NYT: Despite our assurances, it turns out Benghazi was an al-Qaeda-linked attack

On December 28, 2013, The New York Times published a thoroughly researched review of the September 11, 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic and CIA facilities in the city of Benghazi. David Kirkpatrick, The Times’ Cairo bureau chief, traveled to Libya and personally conducted a series of interviews with witnesses and even the relatives of suspects in that attack. His exhaustive account of the events on that night was illuminating, but his conclusions about what sparked that deadly attack made the most waves.

Kirkpatrick found that there was “no evidence that al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” The Times reporter added that he found more evidence that the attack on a CIA compound and a diplomatic outpost “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

Though he gave credit to The Times for performing this investigation into the Benghazi attack, The Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes made short work of Kirkpatrick’s conclusions:

There is, in fact, evidence that terrorists linked to al Qaeda had a role in the Benghazi attacks. Indeed, there’s a fair amount of that kind of evidence. As Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence put it on Sunday when asked about the Times report: “The intelligence indicates that al Qaeda was involved, but there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al Qaeda involved.” Schiff who has defended the Obama administration on Benghazi and praised the Times piece as adding “valuable insights,” nonetheless pronounced it incomplete and hinted that signals intelligence contradicted the claims in the piece. The Times report, Schiff continued, was “deficient in they didn’t have the same access to people who were not aware they were being listened to. They were heavily reliant obviously on people that they interviewed who had a reason to provide the story that they did.” He concluded: “So I think it does add some insights but I don’t think it’s complete.”

In addition to the signals intelligence Schiff mentions, there is abundant open-source reporting that contradicts Kirkpatrick’s sweeping claim about “no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” And most problematic for this revisionist account, some of that evidence comes from the Times itself in a story the paper published on October 29, 2012.

That story, like this latest one, was a major front-page investigative piece. It reported that “American officials” said the Benghazi attacks “included participants from Ansar al Shariah, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.” So according to previous reporting in the Times, the Benghazi attacks included participants from the main al Qaeda affiliate in Libya and a terrorist network in Egypt, and, contrary to Kirkpatrick’s assertion, evidence that both al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups played some role in the assault. Kirkpatrick was presumably aware of that earlier report, since he was credited with contributing reporting from Benghazi.

It is a wonder that The Times did not credit Hayes or his Weekly Standard colleague Tom Joscelyn when The Grey Lady issued a report on Friday headlined, “Militants in Benghazi attack tied to a Qaeda affiliate.”

“The Libyan militant group accused of leading the attack on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi two years ago had previously helped train a dozen fighters who went on to participate in a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant, according to a United Nations Security Council document justifying new sanctions on the group, Ansar al-Shariah,” The Times report began.

Later, in the year after the Benghazi attack, Ansar al-Shariah of Benghazi “also provided training and logistical support” to Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the document states, and the Qaeda group in turn helped Ansar al-Shariah orchestrate suicide bombings at the end of 2013 and the following summer.

Witnesses in Benghazi as well as United States officials say that Ansar al-Shariah fighters played a major role in the assault on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The Times piece goes on mention its 2013 report that suggested the attack was not linked to any terrorist group and was, in fact, inspired by an insensitive YouTube video. Today’s report does not, however, make any amends for that misleading dispatch which led many administration allies to claim that the White House was right all along to suggest that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration gone wrong.

Better late than never, but it is unlikely those who celebrated that 2013 Times report will go out of their way to acknowledge today’s correction.