Tax Scandal Fells IRS Chief
Holder scolds Issa for ‘shameful’ demeanor
White House releases additional documents related to Benghazi response
How Darrell Issa, a San Diego Republican, became Web advocates’ closest, and most perplexing, ally in Congress
By Nancy Scola
At the frenzied height of last winter’s unprecedented collective rebellion against the Stop Online Piracy Act it was easy to forget that there had once been a time when SOPA was both an obscure and obdurate little piece of legislation, a 78-page digital copyright bill that, both in and out of Washington, was considered inevitable, when it was considered at all.
The moment that seemed to change was on Dec. 15, 2011, the first day of the House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of SOPA’s text. Representative Jason Chaffetz, exasperated by Congress’ slap-dash efforts to rewrite the rules governing the online world, said SOPA was like amateurs doing home surgery.
“We are basically going to reconfigure the Internet and how it is going to work,” said Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, “without bringing in the nerds, without bringing in the doctors.” There wasn’t a soul in that Rayburn House Office Building hearing room “that can tell you how this is going to work,” protested Chaffetz, with the possible exception of three people: Jared Polis, the young Colorado Democrat and co-founder of a digital greeting-card company, Silicon Valley Democrat Zoe Lofgren, “and, certainly, Darrell Issa.”
“‘Nerd’ is something I am proud to be,” the Republican from San Diego humble-bragged in response. “It just means I couldn’t dance and wasn’t terribly good looking.”
Issa (pronounced Ice-uh) had long been the rare technologist in the House of Representatives’ crop of lawyers from “small law firms,” as Issa has described his colleagues. Of the 39 members of the House Judiciary Committee, 31 were trained as attorneys. Issa was the bright white swatch of paint that reveals how off-white the walls have been all along.
Over the next several weeks of the SOPA quarrel, Issa led the charge against SOPA. He repeatedly cited the objections of the Internet’s architects, enumerated the damage the bill could do to the medium’s interlocking parts, and defined its existential threat to the vibrancy of the digital economy. He was, in short, a pain in the side of the House’s Republican leadership, which badly wanted to be able to get back to the time when it could just leave worries over the esoteric enforcement of copyright on the Internet to its Judiciary chairman, and SOPA’s sponsor in Congress, Texas’ Lamar Smith.
Ultimately, with a rejection of SOPA from the public eventually triggering a reaction from the White House, whatever support Smith’s bill had fell apart over the winter holidays. SOPA’s defeat gave new momentum to an “Internet Freedom” movement that had been at a low simmer since the battle over Net neutrality in the mid-to-late-2000s. For the first time in Washington, the primacy of the Internet’s survival was a legitimate political cause. People of otherwise vastly different political ideologies had come together to protect it. And their fiercest ally was Darrell Issa, a six-term congressman who has proven as ambitious, spirited, and complex as the movement itself.
In SOPA’s wake, if there was a Declaration of Internet Freedom that needed early endorsers, Issa was there to put his name to it. If there was an Internet Defense League to be launched, sign Darrell Issa up. If there was an “Internet Freedom” plank to be slipped into the 2012 Republican presidential platform, Darrell Issa was there to shepherd it. Issa emerged as someone those who cherish the Internet hadn’t yet found in Washington – a compatriot who not only understood the digitally networked realm, but one who had enough institutional might and political savvy to elevate its defense to the level of a national cause. Issa was ready to be the Internet advocates’ friend.
They’re beginning to wonder exactly what kind of friend they’ve gotten.
It’s easy to expect that the Internet’s savior would emerge from Silicon Valley or be a Democrat. By reputation and by fact, technologists from California tend to back Democrats; the county that contains most of Silicon Valley voted for Barack Obamaover Mitt Romney by a 42 percentage-point margin, and the president had a huge fundraising advantage among workers at companies like Google, Apple, and eBay. Even former eBay head Meg Whitman failed to get real traction from her industry in her 2010 campaign for governor as a Republican. Same went for the Senate campaign of Carly Fiorina, one-time CEO of Hewlett-Packard, considered Silicon Valley’s founding company.
