Washington is notorious for dropping news it doesn’t want scrutinized too closely on the last day of the work week. So last Friday was a convenient time for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to release a statement about the Obama Administration’s conflicting accounts of the attack that killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
The ODNI statement appears intentionally vague on exactly what it knew when and who was told. It does little to address concerns that the President’s senior supporters seemed more concerned about minimizing criticism of the White House than addressing the threat of transnational terrorism.
The question remains: Why did senior officials issue contradictory and wrong accounts of what happened during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi?
It took the intelligence community more than a week to get out the clarifying statement—and its “explanation” came only after the Administration started taking heat for initially downplaying the involvement of terrorists in the Benghazi attack. This raises concerns that the ODNI statement is more about providing political cover for the White House than answering serious questions about the misstatement from the President’s spokespersons.
From the outset, there was more than a little confusion about what government officials knew when. As Heritage’s Helle Dale noted on Thursday:
Reportedly, U.S. intelligence sources knew within the first 24 hours of the attack that not only was al-Qaeda involved, but also which members and even where one of them lived. And yet, Administration officials toed the line unfailingly that the murders were provoked by the YouTube trailer for Innocence of Muslims.
The Administration’s official line on embassy attacks was already shaky, after Twitter posts, press statements, and other official pronouncements related to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo were pulled from State Department websites.
But the worst was Ambassador Susan Rice’s defense of the Administration on television last weekend. Rice vigorously asserted that the attack in Benghazi was not “premeditated,” even as she must have known top Libyan officials were already declaring that the attacks were planned.
The Administration’s response to Benghazi drew even more scrutiny in the following days, as the President delivered a muddled speech to the U.N. General Assembly that appeared more focused on placating anti-American sentiment than expressing outrage over a terrorist attack on American citizens.
By the end of the week, it was clear that the White House was taking more heat for its handling of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack than it wanted. And that was when the ODNI statement suddenly appeared, stating that it had initially informed senior officials that “in the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously.” Only later, the statement adds, did it receive additional evidence pointing to a deliberate attack.
Clearly, acknowledging that terrorism is alive and well looks bad for the Obama Administration’s rhetoric, which has portrayed Obama as having vanquished Osama bin Laden and thus ending the “war on terrorism.” The chaotic handling of the Libya attack points to one of two culprits: incompetence or dishonesty. The American people deserve the truth, whatever that may be.