House Intelligence Committee Benghazi Report Debunks Benghazi Conspiracy Theories
The House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the conspiracy theories regarding the 9/11/2012 attack in Benghazi are not supported by the evidence. That's unlikely to change anyone's mind, though.
Late yesterday, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee released its declassified report on the September 11, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that appears to largely debunk the allegations of conspiracy and scandal that have surrounded the attack over the past two years:
A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.
Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.
The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.
The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.
“We spent thousands of hours asking questions, poring over documents, reviewing intelligence assessments, reading cables and emails, and held a total of 20 committee events and hearings,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the committee’s chairman, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat, in a joint statement.
“We conducted detailed interviews with senior intelligence officials from Benghazi and Tripoli as well as eight security personnel on the ground in Benghazi that night. Based on the testimony and the documents we reviewed, we concluded that all the CIA officers in Benghazi were heroes. Their actions saved lives,” they said.
Quoting directly from the Executive Summary of the report, which I have embedded below, Kevin Drum highlights conclusions made by the Committee that appear to pretty substantially undercut the vast majority of the allegations that many conservatives have made over the past two years regarding the lead up to the attack, the attack itself, and the Administration response: (emphasis is Drum’s)
- The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi….Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support….
- Second, the Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks. In the months prior, the IC provided intelligence about previous attacks and the increased threat environment in Benghazi, but the IC did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.
- Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa’ida, participated in the attacks….
- Fourth, the Committee concludes that after the attacks, the early intelligence assessments and the Administration’s initial public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attacks were not fully accurate….There was no protest. The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012, when closed caption television footage became available on September 18, 2012 (two days after Ambassador Susan Rice spoke)….
- Fifth, the Committee finds that the process used to generate the talking points HPSCI asked for—and which were used for Ambassador Rice’s public appearances—was flawed….
- Finally, the Committee found no evidence that any officer was intimidated, wrongly forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement or otherwise kept from speaking to Congress, or polygraphed because of their presence in Benghazi. The Committee also found no evidence that the CIA conducted unauthorized activities in Benghazi and no evidence that the IC shipped arms to Syria.
The details behind these conclusions can be found in the report itself, which at 33 pages is a relatively easy read for anyone interested the topic and which appears to cover every aspect of the Benghazi story from the allegations about lack of preparedness on the part of the personnel responsible for security, to the apparently false rumors that the American military was ordered to “stand down” on a mission to attempt to intervene to either help the CIA fend off the attack or rescue the people who were under attack for the better part of that fateful day, to the idea that the “talking points” that Susan Rice was given when she appeared on the Sunday morning news shows and attributed the attack in large part to protests over an anti-Muslim movie that had been posted on YouTube. There have also been other conspiracy theories that have spread on the right, of course, including the allegation that someone in the White House gave U.S. military forces in Italy a direct order not to intervene in the attack, which apparently has also been directly debunked by the Intelligence Committee’s findings.
These findings are not entirely new. Many of them are similar to those reached by the previous six unclassified investigations into this matter which have not found anything approaching the type of grand conspiracy that many on the right — typified in the best way by people who have made “Benghazi” part of their name on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media outlets — that the attack was somehow evidence of malfeasance, corruptions, or ineptness, or in some bizarre instances all three, on the part of the Obama White House and the State Department run by Hillary Clinton. Some theories go so far to claim that the entire attack was allowed to happen in order to murder Ambassador Christopher Stevens as part of a Vince Foster-esque plot that involves, depending on who you happen to be talking to, the CIA running guns to rebels in Syria, to simply an effort to cover up State Department security ineptness. The fact that there has never been any evidence uncovered to support any of those theories, or any evidence that there was any kind of cover-up in advance of the 2012 election, only seems to reinforce the idea among these people that there is, in fact, a conspiracy to be uncovered. Of course, that’s usually how it goes with conspiracy theories. The lack of evidence is itself evidence of the conspiracy. In that regard, then, this latest report, from a sources as seemingly unimpeachable as the House Intelligence Committee, which would seem to be the final word on the subject, is unlikely to quell the Benghazi buzz on the right at all.
None of this is to say that there’s nothing worth investigating in connection with what happened in Benghazi in September 2012, of course. The death of an American ambassador in an attack like this is something that ought not be ignored. Rather than looking for a conspiracy theory, though, that investigation ought to be looking more broadly at American policy in Libya both before and after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and the extent to which we failed to anticipate what that nation has turned into. Indeed, in the two years since the Benghazi attack the situation in Libya has gotten so much worse that we have been forced to evacuate all of our diplomatic personnel to Malta due to the advance of a new set of rebels warring with what passes for a central government in Tripoli. On some level, one wonders if the chaos that Libya has turned into is worth the benefit of having gotten rid of one of the most bizarre and oppressive dictators of his time. That, however, is a far more complicated and far less “sexy” than the conspiracy theories advanced on Fox News Channel and other media outlets.
This report, of course, is far from the end of the road in any case. Back in May, the House authorized the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the Benghazi attack notwithstanding the fact that it has already been investigated a half dozen or more times. That committee, which will survive into the new Congress, has barely begun its work and is likely to continue in operation until well into the 2016 campaign season, which of course raises the obvious suspicion that its existence is as much about having an opportunity to make political hits on the likely Democratic nominee for President as it is about uncovering any part of the Benghazi story that hasn’t already been brought to light. Other political observers have wondered whether the committee is essentially the first step on the road to impeachment. Whatever the motivation, and you can rest assured that it will go forward, and that it is likely to be joined with committee hearings on the Senate side once the GOP takes control in January. It seems unlikely that any of these new investigations will uncover anything different than what we already know, but given the fact that this is largely about politics rather than uncovering some undisclosed truth, that will hardly matter.
Here’s the report: