Dem Congressman at Benghazi Hearing: ‘Death Is a Part of Life.ay 8, 2013 – Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, tells Benghazi witnesses that “death is a part of life.” CUMMINGS: And, as I listen to your testimony I could not help but think of something that I said very recently — two years ago now — in a eulogy for a relative. I said that death is a part of life, so often we have to find a way to make life a part of death. And, I guess the reason why I’m saying that, going back to something Mr. Nordstrom said, he wanted, I guess all of you said this, he wanted to make sure we learn from this.
Air Force strips 17 officers of power to launch intercontinental nuclear missiles. WASHINGTON – The Air Force stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control — and, if necessary, launch — nuclear missiles after a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit’s launch skills. The group’s deputy commander said it is suffering “rot” within its ranks.
“We are, in fact, in a crisis right now,” the commander, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, wrote in an internal email obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by the Air Force.
Asked about this at a Senate hearing Wednesday, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the service’s top official, explained the problem by stressing that launch control officers are relatively junior in rank — lieutenants and captains — and need to be reminded continually of the importance of “this awesome responsibility” for which they have been trained.
Donley said commanders must “ride herd” on the launch crews, and he said the Minot revelation shows that the Air Force has strengthened its inspection system. He said he is confident that the nuclear missile force is secure.
Sen. Richard Durbin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, expressed outrage, saying the AP report revealed a problem that “could not be more troubling.”
The tip-off to trouble was a March inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., which earned the equivalent of a “D” grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations. In other areas, the officers tested much better, but the group’s overall fitness was deemed so tenuous that senior officers at Minot decided, after probing further, that an immediate crackdown was called for.
The Air Force publicly called the inspection a “success.”
But in April it quietly removed 17 officers at Minot from the highly sensitive duty of standing 24-hour watch over the Air Force’s most powerful nuclear missiles, the intercontinental ballistic missiles that can strike targets across the globe. Inside each underground launch control capsule, two officers stand “alert” at all times, ready to launch an ICBM upon presidential order.
“You will be a bench warmer for at least 60 days,” Folds wrote.
The 17 cases mark the Air Force’s most extensive sidelining ever of launch crew members, according to Lt. Col. Angie Blair, a spokeswoman for Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the missile units as well as nuclear-capable bombers. The wing has 150 officers assigned to missile launch control duty.
Appearing with Donley at Wednesday’s Senate hearing, the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, said Folds and other senior commanders at Minot removed the 17 launch crew members after determining that they had “more of an attitude problem than a proficiency problem.” He said he endorsed their handling of the problem.
The trouble at Minot is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Air Force’s nuclear mission, highlighted by a 2008 Pentagon advisory group report that found a “dramatic and unacceptable decline” in the Air Force’s commitment to the mission, which has its origins in a Cold War standoff with the former Soviet Union.
In 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates sacked the top civilian and military leaders of the Air Force after a series of blunders, including a bomber’s mistaken flight across the country armed with nuclear-tipped missiles. Since then the Air Force has taken numerous steps designed to improve its nuclear performance.
The email obtained by the AP describes a culture of indifference, with at least one intentional violation of missile safety rules and an apparent unwillingness among some to challenge or report those who violate rules.
In response to AP inquiries, the Air Force said the lapses never put the security of the nuclear force at risk. It said the officers who lost their certification to operate ICBMs are now getting more training with the expectation that they will return to normal duty within about two months. The missiles remain on their normal war footing, officials said.
Although sidelining 17 launch officers at once is unprecedented, the Air Force said stripping officers of their authority to control nuclear missiles happens to “a small number” of officers every year for a variety of reasons.
In addition to the 17, possible disciplinary action is pending against one other officer at Minot who investigators found had purposefully broken a missile safety rule in an unspecified act that could have compromised the secret codes that enable the launching of missiles, which stand on high alert in underground silos in the nation’s midsection. Officials said there was no compromise of missile safety or security.
Folds is deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group, whose three squadrons are responsible for manning the wing’s 15 Minuteman III launch control centers.
Advising his troops on April 12 that they had “fallen,” Folds wrote that drastic corrective action was required because “we didn’t wake up” after an underwhelming inspection in March that he said amounted to a failure, even though the unit’s overall performance technically was rated “satisfactory.” That is two notches below the highest rating.
