Today we are reporting vital intelligence from a document now in my possession that may finally silence Washington’s old, lame Benghazi blame game.
The document, written in 2012, sheds light on the motives and thinking of the attackers as they were attacking the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. And it reveals errors in assertions made by Democrats and Republicans in the overheated post-Benghazi contretemps.
So today we are revealing both the information and the source who provided this crucial intelligence.
Recently, the Benghazi blame game erupted yet again after The New York Times website launched an investigative account of just who did what in Benghazi — before, during and after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks. Four Americans were killed in the attacks on the compound and a nearby CIA annex, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The Times report, by Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick, was exhaustive and impressive in many ways. Yet it can be justifiably criticized for not even mentioning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and giving only minimal coverage to the Obama administration’s election-year political decisions on how to respond. (Especially the foolish decision to have the uninvolved and misinformed U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice claim on television the Benghazi attack was merely a copycat of the spontaneous crowd that overran the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to protest a video offensive to Muslims made by a U.S. citizen.)
The New York Times reported its investigation “turned up no evidence that al Qaida or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. … And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”
In a flash, the blame game battle was on again. House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, R, Calif., said on NBC News’ Meet the Press: “We have seen no evidence that the video was widely seen in Benghazi, a very isolated area, or that it was a leading cause.”
House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers, R-Mich., usually excellent and above politics on intelligence issues, is sadly partisan on this one. “We found absolutely no evidence that that video was involved in this whatsoever,” Rogers insisted on Monday’s “CBS Evening News.” “As a matter of fact, most of the information about the video didn’t even start surfacing in social media we found until after the event had happened.”
Time out! Those claims of Issa and Rogers were refuted by evidence gathered in Benghazi by a source who talked with Libyans — during the attack! (Also, Team Obama’s initial claim that this was just a citizen crowd was also refuted — many were militia men, armed for the attack. If this source had been a CIA employee, we’d call the info he culled “intelligence.”)
Issa, Rogers, Fox News, et al. had the same access we had to this intelligence on the roots of the Benghazi attack. It was in an Oct. 16, 2012, article The New York Times strangely buried on page A6, softly labeled as a “Memo from the Middle East,” and written by, yes, David Kirkpatrick.
As an intelligence document, the article delivered far more than the newspaper promised: “To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier.”
Also: “'It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,' said Mohamed Bishari, a 20-year-old neighbor who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. ‘There was no protest or anything of that sort.’ ” (Ansar al-Shariah is a strongly anti-Western militia group, but intelligence agencies reportedly have not found any overt linkage to an al-Qaida network.)
For the past year, while critical of Team Obama’s misguided initial response to the Benghazi tragedy, I’ve wondered in print how critics could repeatedly make accusations that were flatly disproven by that 2012 Times article.
Now we know: Obama’s critics weren’t lacking intelligence. They just found it inconvenient — and ignored it.
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.