Instead their man on the inside is Issa, a guy repping San Diego, not San Francisco.
When Issa is not leading hearings on the State Department’s response to the Benghazi assassinations, his days can be consumed by the technology beat. When I met him in his second-floor Capitol Hill suite for an interview in February, he was in the midst of this 30-hour stretch of events:
1.) He made the trip over to the Senate side to pick up a Champion of Internet Innovation Award, presented by a coalition of Web-hosting and other digital infrastructure companies. Issa used the moment to pitch the crowd on his wonky ongoing drive to change how the federal government spends tens of billions of dollars on purchasing information technology.
2.) Issa popped down to the House floor to deliver an impassioned 70-second speech in support of a bipartisan plan to create a spin-off of the 30-year-old Congressional Art Competition that would focus, instead, on students in science, technology, engineering, and math.
3.) As part of the second-ever Startup Day on the Hill, Issa spent half an hour counseling a few dozen assembled entrepreneurs from companies like Etsy, Yelp, and PureDiscovery on effective stratagems for getting Congress’ attention, drawing from his work as the founder of the Vehicle Security Association back in his tech entrepreneur days.
4.) Issa sat down in his office suite for a brainstorming session with a visiting Newt Gingrich. “Newt,” said Issa later of the former Speaker of the House, “is a guy who has 10 ideas before he finishes breakfast. I like to have as many of those periodically as I can, and I consider him good for that. He’s not a tech guy per se, but he really kinda loves, ‘How do we communicate better?’”
As our interview began, Issa entered his office and headed into a small attached kitchen, fixing himself a cup of coffee in a mug that advertised the Viper car alarm. Many Senators and Representatives seem fairly desperate to come across as though they were born members of Congress, but Issa seems eager to remind visitors that before coming there he had a full, hands-on life as a builder of gadgets and a highly successful technology company. The Viper alarm was a compact bit of technology that helped to transform Issa from a working-class kid from Cleveland into, by most lists, Congress’ single wealthiest member.
His Rayburn Building office was something of a shrine to Viper and its affiliated products. Looming over the bullpen where his congressional staff handle constituents’ problems and legislative duties was a cartoonish Viper poster: “No One Dares Come Close.” At the front desk, his staff assistant’s pens were stuffed into a plastic Viper stadium cup. On the bookshelf in his inner office, along with a photo of a turtlenecked young Issa in conversation with Bill Gates and an audiobook copy of Atlas Shrugged, there was a boxed Viper remote car starter kit. On one colonial blue wall of his office were 16 of the 37 patents that Issa either holds or co-holds, references to which he frequently drops in conversation. The framed patents, with names like “Alarm Sensor Multiplexing,” were hung in what looks like the shape of a robot. His office says the arrangement is unintentional.
Issa, a raven-haired, 59-year-old who is stockier than he appears on C-SPAN, described how tech knowledge first came to him through his fingertips, getting his start by fixing radios and other small gadgets in high school. “It was (a) good for money and (b) not all that hard to figure out that most failures in old electronics were little breaks in what we now know as printed circuit boards.” He came to Washington with the ability to “speak engineering,” as Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, puts it, and an eagerness to fix what stands in the way of his fellow tech entrepreneurs as they go about hiring workers and protecting what they invent. “I came here thinking I was going to do patent reform and immigration reform,” said Issa, “and go home.”
But once he was sworn into Congress in 2001, Issa was tempted to bite off a bigger piece of public affairs. He got on the Foreign Affairs Committee to spend time on “world peace” and took a crack at the problem in the Middle East. Shapiro, who has known Issa for a quarter-century, says that when such shuttle diplomacy didn’t work, Issa “was very disappointed.”
“For the first several years in Congress, he stayed away from tech issues,” recalls Shapiro, “but I think he’s come home.”
“What I love about Darrell Issa is that no problem is too big,” says Shapiro, “and he doesn’t seem to need a lot of sleep.”
