Speech and Q&A
ROGER ARONOFF: But our next speaker is Chris Farrell, Christopher Farrell, the Director of Investigations and Research with Judicial Watch. Chris served as a military intelligence officer specializing in counterintelligence and human intelligence. His advanced training included the U.S. army, advanced counterintelligence training course, and the Combined Armed Services Staff School of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, in addition to graduate work in national security studies, specializing in unconventional warfare and terrorism. In civilian life Farrell has served as a contractor for the Defense and Intelligence communities, and also is a senior staff associate for Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Mailman School of Public Health. He joined Judicial Watch in 1999 as the organization’s Director of Investigations and Research. He serves as their main representative to the United Nations headquarters in New York. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Farrell.
CHRISTOPHER FARRELL: Thank you, Roger. I’d like to associate my remarks with those of Mr. Wolf’s a few moments ago. Mr. Wolf came by Judicial last week on Monday. We held an event there discussing many of the topics he touched on and I endorse, literally, every syllable that came out of his mouth a few moments ago. Judicial Watch, as an organization, promotes transparency, integrity and accountability in government, politics, and the law, and we do so in a way that is a little bit different than a lot of other public policy organizations in this town, because we hold events like this, we write papers, but I’m very proud to say that we sue the government a lot. And when we do sue the government, we compel them to produce records and documents that otherwise the public could never have access to. Periodically, we produce special reports, and we currently have a special report that came out this past Monday which is really an update to our first Benghazi report that published back in January. And I’d like to talk about the report a little bit and then take some questions that you may have.
Our first Benghazi report, and what really is part one of this new report that we’ve issued, is a review and assessment of the ARB. The ARB is the Accountability Review Board that the State Department formed immediately after Benghazi to supposedly get to the bottom of what happened there. It was chaired by retired Ambassador [Thomas] Pickering and retired Navy Admiral [Michael Mullen], and they raised some points about could or could not have happened, what the deficiencies were, where the breakdown was at the consulate.
We decided to go out and get a Diplomatic Security service agent to serve as our expert to analyze the ARB’s findings, and so when the ARB report came out in December of last year, we got a DSS agent by the name of Raymond Fournier, who had just retired at the end of December. So he was freshly retired, brand new. He had knowledge of all of the practices, procedures, lines of communication, chain of command–all the details, all the functions, all the activities within the State Department. He himself had served as an RSO, a regional security officer, the chief security officer for the State Department in five different embassies around the world. So this man knew of what he spoke. He had 30 years of experience as an RSO and he took apart the ARB’s findings, sliced and diced it [in] an excellent detailed list of questions. Those questions and his commentary are in our report and I commend the report to you; I brought copies with me here today. It’s also available on our website at JudicialWatch.org. Read that report because, instead of sorta the self-serving, I’m going to ask and answer my own questions outline of the ARB, where no one gets their hair mussed, Ray goes in and takes apart the report, and asks all those inconvenient and awkward questions that to this day have not been answered, not adequately, not sufficiently.
So, we’re very fortunate at Judicial Watch because we have experts like Ray Fournier to come in and give us advice and assistance on these types of reports, but we’re also very fortunate because on our staff alone we have folks who are former military officers, intelligence officers, analysts, attorneys, and journalists, all within our investigations and research department. So we’re not guessing at what we think should or shouldn’t happen. We have experienced, credentialed folks who have all the right diplomas, and experience, and background to really provide insightful analysis. And that touches on the first part of the report, with regard to the ARB, what happened at Benghazi.
You know, this is going to be a shocker to some folks, but there’s no such thing as a “Special Mission Compound,” or “Special Mission Consulate.” It doesn’t exist. It’s a manufactured term by the State Department in an attempt to do an end run around Congress. There’s no such entity at the State Department known as a Special Mission Consulate or Special Mission Compound. It’s not in the law. It doesn’t exist. Well, then why did they create it? Why do they keep calling it that? Because they need to. They need to have an excuse or an explanation as to what they were doing in Benghazi. So, those are, those are details that the Administration would rather airbrush out of the narrative. They don’t want to discuss how there’s no legal standing for the activities that took place at Benghazi because it puts them in a very awkward position.
