The Complex

New Legislation Would Authorize Military To Find and Kill Benghazi Attackers

In the roughly 19 months since Islamic militants launched deadly attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, federal investigators have promised to never give up the manhunt to find those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, strikes. But the effort has been treated differently than missions targeting extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries. U.S. officials say they don't have authorization to kill the attackers in Libya because they are not officially connected to al Qaeda, riling those who want justice for the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in Benghazi.

In response, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Wednesday that he will introduce new legislation that would clear the path for U.S. troops to directly target the Benghazi attackers. Doing so would require a change in the Authorization of Use of Military Force legislation that was passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that allowed the president to target "nations, organizations or persons" that were determined to have had a direct role in the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York or to have harbored those terrorists. The law has been used to justify American strikes in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Some of them have proven controversial, especially when involving airstrikes by armed drones. Human rights groups estimate drone strikes have killed many hundreds of civilians around the world, a charge U.S. officials fervently deny.

Hunter will introduce the new legislation May 7 as the House Armed Services Committee deliberates the Pentagon's fiscal 2015 defense spending bill, said his spokesman, Joe Kasper. But the legislation faces an uphill battle as part of a fight that has grown intensely political. Republicans on Capitol Hill have repeatedly accused the Obama administration of hiding facts about the Benghazi investigation from them, but Senate Democrats have accused the GOP of politicizing a tragedy and pressed their fellow lawmakers to drop the issue while the United States confronts challenges like the current stand-off with Russia.

Kasper said that Hunter's interest in changing the force authorization legislation - commonly referred to as the "AUMF" -- came after Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was pressed about Benghazi during a closed-door Armed Services Committee session last fall. According to transcripts declassified by the Pentagon in January, Dempsey was asked by Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, why the United States had not gone after the attackers if senior U.S. officials knew who they were. Dempsey said the current AUMF didn't allow American forces to hunt down and kill the militants.

"They don't fall under the AUMF authorized by the Congress of the United States," Dempsey said, according to the transcript. "So we would not have the capability to simply find them and kill them either with a remotely-piloted aircraft or with an assault on the ground. Therefore, they will have to be captured and we would when asked provide options to do that."

No known U.S. military operations have been launched in Libya to target the Benghazi attackers. The State Department acknowledged in November that it has offered $10 million to anyone with information that could lead to the capture of those involved in the attacks.

A spokesman for Dempsey, Col. Edward Thomas, declined to comment on Wednesday. But Kasper, Hunter's spokesman, said naysayers shouldn't be quick to discount the new legislation. It's up to Obama to exercise his authority as commander in chief, he said, but it would be wise for the president to at least have the power to act against the Benghazi attackers.

"The administration has a pattern of going out of its way to argue why it can't do something or its hands are tied," Kasper said. "To argue that existing authority doesn't permit action, should it be necessary, is one thing. To argue it's unnecessary or unwanted when there are four dead Americans is another."

The crux of the issue rests largely on how the Benghazi attackers are defined -- a sensitive subject, considering a longstanding debate over whether the White House tried to attribute the coordinated assault on U.S. facilities to an emotional response to the release of an Internet video belittling Islam, rather than terrorism. In a Rose Garden speech a day after the attacks, Obama said "no acts of terror" would ever shake U.S. resolve. But a few days later, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said on Sunday political shows that their best assessment at the time suggested the incident Benghazi began as a response to the viral video, and then was "hijacked" by extremists in the area.

The attackers are now thought to have launched a premeditated attack on the U.S. facilities, and to be members of Ansar al-Sharia, the Libyan militia group whose fighters were in Benghazi at the time. Three chapters of the group were added to the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations in January.

On Tuesday, the conservative group Judicial Watch distributed previously unreleased emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that show key White House officials discussing talking points about the investigation in the days afterward. One of them shows Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security advisor, telling other administration officials that the goal of Rice's appearances on the Sunday shows after the Benghazi attacks was to "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy." He added that Rice should "reinforce the President and Administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges." White House officials have defended the content in the emails, saying it reflects what the administration believed to be the facts at that time.

