Commentary Magazine


Topic: Libya

Kerry: Obama Fulfilled Promise to “Decimate al-Qaeda”

Sen. John Kerry, national security sage, writes the following in an Obama campaign memo today (h/t Fox News):

Under President Obama’s leadership, we have devastated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only has the United States taken out Osama bin Laden, but we have devastated a large majority of al-Qaeda’s core group of leaders. And today our nation is safer because these terrorists have been eliminated. But there is still more work to do. …

President Obama kept his promise to re-focus our efforts on the real reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 – to decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven they had there. Now that we’re accomplishing those objectives, the President has a plan to end the war in 2014, and our troops are already coming home. After over a decade at war, the President has a plan to use the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do some nation-building here at home.

Not only is AQ not decimated in Afghanistan, it’s rebuilding strength as U.S. forces withdraw, Fox News reports:

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Sen. John Kerry, national security sage, writes the following in an Obama campaign memo today (h/t Fox News):

Under President Obama’s leadership, we have devastated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only has the United States taken out Osama bin Laden, but we have devastated a large majority of al-Qaeda’s core group of leaders. And today our nation is safer because these terrorists have been eliminated. But there is still more work to do. …

President Obama kept his promise to re-focus our efforts on the real reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 – to decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven they had there. Now that we’re accomplishing those objectives, the President has a plan to end the war in 2014, and our troops are already coming home. After over a decade at war, the President has a plan to use the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do some nation-building here at home.

Not only is AQ not decimated in Afghanistan, it’s rebuilding strength as U.S. forces withdraw, Fox News reports:

A diminished but resilient Al Qaeda, whose 9/11 attacks drew America into its longest war, is attempting a comeback in Afghanistan’s mountainous east even as U.S. and allied forces wind down their combat mission and concede a small but steady toehold to the terrorist group. …

U.S. and Afghan officials say Al Qaeda also has been building ties with like-minded Islamic militant groups present in Afghanistan, including Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the November 2008 rampage in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is present in the north.

Ahmadullah Mowahed, a member of the Afghan parliament from the eastern province of Nuristan, along the Pakistan border, said he fears the departure of American combat forces will open the way for the Taliban and Al Qaeda to overwhelm the provincial government.

The U.S. has made progress in Afghanistan, but withdrawing too early will give AQ-tied militants an opportunity to regroup. Then there’s the troubling fact that al-Qaeda is gathering strength elsewhere, in the Arabian Peninsula, Libya, Mali and Somalia.

But the Obama campaign is tied to the narrative that al-Qaeda is on its last legs, because acknowledging otherwise would deflate all of Obama’s marquee foreign policy achievements. Killing Osama bin Laden would be reduced from the climactic resolution of the war on terror to a mere act of justice. Prematurely ending the war in Afghanistan would be exposed as a political move rather than a victorious drawdown. And Obama’s policy in Libya — the only Arab Spring state where he gambled on an intervention — would be called into question. Such a fragile narrative will be a risk in tonight’s debate.

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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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Libya Jihadist Defiant in Interview

Just when the situation in Libya couldn’t get much more embarrassing for the Obama administration, now comes the news that Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the jihadist group Ansar al Shariah who was seen by witnesses directing the attack on the American consulate, is living openly and defiantly in Benghazi. He is lounging around a seaside hotel and breathing defiance in an interview with a New York Times reporter, bragging that Libya’s nascent army is too “chicken” to come after him. He says he has no plans to go into hiding.

Although he denied being part of the attack, he admitted being on the scene and refused to condemn the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said, no doubt disingenuously.

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Just when the situation in Libya couldn’t get much more embarrassing for the Obama administration, now comes the news that Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the jihadist group Ansar al Shariah who was seen by witnesses directing the attack on the American consulate, is living openly and defiantly in Benghazi. He is lounging around a seaside hotel and breathing defiance in an interview with a New York Times reporter, bragging that Libya’s nascent army is too “chicken” to come after him. He says he has no plans to go into hiding.

Although he denied being part of the attack, he admitted being on the scene and refused to condemn the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said, no doubt disingenuously.

One can only wonder if the U.S. government knows where Abu Khattala is, or whether this is another instance, as I noted in an earlier post, of the news media knowing more about what’s going on than the intelligence community. And if the U.S. government knows as much as the New York Times, and can track Abu Khattala, the obvious question is why we have not acted to bring him to justice–something that Libya’s government is plainly too weak to do?

Add those to the pressing questions being raised by this whole dismaying episode which, for the moment at least, conveys a lamentable image of American weakness. That could change, of course, if commandos swoop in to capture or kill Abu Khattala or if a drone appears over his house to launch a Hellfire missile–something that is well within the capabilities of the Joint Special Operations Command and CIA.

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Romney Campaign Presses Obama on Benghazi

While the Obama campaign spent the day giggling over “binders full of women,” Paul Ryan made the rounds on the news networks, questioning the White House’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi last month:

“It was a passing comment about acts of terror in general, it was not a claim that this was a result of a terrorist attack,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “Nobody believed at that Rose Garden speech that the president was suggesting that particular attack was an act of terror.” …

Ryan doubled down in three separate appearances on broadcast morning shows, saying, “What’s troubling about this Benghazi attack is that it took two weeks for the administration to get their story straight.”

Ryan went over the timeline distributed by the Romney campaign that documents statements by the White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for two weeks following the incident, where it was called spontaneous and the violence was blamed on an anti-Islam YouTube video.

The administration has since acknowledged it was a terrorist attack.

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While the Obama campaign spent the day giggling over “binders full of women,” Paul Ryan made the rounds on the news networks, questioning the White House’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi last month:

“It was a passing comment about acts of terror in general, it was not a claim that this was a result of a terrorist attack,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “Nobody believed at that Rose Garden speech that the president was suggesting that particular attack was an act of terror.” …

Ryan doubled down in three separate appearances on broadcast morning shows, saying, “What’s troubling about this Benghazi attack is that it took two weeks for the administration to get their story straight.”

