At the Washington Post this morning, Glenn Kessler posts a collection of the Obama administration’s evolving statements on Libya and some important reporting of facts surrounding the attacks.
“This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with. It is hard for the American people to make sense of that because it is senseless, and it is totally unacceptable.”
— Clinton, transfer of remains ceremony, Sept. 14 …
“Based on the best information we have to date ... it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.... We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
— Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sept. 16 …
“Well, you’re conveniently conflating two things, which is the anniversary of 9/11 and the incidents that took place, which are under investigation and the cause and motivation behind them will be decided by that investigation.”
— Carney, news briefing, Sept. 17 …
“Witnesses tell CBS News that there was never an anti-American protest outside of the consulate. Instead they say it came under planned attack. That is in direct contradiction to the administration’s account.”
— Margaret Brennan CBS News correspondent, CBS News report aired Sept. 20
Kessler writes: “We will leave it to readers to reach their own conclusions on whether this is merely the result of the fog of war and diplomacy — or a deliberate effort to steer the storyline away from more politically damaging questions. After all, in a competitive election, two weeks is a lifetime.”
Several other data points, however, help us resolve this question. There is considerable contemporaneous reporting that demonstrates the Obama administration knew long before it said so publicly that the attacks were planned and likely the work of al Qaeda-related terrorists.
From the start, prominent Democrats, and even an administration official, told reporters that the attacks were planned. Senator Carl Levin, emerging from a briefing on the attacks with Secretary of Defense, responded to a question about whether the attacks were planned. “I think there’s evidence of that. There’s been evidence of that,” he responded, adding: “The attack looked like it was planned and premeditated.”
Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, offered the same assessment. “This was not just a mob that got out of hand. Mobs don’t come in and attack, guns blazing. I think that there is a growing consensus it was preplanned.”
According to CNN, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy “has said that the attack appeared to be planned because it was so extensive and because of the ‘proliferation’ of small and medium weapons at the scene.”
And when did the administration understand the attacks were acts of terror?
For example: Olivier Knox, the White House correspondent for Yahoo News, reported in three separate tweets on September 20 and 21, that the administration knew from “Day One” that the Benghazi attacks were acts of terror. “Trying to pin down whether formally labeling Benghazi attack ‘terrorism’ unlocks new assets for investigation/response,” he tweeted. Then, later: “What the White House calls the Benghazi attack matters b/c it affects what assets US can use in response.” And: “But source tells me that determination was made privately on Day One. So public rhetoric has caught up to policy.”
On September 20, 2012, Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier reported that U.S. intelligence officials were looking at a former Guantanamo detainee, currently a leader of Ansar al Sharia, for his role in the attacks.
And late last week, TWS reported: “Intelligence officials understood immediately that the attacks took place on 9/11 for a reason.”
Yesterday, Newsweek’s Eli Lake reported: “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers. Three separate U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said the early information was enough to show that the attack was planned and the work of al Qaeda affiliates operating in Eastern Libya.”
Lake reported further:
“U.S. intelligence agencies developed leads on four of the participants of the attacks within 24 hours of the fire fight that took place mainly at an annex near the Benghazi consulate. For one of those individuals, the U.S. agencies were able to find his location after his use of social media. “We had two kinds of intelligence on one guy,” this official said. “We believe we had enough to target him.”
Another U.S. intelligence official said, “There was very good information on this in the first 24 hours. These guys have a return address. There are camps of people and a wide variety of things we could do.”
The inescapable conclusion: Even as several top Obama administration officials insisted publicly that we didn’t have information about whether the attacks were planned or involved al Qaeda sympathizers, defense and intelligence officials were telling the administration precisely the opposite.
This has happened before. From this week’s editorial:
On December 28, 2009, three days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives in his underwear aboard an airliner over Detroit, President Obama told the country that the incident was the work of “an isolated extremist.” It wasn’t. Abdulmutallab was trained, directed, and financed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a fact he shared with investigators early in his interrogation.
The same thing happened less than six months later, after Faisal Shahzad attempted to blow up his Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square. Two days following the botched attack, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano took to the Sunday shows to dismiss reports of a conspiracy and insisted that the attempted bombing was just a “one-off” by a single attacker. It wasn’t. A week later, after much of the information had leaked, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that the United States had “evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack. We know that they helped facilitate it, we know that they probably helped finance it and that he was working at their direction.”
In each instance, top administration officials quickly downplayed or dismissed the seriousness of the events, only to acknowledge, after the shock had worn off and the media had turned to other news, that their initial stories were incorrect. Whether it was because the attempted attacks were unsuccessful or because the media simply lost interest, the administration largely escaped serious criticism for making claims that turned out to be wrong.
Will they again?