News & Politics

Benghazi Committee Finally Interviews Drone Operator Pentagon Said It Couldn't Locate

House Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Republicans on the Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday interviewed two drone sensor operators from the time of the 9/11/12 attacks, one of whom called into the Sean Hannity radio show in May of 2013. The caller, who went by “John from Iowa,” had told the talk show host that he knew immediately that the Obama administration was lying about what happened, but due to non-disclosure agreements, was prevented from saying anything.

In an April 28, 2016, letter to Chairman Gowdy, a Pentagon political appointee said interviewing “John from Iowa” was “unnecessary” – despite the firsthand information he had – and claimed DOD “expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail.” The overtly partisan letter was written by Stephen Hedger, the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, likely in coordination with Committee Democrats. After speaking with “John from Iowa” yesterday, the committee learned that the Pentagon did in fact know who and where he was because the department had been in contact with him regarding his public statements prior to the committee’s request to interview drone personnel on February 26, 2016. From a June 9 Select Committee on Benghazi press release:

In the following weeks, despite the fact DOD was simply asked to find a few of its own employees, Committee Democrats supported the Pentagon political appointee’s claim many times, arguing Republicans were “forcing Pentagon officials to waste their time,” “putting a strain on the Pentagon,” and “diverting … resources from the national defense.” Democrats also cited “the enormous costs to the Pentagon” as they orchestrated a self-defeating legislative gimmick that would have forced DOD to spend time and money figuring out the exact amount of time and money it had spent responding to Benghazi requests.

Finally, on May 20, three months after the committee’s request, DOD provided a complete list of names of drone personnel from the time of the attacks. While it is unclear if DOD knew at the time it had finally provided the name of “John from Iowa,” the committee did. As it turns out, John was exactly who he had claimed to be and still on active duty with the Air Force. Before DOD’s response, Republicans independently obtained information about his identity, as well as information indicating DOD should have been well aware of his identity all along.

During his testimony today, this drone sensor operator confirmed details the committee learned at the same time DOD was claiming it was “expend[ing] significant resources to locate” him – the Air Force knew exactly who had called into the talk radio show in 2013. In other words, John’s testimony raises serious questions with respect to the representations made by a Pentagon political appointee. It now appears DOD had knowledge well in advance of who and where John was, but claimed he could not be located anyway. They claimed “significant resources” had been spent attempting to find him, but given the facts, it’s hard to imagine just how much incompetence would be required for that to be true.

None of the five Benghazi Committee Democrats bothered to show up for the interviews with the drone sensor operators. Unfortunately, Democrats on the committee have been unhelpful throughout the course of the investigation, undermining and obstructing the committee’s work at every turn. They have, however, expressed a keen interest in participating in the writing of the final report.

“John from Iowa” told Hannity in 2013 that when he had started observing the consulate on the night of 9/11/2012, it was already under attack and on fire. He remembered seeing a crowd of dozens if not hundreds of fighters outside the consulate and quipped, “If this was a protest, it would have been a protest for all ages.”

He said they were asked to monitor the CIA annex to make sure no one was trying to break into it — not that there was anything he could do about it because of the Status of Forces Agreement the United States had with the host country where he was located. “We were not allowed to be armed that night,” he said.

The Select Committee on Benghazi subpoenaed Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger to testify in private, under oath on Wednesday, June 15, to explain the Pentagon’s misstatements regarding its attempts to locate this witness.

Chairman Trey Gowdy (SC-04) released the following statement regarding Hedger’s upcoming testimony:

This Pentagon political appointee claimed in an official letter to the committee the Department of Defense could not find a requested witness, despite expending ‘significant resources’ searching for him. This witness is still on active duty and confirmed Thursday the Air Force knew exactly who he was – a drone sensor operator who was operating over Benghazi on the night of the attacks. Mr. Hedger will now have the opportunity to detail exactly what ‘resources’ he ‘expended’ and how. I look forward to him explaining the serious questions that have arisen with respect to this matter, including whether they are related to incompetence or deliberate concealment of the witness from a congressional inquiry.