In what appears to be an objective and dispassionate explanation of the Democratic position on the Benghazi affair, Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, lays out three “indisputable facts that disprove the Republican innuendo of intentional wrongdoing or cover-up,” as reported on Newsmax.com
Unfortunately, his main premise that “The CIA, not the White House or the State Department, was the originator of the now controversial phrase in the ‘talking points’ that the attack was ‘spontaneously inspired’ by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo,” is misleading.
Indeed, Mike Morell, the CIA deputy director and the most senior analyst at the agency at the time, did change the talking points to spin the facts away from “planned terrorist attack” to “spontaneous demonstration.”
His reason for doing so is at the root of the matter.
Was it because, as Morell claims, that all of the analysis up to the point of the attack pointed to the likelihood of increased demonstrations due to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood at U.S. embassies around the globe — a prediction confirmed by the demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo just days before the Benghazi attacks? Did this lead him to conclude that this event must also be a demonstration?
We now know that the attacks had nothing to do with a demonstration. There was no demonstration. Real-time intelligence flooding into the White House, State Department, and CIA headquarters from the moment the first shots were fired shouted terrorist attack.
So why did Morell chose to ignore recent specific intelligence coming from Benghazi and his own CIA station chief in Tripoli, and rely solely on past general analysis when editing the talking points? Why would he discount current real-time intelligence in favor of historical analysis? Lanny Davis says “He had intelligence and investigatory reasons for doing so.”
I don’t see it. I think he “cooked the books” to serve his White House masters.
There is plenty of precedent for books cooking within the highest levels of the CIA. Recall that Bob Gates had to withdraw his nomination for director of Central Intelligence the first time around due to strong allegations of cooking the books for the White House.
There is always pressure to make intelligence fit the policy narrative. But that’s not the way it should work. Most of our leaders in the CIA have been able to stand firm on principle and resist efforts to politicize intelligence. Clearly, at least in my opinion, in this instance Morell didn’t.
Lanny Davis’ other two “facts” are of far lesser importance, but they bear mentioning because they are related. In fact two, Davis claims that Hillary Clinton’s now famous frustrated exclamation, “What difference does it make?” was in response to a Republican senator’s “factually baseless innuendo that there was a hidden White House agenda behind the use of the phrase ‘spontaneous demonstration.’”
Baseless? Innuendo? Sorry — there was no spontaneous demonstration. I leave it to the reader to decide whether there was a hidden White House agenda behind the use of the phrase.
And finally, fact three: “Violent attacks on embassies that led to deaths of soldiers and diplomats occurred under Republican administrations.” Correct, they have indeed. But in making his point Davis quotes Sharyl Attkisson, formerly of CBS News, by saying, “the administration’s handling of the tragedy was a result of mistakes, not malice.”
So we are led to believe that the administration’s incompetence is the whole reason for all the spin, obfuscation of the facts, lies and cover-up. Davis concludes: “One wishes, in this poisonous, partisan climate in Washington, that more people on both sides of the aisle and in the media would remember this distinction.”
No, Davis, mistakes (incompetence) in the handling of security in the weeks and months leading up to the attacks may explain why we were not prepared for the attacks in the first place, but they do not explain the administration’s actions afterward.
The faults: inadequate security for the Benghazi facilities; lack of response once the attacks were underway; lying about the cause of the attacks and then trying to cover-up these failures; lie squarely at the feet of the Obama administration. All the spin in the world won’t change that.
Fred Rustmann is a retired CIA station chief and member of OpSec, an advocacy group for intelligence officers and special operations forces. He also is the author of "CIA, Inc."; "Plausible Denial"; and "The Case Officer."
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