Written by William F. Jasper
In its clumsy attempt to absolve President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from responsibility for the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, the New York Times has reignited intense scrutiny and debate over the fiasco and the administration’s lies and cover-ups in its aftermath.
On December 28, the Times opened a new chapter in the ongoing furor over “Benghazigate” with an extensive, 7,000-word article by David D. Kirkpatrick entitled, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi.” According to Kirkpatrick, his article is the result of “months of investigation by The New York Times,” which “turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” Moreover, he says, the September 11, 2012 attack, which resulted in the murder of four Americans — Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods — “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”
It is not surprising that the Times, which has staunchly supported both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, would come to their aid once more, producing a piece that echoes and affirms the administration’s Benghazi talking points, even though the facts have discredited those talking points.
A number of critics have already pointed out that Kirkpatrick’s latest article is contradicted by earlier Times reports which acknowledge the al-Qaeda ties of some of the Libyan jihadist militias (that the Obama administration, incidentally, was supporting). See, for instance, Aaron Klein at World Net Daily here and here, and Thomas Joscelyn at The Weekly Standard here.
It is also contradicted by a detailed report prepared by the Library of Congress entitled, Al-Qaeda in Libya: A Profile, issued in August, 2012, the month before the fatal Benghazi attack.
It is also interesting that the Times would once again try to lay the blame for the attack on a spontaneous riot incited by the anti-Muslim video and protests over the video in faraway Cairo, Egypt. This, of course, is a resurrection of the Barack Obama/Susan Rice/Hillary Clinton false narrative issued immediately after the fatal attack, which was an effort to cover up the fact that the event was a highly coordinated terrorist attack carried out by some of the very jihadists the administration was arming and aiding. The spontaneous riot narrative was also aimed at diverting attention from the fact that Secretary Clinton had failed to heed repeated warnings from Ambassador Stevens and State Department security personnel about the escalating danger in Benghazi and their appeals for additional security.
However, no credible evidence has been produced to support the claim that the anti-Muslim video precipitated, or contributed to, the Benghazi attack. And an in-depth analysis by Agincourt Solutions, a prominent social media monitoring firm, could find none of the alleged Internet traffic and postings in the Benghazi region that were supposedly responsible for stirring up the attackers.
Pre-emptive Defense for Hillary’s 2016 Presidential Run
The most transparent reason for the Times’ flimsy Benghazi whitewash is that the paper was trying to divert attention from Secretary Clinton’s central role in the whole sordid affair, so that a festering Benghazigate scandal would not derail her White House hopes for 2016.
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division
Al-Qaeda in Libya: A Profile
This report attempts to assess al-Qaeda’s pres
ence in Libya. Al-Qaeda Senior Leadership
(AQSL) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have sought to take advantage of the Libyan Revolution to recruit militants and to reinforce their operational capabilities in an attempt to create a safe haven and possibly to extend their area of operations to Libya. Reports have
indicated that AQSL is seeking to create an al-Qaeda clandestine network in Libya that could beactivated in the future to destabilize the government and/or to offer logistical support to al-Qaeda’s activities in North Africa and the Sahel.
AQIM has reportedly formed sleeper cells that are probably connected to an
al-Qaeda underground network in Libya, likely as a way, primarily,
to secure the supply of arms for its ongoing jihadist operations in Algeria and the Sahel. This report discusses how al-Qaeda and its North African affiliate are using communications media and face-to-face contacts to shift the still-evolving post-revolutionary political and socialdynamic in Libya in a direction that is conducive to jihad and hateful of the West.
The information in this report is drawn largely from the Internet and Western and Libyan online publications. Particular attention has been given to AQSL and AQIM sources, especially propaganda videos featuring their leaders and a written essay from ‘Atiyah al-Libi, an influential
Libyan al-Qaeda leader killed in Pakistan by a U.S. drone strike in August 2011. Although a wide range of sources were utilized, including those in French a nd Arabic, as well as in English,the information found was quite limited and largely presumptive. Given the scarcity of
information, further research is needed to better penetrate the organization of al-Qaeda’s clandestine network in Libya, its leaders, areas of concentration, and chain of command. The Web addresses presented in this report were valid as of August 2012.
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division Al-Qaeda in Libya: A Profile
A Deadly Mix in Benghazi
A boyish-looking American diplomat was meeting for the first time with the Islamist leaders of eastern Libya’s most formidable militias.
It was Sept. 9, 2012. Gathered on folding chairs in a banquet hall by the Mediterranean, the Libyans warned of rising threats against Americans from extremists in Benghazi. One militia leader, with a long beard and mismatched military fatigues, mentioned time in exile in Afghanistan. An American guard discreetly touched his gun.
“Since Benghazi isn’t safe, it is better for you to leave now,”, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade, later recalled telling the Americans. “I specifically told the Americans myself that we hoped that they would leave Benghazi as soon as possible.”
Yet as the militiamen snacked on Twinkie-style cakes with their American guests, they also gushed about their gratitude for President Obama’s support in their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They emphasized that they wanted to build a partnership with the United States, especially in the form of more investment. They specifically asked for Benghazi outlets of McDonald’s and KFC.
The diplomat, David McFarland, a former congressional aide who had never before met with a Libyan militia leader, left feeling agitated, according to colleagues. But the meeting did not shake his faith in the prospects for deeper involvement in Libya. Two days later, he summarized the meeting in a cable to Washington, describing a mixed message from the militia leaders.
Despite “growing problems with security,” he wrote, the fighters wanted the United States to become more engaged “by ‘pressuring’ American businesses to invest in Benghazi.”
The cable, dated Sept. 11, 2012, was sent over the name of Mr. McFarland’s boss, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Later that day, Mr. Stevens was dead, killed with three other Americans in Benghazi in the most significant attack on United States property in 11 years, since Sept. 11, 2001.
