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Spinning Terror, Again

11:45 PM, Sep 16, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Intelligence officials are looking into whether the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo had some advance planning, as well. On September 10, Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian who replaced Osama bin Laden as al Qaeda’s top leader, released a video message promising to avenge the death of a top Libyan al Qaeda operative, Abu Yahya al Libi. “Every time martyrs fall, then the call of jihad gets new life,” Ayman al Zawahiri said, according to a translation provided by the SITE Institute. “And every time the spirit of jihad spreads, the end nears for the arrogance and mightiness of the evil empire, America.” As he says these words, the video shows footage of his brother, Mohammad al Zawahiri, who led the protest in Cairo the following day – the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. In addition to that, a U.S. official reviewing the intelligence on the attacks tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD that security officials guarding the embassy “melted away” when the protests intensified – something that had not happened during any of the other previous protests at the embassy.

Still, those speaking for the Obama administration continued to insist through the weekend that the attack was a spontaneous event.

There is a pattern here. In the aftermath of previous attacks, the Obama administration has held onto whatever storyline makes them least potentially culpable long after evidence suggested it was incorrect.

After Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb in his underwear on December 25, 2009, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano insisted that “the system worked.” It hadn’t. And three days after the attack, well after the U.S. government began to learn the extent of Abdulmutallab’s relationship to international terrorism, and after the bomber himself told the FBI that he’d trained with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, President Obama read a statement claiming that Abdulmutallab was “an isolated extremist.”

On May 3, 2010, two days after Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate a Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dismissed reports of a broader conspiracy and insisted that the attack was just a “one-off” attempt by a single terrorist.

She was wrong. “We’ve now developed evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack,” Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News one week later. “We know that they helped facilitate it, we know that they probably helped finance it and that he was working at their direction.” Indeed, one day before the attempted attack, the Pakistani Taliban had set up an Internet video channel and uploaded a video claiming credit for a coming attack on U.S. soil.

In both of those instances, the fact that the attacks were unsuccessful mitigated the effects of the intelligence failures that preceded the attempts.

In the aftermath of the violence in Egypt and Libya, the Obama administration is facing tough questions about these attacks, in particular, and Obama’s policies in the greater Middle East. The president has been campaigning as the leader who killed Osama bin Laden and has presided over the decimation of al Qaeda. “The war on terror is over,” a senior State Department official said last spring.

But the war on terror is not over. And just as they’ve had to do after presenting flawed accounts of previous attacks, look for the Obama administration to adjust its story on the events of last week in Egypt and Libya.

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