The Answer to the Benghazi “Scandal”?
Has Petraeus provided the basic explanation for the administration's immediate responses to Benghazi?
As best I can tell, the main bone of contention with those who think that there is a potential scandal behind the Obama administration’s reaction to the attacks at Benghazi is over what was said after the fact, specifically that the admin mentioned the anti-Islamic video, The Innocence of Muslims well after it was known that the video was not related to the events and that they did not sufficiently stress the involvement of terrorist organizations.
Well, perhaps, this is the simple answer as to why (source):
Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack — including Al Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah — were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.
The talking points initially drafted by the C.I.A. attributed the attack to fighters with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the organization’s North Africa franchise, and Ansar al-Shariah, a Libyan group, some of whose members have Al Qaeda ties.
Mr. Petraeus and other top C.I.A. officials signed off on the draft and then circulated it to other intelligence agencies, as well as the State Department and National Security Council.
At some point in the process — Mr. Petraeus told lawmakers he was not sure where — objections were raised to naming the groups, and the less specific word “extremists” was substituted.
After the hearings on Friday, administration officials disputed the notion that politics or other motives caused the changes.
“The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack,” said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. “There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.”
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants — a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.’s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
If this is the explanation for the way that the administration handled, then it is hardly a massive cover-up, nor is it a scandal. Nor would it be, I would note, the first time that an administration did not immediately provide all the information available about an event for national security considerations.
As an aside, in the annals of cover-ups, this would have to rank as a pretty lousy one, since we know (and knew from pretty early on, even with video references ongoing) that terrorism was involved.
Regardless, I am guessing that none of this will end the conspiracy theories.