First published at the Daily Caller, June 17, 2014.
By Micah Morrison
With the curtain soon to go up on select committee hearings on Benghazi, a key question remains unanswered: what on earth were we doing there? What policies were being pursued in that violent outpost of the Libyan revolution?
The White House would rather not say. In an email obtained by Judicial Watch and released in April, senior White House communications advisor Ben Rhodes instructed administration media spinners in the aftermath of the attack to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” For all the sound and fury over hearings, Congress also has not shown much interest in precisely what Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the State Department and the CIA were doing in Benghazi.
Last month, Daily Beast national security correspondent Eli Lake reported that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers had “warned his colleagues about the upcoming select committee to investigate Benghazi.” In interviews Rogers “downplayed” the testimony CIA contractors gave in closed session, Lake noted, and has said he did not believe the CIA had stonewalled his committee. Lake reported that “the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Armed Services, and Government Reform committees Reps. Rogers, Buck McKeon, and Darrell Issa, respectively all opposed the formation of a select committee on Benghazi.”
Sussing out the White House’s response to Benghazi is a critical step in clearing the shadows from the incident, but there are other players in the drama as well, including Rep. Rogers, and possibly also including a private military contracting firm that until recently was run by his wife, Kristi Rogers. Mike and Kristi Rogers are quintessential Washington insiders. A seven-term Republican from Michigan, Mike Rogers climbed the political ladder to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee in January 2011. Kristi Rogers, after years of government service in mid-level administrative positions, moved to the private sector, joining the British-based security contractor Aegis Defense Services to help open its U.S. subsidiary. The newsletter Intelligence Online noted that thanks to Ms. Rogers’ efforts, “Aegis won several major contracts with the U.S. administration.”
A spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee noted that “strictly observed and enforced” policies required “that there should be no interaction with Mrs. Rogers on any matter relating to the official business of the House” and “no interaction between the Committee and any representative of Aegis.” There is no evidence of wrong-doing by Rep. Rogers or Aegis. Indeed, the outlines of the story are more suggestive of “right-doing,” Washington-style: an insider’s game of covert operations and corporate profits played out in the gray areas of law and policy.
No issue has dominated Rep. Roger’s time as committee chairman more than Libya. Protests against Muammar Gadhafi’s regime began in February 2011. In March, NATO air strikes commenced and the U.S. named Christopher Stevens as special envoy to the Benghazi-based Libyan opposition. By August, the end of the Gadhafi regime was in sight. The Associated Press reported that the CIA and State Department were “working closely” on tracking down the dictator’s vast arms stockpiles, including chemical weapons, yellowcake uranium, and some 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles known as MANPADS. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the AP that Mr. Stevens was working with officials in Benghazi on how to track down the weapons.
By early October 2011, concern over missing MANPADS was growing. Prized by insurgent forces and terrorists, MANPADS (the acronym stands for “Man-Portable Air Defense Systems”) are capable of shooting down attack aircraft or a civilian plane. “We have reports that they may in fact have crossed borders,” Mr. Rogers told USA Today, criticizing the Obama administration for a lack of urgency. “I have some concerns we may be a little bit late.” By the end of the month, Gadhafi was dead. Less than a year later, Mr. Stevens by then Ambassador Stevens would be dead too, killed with three other Americans in an attack on the Benghazi stations of the State Department and CIA. Benghazi became a full-blown crisis. Chairman Rogers emerged as one of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics, hammering it for a lack of transparency.
Libya also was an area of activity for Aegis, Ms. Rogers’ company. As Rep. Rogers assumed control of the Intelligence Committee, an Aegis subsidiary, Aegis Advisory, began setting up shop in Libya. “Aegis has been operating in Libya since February 2011,” noted an Aegis Advisory intelligence report aimed at corporate clients. The report, marked “Confidential,” notes the company’s ability to provide “proprietary information [and] expert knowledge from our country team based in Tripoli.” Security was part of the Aegis package, too. “Aegis has extensive links in Libya which can be leveraged quickly to ensure safe passage,” the report noted. In 2012, Al Jazeera reported that Aegis was hunting bigger game in the country, “seeking a $5 billion contract to guard Libya’s vast and porous borders.” Aegis declined to respond to Judicial Watch’s questions about Libyan border security contracts.
