The New York Times produced a lengthy update on a story that conservatives complain the media ignores, but most won’t like what it says. David Kirkpatrick traveled to Benghazi to dig into the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, a terrorist attack that left four Americans dead — on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. Kirkpatrick argues that one motive for the attack was indeed the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims,” clips of which aired days before on Egyptian television and watched by the terror networks in and around Benghazi:
“INNOCENCE OF MUSLIMS” PURPORTED TO BE AN ONLINE TRAILER for a film about the mistreatment of Christians in contemporary Egypt. But it included bawdy historical flashbacks that derided the Prophet Muhammad. Someone dubbed it into Arabic around the beginning of September 2012, and a Cairo newspaper embellished the news by reporting that a Florida pastor infamous for burning the Quran was planning to debut the film on the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Then, on Sept. 8, a popular Islamist preacher lit the fuse by screening a clip of the video on the ultraconservative Egyptian satellite channel El Nas. American diplomats in Cairo raised the alarm in Washington about a growing backlash, including calls for a protest outside their embassy.
No one mentioned it to the American diplomats in Libya. But Islamists in Benghazi were watching. Egyptian satellite networks like El Nas and El Rahma were widely available in Benghazi. “It is Friday morning viewing,” popular on the day of prayer, said one young Benghazi Islamist who turned up at the compound during the attack, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
By Sept. 9, a popular eastern Libyan Facebook page had denounced the film. On the morning of Sept. 11, even some secular political activists were posting calls online for a protest that Friday, three days away.
Hussein Abu Hamida, the acting chief of Benghazi’s informal police force, saw the growing furor and feared new violence against Western interests. He conferred with Abdul Salam Bargathi of the Preventive Security Brigade, an Islamist militia with a grandiose name, each recalled separately, and they increased security outside a United Nations office. But they said nothing to the Americans.
Reports of the video were just beginning to spread on Sept. 9 when Mr. McFarland, then the officer normally in charge of politics and economics at the United States Embassy in Tripoli, had his meeting with the Benghazi militia leaders. Among them were some of the same men who had greeted Mr. Stevens when he arrived in Benghazi at the start of the revolt, including Mr. Gharabi, 39, a heavyset former Abu Salim inmate who ran a local sandwich truck before becoming the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati. Another was Wissam bin Hamid, also 39, a slim and slightly hunched mechanic known for his skill with American cars who by then had become the leader of Libya Shield, considered one of the strongest militias in Libya.
Before dismissing this out of hand, the Times isn’t the only voice reporting on this sequence of events. Lee Stranahan has independently reported on the same thing, and has spent considerable time on Twitter and his website arguing that Benghazi was a planned terrorist attack triggered by the video — essentially a syncretism of the story from both sides. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a cover-up:
In the days following the attack, the Obama Administration and CNN tried to paint the events in Benghazi that night as muddled and confusing. In official White House statements and news stories, they convinced the American public that nobody could really know what happened. They told the nation that uncovering the truth about Benghazi would be a long process.
Ambassador Susan Rice made five now-infamous appearances on Sunday morning talk shows five days after the attack on September 16, 2012. She repeated the same thing that she told Jake Tapper on ABC’s “This Week”:
Well, Jake, first of all, it’s important to know that there’s an FBI investigation that has begun and will take some time to be completed.
Ambassador Rice didn’t mention in the any of the five appearances what the Obama administration knew within hours: that the attacks were well organized and had been carried out by Ansar Al Sharia. With the election so close, they needed to run out the clock by muddling the facts.
Part of this cover-up involved not telling the public that they were actually many eyewitnesses at the Embassy that night.
Those eyewitnesses to the attack provided immediate testimony that was clear and consistent; Ansar Al Sharia blocked the roads around the mission and attacked with RPGs and rifles. No witness reported a demonstration like the one in Cairo earlier that day, because there was no such demonstration in Libya. In Benghazi, there was an attack.
There was no demonstration, Kirkpatrick also concludes, only a planned attack:
Mr. Stevens, who spent the day in the compound for security reasons because of the Sept. 11 anniversary, learned about the breach in a phone call from the American Embassy in Tripoli. Then a diplomatic security officer at the Benghazi mission called to tell the C.I.A. team. But as late as 6:40 p.m., Mr. Stevens appeared cheerful when he welcomed the Turkish consul, Ali Akin, for a visit.
There was even less security at the compound than usual, Mr. Akin said. No armed American guards met him at the gate, only a few unarmed Libyans. “No security men, no diplomats, nobody,” he said. “There was no deterrence.”
At 8:30 p.m., British diplomats dropped off their vehicles and weapons before flying back to Tripoli. At 9:42 p.m., according to American officials who have viewed the security camera footage, a police vehicle stationed outside turned on its ignition and drove slowly away.
A moment later a solitary figure strolled by the main gate, kicking pebbles and looking around — a final once-over, according to the officials.
The attack began with just a few dozen fighters, according to those officials. The invaders fired their Kalashnikovs at the lights around the gate and broke through with ease.
In other words, the White House story that this was a demonstration that just got out of control was false. As we have discovered through Congressional testimony and the release of communications from that night, the White House and State Department knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack. If the YouTube video played a part in the motivation, it was nevertheless only possible because of a planned attack on an egregiously undefended facility, in the middle of a region controlled by Islamist militias, on the anniversary of 9/11 — when the US should have had its highest readiness.
In other words, this only addresses the relative import of the YouTube video, not any of the questions of the incompetence from State and the White House.