The Diplomatic Mission on Sept. 11, 2012
Four Americans died in attacks on a diplomatic mission and a C.I.A. compound in Benghazi.
As the attacks begin, there are seven Americans at the mission, including five armed diplomatic security officers; the information officer, Sean Smith; and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Both Mr. Smith and Ambassador Stevens die in the attack.
The cable was a last token of months of American misunderstandings and misperceptions about Libya and especially Benghazi, many fostered by shadows of the earlier Sept. 11 attack. The United States waded deeply into post-Qaddafi Libya, hoping to build a beachhead against extremists, especially Al Qaeda. It believed it could draw a bright line between friends and enemies in Libya. But it ultimately lost its ambassador in an attack that involved both avowed opponents of the West and fighters belonging to militias that the Americans had taken for allies.
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.
The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests.
In this case, a central figure in the attack was an eccentric, malcontent militia leader,, according to numerous Libyans present at the time. American officials briefed on the American criminal investigation into the killings call him a prime suspect. Mr. Abu Khattala declared openly and often that he placed the United States not far behind Colonel Qaddafi on his list of infidel enemies. But he had no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and he had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person C.I.A. station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor the local situation.
Mr. Abu Khattala, who denies participating in the attack, was firmly embedded in the network of Benghazi militias before and afterward. Many other Islamist leaders consider him an erratic extremist. But he was never more than a step removed from the most influential commanders who dominated Benghazi and who befriended the Americans. They were his neighbors, his fellow inmates and his comrades on the front lines in the fight against Colonel Qaddafi.
To this day, some militia leaders offer alibis for Mr. Abu Khattala. All resist quiet American pressure to turn him over to face prosecution. Last spring, one of Libya’s most influential militia leaders sought to make him a kind of local judge.
Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.
One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.
The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.
Libya Warnings Were Plentiful, but Unspecific
Published: October 29, 2012
WASHINGTON — In the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the Obama administration received intelligence reports that Islamic extremist groups were operating training camps in the mountains near the Libyan city and that some of the fighters were “Al Qaeda-leaning,” according to American and European officials.
The warning about the camps was part of a stream of diplomatic and intelligence reports that indicated that the security situation throughout the country, and particularly in eastern Libya, had deteriorated sharply since the United States reopened its embassy in Tripoli after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government in September 2011.
By June, Benghazi had experienced a string of assassinations as well as attacks on the Red Cross and a British envoy’s motorcade. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the September attack, e-mailed his superiors in Washington in August alerting them to “a security vacuum” in the city. A week before Mr. Stevens died, the American Embassy warned that Libyan officials had declared a “state of maximum alert” in Benghazi after a car bombing and thwarted bank robbery.
In the closing weeks of the presidential campaign, the circumstances surrounding the attack on the Benghazi compound have emerged as a major political issue, as Republicans, led by their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, have sought to lay blame for the attack on President Obama, who they argued had insufficiently protected American lives there.
Interviews with American officials and an examination of State Department documents do not reveal the kind of smoking gun Republicans have suggested would emerge in the attack’s aftermath such as a warning that the diplomatic compound would be targeted and that was overlooked by administration officials.
What is clear is that even as the State Department responded to the June attacks, crowning the Benghazi compound walls with concertina wire and setting up concrete barriers to thwart car bombs, it remained committed to a security strategy formulated in a very different environment a year earlier.
In the heady early days after the fall of Colonel Qaddafi’s government, the administration’s plan was to deploy a modest American security force and then increasingly rely on trained Libyan personnel to protect American diplomats — a policy that reflected White House apprehensions about putting combat troops on the ground as well as Libyan sensitivities about an obtrusive American security presence.
In the following months, the State Department proceeded with this plan. In one instance, State Department security officials replaced the American military team in Tripoli with trained Libyan bodyguards, while it also maintained the number of State Department security personnel members at the Benghazi compound around the minimum recommended level.
Questions at Home
But the question on the minds of some lawmakers is why the declining security situation did not prompt a fundamental rethinking of the security needs by the State Department and the White House. Three Congressional investigations and a State Department inquiry are now examining the attack, which American officials said included participants from Ansar al-Shariah, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.
“Given the large number of attacks that had occurred in Benghazi that were aimed at Western targets, it is inexplicable to me that security wasn’t increased,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, one of the panels holding inquiries.
Defending their preparations, State Department officials have asserted that there was no specific intelligence that warned of a large-scale attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which they asserted was unprecedented. The department said it was careful to weigh security with diplomats’ need to meet with Libyan officials and citizens.
“The lethality of an armed, massed attack by dozens of individuals is something greater than we’ve ever seen in Libya over the last period that we’ve been there,” Patrick F. Kennedy, the State Department’s under secretary for management, told reporters at a news conference on Oct. 10.
But David Oliveira, a State Department security officer who was stationed in Benghazi from June 2 to July 5, said he told members and staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he recalled thinking that if 100 or more assailants sought to breach the mission’s walls, “there was nothing that we could do about it because we just didn’t have the manpower, we just didn’t have the facilities.”
In developing a strategy to bring about the fall of Colonel Qaddafi, Mr. Obama walked a fine line between critics of any American involvement in Libya and those like Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who advocated a stronger American leadership role. Mr. Obama’s approach — a NATO air campaign supported by the United States — was a success.
After Colonel Qaddafi’s fall, Mr. Obama proceeded with equal caution. He approved a plan to send to Tripoli a 16-member Site Security Team, a military unit that included explosive-ordnance personnel, medics and other specialists. “Day-to-day diplomatic security decisions were managed by career State Department professional staff,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
E-Mails Offer Glimpse at What U.S. Knew in First Hours After Attack in Libya (October 25, 2012)