By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 06/12/13 10:16 PM EDT
But those successes were not enough to deflect lawmakers' criticisms over NSA efforts to conduct surveillance on American citizens.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the secretive nature of the NSA programs, even with Congress, was a clear sign of distrust by the U.S. intelligence community. "The intelligence community has told us that we obviously don't have the ability as simple senators to know anything as well as you do,” Leahy said.
“I am pushing for that, and perhaps faster, if I don't get any kicks from [aides] behind me,” Alexander said. “I want the American people to know we're being transparent here.”
Special Ops not told to stand down in Libya: The U.S. special operations team in Libya was never ordered to stand down during last September's deadly terrorist attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi.
"They weren't [told] to stand down," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testified during Wednesday's House Budget Committee hearing.
The Benghazi strike ended with the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
As news of the attack was reaching Tripoli, a team of American special operators was preparing to deploy to the attack site, Gregory Hicks, the former top U.S. diplomat in Benghazi, told Congress in May.
Just as U.S. troops were about to depart for Benghazi, officials from Special Operations Command-Africa ordered the units to stand down, according to Hicks.
Dempsey admitted the team's request to go to Benghazi was denied. However, the decision was not a stand-down order, he said.
"A stand down means don't do anything. They were told ... that the mission they were asked to perform was not in Benghazi, but was at Tripoli airport," the four-star general told the committee.
The team "would contribute more by going to the Tripoli airport to meet the casualties upon return," rather than being sent into Benghazi, Dempsey added.
Armed Services panel blocks Gillibrand assault bill: The Senate Armed Services Committee rejected a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday to take the decision to prosecute criminal cases outside the chain of command.
The committee voted 17-9 to replace Gillibrand’s measure with an alternative proposed by Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), which instead establishes a review process for sexual assault cases that are not prosecuted.
The committee held a rare public session for its full committee markup to consider the sexual assault legislation, where Gillibrand made a passionate argument to keep her proposal in the bill.
“The chain of command has told us for decades that they will solve this problem, and they have failed,” Gillibrand said.
But Levin and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) argued that the commander had to remain central to the judicial process in order to hold commanders accountable and create the culture change necessary to curb assaults in the military.
The vote on Levin’s amendment split Democrats 7-7. Ten of the committee’s Republicans voted for it, but two Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and David Vitter (R-La.), voted against Levin’s amendment in support of the Gillibrand measure.
Poll shows divided public on military sexual assaults: More than three-quarters of the public think sexual assault is a very important problem to deal with, but there is no consensus for who is best equipped to solve the problem, according to a new poll.
The survey from the Pew Research Center found that 45 percent of respondents believed the best way to handle the problem was for Congress to change the laws, while 44 percent thought it’s better for military leaders to address it internally.
There was a similar division over what an estimated rise in sexual assaults represents, as 54 percent thought the assaults were individual acts of misconduct and 40 percent believed it showed underlying problems with the military’s culture.
The Pew poll comes as Congress is gearing up to change the military’s judicial code to tackle military sexual assaults.
Interestingly, the debate over whether Congress or the military is better equipped to address the problem falls on party lines: Republicans favor the military 57-32, while Democrats back Congress 58-33.
Defense authorization debate underway: The defense authorization bill is getting underway on the House floor Wednesday evening.
The Armed Services committee leaders were delivering open statements Wednesday, and the Rules Committee was considering amendments.
The real action on the bill will occur on the floor Thursday, as the House considers the amendments cleared by the Rules Committee.
In Case You Missed It:
— Obama slams House ban on DOD intel funds
— Senate panel keeps sexual assault cases with military
— GOP Amash demands DNI Clapper resign
— House appropriators pass $512 billion defense bill
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