Ryan went over the timeline distributed by the Romney campaign that documents statements by the White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for two weeks following the incident, where it was called spontaneous and the violence was blamed on an anti-Islam YouTube video.

The administration has since acknowledged it was a terrorist attack.

While Obama insisted last night that he called Benghazi an “act of terror” in his Rose Garden speech on Sept. 12 — a claim that isn’t clear from the speech transcript — he reportedly acknowledged later that he avoided specifically calling it a terrorist attack for two weeks because of concerns over intelligence. Kerry Ladka, the audience member who asked Obama the question about Benghazi security, told WaPo’s Erik Wemple that the president spoke with him more candidly about the post-attack narrative after the debate:

President Obama, though, wasn’t done with Kerry Ladka. “After the debate, the president came over to me and spent about two minutes with me privately,” says the 61-year-old Ladka, who works at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola, N.Y. According to Ladka, Obama gave him ”more information about why he delayed calling the attack a terorist attack.” For background, Obama did apparently lump Benghazi into a reference to “acts of terror” in a Sept. 12 Rose Garden address. However, he spent about two weeks holding off on using the full “terrorist” designation. The rationale for the delay, Obama explained to Ladka, was to make sure that the “intelligence he was acting on was real intelligence and not disinformation,” recalls Ladka.

As to Ladka’s question about who turned down the Benghazi security requests and why, Obama reportedly told him that “releasing the individual names of anyone in the State Department would really put them at risk,” Ladka says.

So, Obama had enough evidence to call it an “act of terror” within 24 hours, but not enough evidence to call it a “terrorist attack” for two weeks? Serious question here — does the Obama administration consider a “terrorist attack” and an “act of terror” the same thing? Given the president’s weirdness on this issue — how he dodged any direct questions about whether it was a terrorist attack for weeks — maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe the White House is playing a game of semantics to buy itself cover on both sides. Either way, the president has a lot more to answer to.

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Does the Press Have Better Intel than the White House?

Among the many dismaying aspects of the Benghazi attacks which left our ambassador and three other American dead, there is this point which I have not yet heard publicly debated: that readers of the New York Times and Washington Post probably had a better idea of what happened than readers of the President’s Daily Brief and other highly classified intelligence products.

The office of the director of national intelligence offered the following in a statement issued September 28: “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”

Yet those who read about the attack in “open source,” unclassified publications had reason to reach a very different conclusion. On September 13, just two days after the attack, the New York Times published an article, datelined Benghazi, by Suliman Ali Zway and Rick Gladstone, which began by quoting a Libyan security official, Wanis el-Sharif, who claimed that there had been two attacks–the first a spontaneous demonstration, the second a planned terrorist attack. But then the intrepid reporters noted:

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Among the many dismaying aspects of the Benghazi attacks which left our ambassador and three other American dead, there is this point which I have not yet heard publicly debated: that readers of the New York Times and Washington Post probably had a better idea of what happened than readers of the President’s Daily Brief and other highly classified intelligence products.

The office of the director of national intelligence offered the following in a statement issued September 28: “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”

Yet those who read about the attack in “open source,” unclassified publications had reason to reach a very different conclusion. On September 13, just two days after the attack, the New York Times published an article, datelined Benghazi, by Suliman Ali Zway and Rick Gladstone, which began by quoting a Libyan security official, Wanis el-Sharif, who claimed that there had been two attacks–the first a spontaneous demonstration, the second a planned terrorist attack. But then the intrepid reporters noted:

Two Libyans who were wounded while guarding the consulate said that, contrary to Mr. Sharif’s account, there was no indication within the consulate grounds that a mass protest, including members of armed groups, had been brewing outside. The guards spoke on condition of anonymity for their personal safety, and one of them said he realized the dangers only about 9:30 p.m., when protesters crashed through the gate and “started shooting and throwing grenades.” The other guard said that he had been drinking coffee inside the compound just before the attack, and that it was so quiet “there was not even a single ant.”

So those who read this New York Times account would have been at least alerted to the possibility that there had been no demonstration at all–and if they had placed their faith in the testimony of eyewitnesses, not in what a faraway Libyan government official said, they would have been inclined to accept it as a certainty.

Why wasn’t that same conclusion reached by the intelligence community? Why was it not until a month later that the State Department finally admitted that there had been no demonstration?

It’s impossible for an outsider to know for sure, but I can speculate. And my speculation is this: the New York Times, and other major media organs, often have better-on-the-ground reporting from hot spots like Benghazi than does the intelligence community. In this case intelligence gathering would have been severely disrupted by the attack on the U.S. consulate, which caused the evacuation of all U.S. government employees from Benghazi. Those evacuated included not only diplomats but also, undoubtedly, intelligence officers who usually operate out of U.S. installations under diplomatic cover. The situation was judged so unsafe that even an armed FBI team was not allowed into Benghazi for three weeks and then very briefly. But journalists, operating without the “force protection” requirements that often bedevil U.S. government employees, were able to reach the consulate right away.

There is something slightly pathetic about the fact that all of the tens of billions of dollars spent by the U.S. on intelligence gathering too often leave policymakers either blind or sometimes, as with Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction, deluded. This is not the forum in which to spell out how the intelligence community should be reformed, but clearly there is an urgent need for reform to cut overhead and improve analysis and human collection. Not the kind of faux reform that occurred after 9/11, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to the process, but real reform that would cut back bureaucracy and set loose the many talented individuals, both analysts and case officers, who too often struggle unsuccessfully to break out of the shackles of red tape.

