New Beng­hazi pho­tos sur­face Im­ages raise ques­tions on whether State Depart­ment with­held ev­i­dence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CHRIS­TINE DOLAN

The State Depart­ment has be­lat­edly re­leased dozens of pho­tos of the af­ter­math of last year’s ter­ror­ist at­tack on the U.S. diplo­matic mis­sion in Beng­hazi af­ter The Wash­ing­ton Times in­quired about the authen­tic­ity of photographs it re­ceived from a Welsh se­cu­rity con­trac­tor as­signed to the doomed Amer­i­can out­post in east­ern Libya.

Ju­di­cial Watch, a con­ser­va­tive watch­dog group, had re­quested all pho­tos and videos of the be­sieged diplo­matic mis­sion un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act in De­cem­ber and Fe­bru­ary, and the State Depart­ment re­leased only seven photographs in June.

But this week, af­ter weeks of in­quiries by The Times about pho­tos it re­ceived, the State Depart­ment re­leased a trove of photographs show­ing build­ings and ve­hi­cles ablaze dur­ing the Sept. 11, 2012, ter­ror­ist at­tack that killed U.S. Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens and three other Amer­i­cans. Other pho­tos show ran­sacked of­fices, burned-out cars and Ara­bic graf­fiti scrawled on walls.

The State Depart­ment said it had for­warded the photographs to the FBI for its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the at­tack and sub­mit­ted them to the ac­count­abil­ity re­view board, the in­de­pen­dent panel that con­ducted the State Depart­ment’s manda­tory probe of the Beng­hazi in­ci­dent and events lead­ing up to it. The depart­ment also shared the photographs with mem­bers of Congress look­ing into the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the at­tack.

Ju­di­cial Watch was in­cred­u­lous over the sud­den re­lease of never-be­fore-pub­lished photographs and crit­i­cized the State Depart­ment for with­hold­ing re­quested videos of the at­tack and its af­ter­math.

“The new pho­tos re­veal a level of to­tal dev­as­ta­tion thor­oughly be­ly­ing Obama’s orig­i­nal cover story that the car­nage was per­pe­trated by a bunch of ran­dom mal­con­tents up­set over an un­pleas­ant video,” Ju­di­cial Watch Pres­i­dent Tom Fit­ton said Wed­nes­day on the group’s web­site. “The fact that we’ve had to wait nearly a year and file a fed­eral law­suit for ba­sic doc­u­men­tary ma­te­rial of the at­tack shows that this ad­min­is­tra­tion is still in cover-up mode. And now the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion brings the Beng­hazi stonewall to a whole new level by with­hold­ing video of the at­tack us­ing friv­o­lous ar­gu­ments such as ‘pri­vacy.’”

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, ex­pressed out­rage over the State Depart­ment’s de­lay in pro­vid­ing ma­te­ri­als re­quested un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

“It’s in­ex­cus­able that mem­bers of Congress and the press who want to learn the truth about what hap­pened in Beng­hazi have had to use FOIA re­quests to ob­tain an­swers. Ab­sent the cre­ation of a House se­lect com­mit­tee that will hold pub­lic hear­ings and have cross-ju­ris­dic­tional sub­poena au­thor­ity, I don’t think the Amer­i­can peo­ple will ever learn the truth,” said Mr. Wolf, who has been call­ing for a Water­gate-style com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate Beng­hazi.

“To date, there have been too few an­swers and ab­so­lutely no ac­count­abil­ity,” he said. “Just what ex­actly were the State Depart­ment and CIA do­ing in Beng­hazi that has led the gov­ern­ment to go to such great lengths to ob­struct re­quests for in­for­ma­tion?”

Days af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tack on the diplo­matic com­pound and a nearby CIA an­nex, Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials pub­licly blamed the as­sault on spon­ta­neous protests over an anti-Mus­lim video pro­duced in the U.S. But in­tel­li­gence per­son­nel de­ter­mined soon af­ter the at­tack that it was car­ried out by heav­ily armed, trained mil­i­tants con­duct­ing a well-planned as­sault.

