By Oren Dorell
An investigation into a terrorist attack in Benghazi and the mishandling of security there has yet to answer key questions about who's at fault and what went wrong, security analysts said Thursday.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., head of the House oversight committee, vowed that the investigation will continue. But whether it will answer Republicans' questions about the origins of the account put out by the Obama administration on the Sept. 11 attack, or why security was so lax, may not come, analysts say.
James Carafano, who heads the Heritage Foundation's foreign policy and national security program, said the hearing "devolved into a partisan thing," as Democrats complained they had been denied access to witness and documents in advance.
Carafano said answers would have been far more likely to come out had the White House and Congress cooperated as they did in the aftermath of the Sept.11, 2001, attacks.
"You don't get a sense of who was talking to whom" in the White House, Pentagon, State and Tripoli, Carafano said. "It's like the story of 10 blind people trying to explain an elephant by touching its different parts."
Democrats say the probe will fail because there is nothing to investigate.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the attack has already been looked at "exhaustively" and the probe is an attempt to "politicize" the attack.
But Carafano says the current investigation would benefit from a look at the 9/11 Commission Report, which he says was a comprehensive view that encompassed all government agencies. The current investigation is disjointed, he said. And the State Department's Accountability Review Board, appointed by former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to investigate the attack, focused only on the role of one agency, Carafano said.
At the oversight committee's hearing on Wednesday, Gregory Hicks, former second in command at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, and Eric Nordstrom, a former regional security officer in Libya, testified that in the months preceding the attack they and Stevens noted a deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and made repeated requests for additional security, which the State Department denied.
Hicks said it was also clear from the start that the attack was the work of terrorists despite claims by State Department and White House officials that the assault on the mission emerged from a protest over an anti-Islam video.
Yet neither could say why security was denied and an inaccurate story put forth.
Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said the challenge for the committee is to figure out why the Obama administration acted as it did.
It "has orchestrated such an aggressive coverup" of what happened in Benghazi, she said, that it will be difficult to expose.
Gary Schmitt, who was staff director of President Reagan's intelligence advisory board, says the committee needs to probe the decisions made by Clinton and President Obama the night of the attack and in the days after to get to the bottom of things.
"I'm still unclear why United Nations Ambassador (Susan) Rice would have been the person to go on those Sunday TV shows," Schmitt said, referring to Rice's role in disseminating an account that the attacks emerged from a protest gainst an anti-Islam video.
Obama had a prearranged meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at 5 p.m. when they discussed the unfolding attack. Panetta said he had no contact with Obama or with White House officials the rest of the evening and that Obama had left it up to the Pentagon how to handle the situation.
Schmitt finds that perplexing.
"Having worked in the White House, you cannot have this much traffic between all the situation rooms (in the Pentagon, State Department and CIA) and what's going on in Libya without the White House situation room being tied into these discussions," Schmitt said. "We still have very little information about how hands-on or hands-off the president was or National Security Adviser Tom Donnelly was when this was all going down."