While Gary Shapiro might be an unalloyed fan of Darrell Issa, other Washington reviews of the congressman tend to be far more polarized; many involve frequent use of the word “but.” For example, “Darrell Issa is very smart, unafraid, and really rich,” praises one strongly Democratic congressional aide, “and that means that he doesn’t care about a lot of things in ways that other members of Congress worry about them,” including the tremendous deference they have historically shown to Hollywood’s schemes, like SOPA, for reining in the Internet. “But,” the aide adds, “his problem is that since he’s taken over Oversight and Government Reform he’s done a really bad job.”
Since being awarded with that gavel in 2010, Issa has swung it, sometimes wildly, at the Obama administration. That track record can cause cognitive dissonance outside Washington, where observers wrestle to reconcile the many Darrell Issas they seem to keep hearing about.
The Darrell Issa who resisted SOPA with such tireless verve is the same Darrell Issa who led Congress to last summer’s unprecedented contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder over the Fast and Furious gunwalking case. The Darrell Issa who has pledged to investigate the possibly overzealous prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old digital advocate who killed himself in January (Issa called Swartz a fellow “progressive activist”) is the same Darrell Issa who caused quite the national stir last February when he refused to let Georgetown’s Sandra Fluke testify on contraception. The hearing was titled, “Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”
To Michael McGeary, Issa’s been a staunch ally, admirably eager to build consensus with whomever’s willing to try. McGeary came up in Democratic campaigns before switching to the Silicon Valley startup life, and he’s now the co-founder of Engine Advocacy, a 15-month-old San Francisco-based lobbying group for tech entrepreneurs. “He’s built products. He holds patents,” says McGeary. “He understands innately our perspective before we even get there.”
Still, McGeary can channel what he suspects some of his friends and compatriots are thinking. “Wait, I’m working with the guy who brought you the California recall?”Yes, that, too, was Darrell Issa.
When Issa’s legislative director brought him a draft copy of the Stop Online Piracy Act on a Tuesday, just a single day before Chairman Smith planned to formally introduce it in the House, it was a rare quiet moment. “We actually had time to look through it,” said Issa. He had an immediate, overwhelming reaction to it. “Every part of the bill was awful,” he recalls. “It was an inherently bad piece of legislation.”
SOPA’s sins, said Issa, were myriad and wicked. To start, not only could it damage the Internet’s infrastructure, but it would put the burden of enforcement on online entrepreneurs — poison pills for both Issa and the tech industry elite. It would also give more work to trial attorneys, whom Issa disdains, and the Justice Department, whose power he’s loath to increase. Issa, working with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden’s office, whipped up an alternative: the OPEN Act. OPEN would, in brief, treat digital copyright violations from overseas as a trade issue and take a follow-the-money rather than a target-the-website approach.
But Issa would go beyond simply opposing SOPA or even offering a variation on its theme. Over a rushed weekend, his team cobbled together Project Madison, something like a Wikipedia for proposed legislation. Citizens could help edit a bill draft and get credit for their contributions. Madison, more than anything else, captured something in the air during the SOPA frenzy: It wasn’t just that SOPA was a lousy piece of legislation, it was that SOPA was a lousy piece of legislation that came out of a closed, rushed, industry-driven process that seemed willfully ignorant of what nearly anyone else thought. This was the networked 21st century, the Era of Collaboration – was this really how a bill still became a law?
Issa didn’t think it had to be. And so he provided, according to his office, the seed money for Project Madison. But House administrators balked at the unconventionality of the whole operation, and in June he spun it off into a nonprofit foundation run by a former staffer from a townhouse in Northeast Washington. “The government,” spat Issa at a recent event, “is too stodgy and stupid to do something like open gov in-house.”
The “open gov” movement has taken root in Washington in recent years and tends to focus on participatory democracy, on bringing people into the work of government. That’s Issa’s interest, too, but it’s steeled with an ultimate objective that tends to get lost in the kumbayas. An empowered citizen is the one best able to help “constrain our own government,” said Issa. To wit: At that Startup Day gathering, Issa joshingly distilled the people-powered success of the anti-SOPA movement as, “We managed to get [my colleagues in Congress] to do nothing at all.”
It’s not that government has no role in the tech realm, said Issa in our interview. It’s that it’s the role of last resort, one to be avoided when technology is on its current arc: getting better and better. “Let something mature as much as you can, as long as every day, every quarter, every month, technology is speeding up and rolling out and improving your life,” Issa advises.
