S. State Department facility during her planned visit there in December 2012. Apparently Stevens was up against a specific tight funding deadline to complete an extensive survey of the mission so the compound could be converted. Clinton needs to be thoroughly questions about Hicks' revelations.
- Clinton should have been aware of the terrorist camps in Benghazi. Fox News reported the U.S. mission in Benghazi convened an "emergency meeting" in August 2012 to discuss the training camps. The news network obtained a government cable addressed to Clinton's office stating the U.S. diplomats in Libya were briefed "on the location of approximately 10 Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi … these groups ran the spectrum from Islamist militias, such as the QRF Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia, to 'Takfirist thugs.'" What actions, if any, did Clinton take to protect the U.S. Special Mission in light of the emerging high threat environment, including the proximity of terrorist training camps?
- The New York Times described Clinton as one of the driving forces behind advocating a plan to arm the Syrian rebels. Was Clinton involved in efforts to arms the Mideast rebels? Were any of these efforts centered in Libya? In the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi?
- Did Clinton mislead lawmakers when she claimed during her Benghazi testimony that she did not know whether the U.S. mission in Libya was involved in procuring or transferring weapons to Turkey and other Arab countries?
- The Senate's extensive report by its Benghazi investigative committee charged a "strong case can be made that State engaged in retaliation against witnesses who were willing to speak with Congress." Were senior State officials engaged in retaliation or otherwise involved with intimidating witnesses? Did senior State officials interfere with legislative investigations into the Benghazi attacks?
Talking points probe
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- Did the Obama administration deliberately mislead the public when it claimed the attacks were a spontaneous protest in response to a "hateful video"?
- Why were the talking points edited to remove references to "terrorism" and "al-Qaeda" in the attacks?
- Was the Obama administration in immediately possession of surveillance video from the mission that showed there was no popular protest on Sept. 11, 2012?
- How does the Obama administration explain its rejection of logic in explaining what happened that fated night? Obviously logic dictates that spontaneous protesters do not show up with weapons, erect armed checkpoints surrounding the compound and evidence insider knowledge of the facility while deploying military-style tactics to storm the U.S. Mission. Nor do spontaneous protesters know the exact location of a secretive CIA annex, including the specific coordinates of the building that were likely utilized to launch precision mortar strikes. Spontaneous protesters are not capable of mounting a fierce, hours-long gun battle with U.S. forces stationed inside the annex.
- What was the exact role in the talking points scandal of Mike Morell, then acting CIA director? Morell claimed the talking points were changed to protect a criminal investigation. Did he know this was not the case?
- In June 2013, Morell announced he was stepping down from his CIA position to spend more time with his family. Did Morell, a favorite for CIA chief, really leave the Agency because of the talking points scandal?
- Morell later reemerged as a counselor to Beacon Global Strategies, a consult group particularly close to Hillary Clinton. Was Morell given this job in exchange for his silence in the talking points scandal?
- In February 2014 a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed that Morell was in receipt of critical information on Sep. 15, 2012, one day before Rice used the talking points publically. The report said that Morell and others at the CIA received an email from the CIA's Libya station chief stating the attacks were "not an escalation of protests." What did Morell do with this information?
- In perhaps one of the most damning sections of the Republican House Interim Progress Report on the events in Benghazi, lawmakers who penned the investigation wrote they were given access to classified emails and other communications that prove the talking points were not edited to protect classified information but instead to protect the State Department's reputation. Who at the State Department made the decision to alter the talking points?
- The Obama administration spent $70,000 in taxpayer funds on an ad campaign denouncing the anti-Muhammad film. The ads, featuring Clinton and President Obama, reportedly aired on seven Pakistani networks. Did the White House know at the time anger over the film was not the motivating factor for the Benghazi attacks?