Undercutting the Benghazi Outrage
Well, there goes the GOP’s anti-Hillary narrative for 2016: the New York Times conducted its own investigation of the circumstances around the Benghazi attacks, and based on their own local interviews inside Libya with those militia who know the background on the attacks, local militia leaders confirmed to the Times that the attacks were prompted and carried out not by Al Qaeda-backed groups, but in fact by local militias angered by an anti-Islam film, mirroring similar violent outbreaks next door in Egypt. This is precisely the reasoning put forward by the Obama administration from the outset, through Susan Rice.
Second, the CIA was oblivious to the possible threat from local militias. You’ll recall that the initial State Department pushback on the Agency’s talking points centered on the CIA’s apparent effort to redirect attention away from their gaffe towards hyping an Al Qaeda threat that had not been previously emphasized by the Agency. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and others had rejected the initial talking points prepared by the CIA because they attributed the attacks to Al Qaeda, yet Nuland argued that the Agency itself had not highlighted any imminent threat of Al Qaeda in North Africa, thereby sandbagging State with supposedly ignoring the threat raised by the Agency.
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) central figure in the attack was an eccentric, malcontent militia leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala, 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.
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.
Of course, this investigation's conclusions will not change the false assertions and phony outrage from Darrell Issa, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham about how Benghazi is a coverup on the scale of Watergate. These political actors are more invested in falsehoods and political scalp-taking than they are with the truth. But at least this investigation sheds light onto the real story behind Benghazi, and surprise, the real story is nowhere near the pack of lies from the GOP.