Even as the White House labels Benghazi a “phony scandal,” a raft of new allegations and concerns is once again bringing the controversy back to the forefront in Washington.
Fox News has learned that at least five CIA employees were forced to sign additional nondisclosure agreements this past spring in the wake of the Benghazi attack. These employees had already signed such agreements before the attack but were made to sign new agreements aimed at discouraging survivors from leaking their stories to the media or anyone else.
CNN has also reported that dozens of people working for the CIA were in Benghazi on the night of the attack, and that employees are being intimidated into staying silent.
The details have fueled concerns by lawmakers that, while the government is spending much energy on keeping Benghazi personnel quiet, not enough progress has been made in tracking down those actually responsible for the strike.
Lawmakers pointed to a report by CNN earlier this week in which Ansar al-Sharia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala told the network that nobody from the American government has contacted him. Ansar al-Sharia is a militant group in the region considered of high interest in connection with the attack.
“Even the investigative team did not try to contact me,” he told CNN.
Lawmakers penned a letter earlier this week to newly confirmed FBI Director James Comey urging him to aggressively identify and pursue the suspects.
“It has been more than 10 months since the attacks. We appear to be no closer to knowing who was responsible today than we were in the early weeks following the attack,” they wrote. “This is simply unacceptable.”
Some in Congress continue to press for a select committee to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, announced on Thursday that he plans to try and force a vote in Congress on creating such an investigative panel. House rules could make this an uphill effort for Stockman.
Separately, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Thursday issued two new subpoenas to the State Department for documents on Benghazi.
The White House earlier this week claimed it considers the controversy over Benghazi — specifically over how officials initially described the nature of the attack — as “phony.”
But the details about the lengths to which the government is going to keep people quiet has raised additional questions.
The CNN report said some CIA operatives are being forced to take “frequent, even monthly” lie detector tests. They’re reportedly trying to root out who is talking to reporters or members of Congress.
“You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation,” one source was quoted as saying.
The nature of that operation is unclear to this day. One source told CNN that 21 Americans had been working at the CIA annex in Benghazi at the time of the attack. Initially, the compound was merely described as a diplomatic consulate.
US to temporarily shut down embassies around the world Sunday amid security concerns
The United States will temporarily shut down its embassies and consulates around the world Sunday — including those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt — as a precautionary measure over terror-related concerns, State Department officials said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did not say how long the international installations would stay closed — only that the decision was taken “out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting.” Officials would not describe the nature of the threat.
Sunday is a normal workday in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries, meaning that is where the closures will have an impact. Embassies in Europe and Latin America would be shuttered that day anyway.
“We have instructed all U.S. embassies and consulates that would have normally been open on Sunday to suspend operations, specifically on August 4,” a senior State Department official said Thursday night. “It is possible we may have additional days of closing as well.”
Other U.S. officials said the threat was specifically in the Muslim world.
The issue of security abroad has been prominent since the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and a string of demonstrations on other U.S. embassies in the Middle East and North Africa.
On Thursday, measures to beef up security at U.S. embassies were passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The bill is in response to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The Senate bill creates a training center for diplomatic security personnel.
Separately, the House Foreign Affairs Committee authorized full security funding for diplomatic missions — despite recommending a nine percent cut overall for State Department operations.
The House and Senate have already approved spending bills that cover embassy security. But their budgets differ markedly in other areas.