by Arnold Ahlert
New evidence reveals the Obama administration’s version of the events that took place in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 was based on a tissue of lies. The Weekly Standard’s Steven Hayes has obtained a timeline and a series of emails revealing the self-serving efforts made by administration officials, who heavily edited CIA talking points about the attack that cost four Americans, including ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, their lives. Also revealed is who made the changes and why they made them.
The revelations are part of a report published by the five Republican Committee chairmen that has been largely dismissed by a calculatingly indifferent media, despite the reality that it includes direct quotes from administration officials, along with footnotes indicating the times the messages were sent. Although the names of some officials have been omitted in some places, the Weekly Standard has confirmed the identity of two administration officials who authored two critical emails: one illuminating the reason for the editing itself and the other announcing a September 15 meeting of top administration officials, where the ultimate draft of the talking points would be finalized.
The two officials are State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland and White House national security official Ben Rhodes.
What they sought to obscure is the realty that while the initial attack was still taking place, the State Department Operations Center sent out two alerts, at 4:05 p.m and 6:08 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). The former indicated an attack was taking place. The latter alert revealed that an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, Ansar al Sharia, was claiming credit for it. According to the House report, these alerts were widely circulated among administration officials, including those at the highest levels of government. Another cable sent by the CIA station chief in Libya the following day reveals that eyewitnesses confirmed that a terrorist attack involving the participation of Islamic jihadists had occurred.
It was exactly that reality the administration sought to obscure.
The Standard reveals the three versions of the edited talking points. Version 1 was distributed internally for comment at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, September 14. Key points include:
–The initial theory that the Benghazi attacks “were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo”;
–”Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa’ida participated”;
–Members of Ansar al Sharia “were involved”;
–”Wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya contributed to the lethality of the attacks”;
–The U.S. is “working w/Libyan authorities and intelligence partners” to bring those responsible to justice.
After this draft’s initial distribution, the CIA amended it, adding two more points. “On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the [Cairo] Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy,” and “The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al Qaeda in Benghazi and Libya.” They also changed two talking points: the reference to “al Qa’ida” was removed, and Benghazi “attacks” became “demonstrations.”
An hour into the vetting process, the official confirmed by the Standard to be Victoria Nuland raised “serious concerns”–about the political impact, fearing that Congress would hammer the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings.” Minor revisions followed, but they weren’t good enough for Nuland, who said the changes did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” further warning that State Department officials would directly contact National Security Council (NSC) officials as a result. In a matter of moments, the House report noted, that “White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account.” It was then that Ben Rhodes notified the various groups working on the points that a meeting would take place on September 15 to resolve their issues.
Version two of the report was put together at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday. According to officials with knowledge of what occurred at this meeting of the Deputies Committee, CIA deputy director Mike Morrel heavily edited this version, removing 148 of its 248 words. The entirety of the previous report was reduced to the “spontaneous attack” theory, followed by the idea that “this assessment may change as additional information is made available,” and that the “investigation is ongoing to help bring justice to those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.”
Less than two hours later, those three points became the bullet points in Version three, which became the final version of the administration’s talking points.
On Sunday, September 16, UN Ambassador Susan Rice was sent out by the administration to pitch the Muslim video canard. The following day, Nuland rose to Rice’s defense. “What I will say, though, is that Ambassador Rice, in her comments on every network over the weekend, was very clear, very precise, about what our initial assessment of what happened is. And this was not just her assessment, it was also an assessment you’ve heard in comments coming from the intelligence community, in comments coming from the White House.”
Yet even the redacted version of the talking points never mentioned anything about a video. Despite that reality, the administration, led by Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, continued to pitch that mendacious version of the events, inaugurating the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to mislead the American public in the weeks leading up to the presidential election — weeks during which we were assured that al Qa’ida and terror were “on the run.”
At a press briefing last Friday, State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell declined to comment regarding Nuland’s involvement, and why critical details were edited out of the final draft. “We regularly discuss our public messaging with our interagency counterparts, that’s part of what happens in the interagency,” said Ventrell. “We’re not going to get into the details…of our internal deliberative process on these. We continue to be transparent with the congress, and have been, and shared thousands of documents. Talking points is something that they’ve looked into.”
Yet the “most transparent administration in history” provided the emails to members of the House and Senate intelligence committees on the stipulation that they would only be available for a limited time, and not turned over to the committees. That agreement was part of a political deal whereby Senate Republicans would not hold up the nomination of current CIA Director John Brennan.
