Multiple right wing sources have reported that within 24 hours, the CIA station chief in Libya reported that militants were involved in the attack in Benghazi. They fail to note that there was no motive ascribed to the attack, whether anyone other than militants were involved and just which militants were involved. It appears that we are geting more information. David Ignatius fleshes out some details.
“Talking points” prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
The CIA document went on: “This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.” This may sound like self-protective boilerplate, but it reflects the analysts’ genuine problem interpreting fragments of intercepted conversation, video surveillance and source reports.
The senior intelligence official said the analysts’ judgment was based in part on monitoring of some of the Benghazi attackers, which showed they had been watching the Cairo protests live on television and talking about them before they assaulted the consulate.
“We believe the timing of the attack was influenced by events in Cairo,” the senior official said, reaffirming the Cairo-Benghazi link. He said that judgment is repeated in a new report prepared this week for the House intelligence committee.
Here’s how the senior official described the jumble of events in Benghazi that day: “The attackers were disorganized; some seemed more interested in looting. Some who claimed to have participated joined the attack as it began or after it was under way. There is no evidence of rehearsals, they never got into the safe room . . . never took any hostages, didn’t bring explosives to blow the safe room door, and didn’t use a car bomb to blow the gates.”
The CIA had been monitoring the local militants, good to know, and there was no evidence of a pre-planned attack. However, it does appear that we know more details about exactly who was involved, and it appears that the local militants have been communicating with each other.
“It was a flash mob with weapons,” is how the senior official described the attackers. The mob included members of the Ansar al-Sharia militia, about four members of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, and members of the Egypt-based Muhammad Jamal network, along with other unarmed looters.
The official said the only major change he would make now in the CIA’s Sept. 15 talking points would be to drop the word “spontaneous” and substitute “opportunistic.” He explained that there apparently was “some pre-coordination but minimal planning.”
While CIA analysts seem certain that this was not a centrally directed al Qaeda attack, they remain uncertain about motivation. They knew that militants were watching the Cairo demonstrations, which may have lead to their conclusions in their early reports, which they heavily qualified by noting that they did not have enough information to reach a definite conclusion, just like the State Department officials who first reported on the issue.
We should note that in the CIA’s report, they had no indication of an imminent attack. As we know from the State Department report linked to many right wing writers, including on this blog, it was apparent that the security forces on the Benghazi compound were not expecting an attack. Claims that we knew an attack was coming, but did not plan for it appear, so far, to be unsubstantiated. More CIA reports are being released to the Congress. We should soon have a timeline for what happened and what we knew. If Ignatius is correctly reporting the initial CIA report, it appears that the David Petraeus lead CIA believed that the Cairo demonstrations were a factor in the report. They still appear to believe that.
So when Congressman Thornberry suggests there was political motivation in the CIA report, do we , again, have Petraeus betray us? If it was despicable for the Move ON group to cast aspersions on a man who has honorably served his country, and it was truly despicable, does that not also hold true when a sitting US Congressman does it?