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Father of Benghazi victim reacts to Congress hearings

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Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 01:27 AM
TAMPA -

The landlord fixed up Ray Smith's Gulfport apartment recently and bought the disabled Vietnam veteran a 55-inch television.

The first thing Smith saw when he turned it on was a news story about the attack Sept. 11 on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Smith's estranged son, Sean Smith, Ambassador Chris Stevens and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

"It was devastating," Smith said Friday morning as hearings on Benghazi were taking place on Capitol Hill. His landlord's son, watching with Smith, turned off the TV and popped in a video.

"We went from Benghazi to 'Madagascar 3,' " said the landlord, Michael Fidaleo.

Thursday morning, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, watched some very different video.

It was a real-time feed of the attack from the consulate's closed-circuit TV system and from an unmanned aircraft flying overhead.

It was a revealing account of a tragic episode that figured in the U.S. presidential campaign and still haunts the Obama administration. And it confirmed Rooney's concerns, he said.

"Our ambassador is dead," he said. "Three other Americans are dead. We didn't protect them. We were grossly unprepared for any kind of infiltration of that consulate."

The video, Rooney said, shows "these guys literally walked into the compound — it's not like what you would think — people running around and guns blazing. There was gunfire at the beginning, but then they walked in and stole stuff.

"In one case a guy walked out with an Xbox. Another guy walked out with a suit. Then they left and set the building on fire. And that's how the ambassador died."

"It was infuriating to me," Rooney said. "The whole time there is a Libyan militia there, supposed to be protecting the compound. At least helping. But not what we are seeing on the video."

Stevens and Smith died at the consulate.

The video, said Rooney, does not show how they were killed.

But it does show how Smith "did everything he could to save the life of our ambassador and not leave his side."

On Friday morning, Rooney and U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young attended a closed-door presentation on Capitol Hill by former CIA Director David Petraeus, who met with the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Young, the Indian Shores Republican who is chairman of the influential House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee, was one of six congressional leaders to meet with James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, on Friday morning in Washington.

At the Petraeus meeting, Rooney sat with Young.

Petraeus apologized about the circumstances of his resignation Nov. 9. He admitted then to an extramarital affair that was revealed after his mistress sent anonymous emails to a friend of Petraeus, Tampa socialite Jill Kelley.

Otherwise, the affair was off the table Friday.

Petraeus, a retired four-star general who ran U.S. Central Command in Tampa, rehashed earlier testimony about what information the CIA provided the White House on the attack, Rooney said.

Petraeus was not under oath. He said the CIA told the White House the attack initially appeared as though it could be related to unrest at other U.S. consular facilities in the region, with angry crowds protesting a made-in-the-U.S. anti-Islam video.

But Petraeus also said the CIA informed the White House that elements of al-Qaida might have been involved.

Young, calling the statements a rehash, said no new ground was broken and he was satisfied with what Petraeus had to say.

"I think Petraeus has given a very accurate account of what happened there as the CIA saw it," said Young, declining to elaborate.

Young did say he is frustrated that "there are a lot of issues relative to Petraeus and Benghazi that are classified that really don't pertain to national security."

As for the meeting with Clapper: "Frankly, it was a little dated," Young said. "We asked for this over a month ago."

Clapper was "very thorough," Young said. "He basically confirmed everything Petraeus said about the involvement of the agency and its assets."

The subject of Kelley did come up at a meeting Thursday of the House Intelligence Committee, Rooney said.

He was given a briefing about another set of emails, between Kelley and Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Those emails are the subject of a Department of Defense inspector general's investigation of Allen.

Scant information about the emails has been made public. The Pentagon characterized them as possibly inappropriate.

Rooney cautioned against reading too much into news reports about the email exchange. The public, he said, "needs to reserve judgment" about Kelley and Allen "and not jump to conclusions."

If the emails between Kelley and Allen "are inappropriate," Rooney said, "we are all in deep trouble."

"I would be very careful about piling on the rabbit here."

Ray Smith has never heard of Kelley, whose international notoriety has grown by the day since she was linked in news reports to the Petraeus affair.

"Who?" Smith responded when asked about the 37-year-old wife and mother of three whose cozy relations with military, intelligence and political leaders has come to light after her connection to the Petraeus case became public.

Smith was far more interested in hearing what Rooney had to say about the video that showed his son's waning moments.

"I heard rumors of it," he said, referring to how his son stayed with Stevens until the end. "It sounds like something my son would do."

Smith, who hasn't seen his son in years and had only recently begun to reconnect via letters, said he has no interest in the scenes from Benghazi.

"I don't want to see that video. My son suffered. He gave his life. That makes me sad."


haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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