White House Insists Benghazi Attack Was Not Pre-Planned, Was All About A Movie
The White House's theory of what happened in Benghazi is become less and less credible.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations appeared on pretty much all the morning shows today and continued to push the Administration line regarding the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi, namely that it was all related to outrage over a movie:
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was not premeditated, directly contradicting top Libyan officials who say the attack was planned in advance.
“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.”
“In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated,” Rice said, referring to protests in Egypt Tuesday over a film that depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud. Protesters in Cairo breached the walls of the U.S. American Embassy, tearing apart an American flag.
“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to – or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo,” Rice said. “And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons… And it then evolved from there.
Rice made the same claims this morning on Fox News Sunday:
Rice’s account is completely at odds with the statements made by Libya’s Interim President, who said that the attack was a pre-planned terrorist attack:
Libya’s president says he believes al-Qaida is behind a deadly attack in eastern Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. staffers.
In an exclusive interview with NPR in Benghazi, President Mohammed el-Megarif says foreigners infiltrated Libya over the past few months, planned the attack and used Libyans to carry it out.
Wearing the traditional long white robe of men in Libya, Megarif is visibly exhausted when we speak to him at his home in Benghazi. As he describes the ambush on the U.S. consulate that killed Stevens and three other Americans, his eyes water and he drops his head.
“Our friend and friend of all Libyans and all residents of Benghazi and we feel very, very, very,” deep sadness, he says.
A steady stream of people files in and out of the soft-spoken president’s home. This eastern Libyan city was the birthplace of the revolt against late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Now it is a neglected place, with few security forces on the street and a flood of heavy weaponry.
Megarif says that over the past few months, foreigners took advantage of the security vacuum and flowed into the country from Mali and Algeria. I ask if this attack was over an anti-Muslim film that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world. He shakes his head.
“The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” he says. “We firmly believe that this was a precalculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate.”
The attackers used the protesters outside the consulate as a cover, he says.
“The intention was there from the beginning, for it to take this ugly barbaric, criminal form,” he says.
Megarif claims evidence shows that some elements of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group in eastern Benghazi, were used as tools by foreign citizens with ties to al-Qaida to attack the consulate and threaten Libya’s stability.
Ansar al-Sharia rejects the democratic process in Libya, and does not recognize the new Libyan government. Only God’s law rules, it says. Still, U.S. officials have cast doubt on the theory, saying they see no links between the assault and al-Qaida at large. The spokesman for the U.S. president said Friday there was no evidence the attack was preplanned. Ansar al-Sharia has denied any involvement in the attack.
Given the descriptions of how this attack went down, the idea that it was a spontaneous attack that just happened to pop up on September 11, 2012 because someone in Libya found out about a movie supposedly produced by some guy in America that nobody had ever seen seems kind of hard to believe. According to reports, the attackers used Rocket Propelled Grenades and had established zones of direct and indirect fire designed to make it difficult for anyone defending the consulate to successfully repel them. That’s not the action of an angry mob. That seems to me more like the action of an organized and trained paramilitary force using the ginned up protests about this film as cover for their attack. There’s also the question of how exactly this attack happened to take place at the same time that Ambassador Stevens, who is normally stationed at the Embassy in Tripoli, was present in Benghazi. Its either a heck of a coincidence, or the attackers had some foreknowledge that he would be there. Coincidence strikes me as an implausible explanation.
Given the fact that the FBI team that was sent to investigate the attack has not arrived in country yet, it’s rather hard for me to understand how Ambassador Rice, or the White House, can be so sure that their theory about the Benghazi is at all accurate. It strikes me that it would be more appropriate for the official response to be that the motivation and nature of the attack are unknown and awaiting the results of the investigation. Otherwise, they’re going to be pretty embarrassed if it turns out that this was a pre-planned attack and they have to change the narrative. Could it be that the White House is reluctant to concede that terrorism might have been involved here because they don’t want to have to deal with questions about failed intelligence, or why security at the Consulate wasn’t ramped up in anticipation of the anniversary of the September 11th attacks? None of us know the answer to that, of course, but the longer they cling to an increasingly implausible version of events, the more that possibility becomes more likely. Obviously, the Administration isn’t going to formally label this a terrorist attack until there’s been time to investigate the matter. However, to continue to insist that this was all just the tragic outcome of a protest gone wrong strikes me as rather silly.