We have filed more than 23 FOIA requests with various government agencies, one mandatory declassification review, and, most importantly, four lawsuits against the government to compel production of records about Benghazi. And those four lawsuits are against the State Department, the Director of National Intelligence–and then, three additional State Department lawsuits seeking everything from things like Ambassador Rice’s talking points. Remember how those were massaged, and manipulated, and double-talked by the likes of Director of National Intelligence [James] Clapper? You’ll recall Mr. Clapper. He’s the gentleman who referred to the Muslim Brotherhood as a “secular civil organization.” That General Clapper. Yeah, I wanted to make sure you understood which one I was talking about.
So, the first part of our report has to do with the Special Mission Compound and what happened in the, and the ARB of the review afterwards. The second portion of our report, which is the updated part, we’ve just published. [It] has a few headings that I’m just going to run through quickly and then I’ll take questions.
Part one is about the lawsuits I just discussed, the four lawsuits that we filed. We’re the only organization in the country litigating in federal court to get records and documents concerning Benghazi. Nobody else is doing it. And if you think the government’s going to give up records on its own, just because it feels like it, you’ll get nothing more than self-serving records and documents. You’ll recall the administration produced on a Friday night a hundred pages of supposed emails between the White House, the NSC, and the State Department about Susan Rice’s talking points. Those were over 100 of the most self-serving, highly-edited pages of documents you could possibly imagine. They were nonsense, they were a fragment, a portion of the whole story.
The only way that this government produces records is where you file a lawsuit. And, frankly, even then I don’t have a lot of confidence, because what you have is government attorneys defending an agency or a department, and they’re in front of, really, in the most cases, of the federal judiciary, just another government attorney–except that he’s wearing a black robe. But, nonetheless, that is the vehicle, that’s the opportunity that we have. That’s the remedy for us to get in front of a court and have the government explain to you, to ourselves, to this commission why they’re not producing records that they’re supposed to under law.
There’s a segment of the report that we call “No one left to lie to,” which is a reference–some of you who will not be old enough to recall this–but it’s a reference to a gentleman by name of Dave Schippers who during the Clinton impeachment talked about how the Clinton Administration and the President had lied, and lied, and lied so often that there was no one left to lie to. And that’s the instance and that’s the circumstance here when it comes to Benghazi.
You all know about Ambassador Rice and her repeated lies–and that’s what they were. When you don’t tell the truth, it’s a lie. There’s some folks who are very delicate, very sensitive about using that word. We’re not. When you deliberately mislead someone, it’s a lie, and that person, Ambassador Rice, deliberately misled the American public–as did the President when he was at the UN General Assembly on the 26th of September, and repeated the same phony story about a YouTube video. The only person in all of this Benghazi saga that’s sitting in jail is who? The guy who made that YouTube video. That’s a fact. Of all the cast of characters, the four State Department people who were supposedly yanked from their positions. Guess what Secretary Kerry’s first official act was? To reinstate them. They spent almost a year on administrative leave with full pay. That’s a paid vacation, let me translate that for you [in] Washington speak. That’s a paid vacation for a year, and Secretary Kerry’s first act was to reinstate them. No consequences. Lies, distortions, manipulations, foot-dragging. No consequences. How long are you going to sit there and be fed this line of garbage and be forced to just choke it down? That’s what you’re faced with.
So there’s loose ends and unanswered questions. I just touched on a few of them. That’s the next portion of our report. Two things I want to mention there: the no arrests, of course. Khattala, one of the ringleaders of the attack, is hanging out in Benghazi in cafes, sipping espresso, being interviewed by CNN. FBI can’t get to him, somehow, but CNN and Fox News can get to him.
I want to talk to you about– Here’s the sentence, here’s the headline, that the Obama Administration does not want broadcast anywhere or printed anywhere: “Obama Administration Arms Al Qaeda.” That’s it, right there. Stop. That’s what they don’t want broadcast or printed anywhere. But that’s what it appears to be. There’s been some sort of hedging around about it, but that’s, when you cut through all the layers of explanation of how they got there, the bottom line ends up that that is the most likely explanation for all of this concerning Benghazi. So how did that happen? Maybe it’s Mr. Brennan sitting in the National Security Council playing fast and loose with various aspects of Title 10 and Title 50 of the law. Title 10 governs military operations; Title 50 governs intelligence operations.
