The Edmond Sun

April 29, 2013

Lankford highlights Benghazi report, FAA furloughs

House panel to resume hearings next month

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — U.S. Rep. James Lankford last week said the Benghazi investigation is not over and the FAA flight-delaying furloughs are politically motivated.

On Thursday, Lankford commented on the release of the Interim Progress Report for House members on the events surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The United States and NATO supported the Libyan revolution that led to the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011. The interim Transitional National Council declared the country liberated and began the work of establishing an elected government.

Around that time, the interim leaders relocated their center of operations from Benghazi to Tripoli, according to the congressional report. The deteriorating security environment in Benghazi throughout 2012 mirrored the declining situation in the rest of Libya.

From June 2011 to June 2012, Eric Nordstrom, the regional security officer for Libya, compiled a list of more than 200 security incidents in Libya, 50 of which occurred in Benghazi, according to the report.

These incidents included violent acts directed against diplomats and diplomatic facilities, international organizations and third country nationals as well as large-scale militia clashes.

U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi came under direct fire twice in the months leading up to Sept. 11, first in April 2012 when disgruntled Libyan contract guards allegedly threw a small improvised explosive device over the perimeter wall, and in June 2012 when unknown assailants used an IED to blow a hole in the perimeter wall.

After attacks on each organization, the British Embassy, UN and International Committee of the Red Cross withdrew personnel from Benghazi, leaving the U.S. flag as the last western flag flying in the city.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Benghazi Mission was forced to rely on fewer than the approved number of agents, according to the congressional report. The allotted five agents were on site for only 23 days in 2012, and the mission was typically staffed with only three agents, sometimes as few as one.

Security consisted of the agents, a U.S. military security support team and two mobile security detachment teams provided by the State Department. Local unarmed guards responsible for activating the alarm in the event of an attack were also used.

Four armed members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, one of the militias that fought against Gadhafi, were also to serve as part of a quick reaction force. Numerous reports indicated the group had extremist connections, and it had been implicated in the kidnapping of American citizens and in threats against U.S. military assets.

On Sept. 8, 2012, days before Ambassador Stevens arrived in Benghazi, the militia told State Department officials they would no longer support U.S. action in Benghazi.

During the night of Sept. 11, 2012, the American diplomatic mission in the city was attacked by a heavily armed group. The attack began at a compound meant to protect  the consulate building.

Early in the morning on the next day, a second assault targeted a nearby CIA annex in a different diplomatic compound. Four people were killed including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Ten others were injured.

The primary preliminary findings in the congressional report are:

• Reductions of security levels prior to the attacks in Benghazi were approved at the highest levels of the State Department up to and including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This contradicts her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January.

• In the days following the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community in order to protect the State Department.

• Contrary to Obama administration rhetoric, the talking points were not edited to protect classified information. Concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior Obama Administration officials.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has alerted members, which include Lankford, that they will continue their investigation.

“The congressional investigation of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi last year is far from over,” Lankford said Thursday.

To prevent future mistakes, the committee will continue to seek answers and press the Obama Administration for the information they have not supplied, Lankford said.

Earlier in the week, Issa said his committee would resume Benghazi hearings next month. A date is to be announced soon.

On Wednesday, Obama press secretary Jay Carney mentioned a letter that the Democratic members of the same committee sent to House Speaker John Boehner the previous day strongly objecting to what they say is an obviously partisan Republican staff report.

“Now, it seems to me that if these members of Congress were genuinely interested in getting information, they would not have abandoned the customary oversight process and excluded Democratic members from the entire process, which is what they did,” Carney said.

These Republicans sacrificed accuracy in favor of partisanship, Carney said.



HOUSE PASSES FAA BILL

On Friday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would end air traffic control furloughs, a forced budget cuts-related issue responsible for delays at airports across the country.

Lankford said the disruption to the air traffic system was due to the Obama Administration’s choice to implement the cuts in a political way, and the FAA had enough resources on hand to avoid the delays.

On Friday, Lankford said he voted yes on House Resolution 1765 to clarify that the Federal Aviation Administration can target sequestration cuts so they don’t impact workers.

The bill permits the FAA to transfer $253 million in fiscal year 2013 to the operating budget, which can be used to end controller furloughs and reopen contract towers. It does not allocate additional funds or reverse the sequestration cuts for the FAA.

Agencies like the National Park Service were able to cut waste, not workers, and now the FAA should have no excuse to continue to furlough employees, Lankford said.

Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission Director Victor Bird said five of the 149 contract towers the FAA wanted to close on June 15 are located in Oklahoma City (Wiley Post Airport), Norman (OU’s Max Westheimer Airport), Fort Sill (Lawton Ft. Sill Regional Airport) and Stillwater (Stillwater Regional Airport). The tower at Ardmore Municipal is set to close Sept. 30, Bird said.

While there was no explicit language in the bill to keep the contract towers open, the $253 million figure specifically provides enough funding to eliminate both the air traffic controller furloughs ($220 million) and the closing of the contract towers ($33 million), Bird said.

The bill was passed by both the House and Senate during a 24-hour period, Bird said. The FAA was unsure how quickly it could change controller schedules to fully staff their facilities, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has said the country should use savings from wrapping up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the full brunt of the sequester’s arbitrary cuts. Reid has estimated the furloughs could lead to 6,700 delayed flights every day this summer.

Carney said if Congress wanted to address specifically the problems caused by the sequester with the FAA the administration would be open to that.

“But that would be a Band-Aid measure,” he said.

The best way to deal with it is to eliminate it through broad, balanced deficit reduction along the lines the president proposed, the people support and the Senate passed, Carney said.



marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108