GOP blows secrets and risks lives in document dump ahead of debate

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. during the committee's hearing on the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. during the committee's hearing on the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Libyans who have been secretly helping the U.S. have had their identities exposed by documents released Friday by House Oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell.

Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” blog broke the story following Rep. Darrell Issa’s release of State Department communications, part of his effort to demand answers on security failures related to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) compromised the identities of several Libyans working with the U.S. government and placed their lives in danger when he released reams of State Department communications Friday.

An indignant letter Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sent to President Obama accompanied the 166 pages:

The American people deserve nothing less than a full explanation from this administration about these events, including why the repeated warnings about a worsening security situation appear to have been ignored by this administration. Americans also deserve a complete explanation about your administration’s decision to accelerate a normalized presence in Libya at what now appears to be at the cost of endangering American lives.

The White House and State Department had no prior notice of what is often referred to in Washington as a  Friday night “document dump” on the weekend before the presidential foreign policy debate.  A senior official tells NBC News that many of these documents weren’t provided by the State Department to the Oversight committee— and there wasn’t any discussion about their sensitivity prior to the committee posting them online. Only about 50 pages of the 166 had been previously released.

The official says had the State Department been given that opportunity, they would have pointed out which documents needed to be handled with extreme care so as not to endanger anyone. Issa did not redact the names of Libyans mentioned in the cables.

A spokesman for Issa says that the administration was given a chance to object to the posting.  Officials at the White House and  the State Department say that is not the case, and they only learned of  the release when the documents appeared online.

Democrats on Issa’s committee are reportedly furious that he unloaded documents and slammed the White House, saying this undercuts any pretense of a bipartisan investigation.

In a letter, ranking member Elijah Cummings called out Issa on the timing: “It seems obvious that your goal in sending a public letter at this time is to release the most negative and distorted view possible of the attack in Benghazi ahead of the presidential debate on Monday evening.” Cummings pointed out a request by Ambassador Chris Stevens’ family not to politicize his death as part of the campaign.

Your letter omits contradictory information from the very same documents it quotes, irresponsibly promotes inaccurate information, and makes numerous allegations with no evidence to substantiate them.

The fact is that the Committee has not spoken with a single official who was even in the country on the night of the attack in Benghazi and has not received a single classified briefing about the attack.  To issue such a contorted and incomplete account of events three days before the upcoming Presidential debate undermines the legitimacy of the Committee and the credibility of its work.

Rogin reports that among the exposed:

-a female human rights activist who was leading a campaign against violence and was detained in Benghazi

-a Benghazi port manager who is working with the United States on an infrastructure project

-a local militia commander dishing dirt on the inner workings of the Libyan Interior Ministry

-a militia commander who claims to control a senior official of the Libyan armed forces

Other cables contain details of conversations between third-party governments, such as the British and the Danes, and their private interactions with the U.S., the U.N., and the Libyan governments over security issues.