The White House’s Libya Narrative Has Collapsed
The Administration's narrative regarding the attack that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens no longer holds water.
In the ten days since the attack on the United States Consulate in Benghazi, the understanding of what actually happened that night has changed significantly, but the White House has largely kept to a narrative that made little sense as facts started to come out. Appearing on the Sunday morning shows at the beginning of this week, Susan Rice, the President’s Ambassador to the United Nations, insisted that the attack was the spontaneous result of protests over a film depicting Mohammed that appeared only on YouTube and which nobody had ever heard of before September 11th. At the same time, the President of Libya and other Libyan officials, were saying that the attack was a pre-planned terrorist attack. Indeed, the more we learned about the attack itself, the less likely it seemed like it could have been anything but a pre-planned attack, and it’s connection with the protests became tenuous at best when it was revealed that the attack had taken place hours after a small protest in front of the Consulate earlier in the day.
Today in The Daily Beast, Eli Lake catalogs additional evidence that the Administration’s insistence that this was a spontaneous attack about a movie simply doesn’t hold water:
[T]here is mounting evidence that the White House’s initial portrayal of the attacks as a mere outgrowth of protest was incorrect—or, at the very least, incomplete. The administration’s story itself has recently begun to shift, with Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, telling Congress on Wednesday that the attackers may have had links to al Qaeda and Carney characterizing the incident as a “terrorist attack.” (Hillary Clinton announced on Thursday that she was putting together a panel to look into the incident.
But other indications that the White House’s early narrative was faulty are also beginning to emerge. One current U.S. intelligence officer working on the investigation into the incident told The Daily Beast that the attackers had staked out and monitored the U.S. consulate in Benghazi before the attack, a move that suggests pre-planning.
What’s more, two U.S. intelligence officials told The Daily Beast that the intelligence community is currently analyzing an intercept between a Libyan politician whose sympathies are with al Qaeda and the Libyan militia known as the February 17 Brigade—which had been charged with providing local security to the consulate. In the intercept, the Libyan politician apparently asks an officer in the brigade to have his men stand down for a pending attack—another piece of evidence implying the violence was planned in advance. (Plenty of Libyans, of course, did try to protect the consulate. “Many of those Libyans died in the gunfight fighting off the attackers,” one of the officials said. “But there were some bad apples there as well.”)
One other aspect of the administration’s story appears shaky as well. Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice responded to allegations that there wasn’t enough security at the embassy by saying, “Tragically, two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security. That was their function. And indeed, there were many other colleagues who were doing the same with them.”
But two former special operators and a former intelligence officer, two of whom had worked with Doherty, told The Daily Beast that Doherty and Woods’s job was not to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens. That job falls to Regional Security Officers or RSOs. During the fighting, some RSOs who were supposed to protect the ambassador apparently became separated from him.
“Glen died for Tyrone and Tyrone died for Glen,” one of the former special operators told The Daily Beast. “They fought bravely, but they did not die protecting the ambassador.”
That leaves open the question of who, if anyone, was protecting Ambassador Stevens. This is an especially important questions given the reports that came out yesterday that Ambassador Stevens had expressed concern about security threats in the past and may have even been on an al Qaeda hit list. If that’s the case, then one has to wonder why he wasn’t provided with more security, or indeed why it was considered wise for him to travel to Benghazi on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks when the city has been the site of attacks on Western outposts for months now, and the U.S. had reportedly received warnings of unrest in the city prior to the attack. At the very least, this suggests the possibility of a significant intelligence breakdown that led to the deaths of four Americans and the utter destruction of our consulate. At the worst, it suggests some fairly bad incompetence on the part of someone at the State Department.
As I’ve noted before, it’s worth remembering that the investigation into this attack has not been completed, and I for one am not suggesting that this was definitely a pre-planned terrorist attack, although there are plenty of signs that seem to point in that direction. For some reason, though, the White House decided to jump out in front of the investigation and insist, even in the face of less-than-credible evidence that Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans died because people were upset about a badly made movie on YouTube. They stuck to this narrative to the point of sending one of their top foreign policy spokespersons on television to repeat it several times in one day, and it was also repeated by the White House Press Secretary, even when evidence to the contrary started to become apparently. Now, of course, the Administration is at least admitted that this was an act of terror, I suppose that’s something. But, are they really going to insist that an operation of this scope was all about a movie? And why would they?
