Commentary Magazine


Did Intelligence Tell WH There Were Protests in Benghazi?

The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

This is because the CIA intelligence at the time didn’t support the idea that there was a protest outside the consulate. By cherry-picking the initial intelligence report, the administration could provide some flimsy cover for its claim that the terrorist attack was a “spontaneous reaction” to the Cairo demonstrations over the video. But no amount of intelligence manipulation can create a protest where none existed.

Biden’s unequivocal claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters is simply not credible, and, worse, it glues the administration to its failed initial narrative. White House spokesperson Jay Carney had spent weeks slowly backing away from the protest story, and Biden has now made that impossible.

There are also risks to scapegoating the intelligence community, as FP’s Peter Feaver writes:

Second, the IC can fight back. Frustration has been mounting for years within the IC over the way the administration has politicized intelligence. At some point, that frustration could bubble over into retaliatory leaks and damaging revelations.

So far, the Obama campaign has been careful not to finger a specific person as the scapegoat. Last night, Biden kept it vague. But the talking points Biden was hiding behind were CIA talking points and the head of the CIA is David Petraeus, undoubtedly the person in the administration the American people trust most on national security — and yet, paradoxically, perhaps the person the hardened partisans in the Obama White House trust the least. I have been surprised that Petraeus has not personally been drawn into the fight thus far, but I wonder if he heard Biden calling him out last night.

Benghazi was reportedly teeming with CIA operatives; a top State Department official has testified that she monitored the entire attack in real time; and there were survivors who were able to piece together a tick-tock of the attack for the media. The CIA should would have easily known if there was or a protest outside or not, so Biden’s comment is a blatant accusation of incompetence.