The New York Times’ conclusion that Al-Qaeda was not involved in the Benghazi attacks has been put through the shredder by the bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee. President Obama will appreciate parts of the report, but it is an overall indictment of the State Department and the administration’s public statements following the attacks.
The report concludes that the perpetrators included “individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] and the Mohammad Jamal Network.” The determination follows the State Department’s designating of both Libyan Ansar al-Sharia groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations for their involvement in the attacks.
The Times had portrayed the Benghazi attacks as the handiwork of only one of the Ansar al-Sharia groups and claimed it had no Al-Qaeda linkages. The Times even went so far as to falsely state that Al-Qaeda didn’t even successfully infiltrate Libya to begin with.
The first finding of the Committee is that there was “ample strategic warning” that U.S. facilities and personnel were threatened in Benghazi. It states:
“The IC [intelligence community] produced hundreds of analytic reports in the months preceding the September 11-12, 2012 attacks, providing strategic warning that militias and terrorists and affiliated groups had the capability and intent to strike the U.S. and Western facilities and personnel in Libya.”
The consensus of the intelligence community was that Al-Qaeda was in Libya preparing attacks.
A CIA report dated July 6, 2012 is titled, “Libya: Al-Qa’ida Establishing Sanctuary.” It warned that AQIM, AQAP and the Al-Qaeda-linked Mohammad Jamal network had an infrastructure in eastern Libya that was used for communications, training and logistics for terrorist operations across North Africa.
DIA report dated June 12, 2012 is titled, “Libya: Terrorists Now Targeting U.S. and Western Interests.” It cited attacks on the facility in Benghazi that was later the scene of the September 11-12 assault. It mentioned a growing Al-Qaeda presence in the area and frankly stated, “we expect more” attacks.
The Pentagon Joint Staff similarly commented on the Al-Qaeda threat in eastern Libya. And there are multiple other examples in the report.
The second finding is that the State Department did not increase security in response to this information. The Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi was left “severely under-resourced.” And finding 5 is that U.S. personnel were not reduced in response to the breaching of security “tripwires.” Overall, the report concludes that the attack was preventable.
These findings substantiate shocking congressional testimony that personnel on the ground repeatedly asked for enhanced protection. Eric Nordstrom oversaw security for diplomats in Libya and testified that the security was “overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection.” The response he got from a senior State Department official as that “there would be too much political cost” involved with granting his requests.
Finding 13 is that the facility’s primary source of security was the February 17 brigade, a local Libyan militia linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to being Islamist, it was undermanned and underequipped. Unsurprisingly, it failed to do anything significant to protect the site.
Finding 14 is that the U.S. government could bring some of the perpetrators to justice but have not.
According to the Times, the Libyan government refused U.S. requests to arrest an involved militia leader (Abu Khattala) and about a dozen others. The Obama Administration rejected the U.S. military’s plan to capture him because of fears it would cause instability that would undermine the Libyan government.
There are other conclusions that the administration will celebrate. It undermines two allegations: That the administration stopped the military from stepping in during the attack and that the CIA talking points were manipulated by the White House.
The Committee says that no military resources were available to quickly intervene (finding 7), there was no intelligence about a pending attack in Benghazi (finding 3) and unarmed surveillance assets were not delayed (finding 8). It states:
“The Committee has reviewed the allegations that U.S. personnel, including in the IC [intelligence community] or DoD [Dept. of Defense], prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks, but the Committee has not found any of these allegations to be substantiated.”
The report also attributes the administration’s false statements about the Benghazi attacks to an intelligence failure.
It says that analysts incorrectly concluded that protests preceded the attacks and took too long to correct the record (finding 9) and that the DIA’s Office of Analytic Integrity and Standards did not provide complete and accurate information to Congress (finding 11).
It also says that the White House did not sanitize the CIA’s talking points on the attacks. The revisions happened during an internal CIA review before it was presented to the senior leadership or other agencies.
The administration will happily cite these conclusions, but it isn’t off the hook.
It is now known that top defense officials described the Benghazi violence as a “terrorist attack” when they briefed President Obama minutes after it commenced. Yet, administration officials conveyed to the public that it was a protest that morphed into violence; protests that we now know for a fact did not exist.
“These protests were in reaction to a video…We have no information to suggest it was a pre-planned attack,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said on September 14.
“We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned,” said U.N. ambassador Susan Rice on September 16.
Even if it is true that the intelligence community incorrectly told the administration that protests preceded the violence, that doesn’t disqualify the violence from being a terrorist attack. The administration made the decision not to publicly describe it as a terrorist attack, even when its own defense officials were doing so privately.
More specifically, it was a jihadist terrorist attack. Only Islamist ideology mandates violent retribution against all who criticize their faith. The reason the attack happened wasn’t the publication of a YouTube video. The reason was the commandments of Sharia.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy contributed to this article.
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