Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ansar al Sharia

Petraeus to Testify “CIA Talking Points” Didn’t Come From CIA?

CNN reports that David Petraeus will testify today in a closed-door hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee that he knew the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism carried out by Ansar al Sharia “almost immediately.” What’s more, he will reportedly distance himself from Susan Rice’s “spontaneous demonstration” talking points, which were ostensibly given to her by the CIA. Video and partial transcript below (h/t The Weekly Standard’s Dan Halper):

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CNN reports that David Petraeus will testify today in a closed-door hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee that he knew the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism carried out by Ansar al Sharia “almost immediately.” What’s more, he will reportedly distance himself from Susan Rice’s “spontaneous demonstration” talking points, which were ostensibly given to her by the CIA. Video and partial transcript below (h/t The Weekly Standard’s Dan Halper):

David Petraeus is going to tell members of Congress that he “knew almost immediately after the September 11th attack, that the group Ansar al Sharia, the al Qaeda sympathizing group in Libya was responsible for the attacks,” CNN reports. …

“When he looks at what Susan Rice said,” CNN reports, “here is what Petraeus’s take is, according to my source. Petraeus developed some talking points laying it all out. those talking points as always were approved by the intelligence community. But then he sees Susan Rice make her statements and he sees input from other areas of the administration. Petraeus — it is believed — will tell the committee he is not certain where Susan Rice got all of her information.”

We’ve known since early October that the initial CIA talking points referred to a “spontaneous reaction” and downplayed the possibility of terrorism. But that clashed with reports that the intelligence community had early indications that it was a terrorist attack involving Ansar al-Sharia. There has been speculation that the unclassified CIA talking points (handed out to members of Congress and administration officials) were more of a political document than an informational one, and may not have originated from the CIA at all. If CNN is right and Petraeus does testify that he had nothing to do with the talking points, the next question is, where did they come from and why didn’t they match the intelligence?

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Will Hillary Go Rogue in Benghazi Hearing?

Congressional Republicans aren’t letting up on the Benghazi investigations, and they’re planning a series of committee hearings next week. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has invited Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News reports:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled an open hearing for next Thursday on the Libya terror attack and has invited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News has learned. 

The committee joins two others planning to hold hearings, albeit closed ones, that day. 

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi. A local Libyan extremist group is suspected of carrying out the attack, but the Obama administration has been criticized for its confusing explanation for the strike and for security warnings that apparently weren’t heeded.

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Congressional Republicans aren’t letting up on the Benghazi investigations, and they’re planning a series of committee hearings next week. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has invited Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News reports:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled an open hearing for next Thursday on the Libya terror attack and has invited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News has learned. 

The committee joins two others planning to hold hearings, albeit closed ones, that day. 

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi. A local Libyan extremist group is suspected of carrying out the attack, but the Obama administration has been criticized for its confusing explanation for the strike and for security warnings that apparently weren’t heeded.

We’ll see if Clinton takes them up on the invitation. If it comes down to it, committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen can always issue a subpoena. The State Department has been trying to shift a lot of the criticism to the CIA recently, but based on what we know so far, it still has the most inconsistencies and blunders to answer for.

Clinton testifying could be a problem for the White House. Even though she said the buck stopped with her on the Benghazi attack, it’s hard to picture her publicly taking the fall for everything if she has 2016 ambitions. And since she’s not sticking around for a second term, the White House may not be able to rein her in. It’s unlikely she would say something that really damages President Obama personally, but she could easily say something that complicates her most likely successor Susan Rice’s chances at the nomination.

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WH Spin: No Evidence AQ Was Involved in Benghazi

We’ve been seeing some interesting “scoops” about Benghazi on the eve of the foreign policy debate. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that there’s “no evidence” al-Qaeda had any ties to the consulate attack. No evidence? That’s funny, considering the group behind the attack, Ansar al-Sharia, is viewed as al-Qaeda’s face in Libya, according to a Library of Congress report from this summer. Also, the intelligence community reportedly intercepted phone calls in which Ansar al-Sharia leaders bragged to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leaders after the attack. Also, the State Department has designated Ansar al-Sharia a new alias for al-Qaeda in Yemen, etc.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius reported yesterday on CIA “talking points” that supposedly back up the administration’s initial “spontaneous reaction” story. But this isn’t much of a scoop or a story; these talking points were actually reported on weeks ago, and, according to Reuters, didn’t appear to match the actual intelligence.

At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn writes:

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We’ve been seeing some interesting “scoops” about Benghazi on the eve of the foreign policy debate. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that there’s “no evidence” al-Qaeda had any ties to the consulate attack. No evidence? That’s funny, considering the group behind the attack, Ansar al-Sharia, is viewed as al-Qaeda’s face in Libya, according to a Library of Congress report from this summer. Also, the intelligence community reportedly intercepted phone calls in which Ansar al-Sharia leaders bragged to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leaders after the attack. Also, the State Department has designated Ansar al-Sharia a new alias for al-Qaeda in Yemen, etc.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius reported yesterday on CIA “talking points” that supposedly back up the administration’s initial “spontaneous reaction” story. But this isn’t much of a scoop or a story; these talking points were actually reported on weeks ago, and, according to Reuters, didn’t appear to match the actual intelligence.