Repub­li­cans have ac­cused the ad­min­is­tra­tion of cov­er­ing up the mil­i­tants’ in­volve­ment be­cause it would have con­tra­dicted a theme in Pres­i­dent Obama’s re-elec­tion cam­paign — that al Qaeda had been dec­i­mated.

The pho­tos ob­tained by The Times were ver­i­fied as au­then­tic by the State Depart­ment this week, and they of­fer mute tes­ti­mony to the events of that night and lend ur­gency to ques­tions still swirling about the U.S. mis­sion and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the at­tack and its af­ter­math. The Times pre­vi­ously re­ported that U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces were in Libya at the time of the at­tack and tried to res­cue Amer­i­cans at the CIA an­nex, con­trary to ad­min­is­tra­tion state­ments. Two of those troops have re­ceived awards for hero­ism for their ac­tions.

The Times re­ceived the pho­tos from Dy­lan Davies, a spe­cial­ist with the Bri­tish se­cu­rity firm Blue Moun­tain Group, which was con­tracted by the State Depart­ment to train Libyans how to pro­tect the diplo­matic mis­sion in Beng­hazi.

Us­ing the pseu­do­nym “Mor­gan Jones,” Mr. Davies was in­ter­viewed last month on CBS’ “60 Min­utes” about the at­tack. His ac­count of scal­ing a wall at the diplo­matic com­pound and con­fronting a ter­ror­ist dur­ing the as­sault has been widely dis­cred­ited.

But the photographs he took the day af­ter the at­tack — and those taken dur­ing the on­slaught by a lo­cal guard — have been sub­mit­ted by the State Depart­ment to investigators look­ing into the de­ba­cle. Many of those pho­tos are the same as those re­cently re­leased by the State Depart­ment.

“The Blue Moun­tain Group had been un­der con­tract to pro­vide lo­cal guard ser­vices at our com­pound in Beng­hazi,” said Alec Ger­lach, a spokesman for the State Depart­ment. “As a con­trac­tor of the State Depart­ment, the Blue Moun­tain Group pro­vided in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing photographs and an in­ci­dent re­port, to depart­ment of­fi­cials with whom they had been in reg­u­lar con­tact through­out their con­tract agree­ment. Th­ese and other ap­pro­pri­ate ma­te­ri­als were pro­vided to the FBI to as­sist in their crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

In an in­ter­view with The Times, Mr. Davies con­firmed with doc­u­men­ta­tion that he had been in con­tact with FBI and State Depart­ment of­fi­cials in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber 2012.

Since the re­cent pub­li­ca­tion of his book about the Beng­hazi at­tack — “The Em­bassy House,” co-writ­ten with Damien Lewis — Mr. Davies’ cred­i­bil­ity has been widely ques­tioned.

“The ac­count in my book is con­sis­tent with what I gave to the FBI and U.S. au­thor­i­ties about what hap­pened in Beng­hazi,” he told The Times, which has led an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to ver­ify and con­firm what he turned over to the State Depart­ment and the FBI.

An un­signed in­ci­dent re­port, writ­ten in the first per­son, has been at­trib­uted to Mr. Davies and coun­ters his claims about the night of the at­tack on the diplo­matic mis­sion.

Mr. Davies has de­nied writ­ing or sub­mit­ting an in­ci­dent re­port. In all of his face-to-face meet­ings with U.S. of­fi­cials, he said, he was never recorded or asked to sign any doc­u­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to a State Depart­ment of­fi­cial, the ev­i­dence that Mr. Davies turned over to the of­fi­cials was in­cluded in the 25,000 pages of doc­u­ments given to con­gres­sional com­mit­tees, the FBI and the ac­count­abil­ity re­view board. How­ever, none of those ma­te­ri­als has iden­ti­fied Mr. Davies as their source.

BLUE MOUN­TAIN GROUP PHOTOGRAPHS

A diplo­matic guard room was set ablaze the night of the at­tack, with se­cu­rity flood­lights in the back­ground.

Im­ages of ve­hi­cles burn­ing on the night of the Sept. 11, 2012, ter­ror­ist as­sault on the U.S. mis­sion in Beng­hazi, Libya, were among a trove of photographs re­leased by the State Depart­ment, which has been crit­i­cized for hold­ing the pic­tures.

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