By: Roger Aronoff and Bethany Stotts
Accuracy in Media
The New York Times’ latest piece on Benghazi is a farce, and some media outlets are calling the paper on this agenda-driven reporting. The piece, by Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, argues that the attacks on the Special Mission Compound and CIA Annex last year were in reaction to a YouTube video, and that there was no involvement by al Qaeda. If the Times thought this article would be the final word, they were badly mistaken. The effect has been to bring Benghazi back front and center, where it is getting new, badly needed scrutiny.
Accuracy in Media has, time and again, disproven these points. But, given, the misinformation put forward by the Gray Lady, the facts bear repeating:
“Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault,” reported The New York Times (emphasis added). “The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi.”
“I think, honestly, if you asked anyone in the U.S. intelligence business, they would tell you the same thing,” said Kirkpatrick on NBC’s Meet the Press. “There’s just no chance that this was an al-Qaeda attack, if, by al Qaeda you mean the organization founded by Osama bin Laden.”
AIM asked James Woolsey, former CIA director under President Clinton, about al Qaeda in a different context, for the documentary “Confronting Iraq.” “Al-Qaeda is both an organization and, in a sense, an ideology,” he told us. In either sense of the term used for “al Qaeda,” they were definitely involved in Benghazi.
But even if The New York Times were correct in its two main assertions, that would not exonerate President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the administration’s repeated decisions not to increase security at the Special Mission Compound despite the deteriorating situation in Benghazi. Nor would it address what is perhaps the biggest part of the scandal, the failure to send available forces to attempt to save the people under attack. That was what motivated many high-ranking military and CIA officers to come together to form the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, and it has never been satisfactorily explained.
Matthew Vadum, writing for Front Page Magazine, outlines this blurring of the lines on Benghazi for just what it is: a shameless attempt to find “wiggle room” for Hillary Clinton’s political career. Vadum argues that the “New York Times is attempting to rewrite the narrative about what really happened in Benghazi and afterwards.” He writes, “It is trying to resurrect the Obama administration’s original line of argument in order to create wiggle room for Hillary Clinton who has been scathingly criticized by Republican lawmakers and the occasional Democrat for bungling the Benghazi saga.”
The Times’ editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, pushed back against charges that the Times’ was providing political cover for Mrs. Clinton and President Obama:
For anyone wondering why it’s so important to Republicans that Al Qaeda orchestrated the attack—or how the Obama administration described the attack in its immediate aftermath—the answer is simple. The Republicans hope to tarnish Democratic candidates by making it seem as though Mr. Obama doesn’t take Al Qaeda seriously. They also want to throw mud at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who they fear will run for president in 2016.
Charles Krauthammer, on Fox News’ Special Report, responded to Rosenthal’s defense of Kirkpatrick’s piece, saying, “Well, I think he gave the game away. By being defensive about this, he’s making it quite obvious the reason that the Times invested all the effort and time in this, and put on the front page precisely a way to protect the Democrats, to deflect the issue, to protect Hillary, who is exposed on this issue as almost no issue in her tenure in the administration. It is obviously a political move.”
The Times piece virtually ignores the security situation in Benghazi at the time, instead focusing partly on a video and its supposed impact on the attacks. As mentioned above, Kirkpatrick believes that local militias who defeated Gaddafi are responsible for the attack, not al Qaeda. “Some analysts argue that the White House, meanwhile, sought to play down any potential characterization of the assault as a Qaeda attack, because that would undercut its claims to have crushed Al Qaeda,” wrote Kirkpatrick very ironically in October of 2012 for the Gray Lady. Is he serving that White House purpose now?
Even Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff (CA) said that “the intelligence indicates that al-Qaeda was involved, but there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al-Qaeda that were involved.” As for the Times report, it may “add some insights, but I don’t think it’s complete,” he said.
The article even contradicts comments from Hillary Clinton, as reported in The New York Times on September 26th, 2012, while the Obama administration was still trying to get its story straight:
‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has long operated in the region,’ she [Sec. Clinton] said, and was now exploiting a haven in Mali to export extremism and terrorist violence to neighbors like Libya.
