After a week in which the Republicans and Fox News Channel had eagerly anticipated a bombshell from the House Oversight Committee's Benghazi hearings, essentially nothing new was revealed during the proceedings other than some of the whistleblowers were hoppin' mad. But on Friday, ABC News reported that a State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, worked with the CIA to sculpt the wording of the CIA's Benghazi talking points for Susan Rice's September 16, 2012 TV appearances regarding what had happened and who might've been responsible.
Shock horror! Well, there it is: the cover-up I've been spammed about by right-wing conspiracy trolls for the last several days. Game over.
Other than the acquisition of a State Department memo (revised 12 times), nothing else in Jonathan Karl's report is, you know, new information. How do we know this? Republican superhero and former CIA chief David Petraeus testified last year during the Senate's Benghazi hearings that the CIA authorized and approved the State Department's revisions. He also revealed that the proper names "al-Qaeda" and "Ansar al-Shariah" (an al-Qaeda affiliate) were edited out of the talking points so the groups wouldn't be "tipped off" to the fact that they were being investigated by the FBI and closely surveilled by U.S. intel.
The ABC News report also revealed that the State Department removed a line from the talking points about a CIA warning gleaned from the Ansar al-Shariah Facebook page (yes, Facebook) that demonstrations were planned for September 11 and that "jihadists" might try to break into the embassy. Cue dramatic orchestra blast. This might be the big cover-up! In the third paragraph of Karl's report:
"The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack." [emphasis mine]
For some reason, Karl uses the phrase "warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi" even though the only specific CIA warning about an impending attack was about a jihadist attack planned for the U.S. Embassy... in Cairo. Not the Benghazi consulate.
How do we know this? Because it's in the actual talking point revisions document provided by ABC News: "On 10 September we [the CIA] warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy Cairo and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy." [Emphasis mine.]
The ABC News report is totally misleading about this point, and so most of the conservative wingnutosphere has exploded in a massive group freakout about how the administration was warned about the attack in Benghazi, did nothing to protect our ambassador, then tried to cover it up by deleting the line. But, again, the only specific CIA warning was about Cairo. Not Benghazi. Now it's possible that Karl interpreted some other part of the memo as a "warning," like the mention of random "attacks" by "unidentified assailants" that took place earlier that year in Libya. However, Karl didn't write a single word about the Cairo warning to differentiate it from his mention of so-called Benghazi warnings.
By the way, for the benefit of any conspiracy theorist fire-eaters joining us today: located 675 miles from Benghazi, Cairo is an entirely different city in a different nation called Egypt. Also, the administration, acting on the CIA's warnings, supplemented embassy security in Egypt in advance of September 11. The very pro-Obama Wall Street Journal reported on September 21, 2012: "U.S. officials issued alerts and ordered security precautions in neighboring Egypt ahead of protests and violence on Sept. 11." There was nothing about this in Karl's report.
So this is the scandal? A big, fat nothing?
As with the testimony in Darrell Issa's hearings, the "shocking" ABC News report is stale, recycled information with a few minor details added for flavor. Furthermore, the existence of the edited memo is being treated as if it was the centerpiece of everything that happened during the week of the attack -- the magic bullet of the Benghazi story. It was nothing more than notes for the Sunday morning TV shows, which, by the way, aren't bastions of integrity and substance these days. Meanwhile, it ought to be common knowledge that any memo intended for public consumption is severely edited for content, national security considerations and, yes, politics, regardless of which party occupies the White House. But it's the amateurish purview of desperate reporters and neophyte conspiracy theorists to grapple onto documents like this because they reveal a behind-the-scenes, sausage-making glimpse into how top-level officials communicate in the aftermath of a crisis. Stop the presses! Public remarks were edited and some political considerations were incorporated into a memo provided to a political appointee! Impeach! Impeach!
Worse than anything else connected with this ABC News item, of course, is the unforgivably misleading nature of the reporting about the September 10 warning. Until Jonathan Karl clarifies his story, it's fair to ask why he omitted such an important detail -- that the CIA's September 10 warnings were about Egypt and not Benghazi, and that the administration did, indeed, augment security in Cairo.
But now, due to shoddy, specious reporting and no real evidence of malfeasance, we're facing years of conspiracy-mongering about Benghazi, especially given how the Republican mob is being ushered in the direction of Hillary Clinton and clearly for the purpose of 2016 politics.
The Republicans are determined to find a scandal in this non-scandal. And if they look hard enough they'll find mistakes -- and certainly the administration's reaction wasn't flawless, but neither was Bush's reaction to September 11, or his reaction to Abu Ghraib, or his reaction to the long list of attacks on our embassies during a time when he claimed to be "keeping us safe." By the way, there were also whistleblowers regarding the Bush administration's manipulation of CIA intelligence in the lead-up to Iraq. Just thought I'd mention it.
This is a scandal simply because the Republican Party and Fox News are actively colluding to turn it into one. They keep trying and trying, with investigation after investigation and bombshell after bombshell. Still, nothing. They're inflating national security sausage-making into malfeasance and mistakes into conspiracies, and they're exploiting the deaths of four Americans as a means of scoring political points and to derail Obama's second term agenda while, using their well-honed Orwellian chops, wagging their fingers at the administration for playing politics with the attack. And yet they've got nothing. No evidence, no smoking gun, nothing.