If the scoop from Reuters last night surprised Americans with the knowledge that the intel community knew that the Benghazi attack was not a spontaneous demonstration that spun out of control, no one was more surprised than Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair Saxby Chambliss. His committee has been requesting those e-mails for weeks, and Chambliss to Fox and Friends that the information in them shows why they demanded them in the first place.
“At the very least,” Brian Kilmeade asks, “this shows a massive disconnect [between the intel community and the administration], doesn’t it?” “No question,” Chambliss answers, but he’s more concerned about how the White House handled the issue. “We got pushback, both from the White House and the intelligence community, early on. We couldn’t figure it out. I mean, that was really strange — because they never do that.” Chambliss now wants hearings in the Senate to pursue why these e-mails, and perhaps other intel, have been held back from Congress:
This points to a few possible conclusions. Either the White House and the intel community kept Congress out of the loop because they didn’t want to admit that terrorists had successfully attacked an American diplomatic mission for the first time in fourteen years, or because they didn’t know themselves what the data meant. Neither is particularly commendatory, although the latter looks a lot less dishonest. Nevertheless, despite having this detailed description of the attack and the fairly credible claim of credit for the attack from a leading terrorist network in the immediate area within two hours of the start of the attack, the White House chose to repeatedly claim that they had “no evidence” that the sacking was a planned terrorist attack for most of the next two weeks. That looks a lot more dishonest with every revelation that comes out in this issue.
That leaves the questions of the provenance of the revelations themselves. If the intel community was reticent about discussing what it knew and when it knew it, at least someone in that group wants the real story to come out. Those e-mails didn’t get leaked by anyone who was in the Situation Room that night and received them, certainly.
Update: Dave Weigel pushes back against the assumption that the Obama administration argued that they had “no evidence of terrorist attack”:
In the same story that breaks the news and gives readers the e-mails, CBS News prints an unaired answer that Obama gave Steve Kroft on September 12. It was his first interview after the attacks.
You’re right that this is not a situation that was — exactly the same as what happened in Egypt and my suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start.
The next day, Obama was in Colorado, where he addressed the killings in Libya.
A couple of days ago, for four Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Libya… So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished.
Obama didn’t pretend that this was merely “a protest that got out of hand.” The trouble, when we look back at the timeline, is that reporters didn’t really glom onto the Libya story for a few days. When they did, by the Sunday shows and September 19, you had administration spokespeople soft-peddling the “target Americans from the start” story.
However, by the time we get to Sunday, September 16th, we have Susan Rice saying this, which has been proven categorically false:
… But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy–
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
SUSAN RICE: –sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that– in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.
But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo.
And Jay Carney saying this two days later at a White House press briefing, emphasis mine:
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m saying that based on information that we — our initial information, and that includes all information — we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video. And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence — not supposition — concrete evidence that we have thus far. But there is a lot that is under investigation here, and as more facts come to light, if they change that assessment, we’ll make that clear. But there’s an active investigation for a reason — so that we actually get the facts and don’t base our policy prescriptions on suppositions about what we think we know happened as opposed to what actually happened.
Q Would the administration still say that it was spontaneous?
MR. CARNEY: Based on the information that we have now, it was — there was a reaction to the video — there was protests in Cairo, then followed by protests elsewhere, including Benghazi, and that that was what led to the original unrest. The other factors here — all factors — but the other factors here, including participants in the unrest, participants in the violence, are under investigation. And the goal of that investigation is both to find out what happened and why, but also to track down and bring to justice those who killed four Americans. And we’re working with our Libyan counterparts to ensure that that happens, as the President committed it would.
Bear in mind that since this time, we have discovered that the State Department watched this unfold in real time and has video of the attack which is still hasn’t shared with Congress. The CIA station chief told them in a cable 24 hours later that this was a terrorist attack, and that they even knew who had commanded it. Finally, we have last night’s revelation that the Situation Room got e-mails from the intel community while the attack was underway that clearly gave evidence that this was no spontaneous demonstration gone amok. They had plenty of evidence — “concrete evidence,” to use Jay Carney’s terminology — that the sacking of the consulate and assassination of our Ambassador was a planned terrorist attack.