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Benghazi Storytelling

Too many answers, not enough truthfulness.

Dec 10, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 13 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Within hours, the story changed again. The CIA notified the GOP senators that Morell had been wrong and that the changes to the language about al Qaeda had been made by the CIA and not the FBI. 

All of which raises the question: How is it that Morell, who accompanied Rice precisely so that he could provide an authoritative account of what had happened, didn’t know? Another problem: The latest version contradicts Petraeus, who had testified that the reference to al Qaeda that was in the version he approved was only taken out after the CIA passed them along.

That’s five changes to the story about the talking points in two weeks​—​and we still have a glaring contradiction between the testimony of the former CIA director and the latest claims from his replacement.

The reasons Obama officials have given for the edits have changed, too. At first we were told that al Qaeda references were excised because the links were thought to be “tenuous”​—​despite the fact that one of the pieces of intelligence supporting the al Qaeda ties was an intercepted phone call. Perhaps mindful of that evidence, we were later told that mentioning al Qaeda in the unclassified talking points could jeopardize sources and methods. Then came Morell’s contention that the FBI didn’t want to compromise an investigation and, following that, the current claim that we didn’t want to tip off the attackers that we were on to them by publicly assigning them responsibility.

When I asked a former senior intelligence official about that possibility, he said: “Nobody who can spell the word ‘intelligence’ believes that for a second.” A U.S. official investigating Benghazi was more blunt: “Complete bullshit.”

Senator Bob Corker, a top Republican on the Foreign Relations committee, met with Rice and Morell last week. The meeting, he says, “was a terse conversation, a direct conversation.” His questions remain unanswered. “I was in Libya after the attacks,” he says. “I spent a lot of time with our [CIA] station chief on that trip. He told me that he was communicating with Washington in real-time and said immediately that this was a terrorist attack that was probably carried out by al Qaeda and its affiliates.” He says the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli told him the same thing. (The Associated Press reported earlier that the CIA station chief sent a cable to Washington fingering Ansar al Sharia and possibly Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.)

The classified reporting, available to Rice before her September 16 TV appearances, “was filled with information about al Qaeda involvement” in the attacks, says one congressional Republican. “If she read any of that material, she knew.”

So why did Rice speak of a “spontaneous protest” sparked by a “hateful video”? Why was information about the involvement of al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists kept out of the administration’s public narrative? Good question. It’s happened before.

When the FBI questioned Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab after his failed attempt to bring down a jet over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, he offered abundant detail about his links to terrorists. The Washington Post reported on December 26 that “federal officials have strongly suggested to lawmakers that the Nigerian man who attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight has connections with the al Qaeda terrorist network in Yemen.” The paper quoted Jane Harman, a California Democrat who was then chair of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence. She said she’d been briefed about “strong suggestions of a Yemen-al Qaeda connection and an intent to blow up the plane over U.S. airspace.” And yet two days after the story was published, on December 28, when President Obama first spoke to the country about the attacks, he suggested Abdulmutallab was “an isolated extremist.”

When Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate an SUV in Times Square five months later, administration officials at first attempted to downplay the incident and his ties to jihadists. Speaking the day after the attack on Sunday talk shows, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, claimed that Shahzad’s attack was a “one-off” event and that he didn’t have ties to terrorist networks. But U.S. intelligence had information immediately demonstrating Shahzad’s ties to the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda​—​something the administration would acknowledge several days later.

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