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Axelrod Won’t Discuss Obama’s Briefings After Benghazi

In an interview with Chris Wallace yesterday, David Axelrod dodged some pointed questions about President Obama’s intelligence briefings after the Benghazi attack:

 

Here’s a partial transcript, via Powerline:

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In an interview with Chris Wallace yesterday, David Axelrod dodged some pointed questions about President Obama’s intelligence briefings after the Benghazi attack:

 

Here’s a partial transcript, via Powerline:

Q. How soon after the attack did the President meet with the National Security Council, with people from state, with people from the…, the Director of National Intelligence, with all of the various people to try to sort out what happened in Benghazi?

A. Look. We are sorting out what happened there. Understand that the President the day after the attack called it an act of terror and charged everyone with responsibility for getting to the bottom of what happened.

Q. Yes, the president made a statement and then he went to a fundraiser in Nevada. Question: Before he went to the fundraiser in Nevada, did he meet with his National Security Council to try to sort out the shifting stories. Because State says they never said it was a spontaneous demonstration; Intel, you are quite right, did. Did he meet with the National Security Council before he went campaigning in Nevada?

A. Chris, I assure you that the president was in contact with all those who had information and responsibility in the national security chain about this incident.

Intelligence did say, in unclassified CIA talking points to Congress, that the Benghazi attack was a spontaneous reaction to the Cairo protests over the anti-Islam video. The problem is, that narrative was contradicted by the initial intelligence report, according to Reuters’s Mark Hosenball:

The stream of intelligence flowing into Washington within hours of the Benghazi attacks contained data from communications intercepts and U.S. informants, which were then fashioned into polished initial assessments for policymakers. …

The report did not allege the attacks were a reaction to the anti-Muslim film, but acknowledged it was possible that the attackers sought to use an outbreak of violence in Cairo over the film, which insulted the Prophet Mohammad, as a pretext for attacks. …

Yet on September 15, administration officials, relying upon what they said was other information from intelligence agencies, circulated to members of Congress a set of talking points prepared by the CIA that purported to summarize what U.S. intelligence knew.

The talking points said: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex.”

There is an important distinction to make between the CIA talking points — the information the administration chose to emphasize — and the actual intelligence, which reportedly included plenty of evidence in the first hours that the attack was carried out by a militant group with al-Qaeda ties. Even if the intelligence was as muddled as the White House claims, why didn’t President Obama stay in Washington to try to get a handle on the situation on September 12, instead of flying off for a fundraiser in Nevada? Axelrod won’t answer the question directly, which tells you this issue is going to be a political problem for them.

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What Did Hillary Tell Obama on 9/11?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testified that on September 11, after the “full-scale assault” in Libya — “unprecedented in its size and intensity” — began about 9:40 p.m. Libyan time (4:40 p.m. Washington time), she was “in our Diplomatic Security Command Center [in Washington] monitoring multiple open lines with our agents [in Libya] for much of the attack.”

On Friday, a CNN reporter asked Hillary Clinton what she was doing as the attack occurred, and Clinton responded with a 400-word answer that avoided the question. Here was the colloquy:

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Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testified that on September 11, after the “full-scale assault” in Libya — “unprecedented in its size and intensity” — began about 9:40 p.m. Libyan time (4:40 p.m. Washington time), she was “in our Diplomatic Security Command Center [in Washington] monitoring multiple open lines with our agents [in Libya] for much of the attack.”

On Friday, a CNN reporter asked Hillary Clinton what she was doing as the attack occurred, and Clinton responded with a 400-word answer that avoided the question. Here was the colloquy:

QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.

SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on. [Blah, blah for 222 words]. So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting. [Blah, blah for 76 words]. So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was –

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, but I’m going to leave it at that.

Later on Friday, the State Department spokesperson was asked why Clinton hadn’t answered, and provided this response:

As you know, she’s not that interested in focusing on herself. But obviously, she was here very late that night. She was getting regular updates from both the DS Command Center and the senior NEA leadership in the building, she was making phone calls to senior people, and so she was obviously very much involved. But I think she was not interested in sort of giving a personal tick-tock. It’s not the way she operates. [Emphasis added].

It is understandable that she’s not interested in focusing on herself, nor on the “senior people” she kept informed on the evening of September 11, as a major terrorist assault unfolded, monitored in real time on multiple open lines in her Washington command center, with a dead foreign service office and a missing ambassador by 6 p.m. Washington time and mortar attacks and more deaths coming later in the evening.

But to believe that her unwillingness to describe her actions reflected a self-effacing modus operandi may require the willing suspension of disbelief. It seems more likely she decided that, in view of Joe Biden’s malarkey on Thursday about an uninformed White House, this was not the time to describe what it seems any secretary of state would have done: inform the White House and keep it informed, in roughly the same real time as the State Department itself received the information, about an attack that was obviously not a demonstration about a video.

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Why the Slow Response Time in Benghazi?

Amid the burgeoning controversy over what the administration–and who in the administration–knew what, when about Benghazi, Marc Thiessen raises an important point: “the more serious scandal” is “the Obama administration’s utter failure to respond.”

As he notes, it took less than a month for the Bush administration to respond to 9/11 with an invasion of Afghanistan and less than a month (two weeks to be exact) for the Clinton administration to respond to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya with cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and on a suspected chemical-weapons plant in Sudan. The latter strikes were utterly ineffectual–but at least the U.S. did something.

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Amid the burgeoning controversy over what the administration–and who in the administration–knew what, when about Benghazi, Marc Thiessen raises an important point: “the more serious scandal” is “the Obama administration’s utter failure to respond.”

