The New York Times runs a curious piece today, attempting to reconstruct the long-since-discarded meme that the anti-Muslim video was the source of the attack.
Essentially the sole evidence for this conclusion is that this is what the terrorists said. The Times reports: “That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier.” But this obviously prompts the question: Jihadists have been using Western media to whip up anti-U.S. fervor for some time now. That they told others that this was all the doing of the West’s hateful anti-Muslim video is pretty much par for the course in these episodes.
The article raises a series of interesting questions. Here are a few:
The report notes that “the streets outside the mission were quiet in the moments before the attack had begun, without any prior protests.” So where did the spontaneous-demonstration story come from?
The Times initially reported Sept. 12 that this was a highly coordinated, well-orchestrated attack involving many fighters. (“American and European officials said that while many details about the attack remained unclear, the assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed, and they appeared to have at least some level of advance planning.”) How does this square with the notion that only a film provoked the jihadists?
The latest report labels Ansar al-Sharia as a “group of local Islamist militants” with small, home-grown concerns. But this group attacked the “Great Satan” — not merely, for example, a school where boys and girls studied together. Moreover, as the report notes, the U.S. intelligence agencies picked up intercepts between the fighters in Libya and al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb. (“United States intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said they intercepted boastful phone calls after the fact from attackers at the mission to individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”) Is that how a local group with “no interest in global fights against the West or distant battles aimed at removing American troops from the Arabian Peninsula” would be expected to act?
But the biggest question is why the U.S. director of national intelligence rejected two weeks ago the notion that the attack was caused by a video. It’s not merely “Republicans,” as the Times report suggests, who were throwing cold water on the video connection.
In a statement issued Sept. 28 through his spokesman, James Clapper explained, in part:
As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al-Qa’ida. We continue to make progress, but there remain many unanswered questions. As more information becomes available our analysis will continue to evolve and we will obtain a more complete understanding of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attack.
That’s very much at odds with the New York Times report today. So who is right?
If the sole connection to the video is what some jihadists said their motivation was, that’s hardly definitive. (It’s not even new.) But if the White House is going to revert now to the movie-made-them-do-it theory, that would certainly be big news. And it would be mighty confusing, as well.
Really, the president needs to get in front of the media, answer all the questions they have and clear this up. The contradictions within contradictions only perpetuate the idea that this White House is utterly overwhelmed.