NEW YORK – A former State Department official under Hillary Clinton claims confidants engaged in an after-hours operation to "separate" damaging documents before State Department materials were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating the Benghazi attacks.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell told reporter Sharyl Attkisson the deed was done during off hours on the weekend "in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.," the Daily Signal reported.
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A book released last week, "The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know," by reporter and radio host Aaron Klein, may shed light on some of the documents Clinton's confidants allegedly held back.
The new book challenges Clinton's own narrative as set forth in her recent memoir, "Hard Choices." In it, the former secretary of state claims she was not personally involved in security decisions at the U.S. special mission in Benghazi.
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Klein also finds Clinton might have deceived lawmakers in her public testimony.
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Now Maxwell tells Attkisson the Benghazi documents were sifted in the basement of the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters.
He said he personally observed boxes and stacks of documents and that a female State Department office director known to be close to Clinton's top advisers was present.
"She told me, 'Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,'" Maxwell said.
The "seventh floor" is a reference to Clinton and her top directors.
"I asked her, 'But isn't that unethical?' She responded, 'Ray, those are our orders.'"
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At the time, Ray was the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, or NEA. His section was charged with collecting emails and documents for the Benghazi investigation.
Directly involved in security
In her new book, Clinton wrote she did not see cables requesting additional security. She claimed any cables related to the security at the compound were only addressed to her as a "procedural quirk" and didn't actually land on her desk.
However, Clinton personally signed waivers that allowed the facility to be legally occupied, since it did not meet the minimum official security standards set by the State Department.
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While some of the required waivers technically could have been issued by lower-level State Department officials, several other waivers could only have been approved by Clinton herself, including what is known as the "co-location" requirement.
The "co-location" requirement refers to the unusual housing setup in Benghazi in which intelligence and State Department personnel were kept in two separate locations.
Klein: "[By signing the waivers], did Clinton know she was approving a woefully unprotected compound? If not, then at the very least she is guilty of dereliction of duty and the diplomatic equivalent of criminal negligence."
Further, Clinton's top deputies, including officials known to be close to her, were responsible for major denials of security at the compound.
In one example, it was Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy who canceled the use in Tripoli of a DC-3 aircraft that could have aided in the evacuation of the Benghazi victims.
Kennedy also denied permission to build guard towers at the Benghazi mission and approved the withdrawal of a Security Support Team, or SST, that special U.S. force specifically maintained for counter-attacks on U.S. embassies or threats against diplomatic personnel.
Klein contends it defies logic that Clinton was not informed of the general nature of security at the Benghazi facility, especially since she was known to have taken a particular interest in the compound. She reportedly called for the compound to be converted into a permanent mission before a scheduled trip to Libya in December 2012 that eventually was canceled.
Klein dedicates an entire section to pointing out what he says are misleading statements in the Benghazi chapter of Clinton's "Hard Choices."
Reason for Stevens visit to Benghazi
Clinton suggests that Ambassador Christopher Stevens traveled to Benghazi before the attacks and implies he had meetings at the U.S. special mission that ill-fated night on his own initiative.
Clinton writes: "U.S. ambassadors are not required to consult or seek approval from Washington when traveling within their countries, and rarely do. Like all chiefs of mission, Chris made decisions about his movements based on the security assessments of his team on the ground, as well as his own judgment. After all, no one had more knowledge or experience in Libya than he did."
She writes that Stevens "understood Benghazi's strategic importance in Libya and decided that the value of a visit outweighed the risks." She does not provide the actual reason for Stevens' visit to the Benghazi compound.
Klein says Clinton failed to mention that Stevens might have gone to Benghazi for a project she specifically requested.
According to congressional testimony by Gregory Hicks, the former State Department deputy chief of mission and chargé d'affaires 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 very specific funding deadline to complete an extensive survey of the mission so the compound could be converted.
Toward the end of the hearing, the chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked Hicks to summarize his testimony on why Stevens went to Benghazi.
