White House Throwing State Department Under The Bus?
A round of finger pointing in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack.
As I noted earlier this week, there were several requests for additional security made by Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other diplomatic personnel in Libya that went ignored by the State Department in the weeks and months prior to the September 11th Consulate attack. That made it odd last night when Vice-President Biden said that ”We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there.” We know for a fact that those requests we made, though, because Congressman Darrell Issa released unclassified cables from the Embassy in Libya that were sent in March and July [PDF’s available here and here]. Now the White House is telling Josh Rogin that when Biden spoke last night he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the entire Administration:
Vice President Joseph Biden speaks only for himself and President Barack Obama, and neither man was aware that U.S. officials in Libya had asked the State Department for more security before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, a top White House official told The Cable.
Biden has come under fire for saying at Thursday night’s debate, “We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there.”
The Cable asked Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes whether Biden was speaking for the entire Obama administration, including the State Department, which acknowledged receiving multiple requests for more Libya security in the months before the attacks. Rhodes said that Biden speaks only for himself and the president and neither of them knew about the requests at the time.
The State Department security officials who testified before House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s panel Wednesday never said they had made their requests to the president, Rhodes pointed out. That would be natural because the State Department is responsible for diplomatic security, not the White House, he said. Rhodes also pointed out that the officials were requesting more security in Tripoli, not Benghazi.
“All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources,” the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, testified. “In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST [Site Security Team] extension.’ I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway.”
Nordstrom was so critical of the State Department’s reluctance to respond to his calls for more security that he said, “For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”
All of this comes just days after the State Department essentially contradicted the White House when it said that there was no protest over a movie in Benghazi on the day of the attack, and that they always believed the attack was the work or terrorists.
It does make sense that the President and Vice-President would not necessarily have direct knowledge of the security requests being made by diplomatic outposts, but it strikes me that this looks for all the world like an effort by the White House to distance itself from Foggy Bottom on the issue of why those requests for additional security were ignored. It does cause me to wonder, though, if State is being set up as the fall guy for this Libya debacle. It also makes one wonder how far up the chain of power at State that these security requests went. Was Secretary Clinton aware of them? Ambassador Rice? Or was this all left in the hands of career diplomats for some reason?
Of course, the State Department isn’t the only part of the government that the Vice-President directed blame toward last night:
Vice President Biden blamed intelligence officials for the administration’s changing account of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, during Thursday night’s debate with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
The Obama administration has been under fire for initially linking the attack on the U.S. Consulate to an anti-Islam video made in the U.S. before later acknowledging that that the attack was an act of terrorism, not a protest that turned violent.
Biden said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was repeating what intelligence sources had told her when she blamed the video as a “proximate cause” of the violence in an interview five days after the attack.
“The intelligence community told us that,” Biden said. “As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.”
So, in addition to the State Department, it looks like the White House is trying to pass off blame on the “intelligence community.” Perhaps if their initial response to the attack had been more coherent and they hadn’t stuck to the ridiculous story that the attack on the Consulate was a spontaneous event inspired by a bad YouTube video, they wouldn’t have to be engaging in this kind of finger pointing.