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The Complex

Defense Intelligence Agency's Flynn Leaving After Rocky Tenure

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, announced his plans to retire in a memo sent to agency employees on Wednesday. The announcement came following recent speculation that Flynn would be stepping down following a rocky tenure at the agency, which provides battlefield intelligence to military forces and has increasingly been expanding its mission into the clandestine world of human espionage, and butting heads with the CIA, the traditional lord of that domain, in the process.

When Flynn came to his job in 2012, he was seen as an innovator, and even a gadfly, who would help take the DIA forward as wars wound down in Afghanistan and Iraq and the agency searched for a new mission. But Flynn butted heads with senior Pentagon officials and has been criticized for failing to follow through on some of the plans he set out for the agency, such as focusing more on social and cultural analysis on the battlefield and trying to provide more strategic insights for senior leaders.

"He has been regarded as relatively ineffective in that job," a former intelligence official said. "There's a big challenge with the end of two wars, and where does the DIA go now, and he really didn't come to grips with that."

The Washington Post reported that Flynn was pushed out, following mounting pressure from the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, himself a former military intelligence officer. A Pentagon spokesman said that Flynn's retirement had "been planned for some time," and that he would retire by this fall. But former officials said Flynn had not been expected to leave until next year.

Flynn made waves in military and intelligence circles in 2010 when he co-authored a paper at an influential Washington think tank that criticized intelligence agencies for spending too much time trying to understand insurgent groups in Afghanistan and largely ignoring the social and cultural currents among the Afghan people that were influencing the country's future. Flynn said that U.S. intelligence agencies were consequently only "marginally relevant" to the strategy in Afghanistan. As a consequence, senior leaders in the Pentagon and the administration didn't fully appreciate the facts on the ground, he wrote.

Flynn's critique was a rare public rebuke of the way the intelligence agencies worked, and it was given extra weight because it came from an active-duty Army general who had worked in special operations and seen the usefulness -- or lack thereof -- of U.S. intelligence on the battlefield. Some officials saw the paper as a rallying call for a new way of gathering and analyzing intelligence in the military, in part by relying less on the CIA, and felt that it helped to position Flynn as the man to lead that effort.

But former officials said Flynn was never able to translate his vision for focusing on what he called the "human terrain" of the battlefield. "His paper was brilliant, and he was right that the CIA in particular had failed to provide adequate intelligence to the military. But Flynn was put at DIA to do things, and I think he's an ideas guy and not an implementer," the former official said.

Flynn was known to clash with the Pentagon's undersecretary for intelligence, Michael Vickers, who had been an ally in Flynn's quest for reforms, but wanted to build a human spying program that more closely mirrored that of the CIA, where Vickers used to work on paramilitary operations. Rumors had also persisted that Flynn micromanaged his staff, including reprimanding some employees for dressing inappropriately at the office and sending them home to change clothes.

Joining Flynn in retiring will be his deputy, David Shedd. In a joint letter to DIA employees, Flynn and Shedd said they'd helped to transform the agency and defended their work building up a clandestine intelligence-gathering program. "Today and tomorrow DIA is clearly postured to achieve even greater heights due to the establishment of our fully integrated intelligence centers, enhancements to all-source analysis and building the Defense Clandestine Service," Flynn and Shedd wrote. Those intelligence centers helped integrate the DIA's analysis and collection programs and provided intelligence "from the tactical to the strategic level," they said.

Army Lt. Gen. Mary Legere is a leading candidate to replace Flynn. She would become the first woman to head the DIA, and would join a growing cadre of women at the senior ranks of U.S. intelligence. Women hold top positions at the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and they hold deputy or senior-level posts in other agencies, including the CIA and the NSA.

Legere was also a longshot candidate to be the next NSA director, a job that ultimately went to Navy Adm. Michael Rogers.

Through a spokesperson, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel thanked Flynn and Shedd. Hagel "appreciates the service of these two dedicated and professional leaders, and appreciates their contributions to the intelligence community and Defense Department," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby.

Mandel Ngan / AFP