As he notes, it took less than a month for the Bush administration to respond to 9/11 with an invasion of Afghanistan and less than a month (two weeks to be exact) for the Clinton administration to respond to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya with cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and on a suspected chemical-weapons plant in Sudan. The latter strikes were utterly ineffectual–but at least the U.S. did something.

In the case of Benghazi, it has taken the FBI three weeks merely to get to Benghazi to investigate the attack which left our ambassador and three others dead, even though reporters had no problem getting to the site of the consulate immediately after the attack. The administration appears to be confused about whether to treat this as a criminal investigation or an act of war and seems, at least for the time being, to be leaning toward the former option. In this, the Benghazi attack resembles the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which both the Clinton and Bush administrations allowed to pass without a military response. Those unwittingly setting the stage for 9/11.

Admittedly, a response in the case of Libya is complicated by the fact that it has a friendly government, thus the U.S. is under pressure not to undermine that government’s standing with a unilateral military response. But the U.S. has an overriding interest in showing that attacks on our diplomats will be met with an overwhelming response–and that response has been utterly lacking so far.

It is possible, of course, that the administration is patiently collecting intelligence and waiting to strike. Admittedly action between now and the election will inevitably be criticized in some quarters as a “wag the dog” scenario but, just as they did with the 1998 strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan (which occurred in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal), Republicans are likely to support any military action against terrorists. Politics aside, it is imperative for the U.S. to show that this attack will not be lost in a morass of dead-end criminal investigations.

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Biden’s Self-Damage on Libya Narrative

Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:

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Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:

Vice President Joe Biden claimed that the administration wasn’t aware of requests for more security in Libya before the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi during Thursday night’s debate, contradicting two State Department officials and the former head of diplomatic security in Libya.

“We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there,” Biden said.

In fact, two security officials who worked for the State Department in Libya at the time testified Thursday that they repeatedly requested more security and two State Department officials admitted they had denied those requests.

This, along with Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter’s bombshell gaffe about politicizing Benghazi yesterday, means that last night’s debate probably won’t help shift the news cycle away from Libya, as the Obama campaign may have hoped. Instead, it raises even more questions for them, including: who’s telling the truth on security requests, the State Department and the security personnel on the ground or Vice President Biden?

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Cutter in Complete Meltdown on Libya

This afternoon, the Obama campaign’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter melted down not once, but twice on national television. On a day the Obama campaign anticipated discussing the vice presidential debate, set to take place tonight at 9 p.m., they were instead issuing clarifications and creating a media firestorm.

While on CNN discussing the September 11 attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Cutter remarked, “The entire reason that this [the Benghazi terror attack] has become the political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — it’s a big part of their stump speech, and it’s reckless and irresponsible.”

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This afternoon, the Obama campaign’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter melted down not once, but twice on national television. On a day the Obama campaign anticipated discussing the vice presidential debate, set to take place tonight at 9 p.m., they were instead issuing clarifications and creating a media firestorm.

While on CNN discussing the September 11 attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Cutter remarked, “The entire reason that this [the Benghazi terror attack] has become the political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — it’s a big part of their stump speech, and it’s reckless and irresponsible.”

BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski immediately pounced on the remarks, paraphrasing Cutter on Twitter. From there, the story exploded as liberals and conservatives felt the need to remind Cutter and the Obama campaign that the outrage over Libya is centered on the deaths of four Americans, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. The gross negligence of those tasked with ensuring security was the topic of a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, which Alana followed closely. The lack of security, in addition to the Obama administration’s flatfooted response, has indeed been a topic of conversation — for journalists and politicians alike.

Many, including myself, expected an immediate apology and perhaps even a resignation after Cutter’s remarks, however she soon doubled down in a written release to BuzzFeed and in person to Townhall’s Katie Pavlich, and later in a furious interview to Fox News’s Bret Baier.

It appears that Cutter was expressing the campaign’s belief that Romney’s stated concerns over national security are solely attributable to his desire to be elected as President Obama’s replacement. In the statement issued to BuzzFeed Cutter stated,

From the time of the attack in Libya, Mitt Romney has stopped at nothing to politicize these events. While Mitt Romney, Congressman Ryan, and their Republican allies in Congress have turned a national tragedy into a political circus, the President has been focused on getting the facts, finding the terrorists responsible, and bringing them to justice. Our nation’s security and how we handle the transitions in the Middle East and North Africa are critical issues in this campaign, and just 26 days before an election, the American people deserve real ideas and specifics from Mitt Romney.

The Obama campaign, which has spent the better part of the last week focusing on Big Bird, would like to get serious on issues of policy and leave unsaid developing matters of national security. It appears in Obama’s world immediately placing blame for a terror attack on a video next to nobody has seen constitutes “getting the facts” while Romney’s remarks about not apologizing for America in the face of a terror attack were merely politicization.

In job interviews, candidates are asked about their prior performance before being made an offer. This election is a job interview, and Obama’s performance as president is critical to his candidacy. Obama cannot seriously expect Americans to ignore his administration’s actions both before and after September 11 in Benghazi, nor can he ask Romney to leave his record unmentioned. In the face of developing issues of national security Romney and his surrogates have taken the right line with critiques of the president’s policies and actions without trying to drive from the back seat. Cutter’s assertions that Romney explain his own plans would be incredibly inappropriate for a presidential candidate, undermining a sitting president in the midst of a crisis, however self-created.

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Dems New Benghazi Defense: Blame the Tea Partiers

Who’s responsible for the security failures at the consulate in Benghazi? According to Dana Milbank, the blame lies with fiscal hawks in the House GOP:

For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration. House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.) Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected.

