- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
A new 60 Minutes report on the attack on U.S. officials in Benghazi has reignited GOP outrage over the Obama administration’s handling of the September 2012 incident. But new information about the report’s central witness and his desire to profit off his story raises doubts about the accuracy of his scathing narrative.
On Sunday, a British security guard operating under the pseudonym Morgan Jones told 60 Minutes about his death-defying account of the night extremists killed four Americans in Benghazi. His account included sharp criticisms of officials responsible for U.S. diplomatic security in Benghazi and earned wide praise from Republicans in Congress.
“The 60 Minutes piece detailed the people on the ground saw this attack coming. Has anybody been fired for letting the consulate become a death trap?” asked Senator Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Republican then announced a hold on the confirmation of all White House nominees, including Jeh Johnson as homeland security chief and Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve chief, until the administration allows Benghazi witnesses to appear in front of Congress. “I’m not going to let this whole chapter close without having talked to the people in Benghazi who went through this living hell and pushed the administration to reconcile how their story about Benghazi was so different than the 60 Minutes report,” Graham told CNN.
But with great impact comes great scrutiny, which has led to more questions about Jones’s role in the incident. What’s beyond dispute is that Jones worked for the Britain-based contractor Blue Mountain, which was hired by the State Department to oversee perimeter security at the compound. On Thursday, the Washington Post obtained Jones’ written account of the Sept. 11 attack that he gave to his bosses a few days after the incident. In contrast with the 60 Minutes account, which saw him knocking out terrorists with the butt end of his rifle and scaling a 12-foot wall the night of the attack, the Blue Mountain report has Jones at his beach-side villa for the majority of the night. Despite an attempt to make it to the compound, Jones wrote that “we could not get anywhere near … as roadblocks had been set up.”
According to the newspaper, “[Jones] wrote that he visited the still-smoking compound the next day to view and photograph the destruction.”
There are also other red flags the Post story doesn’t include. For weeks, it seems, Jones tried to profit off his brush with disaster. In a Fox News report on Monday, reporter Adam Housley said his source relationship with Jones ended after he insisted upon receiving money. “He spoke to me on the phone a number of times and then we stopped speaking to him when he asked for money,” Housley said. On Fox News, that fact is introduced as an incidental footnote to the network’s follow up on the 60 Minutes story. It has become more relevant in light of The Post’s report. (Paying sources for information is typically frowned upon in American journalism.)
Jones has other ways of cashing in as well. This week, his book titled The Embassy House was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a part of CBS Corporation, which owns 60 Minutes — a fact not disclosed in the 60 Minutes story. His book is also going to make it on the silver screen. In October, Thunder Road acquired The Embassy House for a feature on the Benghazi attack produced by Basil Iwanyk and executive produced by Taylor Sheridan.
At press time, a representative at Threshold Editions in charge of publicity for The Embassy House did not respond to a request for comment. 60 Minutes has said “We stand firmly by the story we broadcast last Sunday.”
When asked if Senator Graham’s hold on all White House nominees was still in effect in light of the criticisms of Jones’s account, Graham’s spokesman said “no change.”
It’s certainly possible that Jones’s account on 60 Minutes is the accurate portrayal of his activities the night of the attack as opposed to the account given to his employer. However, if that’s not the case, there certainly will be a number of journalists, Hollywood executives, publishers and politicians with egg on their face.
On Monday, when asked about Graham’s threat to block all Obama nominees, White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed the maneuver as political in nature. “We obviously believe very strongly that the Senate needs to move expeditiously to consider and confirm the many qualified presidential nominees whose nominations are pending,” he said. “When it comes to oversight and Benghazi, as you know, the administration has made extraordinary efforts to work with seven different congressional committees investigating what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks. That includes testifying at 13 congressional hearings, participating in 40 staff briefings, and providing over 25,000 pages of documents.”