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Reports On The Ground Contradict White House Narrative On Benghazi Attack

Reports on the ground from Libya are  seriously contradicting an important part of the White House narrative regarding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last Tuesday:

An intelligence source on the ground in Libya told Fox News that there was no demonstration outside the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi prior to last week’s attack — challenging the Obama administration’s claims that the assault grew out of a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islam film. “There was no protest and the attacks were not spontaneous,” the source said, adding the attack “was planned and had nothing to do with the movie.” The source said the assault came with no warning at about 9:35 p.m. local time, and included fire from more than two locations. The assault included RPG’s and mortar fire, the source said, and consisted of two waves.

This Fox report comes just a few days after McClatchy is reporting that one of the guards wounded in the attack says that there was no protest in front of the embassy prior to the attack:

BENGHAZI, Libya — A Libyan security guard who said he was at the U.S. consulate here when it was attacked Tuesday night has provided new evidence that the assault on the compound that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was a planned attack by armed Islamists and not the outgrowth of a protest over an online video that mocks Islam and its founder, the Prophet Muhammad. The guard, interviewed Thursday in the hospital where he is being treated for five shrapnel wounds in one leg and two bullet wounds in the other, said that the consulate area was quiet – “there wasn’t a single ant outside,” he said – until about 9:35 p.m., when as many as 125 armed men descended on the compound from all directions. The men lobbed grenades into the compound, wounding the guard and knocking him to the ground, then stormed through the facility’s main gate, shouting “God is great” and moving to one of the many villas that make up the consulate compound. He said there had been no warning that an attack was imminent. “Wouldn’t you expect if there were protesters outside that the Americans would leave?” the guard said. (…) The attack itself, the guard said, was immediate and bold, initiated by a group of men who approached the compound and lobbed grenades over the wall. Just behind them were scores of men, shooting wildly and yelling “God is great.” The guard, who said he’d been hired seven months ago by a British company to protect the compound, said the first explosion knocked him to the ground, and he was unable to fire his weapon. Four other contracted guards and three members of Libya’s 17th of February Brigade, a group formed during the first days of the anti-Gadhafi uprising and now considered part of Libya’s military, were protecting the outside perimeter of the compound. After storming through the gate, the guard said, the men rushed into one of the compound’s buildings, meeting no resistance. The guard did not say whether that was the building where the ambassador was. Thirty minutes later, the guard said, he realized he was about to lose consciousness and asked one of the attackers for help, saying he was merely a gardener at the compound. The man agreed to drive him to the hospital. As they were leaving, the guard said he saw the attackers enter a second villa on the compound.

The White House response to these reports is basically to just say that the Libyans, who are actually on the ground, don’t know what they’re talking about, although they did make one interesting concession:

U.S. officials, in response to the claim that there was no demonstration at the time of the attack, told Fox News there was a small protest earlier in the day — but they did not dispute that there was no significant or sizeable demonstration at the time. But a senior Obama administration official told Fox News on Monday morning that the Libyan president’s comments are not consistent with “the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community,” which has been investigating the incident, and are accordingly not credible. “He doesn’t have the information we have,” the U.S. official said of Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif.  ”"He doesn’t have the (data) collection potential that we have.”

It’s worth noting that initial reports of any incident like this don’t always turnout to be complete. However, up until now, the public story had always been, or at least implied, that the attack occurred contemporaneous with the protests but now even the U.S. Government is admitting that isn’t the case. The attack, clearly, occurred several hours later. This makes the claim that Ambassador Rice made yesterday that the attack was all about a movie and wasn’t pre-planned even harder to believe. The idea that the attack was spontaneous, which doesn’t seem credible to begin with given what we know about how it happened, becomes even less believable once you realize that the  attack occured several hours after a small protest against the movie. That fact alone makes the idea that there was any real connection between the two events even less likely, especially since the attackers clearly used the cover of darkness, and surprise, to launch their attack. That doesn’t seem like the  action of a bunch of protesters riled up by a movie. This incident needs to be investigated thoroughly, and the Administration needs to be honest with the American people about what happened, because that does not appear to be what’s happening now.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. jan says:

    Yeah, it is kind of weird that war veterans, the Libyan President, people on the ground all say this was a well-planned, choreographed event staged for 9/11 and aimed as a retaliation against the American people. In the meantime the Obama Administration narrative was that it was caused by a 3 month old youtube video that people interviewed on the ground say they never saw.

    In the meantime the absence of intelligence, on the part of the U.S., does not exonerate the Obama administration. It didn’t do it when Bush claimed ignorance of not having the right intelligence. The same should be apply to Obama and the minions, consultants and operatives around him, such as Susan Rice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. It seems that “spontaneous or not” has become a big domestic political question.

    Odd too that while Joe Scarborough goes on about how “they all hate us” we actually have lots of reports of love and support coming from the Libyans.