The President, wearing his commander-in-chief hat can order JSOC–Joint Special Operations Command–to do certain things under both Title 10 and Title 50, because JSOC has its own inherent organic intelligence capability. So you can run a military operation with a very strong intelligence component in it. You could also flip it around on its head and run an intelligence operation with a very strong paramilitary element to it. So playing fast and loose with Title 10 and Title 50, the White House, and in particular Mr. Brennan, can do some pretty fast and loose activities that are not necessarily subject to a whole lot of Congressional scrutiny, and everyone should pause for a second and think about that.
Secretary Clinton famously asked, ‘What difference does it make?’ Mr. Wolf answered that. There’s four dead Americans. If there were four dead Congressmen, can you imagine the uproar? If there’s no big difference, if it really doesn’t matter, if it’s all just some sort of rhetorical exercise from the faculty lounge, everyone sitting around thinking great thoughts. If it doesn’t make any difference, why are people signing [non-disclosure agreements] and being polygraphed? What difference does it make, right? That should be the response back. So when they come in and say, ‘Hey, listen, it’s your turn on the box, let’s go in the next room. What difference does it make? That’s what the Secretary says.’ No one’s able to quite resolve or explain this dissonance between these two points of view. Either it’s a really big deal and it’s a huge state secret, or what difference does it make? Right? Which one is it? Pick. It’s a tough question to answer.
Mr. Wolf has on his website, and we have published in our report, questions that make a difference. Mr. Wolf went on the floor of the House in July and August and had a Question of the Day, and I commend those questions to you. We’ve wrapped them up and included them in our report because we think they’re that important. So I’m not going to give away the farm and give you every question, or explain every bit of analysis that we’ve done, but this report that we have, I think is very compelling hard-hitting stuff. We don’t pull any punches. We call the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade just that, we call it a Martyrs Brigade. When you look at various chronologies online, if you’re looking at Benghazi, that term “martyrs” is airbrushed out of the narrative. All of the sudden they’re not–it’s the 17th of February Brigade. What happened to the word martyrs and why has it been removed? There’s a reason why. Does everyone know that the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade that was charged with guarding our consulate, did you know the guards were unarmed? The guard force is unarmed. So, 102 footnotes later, 29 pages with a nine-page chronology, probably the most detailed chronology on Benghazi you’ll find. Let me commend again to you our special report, available on our website at JudicialWatch.org. I have some copies here that I left at the front desk. I am happy to answer any of your questions.
CLARE LOPEZ: Yeah, I’ll ask a question here. Thank you very much for all of your efforts to get at these documents. I think you’re right. There’s no other way that they’re going to be pried loose except by FOIA or subpoena. I just wanted to ask, what is the likelihood, do you think, or the possibility that the National Security Council–as you mentioned, John Brennan at the time–there with, perhaps, special operations forces, was working perhaps at cross-purposes or separately from Department of State, Ambassador Stevens, even Secretary of State Clinton, that those in Benghazi–or even in Tripoli–did not necessarily know, Ambassador Stevens did not necessarily know, what kind of special operations were going on elsewhere in the country and throughout the Sahel perhaps, against the very al Qaeda militias and leadership figures with whom Ambassador Stevens had been drinking tea for the last two years?
FARRELL: Excellent question, Clare, thank you. I think it’s enormously important, first of all, to acknowledge and thank the members of our military, particularly those in the Special Operations world, and the intelligence officers that we have out there, for the incredible work that they do. I’m a former Army intelligence officer. I spent most of my time doing offensive and defensive counterespionage operations, but I also did some work with the special operations world, and have nothing but the highest respect. We’re very fortunate because we have people that we give nearly impossible–and sometimes impossible–jobs to, and they say, ‘We understand the guidance, and we’re going to carry it out.’ And they go ahead and they do it. And there is, I commented to a colleague of mine at work: ‘There is an entire alternate universe out there that you know nothing about and that’s a good thing, because if you did your hair would stand on end.’ There’s a lot of people going in harms way, doing tough, nearly impossible things, and they pull it off, and it’s smooth, and there isn’t a ripple, and you don’t know, and that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those are the highest, best qualities of folks in our military and folks in our intelligence–all the different flavors and stripes of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, CIA, DIA, everybody. It’s amazing what happens. Amazing.