Some have suggested political motives for the White House’s decision to push what seems like a nonsensical narrative about the Benghazi attack, namely that they believe it would be politically disadvantageous to acknowledge a terrorist attack at this point in the election cycle. If that’s their motivation, then it’s pretty reprehensible. Trying to spin an international crisis in a manner that is most politically beneficial doesn’t really strike me as something that Presidents ought to be doing. At the same time, though, this would be somewhat atypical for the Obama White House in its handling of matters such as this. So what’s the explanation? Why did they jump out ahead of the investigation and set a narrative instead of merely saying that we need to await the outcome of the investigation itself? Why did it take them so long to acknowledge the rather obvious fact that, spontaneous or planned, the attack itself was in fact a terrorist attack? The Administration has acted very oddly in response to this attack and, but for the fact that Mitt Romney has spent the 10 days since it happened shooting himself in the foot one way or another, it might actually end up hurting the President in the polls.
Slightly off-topic, Doug, but speaking of collapsing narratives, any chance of you correcting your false headline from yesterday about the business owner and the vacant lot?
That investigation should include Hellory’s chief assistant (Anthony Weiner’s bride). Dollars to a donut, she provided the terrorists with a detailed list of the Ambassador’ travels for that day.
So .. we go from waiting for details to resolve themselves .. to declaring the first reports a “narrative” that has now “collapsed.” Gotcha.
The linked article says what it says, That’s all I have to say about the matter.
Oddly, we see what a terrible campaigner Romney is. If he had just gone with a simple “There is plenty of time in the campaign to discuss foreign policy; the middle of a crisis is not the proper time”, this could have become a big negative for the President. But Romney had to insert himself into the crisis, so it ended up (so far) hurting him instead.
There were no “first reports” that the attack was linked in any way to the movie. That was just Administration spin.
Please provide evidence to back up this scurrilous accusation.
I agree that Romney’s comments were ill advised, at best (Jay Leno said last night, heh, that Romney was sounding more like Biden in gaffes).
But I don’t see evidence that Romney’s Libya-related comments have either hurt him or helped him. The polls are as close, or some closer (i.e., Gallup) than ever.
ISTM that we the people are pretty much not paying much attention to what Romney says about Libya. And I am not sure that the people are paying much attention to what Obama says, either. So I wonder that no matter how well you, Doug, or I may understand the portents of what happened in Libya and elsewhere, it does not seem to be high on the scope for a lot of the rest of the country. I hope I’m wrong, tho.
We have no access to State Department messaging to and from Egypt and Libya, nor do we know how they analyzed those (and concurrent) events. Add on top of that fog of war. Then add the difficulty of messaging for both foreign and domestic consumption.
A criticism that they didn’t come up with their best, last, message immediately just doesn’t seem too serious to me.
Yes, the linked article says what it says. And none of what it says supports your headline of “Philadelphia Fines Business Owner For Cleaning Up Vacant Lot” since he was not, in fact, fined for cleaning up a vacant lot.
OK, but for some reason, though, you decided to jump out in front of the article and insist, even in the face of less-than-credible evidence that he was fined when he was not. You stuck to this narrative to the point of not correcting it even when the error was pointed out to you by me and also repeated by other commenters. Now, of course, you’re at least acknowledging it, I suppose that’s something. But, are you really going to insist that a fine was levied when it wasn’t? And why would you?
Trying to spin a mistake in an article in a manner that is most politically beneficial to you doesn’t really strike me as something that an honest writer ought to be doing. So what’s the explanation? Why did you jump out ahead of the facts in the article and set a misleading headline instead of merely saying that we need to await the outcome as more facts presented themselves? Why does it take you so long to acknowledge the rather obvious fact that, spontaneous or planned, the city did not fine him? You’ve acted very oddly in response to this article.
I am referring to their public statements. They didn’t have to start the “it was all about a movie” meme to begin with, and they certainly should not have continued pushing it when the evidence began to reveal how silly it was.
