Bipartisan outrage is a rarity in Washington these days, but the Obama Administration’s lack of transparency over Benghazi has provoked it.
This $64,000 question occupied Congress in open and closed hearings last week as well as the Sunday talk shows: Who altered the Administration’s talking points on the Benghazi terrorist attack? Lawmakers of both parties—such as Diane Feinstein (D–CA) and Mike Rogers (R–MI), the two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who both appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press—are demanding answers.
The immediate target has been U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who did not testify last week. The CIA talking points she was provided suggested that the attacks were caused by outrage over an anti-Muslim video and were not a systematically devised terrorist attack. Among the provided talking points were:
- “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo.”
- “This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.”
- “The investigation is on-going, and the US Government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens.”
Absent from the talking points is, of course, the word terrorism. Yet we know that U.S. intelligence officials knew within 24 hours of the attack that al-Qaeda was involved, so why would the CIA leave this information out of its talking points? With every new piece of information that has surfaced, more questions have been raised.
What we have learned over the past five days is that the divisions between the White House and the CIA are deepening. Recently resigned CIA director David Petraeus refused to accept blame for leaving the word terrorism out of the talking points in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and states that it was there when the talking points left the CIA.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, has likewise refused to accept blame for excising it. Suspicion meanwhile has fallen on the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee, an interagency group of political appointees.
Why is getting to the truth of the CIA talking points ultimately so important?
We need to know if the Obama Administration deliberately misled the American people and Congress about a terrorist attack on Americans. It is important to know if the CIA understands what is going on in the Middle East. If its analysts confuse organized terrorists with random mobs, they are obviously not up to the job, and their threat assessments are way off.