The Republican politicization of the Benghazi attack may have endangered the lives of several Libyan nationals. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, released 166 pages of documents [PDF] on Friday as part of his investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack.
That evening, Foreign Policy reported that the documents contained unredacted names of several Libyans working closely with the United States government. In an interview with Rogin, an Obama administration decried Issa’s action as endangering the lives of those named:
“Much like WikiLeaks, when you dump a bunch of documents into the ether, there are a lot of unintended consequences,” an administration official told The Cable Friday afternoon. “This does damage to the individuals because they are named, danger to security cooperation because these are militias and groups that we work with and that is now well known, and danger to the investigation, because these people could help us down the road.”
One of the cables released by Issa names a woman human rights activist who was leading a campaign against violence and was detained in Benghazi. She expressed fear for her safety to U.S. officials and criticized the Libyan government.
“This woman is trying to raise an anti-violence campaign on her own and came to the United States for help. She isn’t publicly associated with the U.S. in any other way but she’s now named in this cable. It’s a danger to her life,” the administration official said.
Among others named in the document were a port manager working with the U.S. to improve infrastructure, as well as various militia members and commanders who share information on other armed groups within Libya. Top Democrats, including Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), have slammed Issa for the document dump.
Rep. Gerry Connoly (D-VA), who also sits on the Oversight Committee, likewise issued a statement saying, “The irony is that while Chairman Issa purports to be sincere in his desire to investigate the recent attack so that we can learn how best to protect our diplomats in the future, his own actions have now compromised the safety of U.S. personnel and Libyans working together to forge a better Libya.”
This is not the first time that the Oversight Committee’s Republican majority has possibly exposed sensitive information in the course of their investigation into Benghazi. During the Oct. 10 hearing, Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) may have revealed the classified location of a CIA safehouse while viewing an unclassified map.
Issa defended himself and his committee’s actions in a statement last night:
“President Obama should be ashamed of yet another example where his administration has been caught trying to mislead the American people about what happened in Libya,” Issa said in a statement Sunday night. “Obama administration officials and their surrogates are clearly reeling from revelations about how the situation in Benghazi was mishandled and are falsely politicizing the issue in a last ditch effort to save President Obama’s reelection effort.”
“I applaud the bravery of this activist and other Libyans who are willing to speak publicly and work in positions that puts them in regular contact with diplomatic officials,” Issa added. “They deserve better than to have the Obama administration parade them out as part of their election campaign strategy to distract Americans from legitimate questions about the handling of security and the response to a terrorist attack.”
As a spokesman for the Oversight Committee pointed out on Friday, the documents were not classified. However, the Executive Branch has a multitude of designations related to security. The best known are documents that are ‘classified’, be they SECRET or TOP SECRET, with various other interlocking levels of compartmentalization past that. These levels indicate the amount of potential damage to the United States’ national security their release would have and ensure that they remain closely guarded.
Unclassified documents also can receive labels that advise their level of ability for distribution. For example, the documents released by the Government and Oversight Committee were labeled “unclassified, but sensitive,” meaning that while their contents would not harm the United States directly, they are not intended for wide release.
Rep. Issa has been quoted, according a partial transcript released by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), as referring these unclassified designations as “crap.” Those whose names were published would likely argue otherwise.