“And now we’re discovering such rot in the crew force that your behavior while on alert is accepting of” weapons safety rule violations, possible code compromises and other failings, “all in the name of not inconveniencing yourselves,” Folds wrote.
Folds also complained about unwarranted questioning of orders from superior officers by launch crews and failure to address superiors with the proper respect.
“We are breaking you down, and we will build from the ground up,” Folds added. He later wrote, “It takes real leaders to lead through a crisis and we are, in fact, in a crisis right now.”
He told his subordinates, “You must continue to turn over the rocks and find the rot.”
When the AP inquired about the Folds email, the Air Force arranged a telephone interview with one of Folds’ superiors, Col. Robert Vercher, commander of the 91st Missile Wing. The wing is one of three that operate the nation’s fleet of 450 Minuteman III missiles; the two others are at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., and F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
“We are frustrated anytime we’re performing less than we expect of ourselves,” Vercher said, adding that he and other senior officers are implementing an aggressive and innovative plan to restore a record of high performance among launch control officers.
“There was a problem,” Vercher said. “And we will fix it.”
Vercher said Folds was expressing frustration.
“That is a very passionate leader embarrassed by a performance below our expectation,” Vercher said, adding that Folds was disappointed by the inspection, which was by the inspector general of the Air Force Global Strike Command.
Vercher said Folds was telling his officers, in effect, “Quite frankly, you guys should all be embarrassed that in an area that’s important, you passed but you were rated as very close to not passing, and that’s not acceptable.”
The inspection area to which Vercher referred was proficiency at operating the missile launch simulator and responses to written questions about procedures. Their performance was rated “marginal,” which Vercher said is the equivalent of a “D” grade. The inspector’s office told the AP that “marginal” is a passing rating, “but attention is needed from leadership to address issues before they become unsatisfactory.”
“Nobody is comfortable with that,” Vercher said.
The launch simulator is used in testing for inspection because, for obvious reasons, they can’t perform an actual missile launch.
Exposure of shortcomings within Vercher’s unit recalls an earlier series of stunning mistakes by other elements of the nuclear force, including the August 2007 incident in which an Air Force B-52 bomber flew from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., without the crew realizing it was armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. One outcome of the incident was the creation of Global Strike Command in January 2009 as a way of improving management of the nuclear enterprise.
Bruce Blair, who served as an Air Force ICBM launch control officer in the 1970s and is now a research scholar at Princeton University, said the Folds email points to a broader problem within the nuclear weapons force.
“The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War’s end over 20 years ago,” Blair said in an interview. “Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force’s culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles.”
Blair is co-founder of Global Zero, an international group that advocates the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
Benghazi witness describes effort to lure more Americans into ‘trap,’ says knew attack was terrorism. A key Benghazi whistle-blower testified Wednesday that his team knew the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. compound was terrorism, revealing that it appeared some were trying to lure even more U.S. personnel into a separate “ambush” while the attack was still being carried out.
Greg Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya who became the top U.S. diplomat in the country after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed, revealed new details as he and other whistle-blowers delivered emotional testimony on Capitol Hill.
He described how, as diplomatic officials were trying to find out what happened to Stevens, they were receiving phone calls from supposed tipsters saying they knew where the ambassador was and urging Americans to come get him.
“We suspected that we were being baited into a trap,” Hicks said, adding that he did not want to send anybody into what he suspected was an “ambush.”
Getting choked up, Hicks described how the Libyan prime minister later called him to tell him Stevens was in fact dead. “I think it’s the saddest phone call I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
At the very beginning of the attack, before Stevens went missing and was later found dead, Hicks said his team believed it was terrorism. He said a regional security officer rushed into his villa yelling, “Greg, Greg, the consulate’s under attack.”
He then spoke by phone with Stevens who told him the same: “Greg, we’re under attack.”
After enduring a night of attacks on the U.S. consulate, Hicks said the team departed at dawn for the nearby annex — shortly after they arrived, “the mortars came.”
The testimony of Hicks and others is poised to challenge key elements of the Obama administration’s narrative, including their initial statements that the attack was triggered by protests over a film.
Another whistle-blower questioned Wednesday why more military assets were not deployed sooner during the Benghazi terror attack. Mark Thompson, a former Marine and official with the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, said he was rebuffed by the White House when he asked for a specialized team — known as a FEST team — to be deployed. This is a unit made of special operations personnel, diplomatic security, intelligence and other officers.
