The Maryland Republican candidate for U.S. Senate demanded on Oct. 11 that Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice resign for their roles in the Benghazi attacks.
“I take no comfort in this, but Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice must resign in light of the Benghazi tragedy. It was a tragic failure in leadership,” said Daniel Bongino, a former Secret Service agent and New York City police officer.
The American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a one-time colony of Ancient Greece and the site of a port and numerous airfields during the Second World War, was attacked over the night of Sept. 11 into the early morning hours of Sept. 12. The attacking force, made up of dozens of men, used small arms, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades to overrun both the consulate compound and the nearby safe house. In the attack, Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, State Department employee Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs serving as private security contractors, Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, were killed. Steven’s death is still under investigation, but the attending physician at the hospital where he was taken said he died from smoke inhalation.
Bongino, in calling for Clinton and Rice to resign, said he was speaking more as a former Secret Service agent than as a candidate for public office.
“It has been on my mind for a while to comment from a personal perspective — as well as a political one — I felt it was time to speak up,” he said. “I am not worried about the electoral ramifications, I really am not.”
Bongino said he has heard from his own back channels that there is great unrest about the situation in Libya among agents at Secret Service and the Department of State Security, the agency that protects diplomats. The Maryland senate candidate, who in addition to presidential protection, worked on international terrorism missions and was instrumental in cracking a crime ring responsible for $300 million in fraud.
“They all understood the threat environment,” said the former New York City police officer.
The former Secret Service agent said he never was part of a security detail for Rice, but he interacted with her daily when she worked at the White House on President William J. Clinton’s National Security Council staff, but never as a member of her protection detail.
Bongino said that for the first two years of his tenure with the Secret Service, he was assigned to protect Clinton, based out of the service’s Long Island headquarters, as she was still First Lady, but also running in the 2000 New York U.S. Senate campaign.
“I spent five out of seven days of each week with her for practically the entire run,” he said.
“My experience with her was pretty extensive,” he said.
“I would have gladly forfeited my life for hers, and so would every other Secret Service agent and every Diplomatic Security Service agent that covers her,” he said.
“What I found odd is that that same courtesy wasn’t then afforded to Ambassador Stevens and the three others over there as well,” said Bongino, who saw duty protecting presidents William J. Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“It is pretty clear that even a rudimentary analysis of the threat environment of that area, dictated that not only was there a significant threat, there was a high-threat — yet, they were given from my professional experience not a high-threat mitigation security team, they were given practically no security at all,” he said.
“From what I am hearing, there may have been just a two-person detail, I cannot confirm that but, that is what I am hearing,” he said.
“A two-person detail? A two-person DSS detail, in our parlance that is not even for a low-level threat, that is a non-existent-threat detail,” he said. “To protect an ambassador in Benghazi with a two-person detail, you might as well put a bull’s eye on his back.”
Bongino said he worked with Special Forces teams during his time in the presidential security detail, and to have the SF team stand-down from their mission in Libya is crazy. “I don’t know, I keep seeing the picture of the ambassador being dragged through the streets thinking, you know, this is what I did for 12 years of my life, I can’t imagine my wife having to look at that.”
The whole mess is disturbing, he said.
“We are not even talking about the lying,” he said.
Although Rice was not active in the security decisions that led to the Benghazi debacle, she spoke shortly after the attacks and blamed the attacks on a spontaneous protest rally against an offensive video that escalated into the deadly attack.
The Rice narrative has been withdrawn and the Obama administration now concedes there was no demonstration against a video, and that the attack on the Benghazi mission was a planned and complex attack.
“They just came out and lied — we are not even touching on that topic, I’m talking about specifically the political motivation and four deaths that occurred from that,” he said.
“Given all the information coming out, there are only two possible scenarios: it was stunning incompetence, literally tragic incompetence and tragic failure of leadership, or they were competent — they understood the threat environment and they ignored it for political reasons — unfortunately that seems to be the case,” he said.
“It’s an incredible story we are telling, right here,” he said. “Think about it, one of two answers: one of them is devastating, but the second one? How is that not a major story on the major networks every night?”
Bongino said he is inclined to believe political calculations drove the security decision making, including the notion held by people in the Obama administration that Americans are not welcome, so our presence anywhere would be a problem, so any increase in our security footprint would be increasingly offensive.
“They probably figured American boots-on-the-ground would give the wrong impression, and maybe the impression that there was a significant threat, which would have really run counter to the president’s narrative that al Qaeda had been conquered and there was a foreign policy success story in Libya,” he said.
“What they said was: ‘You guys may die, but that’s OK, because we don’t want to ruin the president’s political changes in an upcoming election,” he said.
“I’ve seen this before, where the concern is to make sure they get the optics right,” he said.
There is also a casual attitude about security, he said.
State Department leaders do not see an appreciable difference between American military personnel, private contractors or local nationals hired for security, he said.
In his experience, he has detected resentment among State Department personnel and White House staff towards Secret Service agents, and by extension, military personnel and other government security professionals, who raise objections or concerns about missions, he said.
In this way, they prefer private contractors and local nationals because they are more likely to follow instructions without discussion, he said.