Right-wing media's latest "Benghazi bombshell," scandalizing claims about the attackers' cell phone usage during the assault, follows a now-familiar pattern: recasting history to accuse the Obama administration of inappropriately referencing an anti-Islam YouTube video in connection with the Benghazi terror attacks.
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Right-Wing Media Hype New "Bombshell" That "Raises Fresh Questions" About White House's Benghazi Statements
Fox News: New Claims About Benghazi Attackers' Cell Phone Usage Shows "Administration Knew Early On That Benghazi Was A Terrorist Attack." In a June 11 interview with Fox News' Special Report, retired air force major Eric Stahl recounted piloting the C-17 aircraft that transported survivors and the bodies of the four Americans killed in the September 2012 Benghazi assault out of Tripoli, Libya, where they had been taken for safety. Stahl claimed that early responders were "getting reports that cell phones, consulate cell phones, were being used to make calls to the attackers' higher ups" and said he was "confused" by reports that connected the attack to the inflammatory anti-Muslim video that had inspired violent anti-American protests around the world. According to Fox, an anonymous source corroborated Stahl's report:
The disclosure is important because it adds to the body of evidence establishing that senior U.S. officials in the Obama administration knew early on that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, and not a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video that had gone awry, as the administration claimed for several weeks after the attacks.
Stahl said members of a CIA-trained Global Response Staff who raced to the scene of the attacks were "confused" by the administration's repeated implication of the video as a trigger for the attacks, because "they knew during the attack...who was doing the attacking." Asked how, Stahl told anchor Bret Baier: "Right after they left the consulate in Benghazi and went to the [CIA] safehouse, they were getting reports that cell phones, consulate cell phones, were being used to make calls to the attackers' higher ups."
A separate U.S. official, one with intimate details of the bloody events of that night, confirmed the major's assertion. The second source, who requested anonymity to discuss classified data, told Fox News he had personally read the intelligence reports at the time that contained references to calls by terrorists - using State Department cell phones captured at the consulate during the battle - to their terrorist leaders. The second source also confirmed that the security teams on the ground received this intelligence in real time. [FoxNews.com, 6/11/14]
Breitbart.com: Fox Report Adds To "Stack Of Evidence" That Benghazi Attacks Were "Nothing Short" Of Terror. Breitbart.com echoed Fox's claims in a June 11 blog post that hyped the "newly uncovered information" as evidence that the administration "knew the events unfolding in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 were nothing short of a terrorist attack the very day they unfolded":
The report, put together by Fox's Bret Baier and James Rosen, concludes that the newly uncovered information shows the Obama administration knew the events unfolding in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 were nothing short of a terrorist attack the very day they unfolded. The report adds to the stack of evidence that the attacks were not a spontaneous demonstration caused by a poorly made YouTube video, as the Obama administration had claimed for weeks. [Breitbart.com, 6/11/14]
The Blaze: "Brand New Benghazi Revelations That Raise Serious Questions About White House's Response." Glenn Beck's The Blaze hyped Fox's allegations in a post headlined "U.S. Air Force Major (Ret.) Drops Brand New Benghazi Revelations That Raise Serious Questions About White House's Response." The Blaze suggested that Stahl's allegation "raises fresh questions" about the White House's response to the attacks:
The new report, which cites multiple sources, raises fresh questions regarding why the White House made the claim about the video even though it appears senior administration officials knew during the attack that terrorists were responsible. [The Blaze, 6/11/14]
But Obama Immediately And Repeatedly Decried "Terror" Attack In Benghazi
Sept. 12: President Obama On Benghazi: "No Acts Of Terror Will Ever Shake The Resolve Of This Great Nation." On September 12, the day after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, President Obama gave a speech in the Rose Garden and declared:
OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done. [WhiteHouse.gov, 9/12/12]
Sept. 12: In Nevada, Obama On Benghazi: "No Act Of Terror Will Dim The Light" Of American Values. Later on September 12, Obama again labeled the Benghazi attacks an "act of terror." He told a crowd in Las Vegas, Nevada:
OBAMA: As for the ones we lost last night: I want to assure you, we will bring their killers to justice. And we want to send a message all around the world -- anybody who would do us harm: No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America. [WhiteHouse.gov, 9/12/12]
Sept. 13: In Colorado, Obama Again Referred To The Benghazi Attack As An "Act Of Terror." In Golden, Colorado, on September 13, Obama again classified the Benghazi attack as an "act of terror." He told the crowd:
