Despite congressional Republicans' role in slashing funding for security at U.S. diplomatic outposts abroad, congressional Republicans held a hearing yesterday on security lapses at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The point was to shine a light on what transpired during last month's attack, but lawmakers may have disclosed more than they bargained for.
Dana Milbank noted that House Republicans apparently "accidentally blew the CIA's cover." After Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) "alerted potential bad guys that something valuable" was in a photo shown during the hearing, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) "attempted to lock the barn door through which the horse had just bolted."
"I would direct that that chart be taken down," he said, although it already had been on C-SPAN. "In this hearing room, we're not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities."
May still be a facility? The plot thickened -- and Chaffetz gave more hints. "I believe that the markings on that map were terribly inappropriate," he said, adding that "the activities there could cost lives."
In their questioning and in the public testimony they invited, the lawmakers managed to disclose, without ever mentioning Langley directly, that there was a seven-member "rapid response force" in the compound the State Department was calling an annex. One of the State Department security officials was forced to acknowledge that "not necessarily all of the security people" at the Benghazi compounds "fell under my direct operational control."
And whose control might they have fallen under? Well, presumably it's the "other government agency" or "other government entity" the lawmakers and witnesses referred to; Issa informed the public that this agency was not the FBI.
It was hard to miss that they were talking about the CIA.
All of this, incidentally, could have been part of a closed-door hearing, in which administration officials and committee members explored images, maps, timelines, and related intelligence in detail, without fear of disclosing classified information. But that would have defeated the purpose.
Issa and congressional Republicans are trying to create an election issue, and a legitimate hearing, dealing with sensitive, classified information out of public view and away from the cameras, wouldn't have had the kind of political impact the GOP wanted.
Republicans wanted to embarrass the Obama administration. In the process, they clumsily painted a new picture: "the victims may have been let down not by the State Department but by the CIA. If the CIA was playing such a major role in these events, which was the unmistakable impression left by Wednesday's hearing, having a televised probe of the matter was absurd."
Issa hearings usually are.