Suggesting that some were hesitant to deploy because they were unsure what was happening, “One definition of a crisis is you do not know what’s going to happen in two hours,” he said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the oversight committee holding the hearing, defended the witnesses, calling them “actual experts on what really happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks,” who “deserve to be heard.”
The three witnesses are Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya who became top U.S. diplomat in the country after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the terror attack; Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who was formerly the regional security officer in Libya; and Thompson.
“I am a career public servant,” Hicks said. “Until the aftermath of Benghazi, I loved every day of my job.”
Nordstrom choked up as he began to testify Wednesday.
The administration has parried Republican allegations lately by arguing that the attack is old news, that the State Department already has investigated it and that Republicans are engaged in a political witch hunt.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., top Democrat on the oversight committee, also said Wednesday that Republicans are using the witnesses’ statements for “political purposes.” He said he’s glad the whistle-blowers are testifying and would ensure they are protected, but pre-emptively challenged some of their claims — including the claim that U.S. military could have responded sooner to the site of the attack.
But a series of carefully timed leaks on the whistle-blowers’ testimony indicates House Republicans could have the goods to at least merit a second look at the administration narrative.
“The question is, where’s the accountability for lying to the American people?” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Fox News. “The American people were lied to.”
The witnesses are expected to cover a breadth of material in their testimony Wednesday. Lawmakers have questioned to what extent security requests were ignored before the attack, whether the military could have done more to respond the night of the attack and whether talking points were intentionally changed for political reasons after the attack to downplay terrorism. The witnesses could address all three areas on Wednesday.
The Obama administration has adamantly denied several of the latest charges, including a claim that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a key aide tried to cut the department’s own counterterrorism bureau out of the chain of reporting and decision-making on Sept. 11. The administration also denied that the whistle-blowers in question were intimidated — while behind the scenes questioning the credibility of the witnesses.
A “fact sheet” released by the department ahead of the hearing reiterated its denials. The statement also said the department has “demonstrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation with the Congress” on Libya, and rejected claims that the military was in a position to help that night but was told to stand down. Citing its internal review, the statement noted the review “found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders.”
Christie reveals secret stomach surgery to lose weight. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie secretly underwent lap-band stomach surgery to aggressively slim down for the sake of his wife and kids, he revealed to The Post last night.
The Garden State governor agreed to the operation at the urging of family and friends after turning 50 last September.
He told The Post he was thinking of his four kids and how it was time to start improving his health when he decided to have the procedure.
“I’ve struggled with this issue for 20 years,” he said. “For me, this is about turning 50 and looking at my children and wanting to be there for them.”
HEAVY DUTY: Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told The Post last night he had lap-band surgery Feb. 16 because he wants to stay alive for his kids.
He also insisted that, contrary to what observers may say, the effort to slim down was not motivated by thoughts of a presidential bid.
“It’s so much more important than that,” he said.
Christie checked in to a surgery center on Feb. 16. A source said he registered under a false name.
The operation included placing a silicone tube around the top of his stomach, where it restricts the amount of food he can eat at one time and makes him feel fuller, faster.
“A week or two ago, I went to a steakhouse and ordered a steak and ate about a third of it and I was full,” he said of his newly tamed appetite. He declined to say how much he lost, but sources said he has already shed nearly 40 pounds.
Christie has struggled with his weight for decades. He sometimes jokes about it, while other times, it’s a sensitive topic. Insiders said it was the only thing keeping the straight-talking executive from higher office.
Despite Christie’s denials, political fund-raisers say that the surgery is a clear sign that he’s going to join the 2016 race — and will do whatever it takes to win.
“This means he’s running for president. He’s showing people he can get his weight in control. It was the one thing holding him back,” a top political donor told The Post.
Sources said Christie didn’t make the decision lightly — he even had private conversations about the operation with once-rotund Jet coach Rex Ryan.
Ryan lost about 100 pounds — down from a massive 350 — after he had the same procedure done in 2010.
Christie has never revealed his weight, but estimates have run from about 300 to 350 pounds.
He hired the same ace laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon as Ryan — Dr. George Fielding, head of NYU Medical Center’s Weight Management Program.
Christie employed cloak-and-dagger tactics to hide the operation. First, he never went into Fielding’s office for medical visits — instead, the doctor came to the governor’s house in Mendham, the sources said.
