‘There’s No There There’

Obama on Benghazi

THE BLOG

Obama on Benghazi: ‘There’s No There There’

12:07 PM, MAY 13, 2013 • BY DANIEL HALPER

At a press conference today at the White House, President Obama said “There’s no there there” on criticism of how his administration handled the Benghazi terror attack:

“And suddenly three days ago this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story,” Obama said in response to a question about Benghazi. “There’s no there there.”

The president continued, “Keep in mind by the way these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice, five, six days after the event occurred, pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing.”

OOPS!  There is some there there.

The Benghazi Scandal Grows

The State Department, the CIA, the White House . . .

MAY 20, 2013, VOL. 18, NO. 34 • BY STEPHEN F. HAYES

CIA director David Petraeus was surprised when he read the freshly rewritten talking points an aide had emailed him in the early afternoon of Saturday, September 15. One day earlier, analysts with the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis had drafted a set of unclassified talking points policymakers could use to discuss the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But this new version​—​produced with input from senior Obama administration policymakers​—​was a shadow of the original.

WhistleblowersANDREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES/LANDOV

The original CIA talking points had been blunt: The assault on U.S. facilities in Benghazi was a terrorist attack conducted by a large group of Islamic extremists, including some with ties to al Qaeda.

These were strong claims. The CIA usually qualifies its assessments, providing policymakers a sense of whether the conclusions of its analysis are offered with “high confidence,” “moderate confidence,” or “low confidence.” That first draft signaled confidence, even certainty: “We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.”

There was good reason for this conviction. Within 24 hours of the attack, the U.S. government had intercepted communications between two al Qaeda-linked terrorists discussing the attacks in Benghazi. One of the jihadists, a member of Ansar al Sharia, reported to the other that he had participated in the assault on the U.S. diplomatic post. Solid evidence. And there was more. Later that same day, the CIA station chief in Libya had sent a memo back to Washington, reporting that eyewitnesses to the attack said the participants were known jihadists, with ties to al Qaeda.

Before circulating the talking points to administration policymakers in the early evening of Friday, September 14, CIA officials changed “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda” to simply “Islamic extremists.” But elsewhere, they added new contextual references to radical Islamists. They noted that initial press reports pointed to Ansar al Sharia involvement and added a bullet point highlighting the fact that the agency had warned about another potential attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the region. “On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the [Cairo] Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.” All told, the draft of the CIA talking points that was sent to top Obama administration officials that Friday evening included more than a half-dozen references to the enemy​—​al Qaeda, Ansar al Sharia, jihadists, Islamic extremists, and so on.

The version Petraeus received in his inbox Saturday, however, had none. The only remaining allusion to the bad guys noted that “extremists” might have participated in “violent demonstrations.”

In an email at 2:44 p.m. to Chip Walter, head of the CIA’s legislative affairs office, Petraeus expressed frustration at the new, scrubbed talking points, noting that they had been stripped of much of the content his agency had provided. Petraeus noted with evident disappointment that the policymakers had even taken out the line about the CIA’s warning on Cairo. The CIA director, long regarded as a team player, declined to pick a fight with the White House and seemed resigned to the propagation of the administration’s preferred narrative. The final decisions about what to tell the American people rest with the national security staff, he reminded Walter, and not with the CIA.

This candid, real-time assessment from then-CIA director Petraeus offers a glimpse of what many intelligence officials were saying privately as top Obama officials set aside the truth about Benghazi and spun a fanciful tale about a movie that never mattered and a demonstration that never happened.

“The YouTube video was a nonevent in Libya,” said Gregory Hicks, a 22-year veteran diplomat and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli at the time of the attacks, in testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on May 8. “The only report that our mission made through every channel was that there had been an attack on a consulate . . . no protest.”

So how did Jay Carney, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and others come to sell the country a spurious narrative about a movie and a protest?

