One reason the Benghazi controversy has always seemed so bogus to me is that I’ve never bought the core premise, which is that the administration had any clear political reason or advantage to gain by claiming the attack was tied to the video as opposed to a pre-planned assault. (Here’s our look at how Benghazi evolved into a GOP talking point.) In addition to a great number of hacks peddling this idea, some people I respect a great deal seem to credit the idea too. But again, it doesn’t add up to me.
However that may be, the factual premise itself now seems to be coming apart. In this morning’s Washington Post, David Ignatius comes forward with new evidence suggesting that Susan Rice’s now notorious claims about the centrality of the video were pretty much verbatim from CIA talking points prepared that day for administration officials.
From Ignatius …
The Romney campaign may have misfired with its suggestion that statements by President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice about the Benghazi attack last month weren’t supported by intelligence, according to documents provided by a senior U.S. intelligence official.
“Talking points” prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, “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. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
Meanwhile, an article published yesterday afternoon in the LA Times suggests that these initial reports remain what US intelligence still believes happened: an attack with relatively little advanced planning, a high degree of disorganization and at least some level of triggering by the riots in Cairo earlier that day.
From the LAT …
The attack was “carried out following a minimum amount of planning,” said a U.S. intelligence official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a matter still under investigation. “The attackers exhibited a high degree of disorganization. Some joined the attack in progress, some did not have weapons and others just seemed interested in looting.”
A second U.S. official added, “There isn’t any intelligence that the attackers pre-planned their assault days or weeks in advance.” Most of the evidence so far suggests that “the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo” earlier that day, the official said.
It would be wrong to think we now know what happened in any definitive sense. Maybe it was triggered by the video. Maybe it was planned months in advance. For me, the main issue is that a US diplomatic team was killed — and whether it was a relatively unplanned haphazard attack or one with a lot of advanced planning is operationally significant but sort of beside the point in political or policy terms. It underscores that Libya is an incredibly dangerous place right now and the Ambassador lacked the protection he should have had.
As I mentioned after the debate last week, Romney totally got hoisted on his own petard by the ridiculous hyperfocus on the word “terror”. But really the whole focus on this word only makes sense in a hyper-ideological mindset in which using the ‘terror’ buzzword signifies you fully understand some global war on Islamofascism which Romney’s advisors are trying to bring back from the middle years of the Bush era.
My global take remains the same: only in the final weeks of a presidential campaign, with one candidate desperate for an America under siege Carteresque tableau to play against, would this ever remotely have been treated like a scandal or cover up. A bunch of reporters basically got played and punk’d.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.