The State Department said Friday that it has been quietly offering rewards since January of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of any person involved in last year's attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya. The announcement ends weeks of Obama administration silence on questions about whether it was using all available means to catch the attackers.
In a letter sent to lawmakers on Friday, the department said the rewards were not publicized on its "Rewards for Justice" website as is normally done because of security issues around the ongoing investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the mission in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
"Due to security issues and sensitivities surrounding the investigation, the event-specific reward offer has not been publicly advertised on the RFJ website," the department said in a statement. "RFJ tools can be utilized in a variety of ways, without publicizing them on the website."
A State Department official familiar with the letter sent to Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, by Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield acknowledged that it's unusual not to publicize offers of rewards, but said investigators have other ways of making sure the information is known "as needed." In the course of the probe, investigators have made it known to individuals that cash is available for those coming forward with actionable information.
The official said the rewards have been in place since Jan. 7, while Hillary Rodham Clinton was still secretary of state. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the private correspondence and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Lawmakers had complained the department was not using everything at its disposal to catch the perpetrators. McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, had been the lead author of an Oct. 30 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking why rewards were not being offered for the Benghazi attackers. Eighty-two other lawmakers signed that letter.
McCaul's office did not comment on the letter Friday.
The State Department had previously ducked questions about whether rewards for the Benghazi attackers had been offered, citing concerns about identifying possible suspects. The refusal to discuss the issue had led to criticism from many, mostly conservative, lawmakers who believe that the administration badly mishandled the Benghazi affair and may have even attempted to cover up key details about the attack that occurred on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press