At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn writes:

Other press accounts have fingered additional suspects with links to al Qaeda as well. And there is substantial evidence that al Qaeda has built a substantial network inside of Libya.

Even though no one disputes that AQIM members were in contact with the attackers, however, it will take time to sort through all of the precise details.

But these latest accounts are not intended to comb through the evidence carefully. They are intended to provide political cover ahead of the final presidential debate.

Exactly. And the journalists aren’t just being used as mouthpieces for White House spin, they’re also allowing the administration to keep its hands clean while doing it. It doesn’t matter for the administration if the stories are false and misleading, as long as enough people believe them going into tonight’s debate.

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A Heartening Sign in Benghazi

After many dismaying days of watching anti-American protests across the Middle East, galvanized by an obscure anti-Mohammad video made by someone or other, Americans now have a protest to cheer: Libyans have taken to the streets en masse in Benghazi to make clear their anger at the militia groups they hold responsible for the attack that killed the popular American ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues. Fed up that Libya’s nascent, moderate government is unable to disarm militias, the people have taken the task into their own hands, forcibly disarming several militia groups and storming the headquarters of the extremist Ansar al Sharia group. Some 30,000 people marched through Benghazi, bearing signs that included “We want justice for Chris” and “The ambassador was Libya’s friend.” Protesters even chanted at Ansar al Sharia members: “You terrorists, you cowards. Go back to Afghanistan.”

This is, to put it mildly, heartening, and it shows that the people of Libya are hardly the anti-American radicals that many imagine them to be based on the actions of a few hotheads. One obvious takeaway is that the Middle East is not a uniform mass of sharia-spouting, America-hating crazies–which is, alas, the crude stereotype which remains popular in too many corners of the West. There are, in fact, complex forces at play and, while the radicals may grab the headlines, there is a “silent majority”–in the case of Libya, silent no more–that is more interested in peaceful social and economic development than it is in waging jihad against the West.

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After many dismaying days of watching anti-American protests across the Middle East, galvanized by an obscure anti-Mohammad video made by someone or other, Americans now have a protest to cheer: Libyans have taken to the streets en masse in Benghazi to make clear their anger at the militia groups they hold responsible for the attack that killed the popular American ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues. Fed up that Libya’s nascent, moderate government is unable to disarm militias, the people have taken the task into their own hands, forcibly disarming several militia groups and storming the headquarters of the extremist Ansar al Sharia group. Some 30,000 people marched through Benghazi, bearing signs that included “We want justice for Chris” and “The ambassador was Libya’s friend.” Protesters even chanted at Ansar al Sharia members: “You terrorists, you cowards. Go back to Afghanistan.”

This is, to put it mildly, heartening, and it shows that the people of Libya are hardly the anti-American radicals that many imagine them to be based on the actions of a few hotheads. One obvious takeaway is that the Middle East is not a uniform mass of sharia-spouting, America-hating crazies–which is, alas, the crude stereotype which remains popular in too many corners of the West. There are, in fact, complex forces at play and, while the radicals may grab the headlines, there is a “silent majority”–in the case of Libya, silent no more–that is more interested in peaceful social and economic development than it is in waging jihad against the West.

A second lesson from the Libya protests is that this is the payoff from an intervention to topple a hated dictator–America has plainly won the hearts of many in Libya, just as it did previously in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Kurdish region of Iraq. That does not, of course, mean that all Libyans love us–the extremists who killed our ambassador plainly did not–but it does mean that there is an undercurrent of sympathy for America that is not present in countries where we are associated with unpopular dictatorial regimes. We now have an opportunity to win popular favor in Syria or else suffer the opprobrium of allowing a terrible bloodletting to occur while we do nothing–which many Syrians will no doubt interpret as tacit American support for the hated Assad regime.

A third and final lesson is the need for follow-through–it is not enough to topple a dictator; it is just as important to establish order in his wake–something the Bush administration failed to do in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the Obama administration failed to do in Libya. The counsels of those of us who favored the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force to Libya after the successful NATO intervention were ignored. The result is the continuing chaos (although admittedly it is by no means a sure thing that an international force could have imposed order; it might even have sparked greater conflict). It is not, however, too late: Libya now has a moderate, pro-American government that is struggling to control its territory. While some isolationists in Congress argue that, in the wake of Stevens’s death, we should cut off aid to Libya, our proper course is just the opposite: We must increase aid, including the dispatch of military equipment and advisers, to create a national army and police force robust enough to keep order.

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