There’s one last point I’d like to float out there about the Benghazi attack, and the embassy protests in general. Does anyone find it odd that all of this just happened to start on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks? It’s almost as if someone was sending a message that, for some reason, those in power don’t want to admit having received.
Could it be that the White House is reluctant to concede that terrorism might have been involved here because they don’t want to have to deal with questions about failed intelligence, or why security at the Consulate wasn’t ramped up in anticipation of the anniversary of the September 11th attacks?
Or the Obama administration doesn’t want to hype up these attacks as another episode of the glorious War on Terror, and they especially don’t want to do it with only a few days’ worth of an investigation. I would much rather have a foreign policy that is embarrassed because of a talking head’s performance than one that goes off half cocked in an election year.
I could understand — though not support — the denial if it was the case the Libya was calling this a protest. The fact that the interim Libyan president is willing to admit it was an attack and the Obama Administration isn’t strikes me as strange.
Unless of course they are worried of having to acknowledge the high degree of instability in Libya out of fear of giving the Romney camp something to run with. If that is the case, it’s a pretty pathetic reason to keep pushing this narrative.
I don’t disagree with you there. But, in that case, wouldn’t the appropriate response be to say that we aren’t going to comment until the investigation has been concluded? What happens if the investigation concludes that it was a preplanned attack?
That is the kind of thing that is hard for us to accept, in a country where people don’t come to protests with RPGs. That said, I’m not sure I really like the counter-narrative, that this was a huge operation which should have been perceived and prevented by the President.
“I sense a disturbance in the force …”
I suppose it’s possible that some group managed to pull an operation together quickly when the protests started, but that still strikes me as somewhat implausible.
I suppose my bigger concern is that they’re already pushing an official narrative even before the investigation has begun.
Are they positioning themselves against stupid people, who will argue that anything preplanned should have been preventable?
Getting back to why Stevens was there, and with that thin guard, we know that he loved the Libyans, and he had reason to think they loved him. It is pretty straightforward to think that led to a false sense of security. Just the same, I really don’t have confidence that will be understood in US politics. Here it won’t matter how safe Stevens felt going to Benghazi, it will be about Obama’s “role.”
I think they should have had more reserve. As I say I see it as defensive politics which I don’t think are justified by the facts.
Or we’re putting out the story that we don’t think it has to do with the terrorist camps in eastern Libya, so it would be totally okay for any terrorists in the area to return to those targets. Er, camps.
We can speculate all day. Or we can assume that Ms. Rice and Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama are not complete fools, and are working a very fraught situation as well as they can.
I’m not questioning why Stevens was there. He spent a lot of time in Benghazi during the war and , like you said, he’s been very close to the Libyan people. My question is more just about the coincidental timing of the attack just happening to take place when the U.S. Ambassador was present at the Consulate.
“I believe in coincidences, I just don’t trust coincidences.” — Elam Garak, Star Trek: Deep Space 9
I don’t assume they are stupid, far from it.
This seems odd.
The best interpretation I could give is that the Obama administration is trying to push back against the statements by Megarif, since they will make it harder to conduct an investigation. The cat is out of the bag, as it were, so it probably won’t be effective, but it’s worth a shot. Create confusion among the people who perpetrated the attack.
The protests were clearly orchestrated, and they attempt to use our freedoms against us (maybe they really do hate us for our freedom!). I do find it amusing that our media is so crappy that the scope of the protests is lost on most Americans, which really dampens the effect the organizers likely had anticipated (don’t feel too bad guys, the media here ignores all protests unless it is a couple dozen old men in lawn chairs shrieking about keeping government out of Medicare).
Agreed. That would probably have been a better response, although I’m not sure if that’s just hair-splitting.
We’re going to see, I guess. I’m sure they are going to try to downplay these protests, and I don’t know if that’s the wrong thing to do.
The fact that the ambassador thought he could travel like he did makes me think that Benghazi isn’t like Iraq. Unless he was crazy, you don’t go out like that in a totally unstable country if you’re the ambassador.