Ms. Rogers’ rise at Aegis was swift. A former press aide to Ambassador Paul Bremer in Iraq and an assistant commissioner for public affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, she was named executive vice president when the U.S. branch opened in 2006. She was promoted to president in 2008 and added the position of CEO in 2009. In 2011, Ms. Rogers was named vice chairman of the company’s board of directors. In December 2012, she left Aegis and joined the law firm Manatt as a managing director for federal government affairs.
Aegis took a particular interest in events in Benghazi. One recipient of Aegis Advisory’s Libya briefings was Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, the global intelligence and consulting firm. According to Stratfor documents obtained by Wikileaks, Aegis’s Libya briefings were circulated to Stratfor’s confidential “alpha list.” The alpha list “is a repository for most of the intelligence that comes in,” a Stratfor analyst wrote in an email released by Wikileaks. “The first rule of the alpha list is that you don’t talk about the alpha list.”
In July 2011, in a report circulated to the alpha list, a senior Aegis official reported on a trip to Benghazi. “Despite reports of pockets of jihadist elements the presence of Islamic extremism has so far been low-key,” the official noted. But plenty of other forces were at work. “Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] have established a strong presence on the ground, providing tactical assistance at all levels, weapons, and recognition,” the official said, adding that one possible “motivation” for the Qatari presence was “U.S. support to act as its proxy.”
Ms. Rogers was a strong advocate for Aegis. In 2010 testimony before the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting, she noted that “contractors are a necessary reality of the United States’ missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps similar, future missions.” Aegis, she said, was a “threat driven and intelligence led” company with “seasoned professionals” and “exceptional performance.” She added that the firm “regularly meets with Members of Congress, their staff and other key decision makers.”
In 2007, Aegis won Pentagon renewal of a contract to run security services for reconstruction projects in Iraq, a deal “worth up to $475 million over two years,” the Washington Post reported. In 2011, it was awarded a $497 million State Department contract for embassy security in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to the Project on Government Oversight. Theories linking Aegis to the failed Blue Mountain Group guarding the State Department’s Benghazi mission have circulated on the Internet. Aegis issued a statement denying it. No “member of the Aegis Group has ever entered into a contract with any department of the U.S. government to perform work in Libya,” the company noted.
A definitive statement about Aegis in Libya, apparently, but not without wiggle room. The activities of the U.S. government, its allies, and private contractors in Libya remain cloaked in secrecy. Methods to sidestep Congressional oversight include handing off sensitive missions to friendly foreign governments or operating through shell companies. There’s no evidence that Aegis was involved in such misconduct, but Ms. Rogers did seem to have been focused on boosting Aegis’s capability for confidential operations. According to a biographical profile posted on the Manatt website and since removed, Ms. Rogers “obtained top-secret facility security clearance for Aegis, created the company’s board of directors and positioned it for future growth and expansion.” Among the new Aegis board members were two former senior CIA officials: Robert Reynolds, a leader in contracts and procurement for the CIA; and John Sano, a former deputy director of the CIA’s clandestine services.
On March 28, Mr. Rogers announced he was stepping down from his safe Congressional seat and committee chairmanship to become a talk radio host. Two weeks earlier, on March 14, Ms. Rogers quietly left Manatt, after a tenure of only thirteen months. Her departure was not announced and her association with the firm has been scrubbed from its website.
Ms. Rogers and Manatt did not respond to emailed questions and interview requests. Messrs. Reynolds and Sano, the Aegis board members, did not respond to interview requests. The State Department and CIA did not respond to questions about Aegis. A lawyer for Aegis declined to address questions about the company’s relations with the U.S. intelligence community and its work in Benghazi.
The select committee should take a close look at the CIA’s activities in Benghazi and the Aegis connection. Both Rep. Rogers’ committee and Ms. Rogers’ company were focused on the Libyan security and intelligence environment in the months surrounding the Benghazi attack. Both Rep. Rogers and Aegis pursued Libyan border security issues. And both Rep. Rogers and Ambassador Stevens were linked to efforts to secure Gadhafi’s arsenals, including MANPADS, a high-stakes venture that involved both the State Department and the CIA.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter at Judicial Watch.