So, given that, here’s where things get dicey. Every administration sometimes has various characters in it that want to exercise all their muscles to the fullest degree. They want to take control of the XBox machine; they want to press all the buttons. And so when you have somebody, perhaps like Mr. Brennan, sitting in the National Security Council–and I mentioned before, earlier the differentiation between Title 10 and Title 50 activities. There’s a way to do things that don’t receive a lot of Congressional scrutiny and oversight, where you have intelligence organizations with a very vigorous military capability, and you have Joint Special Operations Command guys with a built in organic intelligence capability, and they can go out and do stuff, and the Ambassador may have a general kind of, ‘Hey boss, let me tell you, we got guys out in the field trying to do X, Y, and Z.’ ‘Okay, thanks!’ They’re not telling him how they’re doing X, Y, and Z, and, frankly, there’s a lot of times the Ambassador, frankly, doesn’t want to know how they’re doing X, Y, and Z. He just wants to know, ‘Okay, I’ve got some JSOC guys out there and they’re doing stuff.’ And that’s good enough. That’s briefing the Ambassador. That checks the block for getting the job done.
But sometimes things get ugly, and confusing, and accidents happen, unintended consequences, complications, and that’s where stuff gets rough–and that’s where things become politically embarrassing. So, yes, there’s folks doing all kinds of stuff all around the world. Ambassadors are usually aware. Ambassadors sometimes find themselves in an awful tough position, where they are at odds, or let’s say not completely parallel and synced up with the operations or activities of intel guys, or special operations guys, in the country, and there’s a temptation either to minimize what’s briefed or try to do some sort of end run. Not unlawfully, not illegally, just that there’s competing requirements and demands. So it may be the case that there’s a bad guy in Libya, Yasin al Suri [phonetic] is what he’s known by. He may have been on somebody’s kill list.
We had a 6,000 word New York Times front-page article where the Administration bragged how they had a kill list, how the president would go through the list and would decide who’s going to die and who wasn’t. Well maybe this guy was on the president’s kill list, and maybe guys from JSOC were out there doing their thing, and maybe nobody told Ambassador Stevens, and maybe some guys got upset because of a gun-running operation and trying to kill this guy, al Suri, and it all got complicated real fast, and somebody decided to take it out against a not very discreet, not very secret U.S. consulate and Annex in Benghazi. Maybe. Those are all maybes, but I mention those things because I want you to think about them because it might be true, but I don’t know.
ARONOFF: Go ahead.
DICK BRAUER: One, you have two JSOC plank holders in this room, and thank you for the kind words. I think that maybe we can crack this nut by looking at who was recording and who was watching what was going on. Within the first hour and ten minutes we had a reconnaissance drone overhead, and we had voice transmissions, too. So they’re seeing and hearing. I made a list of some of the command centers that are listening: the National Military Command Center, White House Situation Room, CIA Ops Center, Counterterrorism Center, European Command, African Command, Special Ops Command, SACEUR, NATO, Central Command, Transportation Command, National Military Joint Intelligence Center, State Department Operations Center, CIA Ops Center, NSA Ops Center, U.S. Navy, multiple threat alert centers and the FBI. Those folks, there have to be staffs, there have to be sit reps, there have to be watch officers, senior commanders, that are recording and keeping logs. Is there any way we could get? Because I think the truth as to where the disposition of forces–I believe that was your term, sir–disposition of forces. Where were they? Naval assets, air, ground, and joint folks–the Brits, whatever. I mean we never called for help from anybody. We just sat back. Can we get to those documents in any form or fashion?
FARRELL: Yes. That’s the straight up answer. It’s a direct answer is yes. I’m happy to tell you today the Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State Case Number 13-00242, assigned to Judge Leon [phonetic], which was filed on the 2nd of–excuse me, the 25th of February, where we sought, in this case, any and all videos and photographs depicting U.S. consulate facilities in Benghazi, etc., etc. It goes on from there. That’s just one of the four lawsuits. Again, we have 19 additional FOIA requests pending for all sorts of things like you’ve described, sir. So, the very first still photography released by the United States government concerning Benghazi was produced as a result of one of our lawsuits. We compelled production because we said how can you argue that a still photograph of a burned out building in any way compromises security? And of course it doesn’t.