I think we’ll have to wait and see. The one nice thing about Washington is that if there was any intel this was a pre-planned attack, it is going to leak. Personally, I think anything is possible at this point and don’t think it’s necessarily a stretch that a well organized and armed group could quickly plan and execute an attack.
I don’t think Anderson was necessarily crazy or reckless. That said, it doesn’t appear he was your average Ambassador.
From all the stories about Anderson, it’s pretty clear that he was an extremely hands-on and among the people type of Ambassador. Exactly the sort of person you want on the ground to assist with nation building and hearts and minds campaigns.
It seems likely that if they had expected him to live in an Emerald City scenario, he’d have been reluctant to take the position.
FWIW, when my sister was in Libya they went to the central market for shopping, about 10 of them, with one guard. In the group photo one of the oil men was holding the guard’s AK for comedic effect. I think that was Tripoli, but still …
Postmodern crazy always runs up against the too much realism in real life. Now they are just trying to deny what is before their lying eyes.
The longer they keep trying to deny reality, the more their debasement becomes apparent.
Was this pre or post Qaddafi?
I probably shouldn’t be too specific … about 2 or 3 months ago.
No need to share anymore, just curious. I kind of assumed it was post-revolution.
That’s the big problem Libya has right now. Once the Qaddafi regime collapsed there was all this weaponry out there that just disappeared. One report last August said that some 20,000 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles had disappeared from a government armory. A lot of that stuff seems to have found it’s way into the hands of various groups, including an Islamist group in the SW Libyan desert that has managed to take control of a significant part of northern Mali.
That is a lot of missiles.
it’s been reported that two of the guys killed with the Ambassador were former Navy Seals working for some unnamed agency as part of a program to buy back surface-to-air missiles. It’s not widely known, but this program is one the of US government’s biggest nonproliferation efforts in decades.
It’s beyond hard to believe, Doug.
It’s a lie. This attack was premeditated and carried out on 9/11. Our Ambassador to Libya died as a result. Obamee is a fool and a moron, period. He can’t admit that a terrorist attack on 9/11 killed a US Ambassador on 9/11 less than 60 days before the election or he loses the election.
There really isn’t any deeper calculus at work here. The White House is hoping the American voter will soon forget that security and intelligence lapses on the anniversary of 9/11 led directly to the deaths of four Americans. The media is doing an admirable job blaming as much as they can on the Youtube video, Mitt Romney’s reaction, the situation in Syria, as thick of a smokescreen as possible for as long as possible.
Four Americans died on the President’s watch because the President failed to protect them. That’s all you need to know, and say.
Pssst. What was it I said above?
If anyone here voted republican in the 2004 presidential election feels that Obama doesn’t reserve a 2nd term based on this matter…your partisanship is showing.
Let’s run this down.
Terrorist attack on Americans: check.
President comes out and says justice will be done: check
Administration starts fighting against push-back of having this happen on their watch:check
President and parts of the administration have photo-op moments showing the country they care: check
“Official stories” are released to help spin the matter to meet their policy expectations: check
Let’s just hope we don’t start another war over this matter…
The images of the US flag being torn down and burned at the embassies will not be soon forgotten. The leaders of the Muslims including the “Brotherhood” need to step up and speak very loudly and clearly that this sort of behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated.
Doug, those in power (here) CANNOT acknowledge this was a 9/11 Anniversary attack.
To do so would be to say that the terrorists are still a threat, and they don’t want anyone thinking that. They don’t want Gitmo mentioned (act as if it’s closed), and other than their successes they want no mention of terrorism or terrorists.
Anything that brings national security to the spotlight this close to the election is bad, because true or not, most American’s feel the guy in the Oval Office isn’t the greatest when it comes to that stuff.
As I recall GWB was criticized for not acting on certain intel, given to him by Condi Rice, which might have made the U.S. better prepared (if not prevented) the attacks that happened on 9/11.
So, why is criticizing President Obama, off the table (or even considered partisan), in light of the Libyan President saying the US was warned, and another Jewish publication asserting that the U.S. ignored Arab radicalization? I think the mere fact that Susan Rice has come out trying to buffer the president from allegations that this was a planned attack vs a spontaneous one, should not curtail any objective investigation by the MSM in analyzing and duly reporting on any foreign policy weaknesses of this president.
