Each new revelation about the Benghazi debacle reinforces the idea we are either not hearing the truth or everyone in the administration was behaving irrationally. If you are waiting for someone to finally give a satisfactory explanation, I think it’s going to be a long wait.
The latest is that the director of national intelligence is claiming responsibility for the changed talking points.
CBS News reports:
Republicans have accused [U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice] of making misleading statements by referring to the assault as a “spontaneous” demonstration by extremists. Some have suggested she used the terminology she did for political reasons.
However, an intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too “tenuous” to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus, however, told Congress he agreed to release the information -- the reference to al Qaeda -- in an early draft of the talking points, which were also distributed to select lawmakers.
“The intelligence community assessed from the very beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.” DNI spokesman Shawn Turner tells CBS News. That information was shared at a classified level -- which Rice, as a member of President Obama’s cabinet, would have been privy to.
An intelligence source says the talking points were passed from the CIA to the DNI, where the substantive edits were made, and then to FBI, which made more edits as part of “standard procedure.”
But wasn’t this a great mystery about three days ago? Yup. Don’t worry, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is as flummoxed as the rest of us. The Hill reports:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was “surprised and frustrated” to read reports that the intelligence community had altered talking points about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, after being told last week that the source of the edits was unknown.
A spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Monday said it was the intelligence community — and not other agencies or the White House — that made the edits.
“I participated in hours of hearings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week regarding the events in Benghazi, where senior intelligence officials were asked this very question, and all of them — including the Director of National Intelligence himself — told us that they did not know who made the changes,” McCain said in a statement Tuesday. “Now we have to read the answers to our questions in the media.”
Moreover, this doesn’t explain why the non-existent spontaneous demonstration continued to be featured in the White House pronouncements long after it was established there was no such thing.
Again, if the information was too sensitive to release, why release faulty information — and why continue to reiterate that information long after it was disproved?
It is easy to get preoccupied with this aspect of the Benghazi scandal because it is such a vivid example of the lack of candor and coherence and the overabundance of finger-pointing that seems to pervade both foreign and domestic policy screw-ups (be they the first fumbled grand bargain, the Benghazi fiasco, or Fast and Furious).
In an atmosphere in which no one is apparently in charge, you can understand how the uncomfortable policy dilemmas (wasn’t Libya’s security situation deteriorating for months?) never get raised. The president is fine when there are tactical, discrete actions (drone hits, Osama bin Laden’s assassination) to be undertaken, but he and his administration have been lacking in focus on policy formulation and attention to the fine points of policy execution, when constant engagement and dedication of resources (e.g. Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Libya) is required. That is evidence of a national security adviser who isn’t doing his job, which after all, is to coordinate policy and make sure the president and other senior officials are all operating with the same, hopefully dependable, information.
Ultimately it comes back to the president. When the president isn’t much interested (because he is preoccupied with domestic policy and reelection) things fall apart. It is particularly bad when first-rate advisers are absent. And if you think it’s bad now, wait until Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Susan Rice and the rest of the second-string arrive.