Transcript: Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s remarks on Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony on Benghazi

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of remarks by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.), Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, on former CIA Director David Petraeus’s testimony on the Benghazi consulate attack at a press briefing on Nov. 16, 212:

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): First thing, I think it was very positive that General Petraeus agreed to come before our committee. I think the fact that it was a good for the country, it was good for our intelligence community, and it was good for General Petraeus to bring closure to a lot of the issues that were out there that he needed to take care of and testify before our committee.

We talked about the first briefing that he gave us, where there was a dispute about what he had said. And I was at that hearing and basically he reinforced the fact that he initially, for the first 24 hours, he felt at that point – or the CIA felt at that point that this was a protest as a result of what happened the film.

He clarified that after more information came in, that it was not a protest. But he also did clarify, which was very important and relevant because it has been in debate for a long period of time, that he made in this statement to us that there were extremists in the group and that there were Al Qaeda affiliates. Somewhere Al Qaeda affiliates.

And that was very important because that’s been at debate for the last 3 or 4 weeks.

Question: Congressman King was just here saying that maybe the then-Director talked about extremist elements but he downplayed it big time – that the emphasis at that point was a lot more on the film…

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): It’s all about your perception and the information that you’ve received. When I was there and Chairman [Mike] Rogers was not – he was at another function – my recollection is that we felt it was as a result of a protest and that was the beginning. So the first thing you hear is maybe what you retain. But he also said in the group there were extremists and some Al Qaeda affiliates and that was said in the very beginning.

Now, whether it is or isn’t now, the fact is he clarified and it goes to show that we’ve tried to get information out very quickly. Because of Congress wanting to hear about it, the administration, and media, that the information with respect to intelligence evolves; it changes. And as soon as they received additional information, they clarified it.

Question: Within the first 24 hours, did the CIA believe this was a terrorist attack?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Yes. Clearly that was said at all times because of the people involved in the group were affiliates of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups.

Question: So if that was the description that it as a terrorist attack within the first 24 hours, was that information communicated and doesn’t that contradict the idea of spontaneous demonstration?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Well, I think if you look at the facts and what we learned yesterday is as far as the film is concerned, the first incident was a lot different than the second incident in the annex. That is what the difference.

When you look and see what was there, you had individuals coming into the compound who were looting. There was no command and control evaluating where we’re going to go, how we’re going to go. But there also were people that were attacking and putting buildings on fire.

But the second incident – that was entirely different. That was well-organized, [you can see] command and control, and that people who had experience in attacking and are Al Qaeda and other extremists. They knew how to shoot mortars and hit targets.

So there were 2 different types of situations – the first and the second. And that’s probably where the opportunistic issue comes to play. Once they have the ability to attack the first, they got really well-organized and the annex was a lot more serious and well-controlled by the terrorists.

Question: Was this an intelligence failure?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): I think it wasn’t. Intelligence failure is getting information as it comes – seeing it, hearing it, different information.

And in the initial situation, this is what they understood. But then the investigation evolves, and the fact that you can then start to interview the people on the ground, which is very relevant and important. Also getting the tape – very relevant and important.

And remember, we had to get our Americans out of there. That was a very serious situation. There was a lot of concern about the fact that the FBI didn’t come back for 3 weeks. Well, the reason is where they had to go back, they needed protection, they needed to make sure that their lives are not at risk again. And we had to rely on, in the beginning, with a very unorganized government and security group who is working with us, and that was the Libyans themselves.

Question: [Inaudible]

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Well, we talked some about Susan Rice. Susan Rice got a lot of the same information that we did.

I’ll make a comparison to Colin Powell. When Colin Powell went before the United Nations, you know, getting information from the administration on the facts.

Question: [Inaudible]

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): I said they knew right away that there were terrorists involved in the operation.

[Overlapping audio]

Question: …If they knew within 24 hours that it was terrorist-related, how come 5 days later the talking points for Susan Rice was still saying it was a spontaneous demonstration?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): I assume – I didn’t talk to Susan Rice. I assume she received information, and he was not a part of briefing Susan Rice information coming together with different agencies that were involved and had jurisdiction giving information to Susan Rice or anyone else, including our committee.

