As the U.S. Senate continues to consider the Administration's national security nominees, Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today released the following statement on what we do know and what we still do not know about the attack on the U.S. Special Mission facility in Benghazi, Libya that killed four brave Americans on September 11, 2012:
"What we know:
· Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not aware of the classified cable that, according to published media reports, Ambassador Chris Stevens sent in August 2012 stating that the U.S. Special Mission facility in Benghazi could not survive a sustained assault from one or more of the militia groups that were operating in eastern Libya. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was "surprised' to learn that Secretary Clinton had never seen the cable.
· After the initial reports about the attack in Benghazi, Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey met with President Obama during a previously scheduled meeting. Both Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that this was the last time either of them spoke with the President during the attack in Benghazi. We also know that the President spoke for nearly one hour that night with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and held a press conference on the attack at the White House the following morning before departing for a political campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada. We do not know what other actions the President took during the attack in Benghazi.
· In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Clinton stated that the FBI was the first agency to debrief the U.S. personnel who were evacuated from Benghazi on September 12. It took multiple days before those reports, which made clear that there never was a spontaneous protest outside of the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, were provided to the U.S. intelligence community.
· General Dempsey testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. military never provided additional support to the U.S. Mission in Benghazi prior to September 11, 2012 because they never received a request to do so -- despite the fact that the U.S. Mission in Benghazi had been attacked twice already in the preceding months, and despite Ambassador Stevens' August cable stating that the U.S. Mission in Benghazi could not survive a sustained attack by militants operating in the area.
· Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that, from the beginning of the crisis on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, they believed it was a terrorist attack based on the nature of the event. Similarly, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has cited a transcript of a September 14 meeting between then-CIA Director David Petraeus and the members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in which, according to Senator Feinstein, "Petraeus very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack.'
· In an address on the morning of September 12, 2012, President Obama spoke of "acts of terror,' but later that day, in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes,' he refused to characterize the attack in Benghazi as a terrorist attack. He then spent nearly two additional weeks claiming that he did not know whether the incident in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, contrary to what the then-Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said that they believed to be true at the time.
"What we do not know:
· We do not know whether the President was made aware of the classified cable that, according to published media reports, Ambassador Chris Stevens sent in August 2012, stating that the U.S. Mission in Benghazi could not survive a sustained assault from one or more of the threatening militia groups that were operating in eastern Libya.
· We do not know whether the President's national security staff made him aware of the attacks on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi that occurred in April and June of last year and the assassination attempt on the British Ambassador in Benghazi around the same time.
· If the President was informed, we do not know what actions he may have taken.
· We do not know what person or persons, representing what executive branch agency or agencies, changed the unclassified talking points to remove references to Al-Qaeda and a terrorist attack in describing the attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi.
· We do not know why, on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history, after multiple attacks last year on U.S. and Western interests in Libya, and with rising insecurity in countries across the Middle East, U.S. military units and assets in the region were not ready, alert, and positioned to respond in a timely fashion to what should have been a foreseeable emergency -- despite the fact that there is a U.S. military base in Souda Bay, Crete, which is a short flight to Benghazi.
· We do not know what the President did or who he was in contact with during the seven hours of the attack, and we do not know why the President did not reach out to Libyan President Magariaf to ensure deployment of a U.S. tactical team that was held up for three hours at a Libyan airport.
· We do not know why the testimonies of the U.S. personnel who were evacuated from Benghazi on September 12 -- eyewitnesses who knew there never was a demonstration outside the U.S. Mission -- were not shared in a timely way with, and immediately factored in to the judgments of, our intelligence community.
· We do not know whether this failure reflects obstacles that still exist to the free sharing of information across executive branch agencies, which was a key concern of the 9/11 Commission.
· We do not know why the Administration did not do more to support and assist the new Libyan government that took power after the fall of Qaddafi, including in the establishment of civilian-led national security forces that operate under central government control, a counterterrorism force that is trained and equipped to combat Al Qaeda and its affiliates, national justice and prison systems, and effective control over the immense stockpiles of weapons and dangerous materials that exist across Libya. The result of this so-called "light footprint' approach was that Al-Qaeda, its affiliated groups, and local militias were able to establish sanctuaries almost uncontested in the ungoverned spaces of eastern Libya. Some of these individuals were involved in the attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi."