by Austin Bay
May 6, 2014
Partisan political advantage, gained at the real or potential life-threatening expense of American personnel undertaking high-risk assignments, was the deep moral issue driving prosecutors in the 2005 Valerie Plame name exposure scandal.
An even more disturbing and exploitative example of high-level Washington political operatives exposing low-level American field personnel to greater physical risk is the moral issue at the core of the on-going Benghazi scandal.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said national security concerns drove his pursuit of Bush Administration officials involved in exposing Plame's status as a covert CIA agent.
For Fitzgerald, Plame's precise operational status at the time her name was revealed was relevant, but not the critical determinant. Institutional damage worried him. Permitting high-level political self-interest to trump a commander-in-chief's duty to support, protect and respect U.S. personnel in high-risk security occupations would harm America's ability to recruit intelligence agents. In a column published in November 2005, I commended Fitzgerald. "Covert intelligence work is difficult. Agents are vulnerable. Fitzgerald's hard-nosed investigation" improves national security. "In an era when human spies are America's first line of defense, Fitzgerald argues, "The notion that someone's identity could be compromised lightly, to me compromises the ability to recruit ... " Bully for the prosecutor. He's right.
The threat to Plame was potential. We know from released State Department documents and some declassified congressional testimony that in 2012, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens argued for months that the terrorist and militant threat to the lives of U.S. personnel in Benghazi was real, potent and increasing week by week. Stevens lost the bureaucratic argument with State for security reinforcements. He was also one of the four Americans to lose his life on September 11, 2012 when an al-Qaida-affiliated militia attacked the Benghazi consulate. The others murdered on that iconic date (the eleventh anniversary of 9-11) were State Department employee Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs working with CIA, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Granular on-the-ground reports emerged in the attack's immediate aftermath. Pro-U.S. Libyans had warned that a well-armed militant Islamist militia intended to launch attacks in Benghazi. The Obama Administration, however, made the bizarre claim that an anti-Muslim Internet video produced by a crank California filmmaker had insulted peaceful demonstrators. According to Obama Administration spokespeople, in a passionate outburst of religious indignation, this flock of inflamed faithfuls spontaneously assaulted the consulate, murdered Stevens and Smith, and then fought a six-hour long gun battle with the ex-SEALs.
The Administration's tale was a crock that did not explain immediately evident and indisputable facts. The attackers -- a militia of between 200 and 400 fighters -- employed mortars and heavy machine guns.
Last week, after filing a federal lawsuit accusing the Administration of violating the Freedom of Information Act, a watchdog group obtained an email that strongly suggests the video-did-it baloney was a calculated media ruse. In the email, President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, tells Ambassador Susan Rice that on TV news programs she must "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
But why would the White House want to blame a crank video instead of blaming the terrorist perpetrators, especially when the terrorists murdered an American ambassador?
The answer: contemptibly self-serving politics. President Obama faced a November 2012 election. He had assured the American electorate that al-Qaida was "on the run." He swore, worldwide, his presidency would improve America's image among Muslims. He also portrayed himself as a peacemaker and war-concluder. A successful and planned 9-11 anniversary attack by al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists would give voters sound reason to doubt these self-elevating presidential touts.
Pre-election inquiries might reveal that the Administration downplayed or ignored security threats in Libya. In the weeks before the election, the appearance of peace mattered more than ensuring the safety of deployed U.S. personnel by adding security forces or placing military forces on alert.
Lying to hide a grievous policy failure is bad enough. The video lie also cheapened the sacrificial heroism of Woods and Doherty who attempted to defeat what they knew was a terrorist onslaught. Now we know the Administration failed to provide congressional investigators with Rhodes' email. That failure smacks of criminal obstruction. It is time to bring Fitzgerald back. The sordid Benghazi episode requires a no-nonsense special prosecutor who values the sacrifice of American security personnel.