McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

National News

June 5, 2014

Congressman James Lankford says America should view classified footage

Back in Benghazi

McALESTER — Armed militants who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 to unleash a night of terror didn’t have to storm the facility or breach the walls to get inside.

They simply walked through the front gate.

That’s according to District 5 U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who has viewed video security footage taken at the site.

The American people should be allowed to view the video footage taken from security cameras in use during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Lankford said.

As a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lankford has participated in the committee’s hearings into the Benghazi attacks which left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other  Americans dead. Because of his work with the committee, Lankford said he was able to view the classified footage.

“I’m pushing for the release of video from that night,” Lankford said. “There’s no reason Americans couldn’t see it.”

Although Lankford would like to see the security footage released, it’s  currently classified. Lankford said he doesn’t expect President Barack Obama to order it declassified anytime soon.

The matter came up during an interview the News-Capital conducted with Lankford during a trip he made to McAlester on Friday as part of his U.S. Senate campaign for the seat that’s being vacated by Sen. Tom Coburn.

After learning Lankford had viewed the footage, the News-Capital asked him what he had seen.

“In the first video you have on camera, you see no protesters,” Lankford said, referring to the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi shortly before the Sept. 11, 2012 attack began.

What Lankford said he observed next confirmed to him that the attack had been planned.

“You see an unarmed security guards walk away from the gate,” he said.

“About five minutes later a group of thugs walk in and set a building on fire and then stand around and try to decide what to do next,” Lankford said. He said the “thugs” were armed and started one of the fires by tossing a Molotov cocktail — a bottle filled with a flammable liquid with a burning rag on top.

Although fires had been started, Lankford said the security forces at the U.S. mission in Benghazi had not fired a shot. (The U.S. consulate building in Benghazi should not be confused with the U.S. embassy building in Tripoli, Libya, which is more heavily secured.)

When the “thugs” who had entered the consulate complex were able to start a fire and still remained unchallenged, they started to recruit others to join the attack, according to what Lankford said he observed on the video.

“The folks on the street went back and got more help, and went back and got more help,” he said.

As the fires burned, Lankford said more and more people entered the compound from the street, including some who may have simply been curious about the fire.

“Random people from the streets were walking around to see what was going on, “Lankford said.

Others though, were setting fires, including one in the compound’s main building, where Ambassador Stevens and Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith had taken refuge.

The building had rooms that could be separated by metal grilles, metal frames with bars serving as gates, according to Lankford. While the attackers did not break through the locked grilles to get to Stevens and Smith, they set fire to the furniture inside the consulate compound.

Lankford said the burning furniture and others fires filled the building with black smoke, which poured through the gate-like grilles into the adjoining rooms.

Lankford said ambassador Stevens and Smith both died as a result of smoke inhalation. Unsubstantiated reports that the American ambassador had been tortured were dismissed by Lankford as being untrue.,

As the night wore on, some Libyans who apparently were not participating in the attack were finally able to reach Stevens inside the consulate and pull him from the burned building.

“They didn’t know who he was,” Lankford said.

The Libyans took the ambassador to a nearby hospital, Lankford said. He was declared dead at 1:45 a.m., according to accounts of what transpired.

“We picked his body up at the hospital,” the Congressman said, referring to how U.S. personnel later took possession of the ambassador’s body.

Meanwhile, while the attack at the consulate had been under way, a force from the nearby CIA annex fought their way to the mission building and loaded up the other Americans at the site for rescue. They also recovered the body of Smith, the other American who Lankford said died of smoke inhalation.

Lankford called those men heroes.

“They had to shoot their way in and shoot their way out,” Lankford said.

While they were able to rescue the remaining Americans from the consulate compound and return to the CIA annex, the annex also came under attack in the early-morning darkness.

By this time, some reinforcements in the form of a small group of CIA personnel had arrived in Benghazi after chartering a jet from Libya.

As the attack on the annex continued, some Americans fought from the rooftop of the building.

CIA contract officers Glen Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods were on the roof of the besieged CIA annex, fighting to keep it secure when they were killed by separate mortar rounds, Lankford said.

Members of the American military who were ready to go to the aid of those being attacked in Benghazi were told to “stand down,” according to Lankford. He surmised there had been a concern that the U.S. embassy in Tripoli might also be attacked, and they might be needed to defend the embassy.

The attacks in Benghazi eventually ended, with the deaths of the four Americans, two at the mission and two at the CIA annex.

Lankford said the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held its first hearing on Benghazi in 2012 and its most recent one several weeks ago.

Other hearings on Benghazi have been held by the House Committee on Armed Services, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Intelligence Committee.

Although Lankford says the video footage confirms the Benghazi attack was planned, he believes it quickly grew larger than even the attackers had initially figured on because of a lack of resistance.

“It wasn’t one mistake; it was a whole cascade,” Lankford said of what went wrong that night.

A Select Committee is expected to adopt aspects of each investigation and continue the probe into what happened in Benghazi.

However, because of his Senate campaign, Lankford won’t be participating after he completes his current term in Congress.

One thing continues to rankle.

So far, not a single person has been held accountable for the tragic circumstances that unfolded during the attack on Benghazi, Lankford noted.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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