If Milbank was right, and this was just the predictable result of budgetary constraints, then the State Department had no business keeping an outpost open in a high-risk area, if it knew it couldn’t provide adequate security. The thing is, the State Department didn’t refuse to send additional security because it couldn’t afford it. It refused to send additional security because it said (and continues to say) that the security situation was adequate based on the knowledge at the time. Meanwhile, Ambassador Kennedy said yesterday that he has no faith in the diplomatic security services ever being able to defend against an attack of that level. “Under that kind of lethality, we’re never going to have enough guns,” he said. “We’re a diplomatic service. We are not an armed camp.”

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Who’s responsible for the security failures at the consulate in Benghazi? According to Dana Milbank, the blame lies with fiscal hawks in the House GOP:

For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration. House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.) Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected.

If Milbank was right, and this was just the predictable result of budgetary constraints, then the State Department had no business keeping an outpost open in a high-risk area, if it knew it couldn’t provide adequate security. The thing is, the State Department didn’t refuse to send additional security because it couldn’t afford it. It refused to send additional security because it said (and continues to say) that the security situation was adequate based on the knowledge at the time. Meanwhile, Ambassador Kennedy said yesterday that he has no faith in the diplomatic security services ever being able to defend against an attack of that level. “Under that kind of lethality, we’re never going to have enough guns,” he said. “We’re a diplomatic service. We are not an armed camp.”

This isn’t to diminish State Department funding, which is very important, but it’s also true that the budget has more than doubled since 2004. The big issue, according to the Government Accountability Office’s extensive report on diplomatic security in 2009, is that the security service’s funding and scope has expanded so rapidly that it’s suffered systematic organizational problems as a result.

Blaming the Republicans for that is a cheap shot, and it shows how desperate Democrats are getting on this issue. The State Department was aware of multiple security breaches and red flags in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attack; House Republicans were not. The Security Department had security personnel on the ground warning that the situation was reaching a crisis level; House Republicans did not. House Republicans have a say in the budget, but the State Department is responsible for how that money is spent. And their spending choices were revealing: Officials increased “danger pay” for security personnel in Benghazi, instead of hiring additional security or sending supplies. The buck stops with the officials who made the security decisions and the commander-in-chief, not the House Republicans.

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CNN: Mother of Benghazi Victim Pleads for Answers

If you’re already angry about the administration’s stonewalling on the Benghazi attack, get ready to be furious. Anderson Cooper’s interview last night with the mother of Sean Smith, who was killed in the attack, is simply devastating. She says President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Leon Panetta all promised her they would get to the bottom of her son’s death as soon as possible, but so far she’s heard nothing (h/t Dan Halper):

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If you’re already angry about the administration’s stonewalling on the Benghazi attack, get ready to be furious. Anderson Cooper’s interview last night with the mother of Sean Smith, who was killed in the attack, is simply devastating. She says President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Leon Panetta all promised her they would get to the bottom of her son’s death as soon as possible, but so far she’s heard nothing (h/t Dan Halper):

COOPER: So you don’t even know the cause of death?

SMITH: I don’t even know if that’s true or not. No, I don’t. I don’t know where. I look at TV and I see bloody hand prints on walls, thinking, my God, is that my son’s? I don’t know if he was shot. I don’t know — I don’t know. They haven’t told me anything. They are still studying it. And the things that they are telling me are just outright lies.

That Susan Rise (sic), what — she talked to me personally and she said, she said, this is the way it was. It was — it was because of this film that came out.

COOPER: So she told you personally that she thought it was a result of that video of the protest?

SMITH: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. In fact all of them did. All of them did. Leon Panetta actually took my face in his hands like this and he said, trust me. I will tell you what happened. And so far, he’s told me nothing. Nothing at all. And I want to know.

We were given false information — some of which appeared to be knowingly false — from Obama administration officials since the attack. Whatever you want to call that, it’s a terrible scandal, particularly when there are grieving mothers who are desperate to know facts as basic as how their sons were killed. It should not take a month to determine cause of death. Ambassador Stevens’s was determined by the next day. To hear Smith’s mother describe how every time she sees a bloody handprint in a photo of the consulate, she wonders whether it was her son’s, is just appalling. We all deserve answers, and deserve to know why the answers weren’t forthcoming from the beginning.

*Sean Smith was a State Department official, not a former SEAL. Headline changed to reflect that.

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Al-Qaeda’s Resurgence

Much attention has been focused in recent days, and for understandable reasons, on the emergence of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as a serious threat in Libya. Indeed Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led a security assistance team in Libya, testified yesterday that its “presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we are.”

Libya is hardly alone, however. There is also growing evidence of al-Qaeda’s reemergence in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that “the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.” There are said to be as many as ten al-Qaeda in Iraq training sites in the western deserts of Iraq.

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Much attention has been focused in recent days, and for understandable reasons, on the emergence of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as a serious threat in Libya. Indeed Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led a security assistance team in Libya, testified yesterday that its “presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we are.”

Libya is hardly alone, however. There is also growing evidence of al-Qaeda’s reemergence in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that “the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.” There are said to be as many as ten al-Qaeda in Iraq training sites in the western deserts of Iraq.

Meanwhile, other al-Qaeda-associated organizations are gaining strength in Mali and Yemen, among other places. According to one report, Tuareg jihadists in Ansar al Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, both affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now control a region the size of France in Mali. And they are also making fresh inroads in Syria where the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front for the People of the Levant has claimed responsibility for an attack on Tuesday by suicide bombers on an intelligence compound near Damascus.

This is an obvious election issue since President Obama keeps saying that “al-Qaeda is on its heels.” It is true that “al-Qaeda central”–the organization headquartered in Pakistan and headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri–does appear to be on its heels; certainly it is less of a threat than it was in the days when Osama bin Laden was alive. But al-Qaeda has managed to spread its tentacles to other corners of the greater Middle East, and its franchises and affiliates remain far from being on their heels. These groups are increasingly well-funded through criminal rackets such as hostage-taking for ransom. Daniel Cohen, the Treasury Department’s top official on terrorist-financing, has recently said that “the U.S. government estimates that terrorist organizations have collected approximately $120 million in ransom payments over the past eight years.”