As damning as these revelations are, they are far from the only problems the Obama administration faces in a scandal that can no longer be contained. Last Thursday, it was revealed that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General will be conducting an investigation of the Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) report, an outrageous whitewash whose central conclusion was the idea that “the tragic loss of life, injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks.” According to well-placed sources, the IG wants to determine if the ARB declined to interview critical witnesses, who wanted to provide their accounts of Benghazi to the panel whose conclusions insulated top officials–including Hillary Clinton–for the “inadequate security” at the consulate.
Two of those whistleblowers, now revealed to be Gregory Hicks, Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya, and Mark Thompson, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism, are being represented by Washington attorneys Victoria Toensing and her husband Joseph DiGenova, respectively. Appearing on “Geraldo” Saturday night, Toensing told Rivera that “the things that her client will be saying will be contradictory to what the administration’s scenario was.” DiGenova promised that “what will come out of the hearing is that the Accountability Review Board conducted by General Pickering and Admiral Mullen will be proven to have been a cover-up–one of the worst jobs ever done in the history of governmental reporting…”
DiGenova further noted that nether Pickering or Mullen ever interviewed Hillary Clinton during their investigation, and that when Pickering was told he would have to deal with it, he became physically ill.
The third witness expected to testify is Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya. Nordstrom, who was based in Tripoli until two months before the attack, is the security officer who twice requested additional security in Benghazi before the attack. Nordstrom cited a chronology that included 200 security incidents in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012, including 48 that occurred in Benghazi.
An equally explosive revelation emerged a week ago, when an anonymous U.S. special operator told Fox News the administration’s contention that no forces were available to get to Benghazi in time was also a lie. “I know for a fact that C 110, the EUCOM CIF, was doing a training exercise, not in the region of northern Africa, but in Europe. And they had the ability to react and respond,” he contended. The C 110 is a 40-man special ops force reportedly capable of conducting rapid response and deployment. They were located only three-and-a-half hours away in Croatia on Sept. 11.
The operator revealed there were other members of special ops and other officials aware and involved, but that they would be “decapitated if they came forward with information that could affect high-level commanders.” The Fox source added that members of the special ops community feel betrayed, and believe that betrayal goes to the highest levels of the administration.
The administration apparently couldn’t care less. Last Tuesday at his press conference, President Obama claimed he was “unaware” of any effort to prevent whistleblowers from testifying. On the same day, Secretary of State John Kerry contended that there is “an enormous amount of misinformation out there.” ”We have to demythologize this issue and certainly depoliticize it,” Kerry told reporters at the State Department. “The American people deserve answers. I’m determined that this will be an accountable and open State Department as it has been in the past, and we will continue to do that, and we will provide answers.”
Kerry had previously expressed frustration with Republicans for refusing to accept the conclusions of the ARB. “Let’s get this done with, folks,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in testimony last month. “Let’s figure out what it is that’s missing, if it’s legitimate or isn’t. I don’t think anybody lied to anybody. And let’s find out exactly, together, what happened, because we got a lot more important things to move on to and get done.”
Last Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney echoed Kerry’s indifference. “Let’s be clear,” he said. “Benghazi happened a long time ago. We are unaware of any agency blocking an employee who would like to appear before Congress to provide information related to Benghazi.”
On Saturday, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, praised the State Department officials who have agreed to testify at the hearings. “They have critical information about what occurred before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points [from the administration,]” Issa said in a statement. “Our committee has been contacted by numerous other individuals who have direct knowledge of the Benghazi terrorist attack, but are not yet prepared to testify,” he added. “In many cases their principal reticence of appearing in public is their concern of retaliation at the hands of their respective employers,” Issa said.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell took issue with that characterization. “The State Department would never tolerate or sanction retaliation against whistleblowers on any issue, including this one,” Ventrell contended. “That’s an obligation we take very seriously, full stop.”
The country will find out exactly how seriously beginning Wednesday, when the House Oversight Committee resumes its hearings. It remains to be seen how mainstream media outlets, many of which have been more than willing to dismiss the investigation into the deaths of four Americans as a Republican conspiracy theory, will handle what is likely to be some of the most explosive testimony on the attack to date history. Benghazi may have happened “a long time ago,” but it is not going away anytime soon.
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