Troubling Questions in
November 12, 2012
Something is rotten in Benghazi-Petraeus. But we
cannot find the rot in these two tragedies because the information is
classified and the administration remains silent at the pleasure of the
The CIA Libyan Chief of Station within 24 hours of the Tuesday September 11
attack on our consulate cabled CIA headquarters that it was carried out by
militants and not in reaction to an obscure American-made internet video
that criticized Islam’s Prophet Muhammed.
Yet on Friday, September 14, Director of Central
Intelligence, General David Petraeus, ignored his chief boot-on-the-ground
and briefed the House Intelligence Committee, as described by Vice-Chairman
Ruppensberger (D-Md), that the attack was “spontaneous.”
What happened in those two days that the causal
theory turned 180 degrees? Did the now discarded theory belong only to
Director of Central Intelligence Petraeus and the CIA? Because on that same
day, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chief Vice Chairman Admiral
James Whinnefeld, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they
believed the attack was premeditated.
The administration had time to co-ordinate the two
inconsistent assessments. It did not. On Sunday, September 16, UN Ambassador
Susan Rice fulfilled the quinfecta of all Sunday shows during which she
vigorously backed the CIA/ Petraeus position: “What happened…in Benghazi…was
a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely
disseminated, which the U.S. government had nothing to do with, which we
have made clear is reprehensible and disgusting.” (ABC Jake Tapper) The
press reported the CIA provided her “talking points,” a job usually reserved
for a press secretary.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was nowhere to be
seen or heard that day. Her spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, has steadfastly
deferred to others when asked whether the video was the cause.
The White House had 9 more days to gather facts to
decide which theory was supported by the evidence. It did not. Or it chose
not to tell us.
Nine days later in his speech to the United Nations,
President Obama was still accusing the video of being the proximate cause
where he referred to it six times, declaring “a crude and disgusting video
sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.” This discredited claim was
made notwithstanding Libyan President Mohammad Magarief’s telling NBC on
that very day that the attacks “had nothing to do with” the video. Did these
two presidents not communicate during this time? Or did President Obama
ignore the president-on-the-ground’s assessment?
For some reason DCI Petraeus backed the Obama
unsupported theory that the video made the attackers do it rather than his
own Chief of Station’s assessment that it was a planned military attack.
Why do the shifting stories and misplaced theory of
Because if an administration pushes a political
agenda that applauds the killing of Bin Laden as the ultimate act for
eradicating the radical Islamic threat, then that same administration
ignores its Ambassador’s urgent pleas for more security for fear it will
appear Bin Laden’s demise was not the answer to that threat. Our country’s
chief spy is supposed to know which theory is held up by the evidence.
Having pointed out the context of Petraeus’ strange
support of that now refuted theory, we must turn to the bizarre
circumstances of his resignation as DCI after the FBI discovered he had an
affair with his biographer.
Something is terribly amiss for those of us steeped
in federal criminal law, national security, and Congressional protocol. We
have been told that the president knew nothing of the investigation until
Similarly, the relevant Congressional committees
said they either heard about it on television (Senate Intelligence
Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein) or just a few hours before the announcement.
Yet policy and the law—depending on the gravity of the facts--call for the
FBI to inform the Intelligence Committees and the White House whenever there
is a concern about any person involved in national security.
When there is merely a minor security concern, for
example if a bad actor happens to be at the same dinner party in a foreign
country as a travelling Member of the Intelligence Committee, long standing
policy establishes that the Intelligence Committees should be informed. But
the Petraeus matter was “significant.” Thus the law requires notice to the
relevant Congressional Members. What did FBI Director Robert Mueller know
and when did he know it? And whom did he tell?
If notice were the only breach of law or protocol it
might not mean much, except bad judgment. But the entire scenario of
Petraeus’ nomination and confirmation does not compute, and implicates an
additional level of incompetence or willful blindness.
Consider: When Petraeus was nominated for DCI, there
were “rumors” in Afghanistan about the duo and the extent of her access to
him, according to well-respected foreign policy expert and Fox News national
security analyst K.T. McFarland, who was on the ground there at the time.
Who headed Petraeus’ background investigation? The
first time I had a background check, the FBI asked my neighbors whether I
was a good mother. They also asked whether I was a lesbian.
These people are not shy about asking sensitive
Consider: In the questionnaire a nominee must submit
for the confirmation process, there is that final catch-all question. “Is
there anything in your past that could embarrass the president?” That’s when
the delicate affair should have been discussed by the Army General War Hero.
Having an embarrassing issue does not disqualify the nominee. It means more
investigation needs to be done to determine whether the conduct really is a
problem. Did Petraeus reveal the relationship at that time?
Consider: All candidates for CIA employment must
take a polygraph. Doesn’t the nominee for DCI have to do so also? And that
nasty little catch-all embarrassment question is always asked by the
polygrapher. Usually, the polygraphee is thinking back to college and
confessing to smoking pot. In 2011, it would not take a sterling memory for
Petraeus to remember a 2011 affair.
Why is the administration’s handling of the affair
significant? Because sloppy vetting of the country’s top spy and not giving
timely notice to the oversight committees was either gross incompetence or a
deliberate evasion of law. Or the sticky situation was used to pressure the
DCI into backing the White House theory. Or there was a much bigger secret
at Benghazi that all involved were (and still are ) trying to cover up.
The two seemingly unrelated incidents are now
merged. Just days before Petraeus is scheduled to testify about the first,
he resigns because of the second, and cancels his Congressional appearances.
The House and Senate have the authority to subpoena him. It is up to them
and the media to find the rot.
Victoria Toensing is a former Chief Counsel for the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former Deputy Assistant Attorney
General, U.S. Department of Justice, where among other assignments she
created the anti-terrorism section. She is a founding partner of diGenova &