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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Benghazi and the Infamous "Talking Points"

Congressional hearing about what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 grind on.  Most of the focus lately has been on whether the White House manipulated the messaging after the tragic event.  Don't expect any "smoking gun" emails on this.  This is fundamentally a story about how bureaucratic bungling led to a US ambassador being killed in a bad place.  The messaging after the fact doesn't change that reality.  To recap briefly:
  • The intelligence community knew Benghazi was "terrorist central" and getting worse.  Numerous attacks, even on the Embassy "temporary mission facility," were well documented.
  • The decision was made at Main State NOT to fund security improvements to the mission facility. (Because, well, it was temporary, and they expected to shut it down later in the year.)
  • The Pentagon-provided Site Security Team, which was beefing up the ambassador's personal protection, was not renewed. 
  • State decided to use the local 17 February Brigade militia to provide security for the facility.
The rest is history.  Read the sad details in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report here:  Another good report is the State Department's Accountabilty Review Board's piece, which you can find on the internet easily.

I keep hearing talking heads say, that while the attack was going on, "we needed to do something."  But what?  Read the report yourself.  Note a small but telling detail: the Ambassador's security team fired no shots during the attack. (That gives you some idea on the restricted rules of engagement in an ostensibly friendly country.)  Like I said, the real scandal was all on the front end. 

Now about those talking points.  Written by CIA and used apparently by UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the talk shows days later, they called the attacks (there were three in all) "demonstrations."  As the SSCI report shows in the appendix, the CIA's first draft called them attacks.  Then by the time the talking points were chopped on by CIA's Office of Public Affairs, they became "demonstrations."  Big difference in wording.  Why CIA's OPA would have anything to do with making such a spurious and clueless analytic judgment is beyond me.  When I read through all this (yesterday, SSCI's report came out in January) I almost started buying into Congressman Issa's belief that this process was politicized. 

Almost.  Never attribute to malice what can be easily explained by incompetence.

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