He managed to keep it under wraps for nearly three months.
Christie said he went under the knife at 7 a.m. for 40 minutes and was home the same afternoon.
As he drops pounds, doctors will pump more saline solution into the lap band, restricting his stomach further and forcing him to eat even less.
In 2006, Christie said in an interview that getting a more involved surgery — gastric bypass — was never a consideration because it was “too risky.”
Christie, a Republican who is running for re-election as governor this fall, saw his girth become a campaign issue in the 2009 governor’s race, when Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine’s campaign ran TV ads with extremely unflattering videos of his rival.
But Christie defeated Corzine.
The enlivened pol said that he knew the clock was ticking on his health and that the time had come to do something drastic.
“I know it sounds crazy to say that running for president is minor, but in the grand scheme of things, it was looking at Mary Pat and the kids and going, ‘I have to do this for them, even if I don’t give a crap about myself,’ ” he said.
PENTAGON USING A CHINESE SATELLITE FOR U.S. MILITARY COMMUNICATIONS. Some members of Congress are asking tough questions about why the Pentagon is using a Chinese commercial satellite for U.S. Africa Command communications.The controversial decision, says Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the panel that oversees space programs, “exposes our military to the risk that China may seek to turn off our ’eyes and ears’ at the time of their choosing.”
Monday’s Pentagon report on China warns on page 33 that the Chinese military emphasizes the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance… and communications satellites”:
A PLA [People’s Liberation Army] analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations reinforced the importance of operations in space to enable “informatized” warfare, claiming that “space is the commanding point for the information battlefield.” PLA writings emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance… and communications satellites,” suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.” The same PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations also states that “destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors… will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision guided weapons into full play.”
However, top Pentagon space policy official Douglas Loverro says commanders “need support and sometimes we must go” to “the only place that we can get” the service.
Rogers said he is “deeply concerned a low-level DoD [Department of Defense] agency was able to enter into a contract with a Chinese company to use a Chinese satellite launched by a Chinese missile, seemingly with no input from the political appointees in DoD.”
Indeed, there appears to be a communications disconnect in the Department of Defense: the Pentagon’s own report released on Monday underscores China’s aggressive use of espionage to advance its military power.
SOURCE: ONLY PRESIDENT COULD HAVE MADE ‘STAND DOWN’ CALL ON BENGHAZI. A source with intimate information about the events that happened on the ground in Benghazi the night the U.S. Consulate and the CIA annex was attacked by terrorists told Breitbart News that, ultimately, only the President of the United States, or someone acting on his authority, could have prevented Special Forces either on the ground or nearby from helping those Americans who were under deadly assault.
According to the source, when the attack on the Consulate occurred, a specific chain of command to gain verbal permission to move special-forces in must have occurred. SOCAFRICA commander Lieutenant Col. Gibson would have contacted a desk officer at the time, asking for that permission.
That desk officer would have called Marine Corps Col. George Bristol, then in command of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara. From there, Bristol would have made contact with Rear Admiral Brian Losey, then Commander of Special Operations Command Africa. Losey would have contacted four-star General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. AFRICOM at the time.
“Ham answers directly to the President of the United States,” said the source. It wasn’t a low-level bureaucrat making the call, the source adamantly added.
That call may have been made early in the engagement. Both Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey testified in January that they had no further communication with President Barack Obama after an initial briefing in the early hours of the Benghazi crisis, which continued through the night.
But what about then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
“I have a hard time thinking it was Hillary alone. Hillary may have tried to circumvent the counterterrorism board and deal with this. I think in order for her to tell General Ham, ‘No, you’re not going to get involved,’ she would have had to talk to the president. The president would have had to say, ‘No, take your commands from Hillary.’ He would have had said something, because Ham does not work for the Department of State; he works directly for the president,” the source explained.
The lack of clarity surrounding orders given during the Benghazi attacks is a stark contrast to the clarity projected after the successful Osama bin Laden raid in May 2011, when administration officials were keen to attribute responsibility for the orders to the president.
Witnesses with firsthand information about the Benghazi attacks will appear before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
State Department employees Mark Thompson, Gregory Hicks, and Eric Nordstrom are expected to be whistleblower witnesses who will reveal information about State’s reaction to the attacks that has not been released previously.
AWR Hawkins contributed to this report.