Question: You said he was not part of briefing Susan Rice but he was head of CIA…

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): He was the head of CIA who put together the information. He personally didn’t brief Susan Rice.

Question: …Doesn’t he oversee the information she gets..?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Part of the team of the CIA, which he’s in charge, yes. But let’s get clarity here. The bottom line is that the initial information that we got is what Susan Rice got. What did it say? Basically, it said at the beginning they thought that an event as a result of a film and what happened in Egypt. Later on they found that wasn’t the case, changed the situation and said that was not the case. And then the other issue as far as Susan Rice is concerned is she went before with the administration, she made comments. But I’m not sure how much further I can go to Susan Rice. I didn’t talk to Susan Rice. All I know is that what she said and I know that she received a lot of the same information that we did.

Question: [Inaudible]

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Yes, we’re having the Ranking Members who are involved in jurisdiction somewhere or another whether it’s the State Department or…[muffled audio]

Question: …You seemed satisfied with what General Petraeus told you today. Did he [incomprehensible audio] your concerns?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): I think he stated exactly what he said, clarified what he said in the first hearing and yes he did. And I think the fact that he was the head of the CIA, even though we have a lot of respect for Mike Morell, that he was at that time the head of the CIA. We also talked about his trip to Libya and talked to people on the ground, which is also important and relevant because our role in the intelligence committee is to follow the facts. Get away from the administration, get away from the media hype, and bottom line determine what the facts are and question him under oath to make sure that occurs and… that’s what we did today.

Question: …change the assessment from saying that Al Qaeda involvement to saying that it was spontaneous…?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Because new information came in. The investigation – intelligence is what you get from the ground, it evolves. You get intelligence, you collect it, you give it over to analysts. Analysts review it and then they send it out, and it kept evolving over the process.

Question: …The talking points…it initially had Al Qaeda [inaudible] and those were taken out…

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): I’m not aware that they were knocked out at that point…I’m the one who asked them for the talking points because I thought it was important that we didn’t give out classified information.

Question: Were any questions posed to General Petraeus about the scandal that led to his resignation?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): There was a mention about that and his comments basically were he was very sorry that this incident occurred and that anything that occurred with respect to his personal situation had nothing to do with the way he handled Benghazi at all. He also clarified that – because this was out there too that his resignation was because he didn’t want to testify, clearly that as not the case. End of story.

Question: Did he say that there was no national security issues in regards to the scandal?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): We didn’t get into that. We didn’t get into that.

Question: Was it a condition of him coming to the briefing that there wouldn’t be media see him at all?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Well, I didn’t talk to him about that…You’d have to ask Chairman Rogers.

Question: What Peter King said was that the Al Qaeda mention was taken out …?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): Well, I’ll have to look at that whether it was taken out. I’m not sure what that issue is, and I’ll have to review that. I think the important thing is what he said and we all know that facts change as you get more information. And when you try to come out very quickly with an assessment to let your bosses know, which would be the administration, let Congress know, and to let the public know through the media, a lot of information can change. And that is what occurred here. We want to get it right, and intelligence is an evolving process. You know, you’ve got to get on the ground. There were people that were injured…

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): General Petraeus is one of the few people in our country who had the military experience – and we all know how brilliant he was there – and also had the intelligence experience, and those two combinations made him very important, very relevant and qualified. So I would hope that there would be an opportunity have him give his advice in certain situations as it relates to what I just said.

Question: …Information kept evolving, do you know now when – by when – they definitely knew this was a terrorist attack?

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-M.D.): I think from the very beginning they felt that there were people who were there that were affiliated with Al Qaeda.

We know – remember, that was a very hostile area – that we had Al Qaeda and a lot of people from other countries coming in, a lot of extremists and radicals who were in that area, and that was a concern to us. And that’s why initially, that the intelligence community sent information this was a hot spot, that we had to be on high alert. They didn’t predict the fact that an actual attack was going to occur…


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