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.