NY Times: Hey, that YouTube video did have something to do with Benghazi attack after all
posted at 10:31 am on December 29, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
The New York Times produced a lengthy update on a story that conservatives complain the media ignores, but most won’t like what it says. David Kirkpatrick traveled to Benghazi to dig into the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, a terrorist attack that left four Americans dead — on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. Kirkpatrick argues that one motive for the attack was indeed the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims,” clips of which aired days before on Egyptian television and watched by the terror networks in and around Benghazi:
“INNOCENCE OF MUSLIMS” PURPORTED TO BE AN ONLINE TRAILER for a film about the mistreatment of Christians in contemporary Egypt. But it included bawdy historical flashbacks that derided the Prophet Muhammad. Someone dubbed it into Arabic around the beginning of September 2012, and a Cairo newspaper embellished the news by reporting that a Florida pastor infamous for burning the Quran was planning to debut the film on the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Then, on Sept. 8, a popular Islamist preacher lit the fuse by screening a clip of the video on the ultraconservative Egyptian satellite channel El Nas. American diplomats in Cairo raised the alarm in Washington about a growing backlash, including calls for a protest outside their embassy.
No one mentioned it to the American diplomats in Libya. But Islamists in Benghazi were watching. Egyptian satellite networks like El Nas and El Rahma were widely available in Benghazi. “It is Friday morning viewing,” popular on the day of prayer, said one young Benghazi Islamist who turned up at the compound during the attack, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
By Sept. 9, a popular eastern Libyan Facebook page had denounced the film. On the morning of Sept. 11, even some secular political activists were posting calls online for a protest that Friday, three days away.
Hussein Abu Hamida, the acting chief of Benghazi’s informal police force, saw the growing furor and feared new violence against Western interests. He conferred with Abdul Salam Bargathi of the Preventive Security Brigade, an Islamist militia with a grandiose name, each recalled separately, and they increased security outside a United Nations office. But they said nothing to the Americans.
Reports of the video were just beginning to spread on Sept. 9 when Mr. McFarland, then the officer normally in charge of politics and economics at the United States Embassy in Tripoli, had his meeting with the Benghazi militia leaders. Among them were some of the same men who had greeted Mr. Stevens when he arrived in Benghazi at the start of the revolt, including Mr. Gharabi, 39, a heavyset former Abu Salim inmate who ran a local sandwich truck before becoming the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati. Another was Wissam bin Hamid, also 39, a slim and slightly hunched mechanic known for his skill with American cars who by then had become the leader of Libya Shield, considered one of the strongest militias in Libya.
Before dismissing this out of hand, the Times isn’t the only voice reporting on this sequence of events. Lee Stranahan has independently reported on the same thing, and has spent considerable time on Twitter and his website arguing that Benghazi was a planned terrorist attack triggered by the video — essentially a syncretism of the story from both sides. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a cover-up:
In the days following the attack, the Obama Administration and CNN tried to paint the events in Benghazi that night as muddled and confusing. In official White House statements and news stories, they convinced the American public that nobody could really know what happened. They told the nation that uncovering the truth about Benghazi would be a long process.
Ambassador Susan Rice made five now-infamous appearances on Sunday morning talk shows five days after the attack on September 16, 2012. She repeated the same thing that she told Jake Tapper on ABC’s “This Week”:
Well, Jake, first of all, it’s important to know that there’s an FBI investigation that has begun and will take some time to be completed.
Ambassador Rice didn’t mention in the any of the five appearances what the Obama administration knew within hours: that the attacks were well organized and had been carried out by Ansar Al Sharia. With the election so close, they needed to run out the clock by muddling the facts.
Part of this cover-up involved not telling the public that they were actually many eyewitnesses at the Embassy that night.
Those eyewitnesses to the attack provided immediate testimony that was clear and consistent; Ansar Al Sharia blocked the roads around the mission and attacked with RPGs and rifles. No witness reported a demonstration like the one in Cairo earlier that day, because there was no such demonstration in Libya. In Benghazi, there was an attack.
There was no demonstration, Kirkpatrick also concludes, only a planned attack:
Mr. Stevens, who spent the day in the compound for security reasons because of the Sept. 11 anniversary, learned about the breach in a phone call from the American Embassy in Tripoli. Then a diplomatic security officer at the Benghazi mission called to tell the C.I.A. team. But as late as 6:40 p.m., Mr. Stevens appeared cheerful when he welcomed the Turkish consul, Ali Akin, for a visit.
There was even less security at the compound than usual, Mr. Akin said. No armed American guards met him at the gate, only a few unarmed Libyans. “No security men, no diplomats, nobody,” he said. “There was no deterrence.”
At 8:30 p.m., British diplomats dropped off their vehicles and weapons before flying back to Tripoli. At 9:42 p.m., according to American officials who have viewed the security camera footage, a police vehicle stationed outside turned on its ignition and drove slowly away.
A moment later a solitary figure strolled by the main gate, kicking pebbles and looking around — a final once-over, according to the officials.
