The House Armed Services, Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight & Government Reform committees issued a report on their oversight findings regarding Benghazi.
Their conclusions, in brief, are as follows:
Reductions of security levels prior to the attacks in Benghazi were approved at the highest levels of the State Department, up to and including Secretary Clinton. This fact contradicts her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 23, 2013.
In the days following the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the Intelligence Community in order to protect the State Department.
Contrary to Administration rhetoric, the talking points were not edited to protect classified information. Concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior Administration officials.
As to the first item, the report cites “a cable signed by Secretary Clinton in April 2012, the State Department settled on a plan to scale back security assets for the U.S. Mission in Libya, including Benghazi.” The committees essentially accuse Clinton of not telling the truth under oath. (“Multiple Committees have reviewed the State Department documents cited in the previous sections and remain concerned that the documents do not reconcile with public comments Secretary Clinton made regarding how high in the State Department the security.”)
As for the talking points, the report finds that in the interagency process (documented in e-mails among officials) the talking points were not altered because of intelligence concerns but to essentially conceal blame:
Those edits struck any and all suggestions that the State Department had been previously warned of threats in the region, that there had been previous attacks in Benghazi by al-Qa’ida-linked groups in Benghazi and eastern Libya, and that extremists linked to al-Qa’ida may have participated in the attack on the Benghazi Mission.
The talking points also excluded details about the wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya, an exacerbating factor that contributed to the lethality of the attacks. Administration officials have said that modification of the talking points was an attempt to protect classified information and an investigation by the FBI, but the evidence refutes these assertions. Administration officials transmitted and reviewed different drafts of the talking points — many of which included reference to al-Qa’ida-associated groups, including Ansar al-Sharia — over unsecure email systems. Also, there were no concerns about protecting classified information in the email traffic . Finally, the FBI approved a version of the talking points with significantly more information about the attacks and previous threats than the version requested by the State Department. Claims that the edits were made to protect the FBI investigation are not credible.
Interestingly, the report essentially exonerates U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, who merely reviewed the edited talking points.
Most damning, however, are the report’s findings that “the attacks revealed the United States’ poor defensive posture in North Africa and the Near East. . . . [T]he Administration failed to acknowledge a deteriorating security environment and respond to the extensive body of intelligence reporting that did exist . . . [T]he attacks highlight the failure of the Administration to properly plan for the post-Gadhafi environment.”
Richard Grenell, a former spokesman for U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations and a harsh critic of the administration, e-mailed me his reaction: “It proves that the Obama and Clinton political team at the White House and State Department scrambled to protect the President and the Secretary of State at a crucial moment in the 2012 presidential campaign and that the East Coast media elites completely followed their lead.”
Yet other critics seem to throw up their hands, not unlike Clinton, in asking what difference the report makes at this point. For starters, we should get the history right. Clinton’s record should be unambiguous and subject for debate if she runs for president. Moreover, in light of the recent Boston bombings and the uncovering of the Iranian-al Qaeda plot in Canada, the Benghazi report reminds us that we essentially have had no post-Osama bin Laden strategy for dealing with Islamic jihadism. Aside from the capabilities of individual members of the Obama administration, the report reflects a systemic failure to develop a comprehensive and coherent approach to jihadist threats. Current administration officials need to be questioned carefully and regularly to determine if they are doing any better. And finally, the report should inform voters for the choices for Senate and president in the future. Do we really want others as cavalier about national security and unfocused as the Obama crew? Do we think the problem is too much intelligence investigation or sheer incompetence? These things matter.
Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton e-mailed me: “I think the report has a several new revelations, but what it mostly accomplishes is underlining how much is still unknown about the Administration’s actions before during and after the Benghazi attack.” He remarked that the latest attack in Benghazi suggests security is still problematic there: “And as the attack on the French Embassy in Tripoli on Tuesday showed, the security of both official and private U.S. citizens in the Middle East should remain a matter of the highest concern.”
As for the media, I have to agree with Grenell that “faux reporters in Washington, D.C.” are unlikely to pay much attention or grill the White House on new details. Why start now?