Articles

The Endless Benghazi Coverup

February 26, 2014

The worst part of National Security Adviser Susan Rice's comments on Sunday's "Meet The Press" was that she expressed no regret for saying that the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. outposts in Benghazi were "absolutely" the result of protests against a "very hateful, very offensive video that has offended many people around the world." (She made these comments while she was ambassador to the United Nations, less than a week after four Americans were killed.)

Almost as bad was Ms. Rice's statement that she was merely sharing "the best information that we had at the time." That is a contemptible falsehood. The government knew long before Ms. Rice went on five Sunday television shows that the assaults were carefully planned terrorist attacks unconnected to a video.

Gen. Carter Ham, then head of Africa Command, knew "this was not a demonstration, this was a terrorist attack" within minutes of learning about the assault, according to testimony he gave last June to the House Armed Services Committee that was declassified this month. Gen. Ham almost immediately informed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey before their previously scheduled Oval Office meeting with President Obama. Mr. Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that he informed Mr. Obama of the attack. "There was no question in my mind this was a terrorist attack," he testified.

Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Hicks, America's No. 2 diplomat in Libya, told congressional investigators in April 2013 that "I never reported a demonstration." Instead, "everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning."

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Beth Jones sent an email to State Department officials on Sept. 12, 2012, confirming that she had told the Libyan ambassador to the U.S. that Ansar al-Shariah, a terrorist group, "conducted the attacks." The CIA station chief in Libya sent an email three days later to the deputy director of the CIA and others at the agency that the attacks were "NOT, NOT an escalation of protests."

Yet Ms. Rice continues to insist that she gave the best available intelligence.

In the months since the Benghazi attacks, the role of then-Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell in shaping the administration's response raises important questions that need answers. What contact did Mr. Morell have with the CIA station chief and Mr. Hicks? Did they tell him it was a terrorist attack? If so, what did he say or direct them to do?

Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge reported earlier this month that there was a video conference within 72 hours of the attack among CIA officials in Washington, Libya and survivors. During that call, according to Ms. Herridge, Mr. Morell suggested that the attacks resulted from a demonstration. True? And if so, how did Mr. Morell come up with that concoction?

Another curiosity: Who chose Ms. Rice to go on the Sunday shows and why? After all, she wasn't involved in the post-Benghazi meetings and deliberations. Who briefed Ms. Rice and gave her the talking points about the video? From where did those briefers receive their instructions? Who did Ms. Rice talk to besides her (still unknown) briefers? She never talked to Deputy Chief of Mission Hicks, according to sources familiar with the situation. Did she talk to the CIA station chief? Did she see his email?

What was the role of the National Security Council's political people— Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor —and White House politicos, especially then-senior adviser David Plouffe ? They might have been more concerned with Benghazi's impact on the president's re-election than with the facts.

Mr. Morell left the CIA for a plum job at a consulting firm run by Hillary Clinton's close adviser, Philippe Reines, and a contract with CBS News, whose president, David Rhodes, is the brother of Ben Rhodes at the National Security Council. A less supine press corps would find this all rather curious and worth investigation.

It will be hard for Congress to get Ms. Rice to testify under oath. The White House will assert executive privilege. The way to start getting these questions answered is for the House Intelligence Committee to interview the CIA station chief, and then put Mr. Morell under oath.

The Obama administration and Mrs. Clinton desperately want Benghazi to go away, and the mainstream media continues ignoring it. But four Americans are dead. While Ms. Rice claims she has no regrets about misleading the country, she should. Americans are owed the truth, most of all the families of those who died in Benghazi in the service of their country.

A version of this article appeared February 27, 2014, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline The Endless Benghazi Coverup and online at WSJ.com.

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