The Magazine

Twenty Questions

Oct 29, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 07 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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At about 3 p.m. on Thursday, October 18, Barack Obama strode into the Manhattan studios of Comedy Central for a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The two men discussed several issues, including Libya. Stewart noted the exchange between Obama and Mitt Romney on that subject at the debate earlier in the week and asked Obama about the “confusion within the administration” over the attack that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead in Benghazi.

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“Why? What was it that caused that confusion?” -Stewart asked.

“Well, we weren’t confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed,” the president replied. “I wasn’t confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world right after it happened. I wasn’t confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happened so it gets fixed. And I wasn’t confused about the fact that we’re going to hunt down whoever did it and bring ’em to justice. So, as I said during the debate, nobody’s more interested in figuring this out more than I am.”

At roughly the same time the president was chatting with Stewart in New York City, another interview was taking place in Benghazi, Libya. The man suspected of organizing the attack on the U.S. consulate there, Ahmed Abu Khattala, “spent two leisurely hours .  .  . sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio” with a reporter from the New York Times and boasting that he hasn’t even been questioned by investigators from the governments of Libya or the United States. He has not gone into hiding and has no plans to do so. The Times reported that Abu Khattala, a leader of al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Sharia, “expressed a notable absence of remorse over the assault.” According to the story, “witnesses have said they saw him directing other fighters that night,” and both governments believe he was involved. Abu Khattala denied he masterminded the attack but confirmed reports that he was in the compound. Why? He happened to be in the area “to break up a traffic jam,” and after the fighting broke out he entered the -facility because he wanted to help Libyan guards working for the Americans.

We commend Times reporter David Kirkpatrick for getting the interview, but it raises an obvious question. Why is it that, more than a month after the attack, a New York Times reporter can spend two leisurely hours with the alleged mastermind, yet no agent of the U.S. government has ever approached him? 

In his interview with Jon Stewart, Obama also claimed, implausibly, that his administration has been eager to share information about the attacks with the American people.

“When a tragic event like this happens on the other side of the world, immediately a whole bunch of intelligence starts coming in and people try to piece together exactly what happened,” he explained. “And what I have always tried to do is to make sure we just get all the facts, figure out what went wrong, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. And we’re still in that process now. But everything we get, every piece of information we get—as we got it—we laid it out for the American people.” Really?

On Friday, the Associated Press reported: “The CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month’s deadly attack on the U.S. consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.”

But the Obama administration took more than a week to acknowledge directly that it was a terrorist attack. And some two weeks after the fact, top administration officials, including the president himself, were still pushing the discredited notion that the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest sparked by the video. 

The CIA station chief in Libya would certainly be the first person consulted after the attacks and the official with the most authoritative voice in explaining what happened. Are we really to believe that his reporting was ignored for two weeks?

If the president really wants to level with the American people, here are some questions he needs to answer.

1. Were there references to Libyan security threats in the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) during the three weeks before the attacks in Benghazi?

2. If there were, did President Obama participate in an intelligence briefing after the Libya threat was raised in the PDB?

3. Did President Obama ask his CIA briefer about threats in Libya during the three weeks before the attacks?

4. Were Libyan security threats discussed in any daily intelligence briefing that President Obama did not attend?

5. How many morning intelligence briefings did President Obama participate in during the month prior to the Benghazi attack?

6. Did any other governments or liaison intelligence services warn us about threats in Libya in the days before the attack in Benghazi?

7. Did any of the communications from intelligence officials in Libya on September 10 include discussions of threats to the consulate in Benghazi or other U.S. interests? Will the administration make those communications available?

8. The State Department’s timeline notes that Ambassador Stevens, who participated in meetings around Benghazi on September 10, was instructed to remain in the Benghazi compound on September 11, the day of the attack? Why? Were there specific threat warnings?

9. Did any intelligence product—raw or finished—include detailed reporting on any protest outside the compound in Benghazi before the attack began?

10. If not, why did administration officials repeatedly mention alleged protests? Where did those claims originate?

11. A senior administration official told the Washington Post on September 13 that the compound in Benghazi featured a “robust American security presence.” Does the White House stand by that assessment?

12. Why did U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, who has no direct involvement in the Libya attacks and no special intelligence knowledge on Libya, appear on multiple TV shows on September 16 to claim that spontaneous protests over the video led to the attack? Was Secretary Clinton or some other high official asked to represent the administration, before Rice was sent out instead?

13. Did James Clapper, the director of national intelligence and CIA director David Petraeus clear Susan Rice’s talking points? If not, who did?

14. A September 28 statement from Clapper’s office  claiming that administration talking points had come from the intelligence community was not signed by Clapper. Why not?

15. Who was on the interagency phone call on Saturday, September 15, to prepare Rice for her TV interviews?

16. Did Rice talk to any senior Obama campaign advisers before she spoke for the administration?

17. Is there any intelligence product—raw or finished—that links the attacks in Benghazi to the anti-Islam YouTube video?

18. If not, why did President Obama himself make a direct link between the film and the attack during his September 18 appearance on the David Letterman show?

19. Will the White House release unclassified versions of the PDBs and Daily Threat Briefs for the three weeks before the Benghazi attack?

20. Will President Obama ever hold a news conference to address these and other unanswered questions about the attacks in Benghazi?

That makes 20 questions for the president, but this is no parlor game. Four lives were lost, and the credibility of the administration is at stake.


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