That circles back to the last decade’s debate over net neutrality, so formative that it might well be the Internet Freedom movement’s Battle of Lexington. “Neutrality” advocates pushed for the Federal Communications Commission to make rules saying that Internet service providers shouldn’t be able to discriminate between sources of Internet traffic. But to Issa, “net neutrality is actually a classic example of where the FCC was simply doing a power grab.” In other words, Issa views this notion of leveling the online playing field in an entirely different way from most of his allies in the movement.
And that thinking separates Issa from those who think that now that Washington has discovered the networked world exists, they should make laws to help it along. “He’s an ‘Internet champion,’” grumbles one Internet activist about Issa, “whose position is, ‘No bills.’”
Actually, Issa’s got a bill on that. This past November, Issa went onto Reddit for an “I Am A” forum. He wanted to gauge feedback on his Internet American Moratorium Act (note the acronym). It was a two-year time-out to keep Congress from “messing with the Internet” that prompted some 2,500 comments. Issa was savaged for supposed offenses of varying degrees of absurdity: the debatable notion that, on Internet policy, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing; the plausible idea that the IAMA bill amounted to a backdoor circumvention of neutrality laws; the rather out-there suggestion that Issa was really lulling the public into passivity so he could push through something even more aggressive than SOPA.
But what got Issa hammered hardest was his inarguable and vocal backing of CISPA, a cybersecurity bill meant to grease the sharing of online data by Internet companies, said by critics to “turn the websites we love into legally immune government spies.” (The Internet Defense League even eventually unleashed one of its “cat signals” to warn against it.) So, the Redditors pressed, why exactly did Issa support it?
As on other topics, the arguments that Issa has made in favor of CISPA can be, while full of details, meandering and self-contradicting. The Internet, he tried to explain in our interview, is too central to modern life not to protect from the sort of takedowns, viruses, and snooping practiced by cyber saboteurs. Thus it’s OK to ask companies to hand over data that can help address threats. “Crime reporting,” said Issa, reaching for a comparison, “is a classic example of minimal invasiveness.”
Believing that demands a certain faith that government can be constrained from abusing the data with which it’s entrusted. But Issa quickly pointed to precisely where the executive branch has a track record of not being able to help itself. “We have to make sure that government doesn’t build up a database of information for other uses, and it inherently will,” says Issa. “Under the PATRIOT Act,” which Issa supported, “we gave all sorts of things the government could do, with certain kinds of requirements, and every time the Judiciary Committee reviews it they have flagrantly done what they wanted to do.”
Still, if CISPA (which has since passed the House, though the Obama White House has pledged to veto it) could be reasoned away, even more perplexing was a bill dropped into the House’s hopper by Issa and New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney — on the very day after Congressman Chaffetz bestowed upon Issa the “nerd” honorific. Called the Research Works Act, the stated point of the bill was to stop the spread of federal government policies that mandated free public access to scientific research.
Even at the time, it looked like a strange choice: Issa talks often about the idea that the free flow of knowledge is central to a free people, commiserating at Swartz’s memorial, “All he wanted was freedom of information.” And in other settings he’s gone far further. Swartz, remember, faced decades in prison for downloading millions of academic papers from MIT. “Had he been a journalist,” Issa has been reported as saying, “he would have been praised for it. It would have been like the Pentagon Papers.”
“We got misinformation,” said Issa when I asked him about the seeming discrepancy on the science bill. The publishing lobby, he said, led him to believe it was a technical fix that would actually expose more people to federally funded science. “In retrospect, that was poorly researched and as a result it was a mistake, and I would never drop a piece of language like that again.”
There’s an even more fundamental lesson in the way the Research Works Act played out, said Issa. Coming as it did in the middle of SOPA, his office’s supply of attention was unavoidably limited. The bill was, indeed, a confusingly written piece of legislative language. In retrospect, said Issa, he should have asked for help by posting a draft of the bill on Project Madison. “Then,” he said, “I would have had only one bad day of people telling me why this was not well thought out.”
