Report: U.S. Knew Benghazi Attack Was Terrorism Within 24 Hours
The Administration's decision to stick with the meme that the Benghazi attack was about a movie becomes more puzzling.
For nearly a week after the attack on the Benghazi Consulate that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the Obama pushed the narrative that the attack was a spontaneous action brought about by protests over an obscure YouTube film that had started in Cairo earlier that day. Indeed, the following Sunday U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on multiple news shows pushing exactly that line. It wasn’t until later in the week that the Administration admitted that the attack was the result of terrorism, most likely by an al Qaeda offshoot that has has taken hold in eastern Libya, although they still seem to be equivocating on whether or not the attack was planned. Today, The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports that the Administration knew the attack was an act of terror within 24 hours after the attack, and that they even had clues about who had committed the attack:
Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda-affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers. Three separate U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said the early information was enough to show that the attack was planned and the work of al Qaeda affiliates operating in Eastern Libya.
Nonetheless, it took until late last week for the White House and the administration to formally acknowledge that the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack. On Sunday, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs explained the evolving narrative as a function of new information coming in quickly on the attacks. ”We learned more information every single day about what happened,” Gibbs said on Fox News. “Nobody wants to get to the bottom of this faster than we do.”
The intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast did so anonymously because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press. They said U.S. intelligence agencies developed leads on four of the participants of the attacks within 24 hours of the fire fight that took place mainly at an annex near the Benghazi consulate. For one of those individuals, the U.S. agencies were able to find his location after his use of social media. “We had two kinds of intelligence on one guy,” this official said. “We believe we had enough to target him.”
Another U.S. intelligence official said, “There was very good information on this in the first 24 hours. These guys have a return address. There are camps of people and a wide variety of things we could do.”
A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to comment for the story. But another U.S. intelligence official said, “I can’t get into specific numbers but soon after the attack we had a pretty good bead on some individuals involved in the attack.”
It’s unclear whether any of these suspected attackers have been targeted or arrested, and intelligence experts caution that these are still early days in a complex investigation.
Assuming for the sake of argument that all of this is true, one has to wonder why the Administration spent the better part of a week pushing the patently ridiculous idea that an attack carried out by men who carried RPG’s and other military-style weapons, and which used military style tactics in both its attack on the main Consulate an the safe house that security personnel attempted to take Ambassador Stevens. One possibility, of course, is that they didn’t want to acknowledge what they knew publicly for fear of tipping off the people who were involved in the attack. In this regard, though, it’s worth noting that the Libyans arrested at least four people, and by some reports as many as 50, in the days after the attack so, if these were the same people the U.S. was looking at there really wasn’t any danger of tipping anyone off. Additionally, I would think that these groups are smart enough to realize that once they pull off an attack like that, they’re going to be targeted by the United States. This cannot be news to them.
You’ll also recall that, last week, Lake reported that the Administration had advance warning of at least unrest in Beghazi and threats to western interests.
In a related story, the Interim President of Libya, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting, told NBC News that there’s simply no way that the attack had anything to do with the movie:
An anti-Islam film that sparked violent protests in many countries had ”nothing to do with” a deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi earlier this month, Libya’s president told NBC News.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, President Mohamed Magarief discounted claims that the attack was in response to a movie produced in California and available on YouTube. He noted that the assault happened on Sept. 11 and that the video had been available for months before that.
“Reaction should have been, if it was genuine, should have been six months earlier. So it was postponed until the 11th of September,” he said. “They chose this date, 11th of September to carry a certain message.”
Magarief said there were no protesters at the site before the attack, which he noted came in two assaults, first with rocket-propelled grenades on the consulate, then with mortars at a safe house.
Magarief told Curry that based on the accuracy of the assault, he believes the attackers must have had training and experience using the weapons.
“It’s a pre-planned act of terrorism,” he said, adding that the anti-Islam film had “nothing to do with this attack.”
All of this seems rather obvious from the facts themselves, of course, but Magarief saying it publicly adds extra weight to it, and makes the Administration’s decision to stick with the movie meme for more than a week all the more inexplicable, especially in light of the report that they had intelligence that indicated something entirely different within a day after the attack. Why maintain the charade?
Nick Gillespie comes up with three theories:
1. Using “The Innocence of Muslims” as the proximate cause for a spontaneous attack – as opposed to a cover for an attack on September 11 (of all dates, for christ’s sake) minimizes the adminstration’s responsibility for screwup after screwup. Hey, it’s not American policy that’s causing the problem, it’s thoughtless YouTube provocateurs that are stirring up anti-American hatred in the Middle East.
2. Similarly, focusing on “Muslim Rage” as the root cause of any and all attacks on Mohammed or Islam also allows Obama to play the role he seems to like best: above-it-all soother of pain and bringer of light to dark situations. That’s precisely what he did at the U.N. yesterday, speaking out of both sides of his mouth by invoking universal rights such as free speech while also pushing for self-censorship. But what if the concept of an unstoppable “Muslim Rage” at the decadent, secular West is simply a form of Orientalism? That is, it’s a fundamentally Western conceit that reduces a huge swath of the world to a pre-rational mob that will have to be dealt with as children or animals?
3. Both the Muslim Rage and Western insensitivity lines of argument allow the Obama administration to maintain its foreign policy status quo, which is not so very different from what the Bush administration was pursuing. The U.S. pullout from Iraq (such as it is, given the thousands of troops and contractors still working there) followed a timetable set by the Bush administration and Obama’s Afghanistan plans are following the same sort of vaguely defined nation-building mission until the exact moment we pull out that Bush had started. Throughout the Middle East and in North Africa as the Arab Spring unfolded, Obama was slow to voice support for any of the nascent revolts until it was clear who was going to win (and the rebel victory in places such as Egypt ultimately took down American clients).
By minimizing the role of al Qaeda in Benghazi, Obama can simultaneously continue to claim that al Qaeda is weakened (despite its proxies’ ability to kill American diplomats) while not having to revisit the exact reasons for a massive and ongoing U.S. military presence all over the region. If in fact, al Qaeda is no longer the threat it once was, shouldn’t the U.S.’s presence in the region be receding? Especially if, as Obama pledged at the U.N. yesterday, we won’t be dictating the outcomes of democratic elections in the region? And if al Qaeda is still powerful in the region, then what the hell have we been doing the past decade-plus? Are we still on the globo-cop beat foresworn by George W. Bush as he entered the White House in a pre-9/11 world? And if so, why do so many Americans and other residents of the world seem unhappy with our foreign policy?
It is true that the Administration and the Obama campaign have both pointed to things such as the death of Osama bin Laden as proof of the success of American foreign policy. But, at the same time they’re doing that, they’re also engaging in a foreign policy that engenders significant resentment among Muslims in general an Arabs in particular. Our drone strikes have resulted in the deaths of civilians from Pakistan to Yemen. Our invocations of democracy ring hollow when we intervene in Libya but do next to nothing while the Baharanis, with help from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, crack down on the Shiite population. And, we seem to be moving inexorably toward a war with Iran that threatens to inflame the entire region. If people in the Middle East are unhappy with our foreign policy, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it shouldn’t be surprise that groups like al Qaeda are able to exploit that resentment.
More importantly, though, if Lake’s story is true then the Ambassador to the United Nations lied to the American public when she said the attacks were the spontaneous result of a protest over a movie, or at the very least she significantly distorted the truth or was lied to herself and sent out to the talk to the press. The American people are owed an explanation for that.