So they produced records to us, but what you mentioned, when it comes to still and video, audio, documentation, logs. Duty officers write stuff down. I’ve been one. X, Y, and Z occurred, so and so called in. We’re running live feed of an attack on whatever. Folks write this stuff down. This is not a fly-by-night stream-of-consciousness operation. Very professional people who dedicate their lives to doing this stuff, document and record every bit of this. And we’re in a position now where two things are thrown out as blocks to try to forestall investigation. One, is, ‘Oh, it’s all classified.’ And I’ll buy some of that, but a lot of that is all just plain history. It’s not classified, it’s not a current ongoing issue concerning what happened in Benghazi, it’s water under the bridge. The second thing you’ll get is ‘Well, it’s under investigation.’ Well I got a little news for you. There’s probably still guys who walk around the grassy knoll in Dallas, right, as far as being under investigation. So, there’s limits.
We just got in a separate matter altogether, not related to Benghazi, we just got an excuse from the, trying to remember which department it was. I want to say Department of Justice. No, excuse me, Department of Homeland Security, saying that, ‘well, we can’t give you Mohammed Atta’s immigration file.’ We’ve been asking for this now for 12 years. We can’t give it to you because the FBI says 9/11 is still under investigation. So one of the worst phony excuses to stop or to forestall outside oversight of what the government’s doing is ‘It’s under investigation. We can’t discuss it.’ Mr. Wolf mentioned that before, a couple times, in examples. We don’t buy that. It’s not an appropriate use of that exemption to withhold information.
MARY CLAIRE KENDALL: Just a couple of questions here. First of all, what you mentioned about the fact that the consulate was extralegal. Couldn’t that be the elephant in the living room? I mean, if it’s extralegal, then, you have an investigation there by virtue of that fact.
KENDALL: The second question is, I understand from sources–I don’t think it’s been in the press, but there was a fire at a State Department Annex building in Tysons Corner which apparently housed a lot of Benghazi documents. And it was just about the time when there was this, we were all on pins and needles waiting for all our embassies to be attacked. Do you know anything about that?
FARRELL: I don’t, I don’t. Other than just the press reports, the same thing that you mentioned, that there had been a fire. But I don’t know anything beyond that.
FARRELL: One thing I just want to highlight before I close and that’s what Mr. Wolf said concerning a Select Committee. Five different Congressional Committees have all asked questions about Benghazi, and I have to believe that there’s a good intention there, that they’re trying to do the right thing, that they’re trying to uncover what happened. But really, with all due respect to the various Congressmen doing their thing, it’s incredibly disjointed and very unsatisfying and I think Mr. Wolf’s remarks about how you really need to structure it differently, go about it differently, I agree with completely. I would agree with that.
But one thing that I also would want to caution you about, and this also something you’re not allowed to say this in Washington, D.C., but I’ll say it anyway. These committee members and their staffs become captives of the agencies and the departments that they’re conducting oversight of. That’s very naughty to say. I’m going to get in trouble for saying that, but it’s true. These are all good folks. I’m not knocking them. I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m not saying that they’re dishonest, but just the nature of the beast, what happens is you’ve got staff members on these committees who spend a lot of time hanging out with guys from particular departments and agencies. And what happens when you travel overseas, you go to certain briefings, you get involved in the same loop or circle. There’s a certain protectiveness. So you’ll find guys on theArmed Services Committee who don’t want a lot of hard questions asked of special operations guys, because, ‘Hey, they’re our guys.’ And that’s true. But the way to look at that is, they’re our guys and they deserve respect, and they’re our guys and we shouldn’t ask them to do the impossible. They’re our guys and we should put them in a bad spot. That’s how we should protect them, not they’re our guys, and we can’t ask them questions. There’s a difference there, and the same is true with the Intelligence Oversight Committee. They like flying around the world and learning cool secrets and hanging out in various facilities and compounds in different places and learning stuff. But there’s–and it’s part of, it’s just human nature. There’s a tendency to become captives of the departments and agencies that you act as an oversight of, and that’s, I’m not condemning anything. I’m just saying that’s a cautionary note that in the defense of good guys doing good stuff, and good women doing good stuff, our brave special operations guys and intel officers, you do them a disservice when you so protect and so bolster, that let’s just say there’s resistance from [Unintelligible] and from Armed Services Committee to support a Select Committee because they’re trying to protect their guys. I get, I get protecting their guys for all the good reasons but don’t do it in a way that undermines accountability, and there is a difference.