Some members and staff charged this week that Obama administration has failed to give everyone in Congress enough information to judge its new war against terrorism, and said many members weren't even aware of the shadowy group known as Khorasan until days before the U.S. bombed that group.
The administration announced Monday night that it stepped up airstrikes against targets in Syria, and said Tuesday that it struck against Khorasan.
Some members and staff say President Obama, pictured here at the United Nations, isn't giving everyone in Congress enough data to judge its new anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
The news was a surprise to members like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who told TheBlaze that he was never made aware of the existence of the group in classified briefings that he attended earlier this month. King said he first learned about the group from press reports, after it was first mentioned publicly by National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
"I'll tell you what I learned about it in classified briefings," King said. "Nothing."
A House aide whose portfolio is foreign policy also confirmed that in several briefings this month, Khorasan was not mentioned at all. This aide said questions were asked about whether there was any new threat to the U.S., and were told by officials that there was no credible threat.
Just days later, Joint Chiefs of Staff Director Bill Mayville said the U.S. bombed Khorasan because of an imminent threat to U.S. national security. "Intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against western targets, and potentially the U.S. homeland," he said.
Complaints about the lack of timely information seems to indicate that not all members have been briefed equally on the attacks that are ongoing and could last several years. This week, a Senate aide confirmed that the Senate Intelligence Committee had been briefed about Khorasan, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was also aware of the group.
"On the Intelligence Committee we have long been aware of, and concerned with, the threat posed by this amalgam of core Al Qaeda from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the premier bomb-makers of AQAP, and abundant foreign recruits who can easily travel abroad to carry out attacks against Europe and United States," he said. "The Khorasan group and AQAP continue to be the most proximate threat to our nation."
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who also serves on the House committee, told Buzzfeed this week that he was aware of the group for "several months."
"I'm surprised it even came out," King said. "It was supposed to be top secret, classified, and it wasn't until last week that an AP story had it in there. But we weren't supposed to talk about it."
A House aide confirmed that the House Armed Services Committee had also been briefed about Khorasan.
Administration officials have said they tried not to even mention the name of the group until the last few days in order to maintain the element of surprise. But the move also has King wondering openly whether the group is really as dangerous as the officials say, and whether the Defense Department is suddenly claiming an imminent threat from the group as a way to justify air attacks in Syria.
"You wonder whether the administration was focused on it, or whether it's a nice, convenient legal justification to strike into Syria," he said. "We know they are capable of those things."
If other members have more information about the attacks, they're not telling. On Wednesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) was asked to describe the threat posed by Khorasan, but largely repeated the administration's claims.
"The briefings that we had indicated that there was a growing ability, a near ability, to put together explosive devices which could get through the security at airports and that's all I can tell you," he told reporters. "And that they were at a point, at a critical point in being able to develop that capability."
And while members are trying to catch up to Khorasan, some say they don't have enough information to judge whether the Islamic State poses an imminent threat to the United States. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who has called on Congress to vote on whether to authorize attacks against the Islamic State, or ISIS, says officials have yet to explain how the group might attack the U.S.
"I, as a congressman, have not received the level of information I need to judge whether ISIS is an immediate threat to the U.S.," said Amash, according to Michigan Live.