Sharyl Attkisson hinted last night on Twitter that she would have something “interesting” on Benghazi today. The CBS reporter didn’t disappoint. Although it’s not exactly a blockbuster revelation, the change in tone in White House trial balloons in its defense of the Benghazi debacle is stunning:
Obama administration officials who were in key positions on Sept. 11, 2012 acknowledge that a range of mistakes were made the night of the attacks on the U.S. missions in Benghazi, and in messaging to Congress and the public in the aftermath.
The officials spoke to CBS News in a series of interviews and communications under the condition of anonymity so that they could be more frank in their assessments. They do not all agree on the list of mistakes and it’s important to note that they universally claim that any errors or missteps did not cost lives and reflect “incompetence rather than malice or cover up.” Nonetheless, in the eight months since the attacks, this is the most sweeping and detailed discussion by key players of what might have been done differently.
“We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots,” said one Obama administration official who was part of the Benghazi response. “It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”
Be sure to read it all, but this effort to push a new storyline for Benghazi is both broad and striking. It was easy to see how problematic the release of the e-mails was this week when the White House sent them out — and then had Barack Obama deliver a live speech on the IRS scandal less than an hour later. The distraction didn’t help, and the media seemed a lot less interested in Obama-administration apologetics after the raid on the AP’s phone records.
Now, more than eight months later and nine days after State Department whistleblowers embarrassed the White House, administration officials are beginning to admit that they botched Benghazi before, during, and afterward:
Thursday, an administration official who was part of the Benghazi response told CBS News: “I wish we’d sent it [FEST].”
Mark Thompson, who ran the counterterrorism unit at State, testified last week that after he insisted on dispatching FEST, he got excluded from any further meetings on the immediate response. Who shut him out? Wouldn’t that have to have come from the highest levels of the department? Well, that depends on who you ask:
The official said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy, Patrick Kennedy, quickly dispensed with the idea. A senior State Department official Thursday told CBS News, “Under Secretary Kennedy is not in the decision chain on FEST deployment” but would not directly confirm whether Kennedy or somebody else dismissed the FEST.
As soon as word of the Benghazi attack reached Washington, FEST members “instinctively started packing,” said an official involved in the response. “They were told they were not deploying by Patrick Kennedy’s front office… In hindsight… I probably would’ve pushed the button.”
Don’t forget that another whistleblower, Eric Nordstrom, claimed that the ARB board deliberately protected Patrick Kennedy. Looks like those days may be over.
One reason for this incompetence was that the people making the decisions were, er, idiots when it came to understanding FEST capabilities. Why? State never convened the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) — even though the Benghazi situation is exactly why CSG exists. Tommy Vietor, who was in the e-mail chain on the talking points, told CBS in October that “I don’t know what [FEST] is… it sounds antiquated.”
But once again, the question is why Thompson got shut out of the meetings. Had he been included, he could have explained FEST to Vietor and everyone else.
The issues aren’t just confined to the White House, either. Who made this brilliant decision?
In an unfortunate turn of events, on Sept. 11, a special U.S. military force based in Europe, designed specifically for quick reaction to unforeseen emergencies, was off on a training mission in Croatia. By the time the so-called Commander’s In-extremis Force was diverted to an airfield at Sigonella, Italy, an hour’s flight from Benghazi, the attacks were over.
Let’s just ponder that a moment. We took our quick-response team offline on the anniversary of 9/11? Who made that call?
Oh, and as for being idiots instead of liars, consider this from Attkisson:
Even today, nobody will say on the record, or even off the record to CBS News, who was at the Deputies meeting on the morning of Sept. 15, where the talking points were drastically pared down for Rice’s use. The approved version called the attacks “demonstrations” that “evolved” after being “spontaneously inspired” by protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. All mentions of terrorism, al Qaeda and previous warnings given by the CIA had been excised.
Bob Woodward was right. This story is far from over. A few more whistleblowers in the same vein we saw last week and we might finally get around to the truth, which is that the question isn’t a choice between idiots and liars, but whether we have both.
Update: I buried one lede here that Mediaite catches, emphasis mine:
According to Attkisson’s report, a FEST team was ready to intervene in the Benghazi attack and was preparing to respond but were never given the approval to engage.
“With U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens reported missing shortly after the Benghazi attacks began, Washington officials were operating under a possible hostage scenario at the outset,” Attkisson’s report reads. “Yet deployment of the counterterrorism experts on the FEST was ruled out from the start.”
Probably at the same time Thompson found himself locked out of the confabs.
Update: This seems to indicate that Patrick Kennedy might go under the bus on FEST. What will that do to the credibility of the ARB report? I wonder if Thomas Pickering will be as anxious to testify about that to Congress, especially given Nordstrom’s earlier criticism.