@Doug Mataconis: “There were no “first reports” that the attack was linked in any way to the movie. That was just Administration spin. ”
Can you explain your choice of the word “spin”? In what way would the Administration benefit?
@Me Me Me:
Personally I have no idea why the Administration would spin this, but spin they did
@Doug Mataconis: So then why are you calling it spin?
Because that’s exactly what it is. They’re sticking to a predefined message, even in the face of contravailing evidence.
Why does it bother you that, on a day with world wide protests over the film, they would initially think it was about the film?
It seems natural, and what was the harm? What is the long term harm?
Lord knows that Romney would never do that.
Your own article says that they are forming a panel to further investigate the attack.
Clinton forms panel to investigate Benghazi attack
Gosh, this remnds me of someone. But who, who…? Well, I’m sure it’ll come to me.
Hey, the linked article says what it says.
Because they’re cautious, and it’s only been a week?
Here’s what Rice said, by the way:
Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo,” Rice told me this morning on “This Week.”
If this is spin, it’s not very good. Would it have been less odd to say ‘no comment’ until the investigation was complete? Maybe. But this is what a serious adult pragmatic foreign policy looks like. Small mistakes or missteps that are of no consequence except in the blogosphere.
The polling indicates the results hurt Romney:
You know what? Probably best if the Administration just repeats that their intial claims were what they were, and that’s all they have to say about the matter.
I think this is because the majority of the base believes that Obama is either a terrorist sympathizer or too stupid to locate Libya on a map.
If they were playing politics, they would have linked it to terrorists in X, and then bombed the sh.t out of X by now. X could be a country, a small town, a bunch of tents, a weather vane, whatever.
People rally around the president when he’s bombing someone — if the past 30 years of politics have taught us anything, it is that.
As far as our official narrative falling apart, I suspect that there are some folks in the state department very annoyed with the Libyan government for basically shouting “hey, you terrorists, you better hide now!”, and we’ve been giving a contrary message to keep the people we are pursuing confused — it’s probably not working.
So the Administration may have initially gone the wrong way on a fast moving, confusing, difficult story
What’s your point? Now that they may have been wrong, so what?
I don’t see any particular reason to change Middle East or Libya policy over this possible error.
What’s clear is that Romney’s statement about the Administration apologizing for America remains wrong.
But wait just a gosh darn minute, please. Isn’t President Obama the president who took presidential candidate Romney to task for something along the lines of …shoot first.. then aim ???
Let’s go to the videotape !!!
It looks like the initial “current best assessment” was wrong.
Agreed. It sure sounds like it was a hit.
Just to illustrate the abject stupidity of “teh base” of the GOP: by insinuating such obvious garbage, you take attention off of other possible issues (was the attack something that should have been anticipated? Was security lax in light of intel? Why was the admin claiming this was a spontaneous mob attack?) and direct it to your own nuttiness.
Not only is the claim scurrilous (well said, Doug), it’s… DUMB.
I agree with Doug to the extent that, by the day after the attack at least, matters were uncertain enough that the administration should have just said, “we’re investigating.”
I don’t know why they hung out there on their limb so long. Bureaucratic stubbornness perhaps.
One can’t rule out some covert reason, like diplomacy or shielding an investigation (if we keep insisting it was spontaneous, that might give the investigators some cover). That’s pure speculation of course.
But I don’t see how admitting it was a terror attack could have hurt Obama.
This was my thought too. The initial thought that the attack was a result of the movie wasn’t that outlandish: there had been protests in Egypt that day. Once some information started to trickle in that it appears that might not have been the case, the question is: where was the intelligence? If that was off, then in order to determine who is behind it might take a bit of time. One of the methods in which to pursue this is through back channels.
Doesn’t Al Quaeda normally issue a statement they were involved? Have they done so here? (I honestly don’t know, this is not a rhetorical question.) If they haven’t, do we know who we are dealing with? All questions that are better asked and answered before issuing statements one way or another.
I think it’s a pretty safe bet that before the election we won’t see a hard hitting “60 Minutes” expose on all this. Just a hunch.
In any event, obviously the administration’s “narrative” about this has fallen apart. Because that narrative was and is total bullshit.