‘Now with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions,’ Mrs. Clinton told leaders assembled at the meeting, including President François Hollande of France and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. ‘And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi’ (emphasis added).
Fox News’ Adam Housley was able to elicit statements from his sources about The New York Times’ reporting, one of which was, “To say that it wasn’t tied to Al Qaeda is completely false. There is literal evidence in many forms and shapes, directly linking him [Ahmad Abu Khattalah].”
Other intelligence links al Qaeda to the attacks, including the CIA and FBI internal emails at the time. In an email sent on September 14, 2012 from the CIA, a staffer wrote “Thanks… Fyi FBI says AQ (not AQIM) was involved and they are pushing that theory.”
The New York Times uses Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM’s) lack of stated involvement in a letter found in Mali by the Associated Press as further proof that al Qaeda was not involved in the attacks, when the email cited above demonstrates that intelligence sources were analyzing core al Qaeda involvement days after the attacks occurred.
Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge points out that her news organization revealed that “A former Guantanamo detainee, Sufian bin Qumu, who is suspected of training some of the operatives who took part in the assault, was in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, according to a knowledgeable source.”
“Fox News was told last fall that the intelligence community was trying to determine whether he played any role directing the attack and whether he was physically on or near the consulate grounds.”
Of Qumu, the Times says: “But neither Mr. Qumu nor anyone else in Derna appears to have played a significant role in the attack on the American Mission, officials briefed on the investigation and the intelligence said.”
So, contradictions still endure in this case, but we are supposed to take the Times’ unnamed official source as the gospel truth.
As for Ansar al Sharia, The New York Times actually quotes from a militia leader who likened it to the Boy Scouts, and also talks about all the charitable things that Ansar al Sharia does: “Ansar al-Shariah focused on charitable missionary work, including an antidrug campaign with local corporate sponsors, picking up garbage during sanitation strikes and offering exorcisms for those troubled by evil spirits.” Al Nusrah does charitable deeds in Syria; that doesn’t absolve it from its position as an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group.
Ansar al Sharia is connected to al Qaeda, and has been connected since before the attacks. As pointed out in a recent AIM column, an August 2012 government counterterrorism report stated that “Ansar al-Sharia (Supporters of Sharia), a militia group led by Sufian Ben Qhumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, could be the new face of al-Qaeda in Libya despite its leader’s denial” (emphasis added).
“In a different direction, Ansar al-Sharia may become the new brand name under which jihadist groups in the Arab world seek to organize,” the report stated. These are not words describing a locally oriented group.
“But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda’s international terrorist network,” reported Kirkpatrick in his controversial Times’ piece.
It wasn’t Republicans who wrote the August 2012 Library of Congress report we’ve cited.
As for the spontaneity of the attack, Kirkpatrick writes that “The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.”
“The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements.”
Let’s put aside, for a moment, that Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, has said that he thought the operational phase of the attack lasted at least a couple of weeks. Libyan National Congress President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf estimated that they had been planning it for months when he appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation on September 16, 2012. The Times mentions Susan Rice’s talk show appearances, but not Magariaf’s Face the Nation appearance—which took place immediately before Rice’s.
The idea that the attacks were the result of the video—which the Times argues—is pure “baloney,” according to Aaron Klein writing for WorldNetDaily. After all, “A review of more than 4,000 postings was conducted by the leading social media monitoring firm Agincourt Solutions, reportedly finding the first reference to the film was not detected on social media until the day after the attack,” reports Klein. Former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks, testifying before Congress, characterized the video as a “non-event” in Libya at the time.
“It was a coordinated attack. It is completely false to say anything else. … It is completely a lie,” one witness tells Fox News.
“For this individual [Kirkpatrick] to insult the intelligence of the American people is offensive,” asserted former Congressman Allen West in a recent editorial. “To them, if some jihadist does not walk up, give them a business card, and say, ‘Hi, I’m from al-Qaeda and I’m here to kill you,’ then the threat isn’t real and can be pushed aside.” West is a member of Accuracy in Media’s Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bethany Stotts is a freelance writer, and former staff writer for Accuracy in Academia. She blogs at http://bethanystotts.wordpress.com/.