Video: "The Daily Show" on the White House's Libya cover-up

Gotta take the bitter with the sweet here. On the one hand, the White House’s contradictions are treated essentially as a big miscommunication, with the smoking gun about how soon U.S. intel knew that it was a terror attack dispensed with in the last 20 seconds. On the other hand, the fact that they’re talking about this at all is commendable and noteworthy as evidence that the story’s broken out of the normal cable news/blogosphere partisan political box. If they’re willing to spend five minutes of airtime dissecting the White House’s feeble spin, maybe they’ll spend a few more tonight or tomorrow on that devastating letter that Issa sent today. Ed did a bang-up job covering it this morning, but if you haven’t read the letter itself yet, stop what you’re doing and read it now [PDF]. There’s no substitute for seeing the many warning signs ignored by State presented in sequence. The White House’s response:

“I’m not going to get into a situation under review by the State Department and the FBI,” Carney said…

Carney said that “embassy security is a matter that is in the purview of the State Department,” and noted that “Secretary Clinton instituted an accountability review that is underway as we speak” while the investigation of the attack itself is being conducted by the FBI.

As you’ll see in the clip, this isn’t the first time Carney’s said he can’t get into a matter that’s under investigation before getting right into it to push the administration line. (Also, is that second paragraph the first inkling of a “blame State, not the president” CYA strategy? I didn’t think we’d reached that point yet.) I’m less concerned about contradictions in the White House’s spin than I am in nailing down what they knew — or what they should have known — about conditions in the city before Stevens was killed. The dissembling is important and should be covered, of course, but it’s the intelligence and security failures that led to a body count here. The latest on that point from Time mag:

Among Libyan intelligence experts, however, the early statements out of Washington seemed confounding, since in their view a terrorist attack had seemed almost foretold–and disconnected from the protests against the YouTube video. “It had absolutely nothing to do with the ridiculous film about the Prophet,” [former Libyan rebel intel chief Rami al-]Obeidi told TIME. He says he had in fact been deeply concerned about a possible attack in Benghazi, where the revolution began last year. “Don’t forget, al-Qaeda had started to operate right from the beginning of the Revolution,” he says, speaking from Benghazi, where the revolution began early last year. “They have been in preparation mode and organized their ranks from the first week of March of 2011, and infiltrated many of the brigades.”…

As soon as the video hit the Internet, an al-Qaeda strike in Libya seemed possible, according to Noman Benotman, the former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had been an al-Qaeda affiliate until breaking ranks with Osama Bin Laden in the 2000s. Speaking to TIME on Tuesday, Benotman says he told a Western terrorism expert — whom he did not name — that “if nothing happens by Sept. 13 we will be very lucky, but the next 48 hours there is a very high possibility.” Benotman, who now runs the anti-extremist organization Quilliam Foundation in London says that he and that expert have since “met and he said, ‘you were right.’”…

Obeidi has a simpler explanation for why the U.S. apparently missed the threat of an attack: “There was a massive intelligence failure on behalf of our American friends,” he says, adding: “However, I do believe that the Americans learn very fast from their mistakes.”

Not just a massive intelligence failure, but a massive security failure. If the compound had been heavily guarded, Chris Stevens might be alive notwithstanding the CIA’s failure to detect the impending attack. As it is, they left him with a security footprint so light you could barely see it — even though jihadism in Africa was a big enough concern that the White House had huddled months beforehand over how to stop it. Can’t wait to see how the spin will have evolved by the time of Issa’s hearings next week. In the meantime, expect plenty of strategic leaks by the administration to major papers reassuring the public that we’re going to kick the asses of whoever did this. Afghanistan v2.0?

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