House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has sent out a slew of subpoenas to 10 State Department officials. Unfortunately, the subpoenas do not include Hillary Clinton (is she not an e-mail user?) and only concern the Benghazi talking points. Moreover, one hopes that the State Department is not the only place Issa is looking for answers.
After all, despite the frenzy over the anti-Muslim video, by September 12 the State Department was conducting a background briefing accurately recounting the attack. No mention was made of the anti-Muslim video. It was at that point a “non-event” as Gregory Hicks testified. To a large degree, finding culpable parties in the State Department on the talking points is a wild goose chase. As former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht writes, for an explanation of the talking points one needs to look at his former agency:
The first question should be about why the CIA’s first draft of its now-infamous talking points stated: “We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo.” We know from Gregory Hicks — the former deputy chief of mission in Tripoli — that diplomats sent no telegram suggesting a connection between Cairo and Benghazi.
Hicks knew, as did others at the State Department, that the attack was planned, coordinated and well-armed, and that it wasn’t preceded by demonstrations. CIA officers, who were in Libya in large numbers, knew likewise. So how did someone in Langley, Virginia, several thousand miles away, conclude that something was dubious from the start?
He surmises that either the CIA was spouting public rumor-mongering rampant in the press or was trying to serve up a story the administration would appreciate (all the while covering for its own security lapses).
When Susan Rice doubled-down on the anti-Muslim video story, we were off to the races with a narrative that was as defective as the strategy behind the security debacle. Rather than ask who at State massaged the talking points, the better questions are why and how the CIA immediately embarked on a phony rear-end covering narrative. (“It was truly audacious, even by the agency’s high standards for protecting itself, to merely list well-known terrorist incidents in Libya and refer to what was on the jihadi group Ansar al-Sharia’s Facebook page, while mentioning how dutifully the CIA reported, on Sept. 10, the possible threats inside Egypt, where local social media could react to the warnings.”) The scandal isn’t why the reference to warnings came out, but how they got in there in the first place. The scandal isn’t so much that the specific references to al Qaeda got washed out, but that the CIA never spotted this coming and was all too happy to play along with the video-made-them-do-it line.
Beyond the talking points, Gerecht asks: “Why didn’t the CIA, with its large presence in Libya, have more tactical intelligence on the situation in Benghazi that a diplomatic security officer could actually use? Or another more appropriate question now: Why hasn’t the agency done a better job of catching those who killed an American ambassador?”
State is not blameless, certainly. What needs to be ferreted out about the State Department’s role in the Benghazi fiasco? Gerecht wants to know “Did Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy turn down security-reinforcement requests from American officials in Libya? Did he discuss issues with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?”
I’d add in a few more:
Was Hillary Clinton and her senior staff inattentive to the deterioration in Libya’s security situation? Was there political pressure not to highlight how poorly the lead-from-behind strategy was working out?
When and why did Hillary Clinton jump from her building’s accurate briefing on the attack on Sept. 12 to her speech at the casket ceremony on Sept. 14 carrying the anti-Muslim narrative?
Who selected Rice for the Sunday shows and why did she not before or after hear from State as to what they understood (correctly) had occurred?
Why was Chris Stevens in Benghazi, in a mostly CIA-operated compound, on the anniversary of 9/11, in the first place?
Was he there at State’s behest or was he there for other reasons?
Did State ever press the Pentagon for rescue efforts for its people? And if so, what was the response?
What was Cheryl Mills doing lecturing Hicks not to talk to congressional investigators? Who sent her on that errand?
How did the Accountability Review Board decide not to interview any higher-ups in the State Department? Did senior officials pressure the ARB and/or edit its work? Did Clinton ever offer to be part of that process?
Why were low-level personnel like Raymond Maxwell targeted while the undersecretary for security was held harmless? Who at State was responsible for deciding whom to punish?
In sum, the talking points are valuable in large part because they show CIA’s efforts to disguise its own incompetence. (Gerecht notes, however, that not everyone at CIA was trying to snow the rest of the executive branch: “The CIA’s deputy director, Michael Morell, should be praised for realizing that something was inappropriate about the agency’s parading of a list of its achievements. Cutting that commentary from the talking points revealed professionalism and a decent respect for the truth.”) But it also shows how easily a more convenient but totally inaccurate rendition of events that serves to lessen the blame on everyone in the executive branch can take hold. (You can almost imagine Hillary saying, “Well if that’s the story they want to go with, I’m game.”)
If the executive branch was as attentive to the events in Libya before the death of four Americans as it later was in spinning a tall tale, Chris Stevens and the others might still be alive and the administration would have one less scandal to worry about.