Part of the reason why al-Qaeda has been able to infiltrate Libya is because of the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi–a war that I believe was, on the whole, in our national security interests. But there has been too little follow-up to try to help the nascent, pro-American government in Tripoli establish its authority. In Iraq, AQI’s reemergence is tied directly to Obama’s ill-advised withdrawal of U.S. troops after half-hearted negotiations with the Iraqis to extend their mandate failed. In Syria, al-Qaeda has an opening because the administration refuses to do more to help the non-jihadist rebel groups overthrow Bashar Assad’s regime. And in Somalia and Yemen the group is finding traction because of the breakdown of state authority–conditions that the Obama administration can hardly be blamed for and that it is grappling with just as the Bush administration did. Overall, the resurgence of al-Qaeda shows the limitations of the Obama administration’s preferred response–drone strikes. They are a good idea, but insufficient to prevent extremists from gaining control of territory. That can only be done by bolstering state authority–something that is notoriously hard to do, especially in lands where the U.S. does not deploy large numbers of ground troops.

However this issue plays out in November, the resurgence of al-Qaeda is a worrisome trend that the next president will have to confront through a variety of mechanisms which will draw the U.S. even more closely into the morass of the Middle East. There is simply no other choice. If America retreats, our enemies advance.

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Unanswered Questions on Benghazi Attack

The mystery of what the administration knew and did both before and after the Benghazi attack continues to deepen. A former official in the Bush administration emails me a list of questions that need to be answered:

1) Why did the Libyan delegation have inadequate security?

2) Were there political or ideological factors that influenced the security decisions?

3) Why was it Susan Rice who spoke for the administration on the Sunday shows? Did the White House choose her, or did Hillary Clinton push her forward? Why was it not Clinton, who had the responsibility for the decisions, rather than Rice?

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The mystery of what the administration knew and did both before and after the Benghazi attack continues to deepen. A former official in the Bush administration emails me a list of questions that need to be answered:

1) Why did the Libyan delegation have inadequate security?

2) Were there political or ideological factors that influenced the security decisions?

3) Why was it Susan Rice who spoke for the administration on the Sunday shows? Did the White House choose her, or did Hillary Clinton push her forward? Why was it not Clinton, who had the responsibility for the decisions, rather than Rice?

4) Rice categorically stated that there was no terror attack; she blamed a demonstration, and the video. Who produced the TPs (talking points) that she worked off of? The Intel community? The White House?

5) What information/considerations produced the TPs?

6) When the attack began, what were the specific logistical and political considerations behind the decision not to send in a rescue team?

Today’s hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which too often devolved into partisan rancor and point-scoring, did not provide answers to these questions. There remains plenty of work for both internal and external investigators looking into the sequence of events which left four Americans, including our ambassador, dead and our consulate in ruins.

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State Dept. Meltdown at Benghazi Hearing

The Obama administration’s Benghazi response continued to unravel at the House Oversight Committee hearing today, as State Department officials struggled unsuccessfully to get their stories straight.

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy defended UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s claim on September 16 that the attack was part of a spontaneous protest that erupted over an anti-Islam video, saying that anyone at the State Department would have said the same thing as Rice based on the intelligence available at the time. “If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point,” said Kennedy.

But, as Republicans on the Oversight Committee pointed out, that appears to contradict Kennedy’s comments from a September 12 unclassified briefing, when he reportedly called it a terrorist attack.

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The Obama administration’s Benghazi response continued to unravel at the House Oversight Committee hearing today, as State Department officials struggled unsuccessfully to get their stories straight.

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy defended UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s claim on September 16 that the attack was part of a spontaneous protest that erupted over an anti-Islam video, saying that anyone at the State Department would have said the same thing as Rice based on the intelligence available at the time. “If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point,” said Kennedy.

But, as Republicans on the Oversight Committee pointed out, that appears to contradict Kennedy’s comments from a September 12 unclassified briefing, when he reportedly called it a terrorist attack.

Another State Department official, Charlene Lamb, wrote in her prepared testimony (but did not read aloud) that she was able to monitor the attack “in almost real-time” once a Diplomatic Security agent activated the imminent danger notification system. Yet she didn’t explain why the State Department and other administration officials initially said spontaneous protests were responsible for the attack, if there had been officials monitoring it in real-time.

Both Kennedy’s and Lamb’s comments also contradicted the State Department’s latest official position. In a conference call last night, senior State Department officials told reporters that the department had never believed the attack stemmed from a spontaneous protest:

Asked if the State Department agreed with the White House conclusion that the attack was sparked by the video instead of a planned terror attack on U.S. civilians, the official stated, “that is the question you’d have to ask others, that was not our conclusion.”

That statement contradicts what the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said on Sunday morning political talk shows on Sept. 16.

The officials also struggled to defend the security situation at the consulate. “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi” at the time of the attack, Lamb told the committee. Kennedy seemed to dispute this later in the hearing, saying that State Department security is “never going to have enough guns” to prevent full-force military attacks like the one in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, Benghazi security official Lt. Col. Woods, a whistle-blower working with the Oversight Committee, said he “knew instantly” Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Woods added that he “almost expected the attack” because of the regular threats and security breaches in the area, and the fact that “we were the last flag flying” after the British ambassador had his convoy bombed and pulled out of Benghazi.