    It almost seems like a narrative is being reduced here, about broader failure in relations with Islamic countries, but which ignores the key issues country-by-country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  3. @jan:

    Which is more important for long-range American interests in North Africa? That the Libyan president thinks this was planned, or that the Libyan president is clearly on our side?

    Why would you focus on the less important one? Do you think the Libyan President’s support is in any way linked to the success of the dead Ambassador?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    I thought that the administration and Ms Rice made a serious mistake. Making statements before you have the facts is apparently something both sides do. We will wait until we have more information would have been the correct answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  5. David M says:

    @jan:

    In the meantime the absence of intelligence, on the part of the U.S., does not exonerate the Obama administration. It didn’t do it when Bush claimed ignorance of not having the right intelligence. The same should be apply to Obama and the minions, consultants and operatives around him, such as Susan Rice.

    What does this even mean? The big intelligence failures of the Bush Administration were 9/11 and the Iraq War, but this incident isn’t remotely comparable to either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. @Ron Beasley:

    It’s really hard to know with so little information whether she was making her statement with too little information ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Tillman says:

    That doesn’t seem like the action of a bunch of protesters riled up by a movie.

    Yeah, not as if protestors from earlier in the day who happened to have been rebels once upon a time came back later with weapons they still had. With so little information, the possibilities are endless!

    So it sounds as if two separate protests at different points of time were conflated. When was it that the Egyptian embassy was overrun with protestors? How does it compare to the Libyan protestors (not attackers)?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. CSK says:

    Well, it is a little hard to be spontaneous when you’re using mortars, which have to be put in place within strategic firing lines before they can be used. And you probably don’t carry your rocket-propelled grenade launcher to a spontaneous demonstration. This is ordnance, which suggests a planned military, paramilitary, or guerilla operation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. That doesn’t seem like the action of a bunch of protesters riled up by a movie.

    For what it’s worth, a bunch of normally docile surfers went nuts and burned up police cars out here a few years ago. Teens and twenties can behave badly. See also US basketball or European soccer post-game riots.

    It’s true that Muslim fundamentalists are on a hair trigger, but it’s more like they don’t have the framework to control what is a possibility everywhere, rather than that they have a unique problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. ^ speaking of the broader rioting, not the reports of a more militia like move

    We don’t have that militia experience here, thank goodness, and don’t know how easy it is for them to do a “pick up game” with mortars.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    @john personna: The fact that she was probably wrong would indicate she had too little information.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. stonetools says:

    Is it really all that important whether it was a spontaneous action by demonstrators or whether it was by some local terrorist band taking advantage of the situation to launch an attack?

    What’s important is the unstinting support of the Libyan government for the USA, despite efforts by local fundamentalists to use the video to whip up outrage against the USA. That’s what will be key a year from now. Dunno know how Doug doesn’t see that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. stonetools,

    If there are terrorist in the Libyan desert plotting attacks against Americans, I would think that’s rather important personally

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. @Ron Beasley:

    I agree with you about the “probably,” but that is not a “certainly.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. JKB says:

    @stonetools: What’s important is the unstinting support of the Libyan government for the USA

    Words mean nothing, actions mean everything. The attackers were in the Consulate for over 30 minutes yet the Libyan government mounted no action to stop the murderers from their actions.

    Thirty minutes later, the guard said, he realized he was about to lose consciousness and asked one of the attackers for help, saying he was merely a gardener at the compound. The man agreed to drive him to the hospital. As they were leaving, the guard said he saw the attackers enter a second villa on the compound.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. rudderpedals says:

    Yes, it would be good to know if there are plotters in the desert, but if the perps are actively being pursued it would be great for the Ambassador to try not to spook the quarry.

    Nah, dump it all out there now. I have to know right now

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. JKB says:

    You know the scary part? Apparently, the White House and the National Security Council get their intelligence from CNN. How could they be this wrong? Unless it was by design?

    “He doesn’t have the information we have,” the U.S. official said of Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif. ””He doesn’t have the (data) collection potential that we have.”

    Because if as we all know, the CIA and the US intelligence community never get anything wrong or miss any signs. It’s not like they missed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 terrorists learning to fly but not land, the WMDs in Iraq (CIA just fessed up to this as an organizational failure not of the politics)…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    stonetools,

    If there are terrorist in the Libyan desert plotting attacks against Americans, I would think that’s rather important personally

    I find that odd. If it turns out this was a spontaneous attack, is it any less likely that there are terrorist groups in Libya plotting against America?

    Its my default assumption that there are terrorist groups in every Middle East country plotting attacks against America. I hope its the default assumption of all our intelligence agencies as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Herb says:

    “seriously contradicting an important part of the White House narrative “

    I’m not sure why you think the “White House narrative” matters all that much. They’re in the middle of managing a crisis and you want an accurate journalistic account of what happened (ie, narrative)?