Come on, a U.S. diplomat brutally is killed in Libya on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Turns out the administration didn’t provide even a basic modicum of security at those consular faciliities. Obama is in the stretch run of his reelection campaign. You’d have to be as naive as a babe in the woods not to realize that Team Obama would jump through their own assholes to obfuscate, deflect and quickly whitewash this story.
Simply put Team Obama can’t have Joe Low Information Voter thinking that Obama is a screwup. From the administration’s standpoint it’s bad enough that Jow Low Information Voter has been unemployed for the past six months and recently was foreclosed out of his home. If Obama can’t present his Rambo foreign policy dog & pony show then what else does he have?
@Doug Mataconis: Pejorative, loaded language much, Doug?
Fact: Rice’s intitial statement was:
Doug’s take ignores the caveats Rice included indicating that it was not a final assessment – and then goes one step further and ascribes intent to deceive by using the word “spin”. We can call his posts a lot of things but forthright isn’t one of them. In fact, appears that he is the one “spinning.”
What is most concerning in this story isn’t so much whether the Admin went with the “It’s all about the movie” explanation, but that there seems to be some indication that concerns with unrest in the area (Libya), and some indication that there were plans for something on 9-11 appear to have been ignored or taken lightly.
It was the anniversary of 9-11 and at the very least every embassy in a volatile area should have had increased security and been on alert. That seems like a common sense move that appears to have not been taken-at least where Libya was concerned.
I don’t particularly care about the narrative falling apart-the movie was seized as the catalyst for Egypt but what happened in Egypt and what happened in Libya may have only had the day in common.
I am bothered by the fact that in the days following the death of a US ambassador that the media made the story about Romney and gave Obama a mostly free pass on what happened. Seems to me the guy who is actually the president should have been held to a higher standard than the guy who wants to be president but has absolutely no role in any aspect of the federal government.
Also it’s quite possible that they didn’t want to start pointing fingers at groups because of secondary effects. The error if they had thought it the result of a riot and getting it wrong are less than the error of pointing fingers at people who then get yanked in for interrogation by the Libyan government (what exists of it).
In all, this ain’t a smoking gun, Doug. It’s a series of cautious statements about a murky situation in a volatile area of the Mideast. I think you should go work for the Foreign Service for a few years before Monday-quarterbacking in this area. You really don’t have the expertise and comments like the one you have made simply make you look like some of the more idiotic commentators we have on this site. Jumping the gun, indeed.
It’s all speculation. I can speculate that if the Ambassador himself took an unnecessary risk, on his own initiative, it would be pretty poor from for the Administration to ever call that out. You call him a hero, and bury him.
That imbeciles will say “Obama should have stopped him, Obama should have known” is just the price you pay.
Speaking of imbeciles.
Well, Doug, I guess you understand now that when you utter heresy the inquisition begins without delay. I mean really, how dare you question the utterances of the Obama administration?
Of course, now the inquisitors will pile on me for this comment, and I shall greet it with supreme indifference. They just can’t help it.
@Me Me Me: To put the best face on a bad situation? An attack that kills the ambassador on 9/11 might not inspire some preemptive defensive spin?
@David Lampo: That is not addressing the question: why is it “spin” to say that the attack was spontaneous as opposed to planned?
@Me Me Me: Because if it was planned, it might suggest an intelligence failure and lax security, something the ambassador himself had worried about.
Hey Doug, maybe if you run real fast, you can catch up to that turnip truck.
@David Lampo: Intelligence failure in a chaotic country is hardly surprising. As for the lax security, that is the same regardless of whether the attack was spontaneous or planned, isn’t it?
You see, only to an idiot. And that’s kind of key.
Sensing and Lampo, how many times have multiples of 4 people been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and why weren’t all those prevented?
@Me Me Me: Lax security against a predictable terrorist threat on 9/11 is quite different than lax security against an unpredictable and spontaneous demonstration.
anyone else notice a slight difference between this:
Appearing on the Sunday morning shows at the beginning of this week, Susan Rice, the President’s Ambassador to the United Nations, insisted that the attack was the spontaneous result of protests over a film depicting Mohammed
Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo,” Rice told me this morning on “This Week.”