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State Dept. Admits: No Protest in Benghazi

It only took the State Department a month to acknowledge what the rest of us had gathered weeks ago: there was no random protest outside the Benghazi consulate, unless you consider a group of terrorists armed with heavy artillery a “protest.” According to ABC News, the State Department changed its story now “as part of its investigation,” which tells you just how serious its investigation will be (h/t Allahpundit):

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It only took the State Department a month to acknowledge what the rest of us had gathered weeks ago: there was no random protest outside the Benghazi consulate, unless you consider a group of terrorists armed with heavy artillery a “protest.” According to ABC News, the State Department changed its story now “as part of its investigation,” which tells you just how serious its investigation will be (h/t Allahpundit):

It’s no coincidence that this news came just ahead of Rep. Darrell Issa’s hearing into the State Department’s security lapses. Issa’s investigation will likely look into what the State Department knew and when it knew it — and based on reports about the initial intelligence, it’s a safe bet that State officials were aware of the terrorist attack before they sent UN Ambassador Susan Rice out on TV to claim this was just a spontaneous protest that spiraled out of control.

The question that still hasn’t been answered is why would the State Department put out that false narrative in the first place? Were they asked to do so by the White House, or did they have their own reasons for delaying the bad news? The State Department has tried to slow-walk out any new or negative information since the attack, likely as a form of damage control, but it looks like Issa’s investigation is finally forcing them to speed things up.

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Email Reveals State Dept. Denied Libya Embassy Security Request

I have a feeling more of these types of exchanges will come to light now that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has taken on the case and whistle blowers are stepping up. Jake Tapper reports on an internal State Department email that shows officials rejecting a request for a DC-3 airplane from the Libyan embassy security team in May:

ABC News has obtained an internal State Department email from May 3, 2012, indicating that the State Department denied a request from the security team at the Embassy of Libya to retain a DC-3 airplane in the country to better conduct their duties.

Copied on the email was U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012, along with three other Americans. That attack has prompted questions about whether the diplomatic personnel in that country were provided with adequate security support.

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I have a feeling more of these types of exchanges will come to light now that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has taken on the case and whistle blowers are stepping up. Jake Tapper reports on an internal State Department email that shows officials rejecting a request for a DC-3 airplane from the Libyan embassy security team in May:

ABC News has obtained an internal State Department email from May 3, 2012, indicating that the State Department denied a request from the security team at the Embassy of Libya to retain a DC-3 airplane in the country to better conduct their duties.

Copied on the email was U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012, along with three other Americans. That attack has prompted questions about whether the diplomatic personnel in that country were provided with adequate security support.

As Tapper points out, it’s not clear that the DC-3 have been of any use during the terrorist attack. From the reports, it sounds like the consulate needed a lot more security personnel and Marines who were trained to respond to potential militia attacks. Plus, the requested plane was supposed to support the embassy in Tripoli. Still, this is another indication the State Department may not have been taking the security concerns of diplomats in Libya seriously.

As the drip-drip-drip of bad State Department news comes in from the media investigations, the FBI finally made it to Benghazi to carry out an investigation of its own. And it appears the three-week delay might have been caused in part by foot-dragging from Foggy Bottom:

A team of FBI agents arrived in Benghazi, Libya, to investigate the assault against the U.S. Consulate and left after about 12 hours on the ground as the hunt for those possibly connected to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans narrowed to one or two people in an extremist group, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Agents arrived in Benghazi before dawn on Thursday and departed after sunset, after weeks of waiting for access to the crime scene to investigate the Sept. 11 attack. …

U.S. officials also suggested that there may have been some disagreement between the State Department and the FBI over whether or not the FBI team would use Libyan security or seek approval for the U.S. military to handle the mission. The U.S. Army Delta Force troops flew into Benghazi with the FBI team on three C-130 transport aircraft.

Attorney General Eric Holder said people should not assume that “all that we could do or have been doing” in the investigation is restricted solely to Benghazi.

It does seem bizarre that the State Department left the consulate completely unsecured for so long after the attack, as WaPo reported in a chilling dispatch from Benghazi. By the time the FBI arrived yesterday, I wonder how many documents that could have been critical for this investigation (and potentially embarrassing for State) had already “walked away.”

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Admin Had a Dozen Reports Linking Attack to AQ “Within Hours”

We already heard that the Obama administration had intercepts linking one of the suspected leaders of the Benghazi attack to al-Qaeda on day one, but the extent of the intelligence wasn’t clear. Now Reuters adds another piece to the puzzle, reporting that the Obama administration received about a dozen intelligence reports tying the attack to AQ “within hours”:

Within hours of last month’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama’s administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al Qaeda were involved, three government sources said.

Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top U.S. officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organized militant groups.

It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to U.S. policymakers had “evolved” into an acknowledgement that the attacks were “deliberate and organized” and “carried out by extremists.”

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We already heard that the Obama administration had intercepts linking one of the suspected leaders of the Benghazi attack to al-Qaeda on day one, but the extent of the intelligence wasn’t clear. Now Reuters adds another piece to the puzzle, reporting that the Obama administration received about a dozen intelligence reports tying the attack to AQ “within hours”:

Within hours of last month’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama’s administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al Qaeda were involved, three government sources said.

Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top U.S. officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organized militant groups.

It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to U.S. policymakers had “evolved” into an acknowledgement that the attacks were “deliberate and organized” and “carried out by extremists.”

No wonder Clapper didn’t put his own name on last week’s statement, letting his press guy take the hit instead. A dozen intelligence reports pointing to al-Qaeda within 24 hours of the attack is not a narrative that “evolved.” If the administration didn’t want to get into the details of the attack until more information came in, that would have been understandable. But that’s different from them spending nearly two weeks blaming the attack on a protest over an anti-Islam video that they knew didn’t cause it.

It also raises another issue. If the administration had a dozen immediate reports of al-Qaeda involvement, then obviously the scapegoats in the intelligence community were not responsible for the changing narrative. Did the White House put pressure on intelligence officials to provide knowingly false conclusions to Congress and the public in the days following the attack? And what exactly would the implications of that be?