"At least one of the reasons Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi was to further the secretary's wish that that post become a permanent constituent post and that he was also there because we understood the secretary intended to visit Tripoli later in the year," Hicks reiterated. "We hoped that she would be able to announce to the Libyan people the establishment of a permanent constituent post in Benghazi at that time."
Whitewashes her own Benghazi statement
At about 10 p.m. EST on Sept. 11, 2012, Clinton became one of the first Obama administration officials to make a public statement about the Benghazi attacks.
In her book, Clinton writes: "As the cameras snapped away, I laid out the facts as we knew them – 'heavily armed militants' had assaulted our compound and killed our people – and assured Americans that we were doing everything possible to keep safe our personnel and citizens around the world. I also offered prayers for the families of the victims and praise for the diplomats who serve our country and our values all over the world."
Clinton fails to mention that in her initial statement she also first linked the Benghazi attacks to an infamous anti-Islam film.
Her brief official statement included this: "Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
Location of U.S. Special Forces
Clinton wrongly writes that the closest U.S. Special Forces that could have responded to the attacks were "standing by in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but they would take several hours to muster and were more than five thousand miles away."
She continued: "Critics have questioned why the world's greatest military force could not get to Benghazi in time to defend our people. Part of the answer is that, despite having established United States Africa Command in 2008, there just wasn't much U.S. military infrastructure in place in Africa."
Klein notes it has been confirmed Special Forces known as C-110, or the EUCOM CIF, were on a training mission in Croatia the night of the attack. The distance between Croatia's capital, Zagreb, and Benghazi is about 925 miles. The C-110 is a rapid-response team that exists for emergencies like terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies abroad.
Instead of being deployed to Libya, the C-110 was told the night of the attack to return to its normal operating base in Germany.
Clinton defended the actions of then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, infamously appeared on five morning television programs to offer the official Obama administration response to the Benghazi attack. In nearly identical statements, Rice asserted that the attack was a spontaneous protest in response to a "hateful video."
Writes Clinton: "Susan stated what the intelligence community believed, rightly or wrongly, at the time. That was the best she or anyone could do. Every step of the way, whenever something new was learned, it was quickly shared with Congress and the American people. There is a difference between getting something wrong, and committing wrong. A big difference that some have blurred to the point of casting those who made a mistake as intentionally deceitful."
Clinton's claim that the intelligence community believed the attack was a spontaneous protest in response to a "hateful video" is called into question by numerous revelations.
Hicks testified he knew immediately it was a terrorist attack, not a protest turned violent. According to Hicks, "everybody in the mission" believed it was an act of terror "from the get-go."
The CIA's station chief in Libya reportedly stated in an email to his superiors on the day of the attack that it was "not an escalation of anti-American protest."
Writes Klein: "The claim of a popular protest also defies logic. Spontaneous protesters do not show up with weapons, erect armed checkpoints surrounding the compound and demonstrate 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 thought to be capable of mounting a fierce, hours-long gun battle with U.S. forces stationed inside the annex."
Blames talking points on the CIA
Clinton placed the blame for the controversial talking points squarely on the CIA without mentioning the State Department contributed to the manufacturing of the points.
"The extensive public record now makes clear that Susan (Rice) was using information that originated with and was approved by the CIA," she writes. "That assessment didn't come from political operatives in the White House; it came from career professionals in the intelligence community."
But it has been confirmed that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland played an active role in crafting the talking points as did Clinton's deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan.
Klein goes on to document numerous other problems with the Benghazi chapter of "Hard Choices," such as promoting the questionable Obama administration narrative of a lull in fighting.
The issues in "Hard Choices" are just the start of possible problems for Clinton regarding the Benghazi attacks.
Weapons to rebels
Klein explains the compound was deliberately set up with minimal security to avoid attracting attention to secretive activities in which Clinton herself was a central player, relates "The REAL Benghazi Story" book.