@David Lampo: Who says it was predictable?
@john personna: Have you always had this “I’m the smartest kid in the class” complex, or is it a recent development? Scratch a liberal, find a know it all bully.
It’s not just me.
@Me Me Me: It wasn’t a stretch to anticipate a possible 9/11 attack in an already unstable and volatile country like Libya when the presence of Al Queda was suspected. Who originally asked, how could it be spin, and I’m saying it could have been a defensive move to cover up what might have been in their own estimation someone dropping the ball. The political affiliation of the president doesn’t have anything to do with it.
If it wasn’t a stretch to antcipate an attack, then it doesn’t matter whether the attack was spontaneous or planned. So I am still no more the wiser as to why you and Doug want to use the word “spin”.
@David Lampo: No, he’s simply being cautious. And it’s a bit thick to call someone a “bully” for simply pointing out inconsistencies.
Seriously there are two issues here. One is the difference between intelligence and actionable intelligence. The second is how high you want to push decision making up the command tree, and how high you want to claim responsibility.
I singled out Ben Stein as an imbecile because he thinks Hillary Clinton should have been deciding, and been responsible for, day to day security arrangements in Libya. That is stupid.
If there was a SNAFU lower down … well SNAFU was coined for situations like that, and it came out of front-line confusion. Nobody blamed Roosevelt for a north-African SNAFU.
Let me help you all out on the Administrations representations on this.
“you listen to me, I’m going to say this one more time….I did not have sex with that women……”
I finally get it. Since 9/11- the big one- Republicans have been tring to find a “secureity lapse” they could pin on the Democrats, so they can go into their patented “Democrats suck at sercurity” offense.
Its been kind of hard for the Republicans since the Obama Administration have been pretty good at this keeping us safe stuff-and without torture, even. Until now.
Pathetic effort by the Republicans, really.
Come on Drew, you are a smart guy. Name the reasonable expectations on the president for planning Ambassador Stevens trip to Benghazi.
@Me Me Me: I said it wasn’t a stretch to anticipate a terrorist attack on 9/11, and that to fail to plan on that might have been seen as a failure. I don’t think one could anticipate and plan for a demonstration based on the previous day’s events in another country. There was apparently a lack of proper security in either case, and that was a failure, but the former would have been a far more serious and damaging charge.
Again, you asked why they would spin anthing, and I simply said perhaps because they perceived they might be ridiculed and blamed for the attack.
I’m afraid that’s it.
341 allies have died in Afghanistan so far in 2012. I think Doug and many conservatives understand that higher cost, but some people seem to be taking a much lower (and stupider) road. They claim to be shocked, shocked, that 4 people died in Libya.
I won’t be unkind this time, but obviously I have a pretty strong disdain for the idea that “they might be ridiculed and blamed for the attack.”
@john personna: So now, it’s not even that big a deal? Hey, lots of people died. It’s Bush’s fault.
@john personna: Perhaps I wasn’t clear: IN THEIR EYES they might be blamed. I was not saying they are guilty of such a charge. You’re too eager to attack and put people in political boxes, I think, as are a number of other folks commenting.
Again, multiple issues. One is that in each choice to go to war we did decide risks and rewards. We did that for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. We are doing it now or Syria and deciding to stay out. We also face risks with every embassy out there. “Embassy bombings” go way back.
So is the “gotcha” game, so beautifully encapsulated by Stein’s call, or Drew’s comment sensible?
(But certainly someone who wanted to minimize US casualties would demand withdrawal everywhere, not just in Afghanistan but also in any at-risk embassy.)
I was definitely using Stein’s piece as an example. I didn’t jump that gun.
@john personna: It seems to me you’re responding far more to Stein than to me. Haven’t read his piece and it seems like quite an overreaction.
Exactly how many times did Condeleeza Rice offer to resign during the multiple times our embassies, consulates and diplomatic staff were attacked during the Bush years? Zero, was it?
I probably should have quoted that noxious paragraph up top so that people could see what I was worrying about. If you are going slower and making more moderate observations, I apologize for lumping you in. I think though that some people are looking for a toe-hold with “it was planned” so that they can head off Stein-style to claim higher-ups should have foreseen all, prevented all.