There are still more questions than answers. But one previously opaque aspect of the Obama administration’s efforts is becoming somewhat clearer. An email sent to Susan Rice following a key White House meeting where officials coordinated their public story lays out what happened in that meeting and offers more clues about who might have rewritten the talking points.

Republicans call for depositions in Benghazi probe, amid revelation Clinton barely interviewed.

hillary26n-1-web

Republicans call for depositions in Benghazi probe, amid revelation Clinton barely interviewed.

 

 

Congressional Republicans on Sunday pressed their investigation into the Benghazi attacks, suggesting depositions for high-ranking officials and more whistle-blowers testifying amid further questions about why then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not thoroughly interviewed about the issue.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told “Fox News Sunday” that more potential and self-proclaimed “whistle-blowers” might come forward after three of them – career State Department foreign service employees – testified last week before the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee.

“We have had people come forward because of the (hearing) and say we would also like to talk,” the Michigan Republican told “Fox News Sunday.” “I do think we’re going to see more whistle-blowers. Certainly my committee has been contacted; I think other committees as well.”

Rogers’ remarks came as Thomas Pickering, the former U.S. ambassador who helped write a report on security at a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, defended his assessment but absolved Clinton.

“We knew where the responsibility rested,” Pickering told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”  “They’ve tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made.”

Pickering said he and retired Adm. Mike Mullen had to work within the legal scope of the investigation and that they “knew and understood” Clinton’s role based upon “talking to other people at meetings.”

Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. outpost.

Benghazi Massacre Blog copy

Congressional Republicans have since led efforts to learn whether the Obama administration provided adequate security and if the explanation of events was altered as part of a possible political cover-up.

Among the lingering questions are whether Clinton was involved in changing a CIA memo about how the attacks started and was she at least partially responsible for the apparent lack of adequate security.

The Accountability and Review Board, led by Pickering and Mullen, did not question Clinton at length about the attacks but concluded the decisions about the consulate were made well below the secretary’s level.

However, Pickering’s defense Sunday of the panel’s conclusions appeared to do little to quiet Republicans’ calls for more accountability for the attacks, which killed Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and two embassy security personnel, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both former Navy SEALs.

Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” he would like to interview under oath Pickering and Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein told NBC that Congress’ review seems aimed at discrediting Clinton and her potential 2016 presidential bid.

Pickering and Mullen’s report, released in December, found that “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of the State Department meant that security was “inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

The House oversight committee hearing last week included testimony from Gregory Hicks, a former deputy chief of mission to Libya.

Hicks, a self-proclaimed whistle-blower, detailed his phone conversations from Tripoli with Stevens, who died during the two nighttime attacks.

Hicks and two other State Department witnesses criticized the Pickering and Mullen review. Their complaints centered on a report they consider incomplete, with individuals who weren’t interviewed and a focus on the assistant secretary level and lower.

The hours-long hearing produced no major revelation but renewed interest in the attacks that happened during the lead-up to the November 2012 presidential election.

Five days after the attacks, in the final weeks of President Obama’s re-election bid, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went on Sunday talk shows and said the attacks were “spontaneous” and sparked by protests elsewhere in the Middle East over an anti-Islamic video.

However, new reports show the original CIA memo on the incident was scrubbed of the mention of “Islamic militants” and early intelligence about Al Qaeda in the region.

The series of emails that circulated between the State Department and the CIA led to weakened — and, in some cases, wrong — language that Rice used to describe the assault.

Issa also said he will on Monday request private testimonies from Pickering and Mullen and that his oversight panel has not been provided sufficient details on the State Department review.

Pickering, who was sitting next to Issa during “Meet the Press,” said he wanted to appear at the Republican-led hearing Wednesday but was blocked.

Issa said Democrats could have invited their own witnesses, such as Pickering, but did not.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Sunday renewed congressional Republicans’ call for a House select committee on Benghazi — like the one used to investigate Watergate — and called the Obama administration’s handling of the terror attacks “a cover-up.”

“I would call it a cover-up in the extent that there was willful removal of information, which was obvious,” McCain said on ABC’s “This Week.”