Klein utilizes public sources in a systematic connect-the-dots exercise indicating both the U.S. mission and the nearby CIA annex in Benghazi were involved in coordinating U.S. aid transfers to rebels in the Middle East, with particular emphasis on shipping weapons to jihadists fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Klein cites evidence Stevens himself played a central role in coordinating arms shipments to the gunmen fighting Assad's regime, even helping an arms dealer named Marc Turi secure approval from the State Department to sell at least $200 million in weapons that were shipped via Qatar. Qatar was known to have helped to arm the rebels.
"The REAL Benghazi Story" cites public reports showing Clinton, together with then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, were the architects of a plan to arms the Libyan and Syrian rebels. The Clinton plan called for rebel groups to be vetted, trained and armed, utilizing countries such as Turkey and Qatar.
Even the New York Times, in February 2013, described Clinton as one of the driving forces behind advocating a plan to arm the Syrian rebels. The newspaper quoted White House officials claiming they rejected the plan.
"It is difficult to believe the White House rejected a plan proposed and supported by the Secretaries of State and Defense plus the CIA chief to boot," writes Klein.
Indeed, the particulars of Clinton's plan for rebel groups to be vetted, trained and armed seems to have been implemented. The Times confirmed American-aided arms were shipped to the rebels since at least November 2012.
The Times description of the arms shipments mirrors the exact plan as reportedly concocted by Clinton.
The Times reported that since at least November 2012, the U.S. had been helping "the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive."
Lied in testimony?
Clinton's plan to arm the rebels was apparently put into action, Klein notes.
If this is the case, and "the evidence points there," writes Klein, then Clinton has even more explaining to do, because she claimed during her Benghazi testimony that she did not know whether the U.S. mission in Libya was procuring or transferring weapons to Turkey and other Arab countries.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. asked Clinton a direct question: "Is the U. S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?"
"To Turkey?" Clinton asked, as her voice suddenly jumped an octave. "I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me."
Continued Paul: "It's been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that may have weapons, and what I'd like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?"
Clinton replied, "Well, senator, you'll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. I will see what information is available."
"You're saying you don't know?" asked Paul.
"I do not know," Clinton said. "I don't have any information on that."
It was not the only instance of possibly inaccurate Clinton testimony cited by Klein in "The REAL Benghazi Story."
She may have erred when she said no one within the government ever recommended the closure of the U.S. facilities in the Libyan city.
In her testimony, Clinton stated: "Well, senator, I want to make clear that no one in the State Department, the intelligence community, any other agency, ever recommended that we close Benghazi. We were clear-eyed about the threats and the dangers as they were developing in eastern Libya and in Benghazi."
Clinton was responding to a question from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
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, as documented in the 46-page House Republican report probing the Benghazi attack. Page six of the report cites security concerns, including more than 200 attacks in Libya, 50 of which took place in Benghazi, including against the U.S. mission there.
States the Republican report: "These developments caused Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who led the U.S. military's efforts to supplement diplomatic security in Libya, to recommend that the State Department consider pulling out of Benghazi altogether."
Continued the report: "Lt. Col. Wood explained that after the withdrawal of these other organizations, 'it was apparent to me that we were the last [Western] flag flying in Benghazi. We were the last thing on their target list to remove from Benghazi.'"
Book breaks "REAL" Benghazi story
Besides the Clinton material, the extensively sourced book breaks news on significant issues related to the Benghazi attack.
A sampling of what the publisher says is contained in the book:
- Everything is covered from the secretive activities transpiring inside the doomed facility to shocking new details about the withholding of critical protection at the U.S. special mission.
- Information that raises new questions about what really happened to Ambassador Chris Stevens that night.
- Answered for the first time is why the State Department hired armed members of the al-Qaida-linked February 17 Martyrs Brigade to "protect" the facility.
- New reasons are revealed for not sending air support or Special Forces during the assault, while extensively probing jihadist groups behind the attack.
- How Benghazi has implications that go beyond the Sept. 11, 2012, attack and may have created major national security threats the U.S. now faces, fueling conflicts from Mali to Syria to Gaza and elsewhere.