Michael Morell wants you to know that he’s been misunderstood, mischaracterized, and maligned. Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, was at the center of the controversy over the Benghazi attacks and the Obama administration’s attempts to sell the country a phony narrative about what had happened and why. He’s written a memoir of his time at the highest levels of U.S. intelligence, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism—From al Qa’ida to ISIS, and it includes two chapters on Benghazi.
Morell would have us believe that he’s written these 47 pages on Benghazi to correct misperceptions about his role and provide context for his actions. His critics will see his account rather as a transparent attempt to rewrite history and salvage what little credibility Morell retained after the Benghazi scandal. The critics are right. Morell’s attempt fails miserably.
Start with the facts about Benghazi that Morell doesn’t challenge:
* In every case, the changes made by administration and intelligence officials to the Benghazi talking points originated by the CIA had the effect of downplaying the significance of the attacks—cutting “Islamic,” replacing “attacks” with “demonstrations,” removing “with ties to al Qaeda,” excising mention of the involvement of Ansar al Sharia.
* Despite his own heavy hand in editing the Benghazi talking points, Morell sat silent when members of Congress grilled intelligence officials, including Morell, about who had made the changes.
* When he was asked if the intelligence community had provided the Benghazi talking points to the White House for “awareness or coordination,” Morell claimed that they were provided for awareness—as something of a courtesy. He made that claim despite the existence of dozens of pages of email traffic showing the clear coordination of the talking points between the intelligence community and top Obama officials at the White House and elsewhere.
* Although Susan Rice made misleading claims during her Sunday television appearances—claims that never appeared in the intelligence on Benghazi—Morell agreed to a White House request that he accompany her to a meeting with senators as she prepared for her possible nomination as Obama’s next secretary of state.
Morell doesn’t dispute these facts. That is both prudent and necessary: They’re indisputable.
Instead, he concedes that it was a “serious mistake” for CIA public affairs officials to remove the fact that the attackers had “ties to al Qaeda.” He allows that the talking points “could have been more robust.” He concedes that he should have acknowledged his role in editing the talking points when members of Congress asked him about the changes. He abandons his claim that the talking points were shared with the White House only for “awareness” and not “coordination,” and concedes that his original claim “was clearly not right.” He further concedes that he never should have accompanied Rice on her repair-the-damage visit to Capitol Hill: “Attending the meeting was a mistake.”
Such mea culpas are common in political memoirs. The former government officials who write tell-all accounts of their service often include admissions of error or mistaken judgment, and whether the authors intend it or not, these confessions often engender some empathy and occasionally seem to restore some of the credibility lost in the original commission of the errors.
That doesn’t happen here because Morell’s revisionist account of what happened in Benghazi reeks of the same mendacity that got him in trouble in the first place. At times, Morell, who scratched and clawed and pleased his way to the very top of the intelligence bureaucracy in Washington, would have us believe that he was a naïf, unaware of the politics being practiced by everyone around him. This is true of his explanation for his decision to accompany Susan Rice to Capitol Hill.
Morell writes that there were two sets of talking points: those produced by the intelligence community and a second set produced by the White House. In its talking points, the White House was “blaming the Benghazi attack on the [YouTube] video which is not something CIA did in its talking points or in its classified analysis.” And while Rice echoed the intelligence community talking points in her Sunday show appearances, “she also said that the video had led to the protests in Benghazi,” Morell argues. “Why she said this I do not know.”