Also, as I recall GWB was jeered for not reacting fast enough to the planes hitting the twin towers — because he kept reading to the children, instead of jumping up and doing something. However, little has been made of President Obama’s lag time of 15 hours, while much criticism has been instead transported and heaped onto his opponent for responding too quickly.
It’s an ironical world, when seen through the liberal lens.
I can’t help but think that the context plays a role in the attacks. Would there be demonstrations or actual stormings of U. S. embassies if we hadn’t invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and used armed UAVs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia?
We have more facts and more settled dust on “Bin Laden Determined to Strike.”
If you can find someone who jumped on Bush within 5 days I’ll be happy to call them an ass.
@Bob in Zion (Illinois): From Obama’s acceptance speech:
It was a whole 10 days ago, so I can see why it’s been memory-holed.
If you can find someone who jumped on Bush as the buildings were burning, I’ll be happy to call them unfit for office.
@Bob in Zion (Illinois):
Absolutely. Just ask Osama bin Lade….oh, wait, you can’t. Because he’s dead.
Oh, I don’t know. After all, George W. Bush let 3,000 Americans and other die on his watch on 9/11 because he failed to protect them, and then he launched an insane and unprovoked war that resulted in the senseless deaths of another 4,500 American servicemen and women in Iraq, and yet he seemed to get re-elected.
Ok… I’m reading that correct… right? She more or less just suggested that the storming of a single embassy was an emergency equal to two planes flying into the twin towers and one into the pentagon.
… And yet people on the right are arguing that the entire issue with Mr Nakoula’s interview should have been handled as routine…
@Bob in Zion (Illinois):
Yeah. I’m sure Americans really want to vote for the guy who said that he WOULDN’T have gone into Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden:
“I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours… I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort.” — Mitt Romney, on the campaign trail in 2007.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers has said in multiple interviews over the last couple of days that U.S. intelligence is saying what Amb. Rice is saying: they’re basically moderately confident that it wasn’t pre-planned. So she’s not pulling this out of the air, it’s where our preliminary intelligence assessment is at.
If, 11 years after 9/11, the best al Quaeda and their sympathizers can do us a bunch of protests and one dead ambassador, none of it in the US, then we’ve done a great job.
And, frankly, I think the protests are a good thing. They’ll never learn about freedom of seech unless they exercise it.
About all I can say is I ain’t buying it. As to why? I can’t see the angle so I guess we will just have to wait and see.
I know this is a wild, insane idea, but until more facts come out, I’m going on the assumption that the people who are getting information from the top levels of the government might actually know a little bit more about the situation than bloggers and commenters who know only what they’ve seen on TV and read about online and in the papers.
True, this will probably disqualify me from commenting on the internet ever again, but I’m going to take that chance.
@Bob in Zion (Illinois):
Well actually, you’re wrong.
She’s angling for her position in the Ministry of Truth. The movie is the chosen scapegoat to cover for their incompetent negligence.
Actually, if there was a poll asking if Obama was the “greatest” ever when it came to “that stuff”, you would probably be correct. Every credible poll does show, however, that most “American’s” (sic) think that he is better at it than Romney.
Of course (a) you can’t really make that case, and (b) no one was such an ass to suggest that on 9/16/2001
I do think the administration is making a mistake here. There is a real possibility that it was pre-planned, not a certainty but a possibility. The administration is making the same mistake Romney made – making statements without all the information. They should be saying we will wait until the investigation is complete.
@Jeremy R.: That’s not true at all. See the attached National Journal article from today:
Rogers leans more towards a planned attack.
Umm, not really…
Based on what’s been reported about how the attack was conducted, coupled with what I learned and remember from my military training in small-unit tactics, I’ve concluded Ambassador Rice’s statement is utterly ludicrous. It’s simply ridiculous on its face to say an attack like the one that happened that night wasn’t planned. Ridiculous.
I’m not going to speculate about why she’s completely talking out her backside like this–there may be some very good reasons of which the general public is not aware. But, man, something big must be going on for the administration to basically send Rice out to make a statement that fatuous.
sure, just a coincidence that they all got together on Sept. 11, sure. let’s move along now, nothing to see.
