Benghazi Emails And Talking Points: I Just Don’t See The Big Deal
In going back and rereading stuff to see what, if anything, I’m missing everyone else seems to see I think there’s one thing people are using that I’m not sure is such a big deal.
It’s a complicated topic with a lot of separate strands so I’m not going to try and write a comprehensive analysis of everything we know to date. My goal here is to look at one or two of the topics and see where I’m not on board with people I normally agree with.
Let’s start with the talking points.
First we need to be clear that there are two set of talking points in play. The original set were requested by members of Congress who wanted to know what the administration knew in the days after the Benghazi attack so they could answer media questions. These were generated initially by the CIA and went through several revisions as other agencies (State and the White House mostly) weighed in.
The second set of talking points was developed from this first set but included other topics as they were used to prepare then UN Ambassador Susan Rice who was going to go on every network’s Sunday show to talk about Benghazi and the protests/attacks in other parts of the Mideast.
One thing I think we need to recognize upfront is that there’s nothing unusual about agencies preparing talking points and hashing them out in an inter-agency forum. This is an everyday occurrence across the government.
What got things going this week was a batch of emails form the White House which detailed how the administration took the original IC talking points, massaged and expanded on them to prep Rice.
The “explosive” email was from Ben Rhodes, then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser , where he is the one who first says the the Benghazi attack was “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.”
This is the thing people are talking about as showing the WH, not the IC blamed the video, right?
But if you look at the IC talking points generated by the CIA they say, (pg.45 of the pdf) “the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi”
It strikes me as Rhodes was using “internet video” and “protests at the US Embassy in Cairo” as interchangeable terms and not without reason. Obama and Clinton had been saying that for 2 or 3 days by then.
So yes, the White House changed “protests at the US Embassy in Cairo” to “internet video” in Rice’s media talking points but they were already essentially synonymous by the weekend. Remember these were media talking points so the fact that the White House comms team wanted to use the same language that the President and Secretary of State were using (internet video) as opposed to the language of the IC talking points (protests at the US Embassy in Cairo) doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal to me.
Now you can argue that it was ridiculous to say the Cairo protests and others across the region were inspired by an old and obscure video on Youtube but that’s what protest organizers claimed and that’s what had been discussed in the media for days.
I just don’t see how the Rhodes talking point is inserting the Youtube video into the discussion out of whole cloth. The logic is that of the Transitive Property: The video led to the protests in Cairo, Cairo led to Benghazi therefor the video led to Benghazi.
Now as we know this is wrong. We know that there was no protest at the Benghazi facility on the night of the attack but that’s what the CIA was telling the White House up until at least the morning of Rice’s round-robin appearances.
What would be a smoking gun is evidence that before Rice went on TV and told everyone it was the video-to Cairo-to Benghazi chain of events the CIA told the White House, um, there was no protest at the Benghazi facility and it was a planned attack. We don’t have that. Yet.
Now there were other US intelligence agencies that seemed to differ from the CIA’s protest analysis but the worst you could then accuse the White House is believing what it wanted to believe for political purposes. That would be cherry picking and a legitimate criticism but they can wave around the emails from CIA saying there was a protest and they simply felt the CIA case was stronger.
There’s also the matter of why the White House failed to release this batch of emails sooner but that’s a process not content issue.
To me the real question isn’t there’s still the matter of where the hell the CIA got the idea that there was a protest going on in Benghazi but that’s a different strand of this. If it turns out there are documents showing the White House pushing the IC to say there was a protest in Benghazi that night….that would be a big deal.
Was the intel Rhodes relying on sketchy at best and flat out wrong at worst? Yes but absent some indication that the White House improperly interfered in the analytical work of the CIA, I’m not clear how the White House can be faulted for using what they were given.