The attack began with just a few dozen fighters, according to those officials. The invaders fired their Kalashnikovs at the lights around the gate and broke through with ease.
In other words, the White House story that this was a demonstration that just got out of control was false. As we have discovered through Congressional testimony and the release of communications from that night, the White House and State Department knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack. If the YouTube video played a part in the motivation, it was nevertheless only possible because of a planned attack on an egregiously undefended facility, in the middle of a region controlled by Islamist militias, on the anniversary of 9/11 — when the US should have had its highest readiness.
In other words, this only addresses the relative import of the YouTube video, not any of the questions of the incompetence from State and the White House. Paul Mirengoff at Power Line calls this a “revisionist account” intended to serve as a distraction:
The New York Times is out with a revisionist account of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. The Times says that in months of investigating, it “turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” The Times also claims that the attack “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”
I suspect that the Times story tells us more about Hillary Clinton’s assessment of the threat Benghazi poses to her likely 2016 run for president than it does about what happened in Benghazi. But to the extent that the Times story is viewed as shedding a new, different light on the Benghazi, perhaps the House should hold new hearings on the attack.
The Times bases its claim that neither al Qaeda nor any other international terrorist group had a role in the attack on its view that Ansar al-Shariah is a “purely local extremist organization.” But Peter King, a member and former chairman of the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, points out that Ansar al-Shariah is widely believed to be an affiliate terror group of Al Qaeda. King accuses the Times of engaging in mere semantics, and he is probably right. …
The Times’ claim that the Benghazi attack “was fueled in large part by anger” at the video about Islam also seems unpersuasive. Greg Hicks, the deputy to Ambassador Christopher Stevens who was killed in the attack testified to Congress that the video was “a non-event in Libya.” Moreover, an independent review of more than 4,000 social media postings from Benghazi found no reference to the video until the day after the attack.
The New York Times seems to have uncovered social media references to the video that precede the Sept. 11 attack. Even so, the relative absence of such references undermines its claim that the video played a significant role in the attack.
I don’t mean to deny that some of those who attacked the U.S. compound were influenced by the video. But the Times’ own reporting shows that a “grave” threat to American interests in Benghazi predates the controversy over the video. The failure of the Obama administration, and especially Hillary Clinton, to prepare to meet that threat remains indisputable.
Indeed. The recounting of the attack itself reminds us that the Obama administration, including Clinton, tried to avoid blame by casting it as a kind of “black swan” event that no one could have predicted. The YouTube video was used as the basis of this claim, which led critics into attacking that part of the claim itself. But the YouTube video only accounts for a small part of the Benghazi fiasco. Even if one accepts that the YouTube video had something to do with the motive for the attack and the ability of terrorists to recruit fighters for it (and the timing of the broadcast certainly lends that significant credibility), the Times’ reporting doesn’t even begin to answer the larger and more important questions about the Obama administration’s actions before, during, and after the attack:
- The State Department was repeatedly warned about the chaos in Benghazi and the increasing aggressiveness of the Islamist militias and terror networks in the area after the US-prompted NATO mission decapitated the Qaddafi regime — including escalating demands for security from the US mission in Libya. Why did State ignore these demands?
- Other Western nations bailed out of Benghazi because of increasing terrorism. Why did the US stay put when even the UK pulled out? Especially without increasing security?
- The attack took place on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 in an area with active al-Qaeda affiliates, as well as terrorist networks with murkier alliances. Why wasn’t the US prepared to respond to an attack on its most vulnerable diplomatic outpost?
- Where was Barack Obama and what was he doing after his 5 pm meeting with Leon Panetta at the beginning of the attack?
- If the YouTube video was such an issue, why didn’t anyone in Benghazi or Tripoli know it, and why did the White House end up retracting that claim after a couple of weeks?
- Who told the Accountability Review Board to ignore the actions of higher-ranking State Department officials such as Patrick Kennedy, who ignored the pleas for more security, and focus blame on lower-ranking career officials for the unpreparedness of State for the attack?
- What was the CIA doing in Benghazi, and how did they miss the rise of Ansar al-Shariah? Kirkpatrick notes that no one seemed aware of its danger until after the attack.
Frankly, the YouTube story is the least of the issues in Benghazi, and for Clinton’s leadership in the events that led up to it.
Addendum: Does anyone else think it strange that the Times published this on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the Christmas doldrums?
Update: Lee interviewed Pastor Terry Jones, who got interrogated before the attack by high-ranking officials from State and DoD over the video and his intention to air it on the anniversary of 9/11. It’s not like they didn’t know it could be a problem, and yet nothing was done to prepare for the possibility of an attack.
There's no separating out the video & 9/11 because part of the story is that the video was going to be played on 9/11 by Pastor Terry Jones.
— Lee Stranahan (@Stranahan) December 29, 2013
And you can learn about this in my interview with Terry Jones — the plan was to play the video on 9/11. http://t.co/Urkoto6XCU
— Lee Stranahan (@Stranahan) December 29, 2013
Yahoo’s Olivier Knox weighed in on Twitter:
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) December 29, 2013
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) December 29, 2013
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) December 29, 2013
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