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National Journal Poll: Obama, Romney Tied Heading into Debate

The last National Journal poll two weeks ago showed Obama leading by seven points, so this dead-heat seems to mark a significant shift:

Obama and Romney each pulled in 47 percent support in the poll among likely voters. It is among the narrowest margins of several presidential surveys published ahead of the debate this week. Other polls have shown the president with a slim lead. In this survey, while the race is tied among likely voters, Obama has a 5-point lead, 49 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters.

The survey was conducted Sept. 27-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Romney led in the poll among independents, 49 percent to 41 percent, with both candidates winning more than 90 percent support from their respective parties. The survey had Obama winning 81 percent of the nonwhite vote and Romney carrying 55 percent of white voters.

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The last National Journal poll two weeks ago showed Obama leading by seven points, so this dead-heat seems to mark a significant shift:

Obama and Romney each pulled in 47 percent support in the poll among likely voters. It is among the narrowest margins of several presidential surveys published ahead of the debate this week. Other polls have shown the president with a slim lead. In this survey, while the race is tied among likely voters, Obama has a 5-point lead, 49 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters.

The survey was conducted Sept. 27-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Romney led in the poll among independents, 49 percent to 41 percent, with both candidates winning more than 90 percent support from their respective parties. The survey had Obama winning 81 percent of the nonwhite vote and Romney carrying 55 percent of white voters.

Is a trend in the works? It may be too early to say, but the WSJ/NBC News poll also shows slightly improved numbers for Romney (he’s down three points, as opposed to five points mid-September), and Gallup has encouraging news for the Romney campaign’s economic message in its latest poll:

Romney also fares better than Obama when Americans are asked to say whether the economy will be better or worse in four years if each is elected. Overall, 50% say the economy will be better if Romney is elected and 35% worse, for a net score of +15. Obama’s net score on the same question is +8, with 48% predicting the economy would be better in four years if he is re-elected and 40% saying it will be worse.

Romney also fares better than Obama when Americans are asked to say whether the economy will be better or worse in four years if each is elected. Overall, 50% say the economy will be better if Romney is elected and 35% worse, for a net score of +15. Obama’s net score on the same question is +8, with 48% predicting the economy would be better in four years if he is re-elected and 40% saying it will be worse.

Despite snap-predictions from so-called expert pundits, this race certainly didn’t end in September. Obama’s post-convention bounce is flattening out, and his alarming response to the terrorist attack in Libya appears to be eroding his lead on foreign policy. The WSJ/NBC News poll shows Obama leading Romney by six points on that issue (46 percent to 40 percent), as opposed to the 15-point advantage he had in July (47 percent to 32 percent).

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Obama Admin Leaks Lead Libya Response

There is an obvious danger lurking for Republicans in the Benghazi affair: The more they attack President Obama for alleged weakness in allowing the U.S. consulate to be attacked and the ambassador killed, the more vulnerable they make themselves to a backlash should Obama act decisively to capture or kill the perpetrators of the attack. This New York Times article suggests such a response may be in the works: It reports the not-terribly-surprising news that the Joint Special Operations Command, home of Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, and other top-tier operators, is preparing “target packages” on those believed to be responsible for this brazen assault. It is not hard to imagine that Obama could well go on TV sometime in the next month to announce that justice has been delivered to Ambassador Stevens’s killers by the U.S. military’s elite forces, thus reinforcing the impression fostered by the Osama bin Laden raid that this is one commander-in-chief who is not afraid to use lethal force against our enemies.

Republicans have been trying to turn Benghazi into another Iranian Hostage Crisis but with such a tough response Obama could turn the analogy on its head. Just imagine what the political fallout would have been if the mission to rescue Iranian hostages had succeeded, rather than ending in a fireball in the Iranian desert. Jimmy Carter could have dispelled in an instant the impression that he was weak and might well have defeated Ronald Reagan.

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There is an obvious danger lurking for Republicans in the Benghazi affair: The more they attack President Obama for alleged weakness in allowing the U.S. consulate to be attacked and the ambassador killed, the more vulnerable they make themselves to a backlash should Obama act decisively to capture or kill the perpetrators of the attack. This New York Times article suggests such a response may be in the works: It reports the not-terribly-surprising news that the Joint Special Operations Command, home of Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, and other top-tier operators, is preparing “target packages” on those believed to be responsible for this brazen assault. It is not hard to imagine that Obama could well go on TV sometime in the next month to announce that justice has been delivered to Ambassador Stevens’s killers by the U.S. military’s elite forces, thus reinforcing the impression fostered by the Osama bin Laden raid that this is one commander-in-chief who is not afraid to use lethal force against our enemies.

Republicans have been trying to turn Benghazi into another Iranian Hostage Crisis but with such a tough response Obama could turn the analogy on its head. Just imagine what the political fallout would have been if the mission to rescue Iranian hostages had succeeded, rather than ending in a fireball in the Iranian desert. Jimmy Carter could have dispelled in an instant the impression that he was weak and might well have defeated Ronald Reagan.

Of course, to reap such political benefit, Obama will actually have to carry out an operation–not just have his aides leak word that such an operation may be in the offing. And indeed, by leaking to the New York Times, someone inside the government may well be putting the Libyan suspects on their guard and endangering the potential success of any future mission. There is really no justification for the whole world–including the segment of the world composed of jihadists–to learn that JSOC planners “are putting together information on where these individuals live, who their family members and their associates are, and their entire pattern of life”–information that the Times attributes to “one American official who has been briefed on the target planning now under way.”

This would appear to be of a piece with the other leaks–including details of the bin Laden operation and the revelation that a double agent had been working inside al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–that redound to the president’s political benefit but that endanger highly classified operations.

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