Instead, he had five weeks of it. Issa and Maloney abandoned the bill when, after getting heat from a self-organized group of academics, the publishers publicly scampered away from it.
If Issa is more inclined than his colleagues to see ideas as raw fodder for constant collaboration, such practice is standard operating procedure in the tech world. That ceaseless churn isn’t always pleasant, said Issa, but from such tumult great innovations — and, heck, maybe good public policy — are born. “Reddit is a great medium because it’s filled with people who don’t trust government,” Issa said. “Some people say it’s brave to go there. No, it’s stupid not to go there. It’s stupid not to go to a place that’s going to give you the worst-case analysis.”
Amongst Issa’s appealing aspects is that he’s largely a happy warrior, in the mold of Ronald Reagan, whose “Hellcats of the Navy” poster hangs in his office foyer. In person he’s warm, quick to smile, and eager to chat. That opens doors and minds, but it only goes so far. Alexis Ohanian, the 30-year-old co-founder of Reddit and a Brooklyn-based Internet activist whose profile, too, surged with SOPA, said he doesn’t entirely know what to make of the sort of ally he has in Issa. Ohanian and Issa have emerged as perhaps the two most prominent players in the post-SOPA world, but their burgeoning alliance isn’t without its complications.
“We’ve had conversations where he’s been pretty chill about being pretty frank with me about stuff, where it’s so clear that we’re on totally opposite sides of issues,” Ohanian said, “but then for SOPA/PIPA stuff, it’s like, [he’s] got our back, and that’s so awesome.” If he and Issa are in league with one another, said Ohanian, it mirrors the broader pro-Internet coalition that has emerged in Washington. “I think enough of us agree,” said Ohanian, “that whether we’re worried about government ruining the Internet or big business ruining the Internet, we don’t want anyone to ruin it, and that’s been the common ground thus far.”
Ohanian stopped to consider for a moment the gap between him and Issa as he seeks to build a coalition. “There’s no good explanation for CISPA.”
Issa isn’t the fire-breathing culture-war combatant in the Gingrich mold that many technologists might be expected to find viscerally abhorrent. As my interview with him broke up, a staffer reminded the congressman of a meeting later that day of the Value Action Team, subset of the House GOP caucus focused on keeping lines open with socially conservative groups. “You can look them up,” he joked. “The other end of the Republican party.”
“I’m more of a libertarian,” said Issa in our interview, arguing that he has much in common with other technologists who might be coming only now to the realization that they want to minimize government involvement in their personal business or professional businesses. “Do I think we’re kindred spirits?” he asked. “Yeah.”
In the end, last winter’s great SOPA fight died when Majority Leader Eric Cantor assured Issa that the bill wouldn’t move ahead without total Republican unanimity, akin to saying that the Stop Online Piracy Act would come up for a vote when pigs flew over the Capitol dome. I asked Issa if his role leading the historic digital revolution that beat back SOPA meant that Cantor or others in the Republican leadership ring him up for guidance when the party faces other major questions on tech. “God,” said Issa, “I only wish it did.”
Time marches on, said Issa. “It’s amazing how, around here, your credibility has to be reinvented every quarter.”
(Nancy Scola is a Brooklyn-based journalist whose work has been published by Reuters, New York, Columbia Journalism Review, The American Prospect, Salon, Seed, Next American City, Capital New York, and The Atlantic. She was formerly a writer and editor at the widely-read online publication techPresident. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
Amb. Pickering Declines to Defend White House, State Department Accounts of Attack
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said on Monday the Committee will formally ask the Benghazi Accountability Review Board co-chairs, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, to submit to bipartisan depositions with Committee investigators. The Oversight Committee seeks the input of the co-chairs in response to assertions made by career State Department officials that the ARB report and process was flawed and let senior officials off the hook. After the interview, Ambassador Pickering told Chairman Issa that both he and Admiral Mullen would accept the invitation.
