The Benghazi e-mails have all been unclassified, of course, but they reveal one of the true secrets of U.S. national security policy — which is its lumpy inefficacy. If I were the Russian or Chinese intelligence services trying to understand how America really works (or doesn’t), I’d start here.
Take a stroll with me through these memorably inane pages. CIA officials take turns patting each other on the back with comments such as “Good question,” “Good point.” And tellingly, from the very beginning, CIA officers are looking over their shoulders for what the lawyers will say: “Make sure that nothing we are saying here is likely to impact any future legal prosecution.” This at a time when the agency’s priority, surely, should have been understanding who did the attack, not their prospective legal rights.
Then the cascade of bureaucratic logrolling and pettifoggery begins, as each new agency is called to the trough. The office of the director of national intelligence is copied, belatedly, and then the White House. Then it’s over to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who has all kinds of problems with the detail-rich draft, which she fears “will come back to us at podium” — and from there, the neutering of the text begins in earnest.
By the time it’s over, the overcrowded editors’ desk will include the FBI, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency — in addition to many, many officials at the CIA, State Department and White House. At 8:40 p.m. Friday, when the scrubbing has been underway for hours, Jacob Sullivan, the wunderkind adviser to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ventures (not unreasonably): “I do not understand the nature of the exercise.”