During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick was asked about the connections between Muhammad Jamal’s network and the Benghazi attack.
Jamal, as I documented in a response to Kirkpatrick’s Times piece, was clearly operating as part of al Qaeda’s international network. And according to multiple reports, including in the New York Times itself, Jamal’s network is suspected of taking part in the Benghazi attack.
This reporting contradicts Kirkpatrick’s thesis that only “local” Libyan actors were involved and that neither al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, nor any other internationally connected terrorist groups, took part in the September 11, 2012 assault.
Cooper asked Kirkpatrick if the Jamal ties showed an al Qaeda link to Benghazi and about the Times’s own reporting on this connection. Kirkpatrick responded:
I don't believe that group was involved. I think that the reporting in our paper was citing some congressional officials saying they thought this Jamal group might have been involved. And the congressional officials in turn were citing a report in the Wall Street Journal and that report seems to me to the best of my knowledge to have come from Egyptian intelligence. And at the end of the day, what it asserts is just that this character Jamal may have run a training camp someplace and people who had been at that training camp may have been involved in the attack. So it’s…to my mind a bogus connection and also a tenuous connection and it is certainly not a connection that the New York Times has ever put its weight behind.
The Jamal network’s role in Benghazi cannot be both “bogus” and “tenuous,” of course. Either there are ties, however tenuous, or there are not. In reality, the Jamal network’s role is neither “bogus,” nor “tenuous.”
Three current U.S. intelligence officials tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that no new information has cast doubt on the Jamal network’s role in Benghazi. Each of the U.S. intelligence officials said that it is their current assessment that Jamal’s network was directly involved.
The United Nations Security Council’s Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee also finds reports of the Jamal network’s involvement to be credible.
In its October 18, 2013 designation of Jamal and his network as al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, the UN noted the following with respect to Jamal:
Reported to be involved in the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 Sep. 2012.
The UN also wrote in reference to the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN):
MJN members were reported to be involved in the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 Sep. 2012.
There are multiple additional problems with Kirkpatrick’s explanation.
Kirkpatrick claims that the Times never “put its weight behind” behind the Jamal network’s connection to Benghazi. But the Times did not cast doubt on this connection when its sources previously told them about it. It's not even clear what Kirkpatrick means. Either the Times’s sources were right or they were wrong. Either the report was accurate or it wasn't. If it wasn't, if Kirkpatrick thinks something the paper once reported as fact is now “tenuous” or even “bogus,” shouldn't he explain why?
Here is the language from the Times’s October 29, 2012 report:
Three Congressional investigations and a State Department inquiry are now examining the attack, which American officials said included participants from Ansar al-Shariah, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.
Kirkpatrick says that this passage cited congressional officials. The Times’s sources are described only as “American officials.” Note that this sentence does not just cite Congressional investigations, but also a “State Department inquiry.”
Has Kirkpatrick or any of the Times’s other journalists gone back to the sources they cited in this sentence and asked them if they still think Jamal’s network was involved in Benghazi? What is the basis for Kirkpatrick’s new belief that Jamal and his trainees were not involved?
Kirkpatrick told CNN’s Cooper that the congressional officials he says were the source for the sentence above were merely referencing an earlier report in the Wall Street Journal. And, Kirkpatrick adds, he believes that “Egyptian intelligence” was the ultimate source for this information.
Here is the Wall Street Journal account, dated October 1, 2012, by Siobhan Gorman and Matt Bradley: “Militant Link to Libya Attack.”
There is no mention of Egyptian intelligence in it. It is worth noting that even if part of this intelligence had come from the Egyptians, that does not mean it was wrong. U.S. officials probably have consulted the Egyptians on Jamal’s activities.
But this is how the WSJ said the Jamal network’s ties to Benghazi were discovered (emphasis added):
U.S. officials working with Libyans to investigate the consulate assault in Benghazi have identified some of the attackers and believe some are associates of [Jamal]. Also believed present were militants affiliated with other groups, including Ansar al Sharia, a local group, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has origins in Algeria.
So according to the WSJ, “U.S. officials working with Libyans” discovered that Jamal’s associates were among the attackers – not Egyptian intelligence.
There are two other noteworthy passages from the WSJ’s report. The second paragraph reads:
Fighters linked to one freed militant, Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, took part in the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya that killed four Americans, U.S. officials believe based on initial reports. Intelligence reports suggest that some of the attackers trained at camps he established in the Libyan Desert, a former U.S. official said.
Again, part of this intelligence picture may very well have come from the Egyptians, but that is not what the WSJ account says. And the sources cited are U.S. officials, who had been independently looking into Jamal’s network.
The second additional noteworthy passage is this one:
U.S. spy agencies have been tracking [Jamal’s] activities for several months. The Benghazi attacks gave a major boost to his prominence in their eyes.
Therefore, the WSJ cites U.S. officials and says that U.S. officials, working in conjunction with the Libyans, had discovered the Jamal network’s ties to Benghazi. “U.S. spy agencies” had been “tracking” Jamal for months, when the Benghazi attacks “gave a major boost to his prominence in their eyes.”
None of this squares with what Kirkpatrick told Cooper.
A subsequent report by the WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman on December 7, 2012 reiterated the role of U.S. intelligence:
U.S. interest in [Jamal] intensified after U.S. intelligence officials identified operatives from his network at the scene of the fatal attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, officials say.
Once again, “U.S. intelligence officials” did the identifying. The WSJ added: “U.S. intelligence aided in [Jamal’s] capture, an official said.”
The Dec. 7, 2012 WSJ account, which was published more than one month after the Times’s report, notes that Egyptian officials connected members of Jamal’s Nasr City Cell, which was just a part of his overall operation, to Benghazi. But this was in addition to the work done by U.S. intelligence and U.S. officials could not confirm what the Egyptians were saying about the five specific members of the Nasr City Cell at the time.
It is easy to see why this reporting further complicates Kirkpatrick’s narrative. During interviews, he has tried to present his views as the consensus of U.S. intelligence. For instance, on NBC’s Meet the Press this past weekend, Kirkpatrick was asked how he could be sure that al Qaeda hadn’t played a role in the Benghazi terrorist attack.
Kirkpatrick answered: “Well, I don’t think I`m out on a limb there. I think honestly if you asked anybody in the U.S. intelligence business, they would tell you the same thing.”
But this is not the case. Several U.S. intelligence officials have told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that multiple al Qaeda-affiliated groups and individuals are suspected of playing a direct role. Two members of the House Intelligence Committee, one Republican (Mike Rogers, the Chairman) and one Democrat (Adam Schiff), have similarly disputed Kirkpatrick’s claim.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee have received numerous briefings on Benghazi from the U.S. intelligence community. It is obvious that Kirkpatrick’s sweeping conclusions are not consistent with what they have been told.
U.S. intelligence officials have connected Jamal’s network to both al Qaeda and Benghazi. They had been watching Jamal beforehand.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.