Issa on Unanswered Questions:“There are three distinct areas that haven’t been answered. First of all, a full understanding of why urgent requests repeatedly for more security before the attacks were denied. We’ve had statements that it wasn’t about money, but at the same time, people are asking for more security – they got less. The British ambassador has two assassination attempts and yet we keep a facility that was not able to withstand even a few minutes of attack. Then, those seven hours while the attack was going on: Was the response correct? Could it have been better? Why wasn’t – why weren’t things at least tried or revved up to be tried? Those are important questions. And then afterwards, how could you change talking points twelve times from what seems to be relatively right to what seems to be completely wrong.”
Issa on Next Step in Investigation:
“On Monday, I’ll be sending Ambassador Pickering a request for a deposition. We’re going to want to go through at length how the ARB reached its conclusions, who it interviewed, and why we believe there are shortcomings .. We have one witness who says I wanted to be interviewed and I wasn’t. One of the questions that came out of our hearing, Gregory Hicks – the acting ambassador – has not been allowed to look at the classified ARB report even though he is the foremost authority on at least what was happening in Tripoli and what the communication was.”
[After the interview, Ambassador Pickering told Chairman Issa that both he and Admiral Mullen would accept the invitation.]
Pickering Declines to Defend White House on Dishonest Account of Events:
David Gregory: “The Press Secretary to the President, Jay Carney, said back in November … this is what he said:”
Carney (video): “The White House and State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of these two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because consulate was inaccurate. Those talking points originated from the intelligence community, they reflected the IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened.”
Gregory: “We know that’s not accurate. We know that, in fact, the State Department, Victoria Nuland was involved in removing from the talking points previous warnings about security and references to a terrorist group – an extremist group – being involved in the attack based on what was being reported on the ground and by intelligence. Is the Administration guilty of playing politics with terrorism?”
Pickering: “With full respect, the Accountability Review Board was there to look at the question of security. We did not examine talking points after the fact. It was not in our remit.”
Click here to watch the full interview with Chairman Issa and Ambassador Pickering on Meet the Press.
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Issa seeks deposition from Benghazi review chairs
Pakistan’s Sharif headed for 3rd term after vote
On Benghazi probe, GOP’s Issa says ‘Hillary Clinton’s not a target’
Despite violence, Pakistan vote shows democracy at work
A Look at major issues facing Pakistan’s new leader
May 10, 2013
Contact: Ali Ahmad, 202.225.0037
Issa and Jordan: IRS Political Retaliation Tactics “Unconscionable”
WASHINGTON- Ahead of an impending report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the Internal Revenue Service today disclosed that it had targeted certain tax-exempt organizations for their political beliefs.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., requested the IG look into allegations of political retaliation last June. In response to the today’s disclosure and apology by IRS, Issa and Jordan issued the following statement:
“The fact that Americans were targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs is unconscionable. The Committee will aggressively follow up on the IG report and hold responsible officials accountable for this political retaliation.”
Ali Ahmad | Communications Adviser
Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Chairman Darrell Issa
Press Line: (202) 225-0037
BlackBerry: (202) 821-9265
At the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing on the Benghazi attacks, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) became emotional when mentioning the four Americans killed in the Benghazi attacks, and said, “There are four people that were not safely evacuated.”
A preview of the House Oversight Committee hearing on what happened in Benghazi; a bear gives us some perspective; and how political intelligence translates to profits.
WASHINGTON – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa today announced three witnesses who will appear at a full committee hearing, “Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage,” on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 11:30 AM in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.
“I applaud these individuals for answering our call to testify in front of the Committee. They have critical information about what occurred before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points from what Administration officials – including those on the Accountability Review Board – have portrayed,” said Issa. “Our committee has been contacted by numerous other individuals who have direct knowledge of the Benghazi terrorist attack, but are not yet prepared to testify. In many cases their principal reticence of appearing in public is their concern of retaliation at the hands of their respective employers. While we may yet add additional witnesses, this panel will certainly answer some questions and leave us with many new ones.”
Mr. Mark Thompson
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism
US Department of State
Mr. Gregory Hicks
Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya
US Department of State
Mr. Eric Nordstrom
Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya
US Department of State
In October 2012, the Oversight Committee held the first hearing on the Benghazi attacks, which exposed denials of security requests and forced the Administration to acknowledge that the attacks were not sparked by a protest of a YouTube video, contrary to claims made by Obama Administration officials.
