ABC News Gets It Wrong On Having It "Both Ways" And Benghazi

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

This Week panelABC News is falsely suggesting there is a contradiction between the Obama administration removing references to terrorist groups in Libya from talking points about the September 11 attacks on diplomatic facilities in that country and pointing to President Obama's statements that those attacks were an "act of terror."

The original September 14 version of a set of talking points compiled by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that "Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa'ida participated in the attack," and specifically suggested the involvement of the group Ansar al Sharia. Those specifics were subsequently removed, with the final version of the talking points stating only that "extremists participated" in the attacks.

In closed congressional testimony following his resignation as CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly said that these specifics had been "removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them." Administration officials have also said that there were other intelligence and legal concerns with naming the suspected perpetrators:

"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. "There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."

Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.

Indeed, ABC News has reported that in an email in response to the initial talking points, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland "objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'"

By contrast, in his September 12 and September 13 remarks, President Obama described the attacks as an "act of terror," but did not specify who the perpetrators of that act might be. Presumably such comments would not alert the perpetrators that they were being tracked or jeopardize the criminal probe in the same way that the naming of the specific group might.

Despite that clear distinction, ABC Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz and White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl both suggested that the White House is trying to "have it both ways." 

After Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) explained that right-wing claims that the Obama administration was trying to hide terrorist involvement in the attack through the talking points was debunked by Obama himself calling the attacks and "act of terror," Raddatz claimed that this indicated the White House was trying to have it "both ways."

From the May 12 edition of ABC's This Week

RADDATZ: But let me go back to that "act of terror" that you say President Obama talked about the next day in the Rose Garden and that Senator McCain disputed. If the president said it was an act of terror, then why didn't that appear on the talking points? Can the White House really have it both ways if they say, "oh wait a minute, he said 'act of terror,'" but a few days later they take out those references? So they felt pretty confident about it if they sent the president out to say that.

Later in the same program, Karl likewise claimed that "the White House has tried to have it both ways, both saying that they immediately called it an 'act of terror' and saying they couldn't do that in these talking points because  they couldn't prejudice the investigation."

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Martha Raddatz, Jonathan Karl
This Week
Libya, Benghazi
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