Probably not. Why? Because he has a record of posting falsehoods and then refusing to correct them even after he has been shown proof that they are falsehoods (example, example).
@john personna: If that is Stein’s position, then I couldn’t disagree with him more.
Thank you for getting right to the heart of the matter. And there’s a name for that difference: spin. Or maybe a better word is this: lying.
Thank you sir.
Speaking of “Libya narratives”, your really flogging yours, aren’t you? Let’s gloss over that Amb. Rice never said what you claim she said as to both certainty of the current intelligence assessment and with respect to the film, and look at some other things you’re getting wrong.
First, the two rented villas, that made up the mission that was attacked, were not a US consulate. They were only used as a make-shift one during the Libyan revolution:
As to your suggestion that Stevens didn’t receive the level of security you think he wanted based on his concerns, it was Stevens himself who insisted on moving about openly, with light security:
The last thing I’ll add, in response to your suggestion of a failure to respond to intelligence on the State Departments part, is GOP House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers, in the wake of the attack:
Amb. Stevens was visiting Benghazi to “attend the launch of a joint U.S.-Libyan cultural and educational program,” and was traveling with a detail of, “five armed State Department diplomatic security officers.”
Doug’s narrative about the Obama Administration’s supposed mistaken response to the Libyan attack has collapsed :-).
Jeremy, thank you for thoroughly eviscerating Doug’s “Libya narrative.”
Man, between JP, Jeremy R and JBG, can’t a blogger get away with anything these days…..
I got hooked too much on this thread, and David’s right that I’m more upset with Stein than anyone here. The guy actually said, speaking of Clinton, “she’s responsible.”
They did all the work, not me. Anyway, interesting you should say that.
Often Doug’s posts are a clone of what is being said at places like Hot Air. Notice Doug’s title:
Compare with this today at Hot Air:
Notice that Doug’s title manages to outdo their title.
But there is an important difference: Hot Air, although they have a comment section, effectively blocks all comments and commenters they find inconvenient. (Don’t believe me? Then tell me how I can register to comment there.) Here at OTB, that kind of viewpoint suppression does not take place. I’m sure I’m not the only one who appreciates that.
So Doug can be just as big a hack as Ed Morrissey (et al), but at least he is not a cowardly hack in the way that Morrissey is. Morrissey hides in a place where a blogger can indeed “get away with anything.”
I guess this could be called damning with faint praise.
Atypical? Nearly every thing the Obama White House (and Obama campaign since 2004) has done is political.
There is a reason why so many Yanks don’t trust the media… nor do they trust pundits that regularly spout media “experts.” Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jay Carney and Susan Rice occupied much of the air ways last week trying desperately to deflect legitimate criticism; now this week all their commentary is just deflated hot air. Trying to deflect the ineptitude of this Administration onto anything other than this Administration is just shilling.
So say a representative of that 40% regularly visit and certainly comment . Extrapolating, 60% believe OTB as untrustworthy. And that is the primary reason I have curtailed my visitations here on what I used to think as an honest website. But that was James’ choice on what kind of personalities (and political proclivities) he chose to bring online. I suspect much like John Cole, page views have increased. And much like John Cole, content has stagnated and coalesced.
We are so individual, so cutting edge, just like everyone else who thinks like us.
Post to ya in several months, when again, I have unimportant time on my hands…
A terrific statement, since I just pointed out that in this post Doug is channeling Hot Air.
Above stonetools said this:
And then I said this:
I meant to also mention that I think a key point was made by pylon.
I know I’m not the only one who noticed what he said, because that comment is currently rated higher than about 95% of the other comments in this thread.
That’s rather amusing coming from a libertarian…
He’s not Mitt Romney…
I’ll see that and raise with…
In the grand scheme of things, the deaths of thousands of people is far worse than a blowjob in the Oval Office…
anyone with a shred of objectivity knew that it wasn’t a coincidence that all this happened on Sept 11, but the sheep who can’t seem to ween themselves off of the “white house misinformation teet” just denied it. now they’re just defending it, sucks to be wrong but have a little class and admit it. the mainstream media has already buried it, forget about it!