Chairman’s Preview Statement
12:00pm in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building
On September 11, 2012, four Americans serving their country were murdered by terrorists in Benghazi, Libya. We join all of these brave men’s family and colleagues in mourning their death and honoring their contributions to this country.
Yesterday, the State Department began the process of coming clean about what occurred in Benghazi. They made two witnesses available for interviews with this committee and, for the first time, publicly acknowledged the truth many had long suspected. Contrary to earlier assertions by Administration officials, there was no protest. The attack had nothing to do with a video made in California. The attack was a brutal and coordinated assault by terrorists on the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. I appreciate Secretary Clinton’s efforts to cooperate with this investigation. The steps she has taken to have those working under her tell the truth about what occurred is an important step in the right direction.
However, this hearing has been called for the expressed purpose of examining the security failures that led to the Benghazi tragedy. The “safe haven” within the compound, which some State Department officials seemed to think could protect the Benghazi compound’s inhabitants, did not work. The overall level of security at the compound did not meet the threat. This hearing is the result of concerned citizens, with direct knowledge of the events in Libya, unilaterally reaching out to the Committee. As we look back on what occurred, our challenge is to identify things that clearly went wrong and what – with the benefit of hindsight – should have been done differently.
Accounts from security officials who were on the ground and documents indicate that they repeatedly warned Washington officials about the dangerous situation in Libya. Instead, however, of moving swiftly to respond to these concerns, Washington officials seemed preoccupied with the concept of ‘normalization.’ We will ask our panel what ‘normalization’ means to them.
In the accounts we have heard, it included “artificial timelines” for removing American security personnel and replacing them with local Libyans. This occurred even as training delays, new threats, and logistical barriers seemed to present a compelling case for extending the deployment of American security forces. Requests for extensions and more security by the mission in Libya, however, appear to have often been rejected or – even more disturbingly – officials in Washington told diplomats in Libya not to even make them.
We know how the tragedy in Benghazi ended. The questions I put before our panel today are: What went wrong? What should have been done differently? What lessons must we quickly learn so terrorists do not use the attack on Benghazi as a template for other attacks?
Secretary Clinton has empanelled a blue ribbon board to fully investigate what occurred. Their work is important, and I respect the panel’s mission. The history of such panels – including those that examined the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and the bombing of the USS Cole – suggests, however, that their effort will take months if not years. State Department, however, would be unwise to delay efforts to improve how security questions are considered until after this report is complete.
This Committee wants to understand what the State Department recognizes went wrong, what it can do to avoid a reoccurrence, and how quickly it can institute changes. Protecting our diplomats has long been a bipartisan issue. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans in the House voted to approve the bill that set the funding level for the State Department. I hope that Members today will stay focused on the dangers facing our diplomats and not allow the politics of the election season to creep into today’s hearing. Urgent attention to this security failure is required, that facts about what happened in Libya have driven this investigation and deserve to remain the focus of this hearing.
I appreciate our four witnesses appearing before us today. Each has long records of service to this nation, and we thank them for their efforts. I also express my particular thanks to the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Mr. Chaffetz, for leadership in this investigation. From traveling to Libya to get first-hand accounts from the ground to sharing his extensive expertise on national security, he has made invaluable contributions to what we have learned since we announced this hearing a little over a week ago.
Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Full Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-CA)
11:30 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building and streaming live at oversight.house.gov.
WASHINGTON- House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) today announced that the Committee will convene for a hearing, “Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage,” on Wednesday, May 8 at 11:30 AM in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.
“This Administration has offered the American people only a carefully selected and sanitized version of events from before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks” said Chairman Issa. “Not surprisingly, this version of events casts senior officials in the most favorable light possible.”
“Last October, the Oversight Committee exposed State Department denials of security requests made by our diplomats in Libya and forced the Obama Administration to concede that there never was a protest of a YouTube video. Next week’s hearing will expose new facts and details that the Obama Administration has tried to suppress.”
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
“Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage”
Full Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA)
11:30 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building and streaming live at oversight.house.gov.