    Maybe a little patience is in order.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. KariQ says:

    Perhaps this way a planned operation, or a combination of an existing organization taking advantage of a moment, or perhaps it was was spontaneous. The initial reports are usually wrong, we all ought to know that by now. Give it a little time and we’ll have a better idea what happened. In the meantime, the official response is going to be a combination of the intelligence reports and what is most useful for the situation at the time. I don’t really understand why you care all that much, but it does seem that in the midst of an ongoing crisis, a little patience is not unreasonable.

    There is an undercurrent in some of the comments that there are political motivations for calling it spontaneous instead of planned. I can understand the suspicion, but I don’t see a political advantage to the Obama campaign if it was spontaneous instead of planned. I don’t see it moving votes. I think most voters are like stonetools in that they assume that there are extremists in every country plotting attacks and unless it touches them directly, it’s just not going to have an impact.

    Add to that Romney’s complete bungling of the response to the attacks, and there is really no disadvantage to Obama from either scenario. At this point, very few persuadable voters are likely to change their mind on foreign policy at all, but those that do aren’t likely going to go for Mr. He-Sympathized-With-Attackers over Mr. Oops-It-Was-Planned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. anjin-San says:

    IMi

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Jeremy R. says:

    @Doug:

    This makes the claim that Ambassador Rice made yesterday that the attack was all about a movie and wasn’t pre-planned even harder to believe.

    Sorry, but you keep exaggerating this. Read the transcripts for Amb. Rice’s appearances. She’s not advancing a narrative, she’s reporting on the current consensus of U.S. Intelligence. No-one is acting on that preliminary intelligence, it’s just being communicated where it stands when the media asks:

    RICE: Well, first of all, Chris, we are obviously investigating this very closely. The FBI has a lead in this investigation. The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Jeremy R. says:

    @Jeremy R.:

    From her Face the Nation appearance:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3460_162-57513819/face-the-nation-transcripts-september-16-2012-libyan-pres-magariaf-amb-rice-and-sen-mccain/

    SUSAN RICE (Ambassador to the United Nations): Bob, let me tell you what we understand to be the assessment at present. First of all, very importantly, as you discussed with the President, there is an investigation that the United States government will launch led by the FBI, that has begun and–

    BOB SCHIEFFER (overlapping): But they are not there.

    SUSAN RICE: They are not on the ground yet, but they have already begun looking at all sorts of evidence of– of various sorts already available to them and to us. And they will get on the ground and continue the investigation. So we’ll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what 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

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Jeremy R. says:

    @Jeremy R.:

    Her Meet the Press appearance:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49051097/ns/meet_the_press-transcripts/t/september-benjamin-netanyahu-susan-rice-keith-ellison-peter-king-bob-woodward-jeffrey-goldberg-andrea-mitchell/#.UFew57IgfW4

    MS. RICE: Well, let us– let me tell you the– the best information we have at present. First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of– of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that’s– that’s our best judgment now. We’ll await the results of the investigation. And the president has been very clear–we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

    Noting a pattern here Doug? She’s not “claim”ing what you say she is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Drew says:

    As the exculpatory comments come in for the administration, let’s get real. This is the result of policy failure.

    Heads in sand if you wish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  26. anjin-San says:

    I guess no one has told Jan that attacks on US embassies and consulates took place almost on a yearly basis under Reagan and Bush. Sorry hon, no real points here for you to score off the deaths of the ambassador and others who were serving their country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  27. @Drew:

    Why is that, Drew? Because every attack is preventable?

    See, if the administration is wary about anything, it is about that kind of idiot’s argument. I think they are wrong to fear it, just as you are wrong to make it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  28. David M says:

    @Drew:

    As the exculpatory comments come in for the administration, let’s get real. This is the result of policy failure.

    You might want to expand on what you mean by “this”…or are you just channeling more “there would be no attacks if Romney was president” nonsense?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  29. anjin-San says:

    Guess no one told Drew either. History books are available on Amazon folks, give it a try.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. bill says:

    @john personna: they hate us but love our money/protection. this report is old anyway, nobody would believe that some angry muslims would attack an unsecured embassy on 9/11, choosing to believe it was spontaneous but carried out with rpg’s and mortars as well as the usual machine guns that seem to grow on trees over there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  31. @bill:

    No bill, “Sorry People of America” is more genuine than that.

    Strange actually that you don’t want it to be true. Do you want Muslim friends?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. Tony W says:

    Considering the “news” organization reporting the story, I think it’s prudent to wait for independent confirmation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. BTW, do you want to know the truest thing Drew ever told us?

    It’s “Mitt is just like me.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. Eric Florack says:

    so Obama and his people got caught lying in their damage control.
    if there’s anything surprising about this its that anyone at all is surprised about it

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  35. bill says:

    @john personna: i feel all warm and fuzzy now……my friends resemble an benetton ad anyway! looks like this story has been banished by the press corp,, they must have got the word.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Eric Florack says:

    I see that this afternoon, the Obama morons finally admitted Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Only gottta hit those boys about 50 times wih the “Obvious” stick before they’ll admit the truth… maybe a few more times if they got caught lying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0