OBAMA: So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. [WhiteHouse.gov, 9/13/12]
Intelligence Community Did Not Consider Video Connection Mutually Exclusive With Terrorism
Early CIA Intelligence Pointed To "Extremists" Who Participated, But Also Made Video Connection. The final draft of talking points from the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis, written two days after the attacks, determined that "the currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo," which like many areas in the Middle East had erupted in response to the anti-Islam video:
The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations. [Media Matters, 6/12/14; Media Matters, 5/6/14]
Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: "Some Intelligence Suggests" Attacks Were Organized Following Protests Over Video, But Command Of The Attacks Remains Unclear. The bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation of the Benghazi attacks found that "some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning":
It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning. [Review Of The Terrorist Attacks On U.S. Facilities In Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]
New York Times: Attack Likely Not "Meticulously Planned," But Was "Fueled" By Anger At Anti-Islam Video. In an extensive report for the New York Times based on "months of investigation" and "extensive interviews," David Kirkpatrick reported that many of the attackers appeared to have been connected to extremist group Answar al-Sharia, but noted that the assault appeared to be an opportunistic terror attack, "fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam" (emphasis added):
Soon scores, if not hundreds, of others were racing to the scene. Some arrived with guns, some with cameras. The attackers had posted sentries at Venezia Road, adjacent to the compound, to guard their rear flank, but they let pass anyone trying to join the mayhem. Witnesses said young men rushing inside had left empty pickup trucks from Ansar al-Shariah, but also all the other big militias ostensibly allied with the government.
There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.
Witnesses at the scene of the attack identified many participants associated with Ansar al-Shariah. Mr. Abu Khattala's presence and leadership were evident. He initially hung back, standing near the crowd at Venezia Road, several witnesses said. But a procession of fighters hurried to him out of the smoke and gunfire, addressed him as "sheikh" and then gave him reports or took his orders before plunging back into the compound. [The New York Times, 12/28/13]
Administration's Statements About Attacks Reflected "Best Information Available At The Time," And Were Quickly Updated As Evidence Emerged
Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: Administration Relied On CIA Intelligence That Was Initially Based on Local Press Accounts. The administration relied on CIA intelligence to inform its initial public statements about the Benghazi attacks, the Senate Investigation noted, and the intelligence community's initial assessment was largely based on local press accounts -- many of which noted the connection to the video:
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the IC received numerous reports, both classified and unclassified, which provided contradictory accounts that there were demonstrations at the Temporary Mission Facility. In some cases, these intelligence reports -- which were disseminated widely in the Intelligence Community -- contained references to press reports on protests that were simply copied into intelligence products. [U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, "Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi Libya, September 11-12, 2012," U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]
Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: "There Were No Efforts By The White House Or Any Other Executive Branch Entities To 'Cover-Up' Facts Or Make Alterations For Political Purposes." The Senate Committee on Intelligence review determined there was no effort by the administration to cover-up or alter the facts for political purposes:
The Majority concludes that the interagency coordination process on the talking points followed normal, but rushed coordination procedures and that there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to "cover-up" facts or make alterations for political purposes. Indeed, former CIA Director David Petraeus testified to the Committee on November 16, 2012, "They went through the normal process that talking points-unclassified public talking points-go through." In fact, the purpose of the National Security Council (NSC) is to coordinate the many national security agencies of the government, especially when information about a terrorist attack is flowing in and being analyzed quickly-and the NSC used this role appropriately in the case of the talking points coordination. Furthermore, such coordination processes were also standardized, often at the urging of Congress, following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with the explicit goal of reducing information "stovepipes" between and among agencies. [Review Of The Terrorist Attacks On U.S. Facilities In Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]