The administration's new line takes shape in two articles out Saturday, one in the Los Angeles Times and the other by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. The Times piece reports that there is no evidence of an al Qaeda role in the attack. The Ignatius column makes a directly political argument, claiming that "the Romney campaign may have misfired with its suggestion that statements by President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice about the Benghazi attacks weren't supported by intelligence, according to documents provided by a senior intelligence official."
If this is the best the Obama administration can offer in its defense, they're in trouble. The Times story is almost certainly wrong and the central part of the Ignatius "scoop" isn't a scoop at all. We'll start there.
David Ignatius, a reporter's columnist with excellent sources in the Obama administration and the intelligence community, reports: "Talking points" prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept 11 attack on the U.S. consulate as a reaction to the Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US consulate and subsequently into its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."
There are two problems with this. The CIA "talking points" don't say that what Ignatius claims and the supposedly exculpatory documents were first reported three weeks ago.
On October 1, Newsweek's Eli Lake reported: "For eight days after the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, government officials said the attacks were a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam film. Now that officials have acknowledged they were a premeditated act of terrorism, the question some members of Congress are trying to answer is why it took so long for the truth to come out. Unclassified documents from the Central Intelligence Agency suggest the answer may have to do with so-called talking points written by the CIA and distributed to members of Congress and other government officials, including Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations. The documents, distributed three days after the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, said the events were spontaneous."
Lake continued, quoting directly from the CIA talking points, in language that may sound familiar to anyone who read the third paragraph above: "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the demonstrations." Both the Ignatius and Lake versions of the talking points note that the "assessment may change as additional information is collected" and that the "investigation is on-going."
Note that the "talking points" do not claim that the attackers in Benghazi were directly motivated by the film, something the Obama administration claimed for nearly two weeks after 9/11. The talking points only say that the "demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired" by Cairo.
We now know, of course, that there were no demonstrations in Benghazi. Those inside the compound heard gunfire at 9:40 p.m. local time and within minutes the compound was under siege. Surveillance photos and videos taken in the hours before the attack give no indication of a protest. And one CIA official tells Ignatius that it would have been better to substitute "opportunistic" for "spontaneous" since there was "some pre-coordination but minimal planning."
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