@john personna: Of course I can.. She’s lying thru her teeth. Maybe if you took Obama’s balls out of your mouth you could think straight.
Yes, he has his personal doubts but his account of where the preliminary intelligence currently stands matches what I sad earlier (“moderate confidence”). Here’s his latest accounting of it on Fox News Sunday:
He’s been saying the same thing for the last couple days, though previously he didn’t play up his personal doubts as much.
BTW, this is what Susan Rice said on the same show. It’s pretty clear they’re both operating off of the same U.S. intelligence assessment:
@Ron- She heavily qualifies everything she says. She keeps saying “right now” and best assessment”. I tale that to mean they dont know yet.
Lemme guess….new to OTB, but you’re a big Glenn Reynolds fan.
Then there’s this;
In the wake of a major incident like this, it’s not unreasonable to suspend your disbelief for a few days. Could have been a planned attack, sure. But it also could have been a situation they exploited. A little patience and time and we’ll know for sure. In the meantime, wait and see rather than throwing around accusations and attacks. If nothing else, your credibility will be greater when and if there is something real to criticize.
I’m thinking more Michelle Malkin.
I apologize for following my own comment with another, but isn’t “Insist” a little strong here, Doug? As was pointed out above, she used several qualifiers: “Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present…” This isn’t “insisting.” This is a tentative statement, subject to revision, which makes the headline rather misleading.
If you’re waiting for intellectual honesty from Mataconis, I hope you brought a book.
@KariQ: It’s not just Rice who’s saying this. Jay Carney has been out with assurances it was “spontaneous.” Regardless of Rice’s “best assessment” language, the administration appears to want to go forward with this narrative.
One of Rep. Mike Rogers’ statements was that the attackers “had indirect fire coordinated with direct fire.” Having coordinated direct and indirect fire during my military days, I can tell you without any doubt it takes a fair bit of planning. If Rogers’ statement is an accurate account of what happened that night, it alone puts the lie to what Carney and Rice are pushing.
@Rick DeMent: The attackers had mortars. That’s indirect fire. You have to coordinate that with your direct fire if you want to avoid dropping mortars on your own guys. That takes planning.
The evidence so far leads us to WHO KNOWS? I don’t think the administration is intentionally obfuscating-since I don’t think it matters politically- I do think the Lybian government has a motive to peddle their storyline- I think the administration is sticking to the current theory until they have better information- and what would that be? My best guess is that the truth is somewhat in the middle- essentially, individuals with aspirational plans took advantage of a situation but that’s is merely conjecture- the reality is that nobody, except the perps, know.
Hmm. I don’t know the motivation, but it does seem like they’re shoveling BS here. It sure looks like more of a hit than a mob riled over the film.
To me there are a lot of possibilities, and there isn’t too much to talk about until it starts to shake out.
It may be as Mikey said, it was organized, but as Rob implies, we might want to say little about that until we can say “they were organized, but oops, we killed them all.”
Has anything about the history of terrorist militants led you to believe that they care about killing their own guys?
There’s planning and then there’s planning. Sure, you have to coordinate mortar and small arms fire if you don’t want to hit your own guys. But you can do that on the ground (and often have to, in the middle of combat). It’s not the sort of planning that has to be done days in advance with multiple meetings and PowerPoint slides. It’s the sort of planning that can be done in minutes in the field, as combat platoons have demonstrated in countless engagements.
Rachel Maddow had a segment last week offering the theory that the attack in Benghazi could have been a revenge attack for the killing of al Libi (The Libyan), who was deputy for Zawahiri (who took over when bin Laden was killed).
@Rafer Janders: The kind of training necessary to coordinate fires in the way you describe indicates an organized force rather than a spontaneous escalation of a protest. So does the kind of communication necessary.
@KariQ: They may not be as concerned with fratricide as we are, but I highly doubt even they want martyrdom badly enough to advance on a target while it’s under mortar fire.
Just hypothetically…if the US knew it was a planned attack and had some clue – or reasonable hopes of gaining a clue – who was behind it, would it be better strategy to alert the perpetrators to incoming retaliation against their known bases or let them guess that their use of the movie protests as cover had worked?
@Dave Schuler: No no no….they hate us for our freedoms! /sarcasm