It’s too bad the White House press briefing was on Air Force One today, because watching Jay Carney try to spin Mark Hosenball’s Reuters scoop would have been fun. Unfortunately we’ll have to make due with just a transcript:
“There was a variety of information coming in,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday on Air Force One. “The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgements about what happened and who was responsible.”
“This is an open source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site,” Carney said. “I would also note that within a few hours the organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That is why there is an investigation.”
Hillary Clinton also dismissed the story, accusing reporters of “cherry-picking” information:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday a Facebook post in which an Islamic militant group claimed credit for a recent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya did not constitute hard evidence of who was responsible.
“Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence. I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be,” Clinton said during an appearance with the Brazilian foreign minister at the State Department.
A single posting on Facebook isn’t a smoking gun. But apparently it was considered noteworthy enough for the State Department’s Operations Center to send White House, Pentagon, FBI and intelligence officials an email alert about it in the critical early hours of the attack. It’s not as if the State Department was recklessly blasting out random bits of gossip and speculation, either. According to the timeline in the Reuters piece, this appears to be the third message they sent out in a span of two hours.
There’s also the inconvenient fact that the email turned out to be correct. Ansar al-Sharia is the main group suspected behind the attack. So whether or not there was a “variety of information coming in,” as Jay Carney said, is irrelevant. Why did the administration dismiss information that correctly linked Ansar al-Sharia to the attack, and instead publicly promote inaccurate information about a “spontaneous protest”? Either they completely dropped the ball, or they were doing some cherry-picking themselves.