The Benghazi Smear Machine Fights Back

In an attempted rebuttal of Media Matters' e-book The Benghazi Hoax, the Republican research group America Rising points to no falsehoods and attempts to deceptively spin the facts to criticize Hillary Clinton's handling of the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

America Rising: “Clinton Had To Be Aware Of Requests For Additional Security, Which Were Denied”

From the America Rising research document:

Clinton Had To Be Aware Of Requests For Additional Security, Which Were Denied

SPIN: In The Benghazi Hoax, Brock Argues That Claims That Clinton Had Any Role In Security Decisions Is “Driven By A Basic Misunderstanding Of State Department Protocol.” “But one things remained constant for two decades: The desire to win at the so-called 'politics of personal destruction,' always precluding the facts. This time, the Republican attacks on Clinton's supposed role in decreasing security at diplomatic facilities in Libya were driven by a basic misunderstanding of State Department protocol.” (David Brock and Ari-Rabin Havt, The Benghazi Hoax, 10/21/13)

FACT: According To Former State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, Clinton Would “Absolutely” Been Made Aware Of Requests For More Security And That The Specific Request Made “Must Be Signed By The Cabinet Head, Secretary Clinton.” REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): “Mr. Nordstrom I want to follow up on a question from Mr. Lankford earlier about a March 28th cable asking for more security. He asked you about your intended recipients (sic) of that cable. Now, did you expect Secretary Clinton to either have read or to be briefed about that cable?” ERIC NORDSTROM, FORMER REGIONAL SECURITY OFFICER IN LIBYA: “Absolutely. I certainly expected given the fact that she had an involvement in the security process. If I could take a step back. By virtue of having the SST teams there, because they were an Department of Defense asset, the process for that is something called an exec-sec. That exec-sec is a -- literally a request from one cabinet head to another. In this case, State to DOD. That request must be signed by the cabinet head, Secretary Clinton.” (Eric Nordstrom, Hearing, U.S. House of Representatives, Government Oversight And Reform Committee, 5/8/13)

REALITY: Authorities And Fact Checkers Confirm That There Is No Evidence Clinton Was Aware Of The Requests

FACT: Cable In Question Features A “Pro Forma Line With Former Secretary Clinton's Name.” After House Republicans, including Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa, claimed that a cable supposedly signed by Clinton that diminished security at the Benghazi compound indicated that Clinton had lied to Congress about authorizing those reductions, House Democrats explained: “The Committee has now obtained the cable referenced by Chairman Issa, and it includes a pro forma line with former Secretary Clinton's name, similar to millions of other cables sent from the State Department.” [Fact V. Fiction; Top Ten Unfounded Allegations About the Attacks in Benghazi, Democratic Press Office, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 9/16/13]

  • The Washington Post Fact Checker Blogger And Former Diplomatic Reporter Glenn Kessler: “The Odds Are Extremely Long That Clinton Ever Saw Or Approved This Memo.” Washington Post Fact Checker blogger Kessler, who spent nine years covering the State Department, wrote in response to Issa's claims: “Every cable from an embassy bears the ”signature" of the ambassador -- and every cable from Washington bears the 'signature' of the secretary of state.... Issa has no basis or evidence to show that Clinton had anything to do with this cable--any more than she personally approved a cable on proper e-mail etiquette. The odds are extremely long that Clinton ever saw or approved this memo, giving us confidence that his inflammatory and reckless language qualifies as a 'whopper.'" [The Washington Post4/26/13]
  • 27-Year Foreign Services Officer And Accountability Review Board Member Richard Shinnick: Claims Are “Total Bullshit.” Shinnick told Media Matters in an interview: “Every single cable going out is signed 'Clinton,' it is the normal procedure... Millions of cables come into the operation center every year, not thousands, millions. And they are all addressed Hillary Clinton... So you can make a story that Hillary saw a cable and didn't act on it or sent a cable out; it's all bullshit, it's all total bullshit.” [Media Matters4/25/13]

America Rising: “Despite Being Told It Was A Terrorist Attack, Clinton Blamed The Attack On An Unrelated YouTube Video”

From the America Rising research document:

#2: Despite Being Told It Was A Terrorist Attack, Clinton Blamed The Attack On An Unrelated YouTube Video

SPIN: In The Benghazi Hoax, Brock Argues That It Made Sense For Officials In Washington To Assume The Attack In Benghazi Was The Result Of A Protest Stemming From The Offensive Video. “News of the Cairo statement began to circulate through the media not long before the first news flashes out of Benghazi, where the shots that information officer Smith had first reported were devolving into a noisy attack as a large, growing fire illuminated the sky. The implication seemed clear at the time: The protests over the YouTube video had deteriorated and spread, the to embassy wall that had been breached in Egypt to an all-out attack in the neighboring Libya.” (David Brock and Ari-Rabin Havt, The Benghazi Hoax, 10/21/13)

FACT: On The Night Of The Attack, Former Deputy Chief Of Mission In Libya Gregory Hicks Told Leaders In Washington That The Consulate Was Under A Terrorist Attack, Saying “I Did Use The Word Attack. That There Were At Least 20 Armed Intruders In The Compound.” ABC'S GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: “Months earlier the State Department had forged an agreement that in the event of an attack on the vulnerable Benghazi Mission, Security personnel would response from a nearby facility called The Annex, run by the CIA. I know that you can't say so, but we know it was a CIA facility, and we know that the CIA facility was getting protection and more security than the diplomatic facility.” FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION IN LIBYA GREGORY HICKS: “The numbers are clear about twice as many in terms of trained security providers.” STEPHANOPOULOS: “What did you tell Washington?” HICKS: “I called Washington right after I talked to the Annex Chief and I told them that the consulate was under attack. That the...” STEPHANOPOULOS: “You used the word attack?” HICKS: “I did use the word attack. That there were at least 20 armed intruders in the compound and that help was on the way from the Annex.” (ABC's “This Week,” 9/9/13)

  • Hicks Dismissed An Anti-Islamic Film And Related Protest That The Administration Initially Blamed For The Attack As A “Non-Event” Adding “We Had Heard Nothing About Protests.” STEPHANOPOULOS: “Had you heard anything earlier in the day about any kind of protest or were you worried at all because of these reports of this video?” HICKS: No it was a non-event, the video, in Libya. And we had heard nothing about protests. The building had been set on fire by the attackers and our Diplomatic Security Agents there were heavily outnumbered." (ABC's “This Week,” 9/9/13)
  • Hicks Testified That He Spoke Directly With Clinton That Night. HICKS: “During the night, I am in touch with Washington keeping them posted of what's happening in Tripoli and to the best of my knowledge what I am being told in Benghazi. I think at about 2 p.m. the - 2 a.m., sorry, the Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone, and she asked me what was going on. And, I briefed her on developments.” (Gregory Hicks, Hearing, U.S. House of Representatives, Government Oversight And Reform Committee, 5/8/13)

Yet Days Later, At A Ceremony Bringing Home The Remains Of The Americans Who Were Killed In The Attack And In Accordance With The Obama Administration's Misleading Spin, Clinton Blamed The “Awful Internet Video” For The Attack. CLINTON: “This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We've seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We've seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing to do with. It is hard for the American people to make sense of that because it is senseless, and it is totally unacceptable.” (Secretary Hillary Clinton, Remarks At The Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost In Attacks In Benghazi, Libya Andrews Air Force Base, MD, 9/14/12)

REALITY: It Was Reasonable To Believe The Terrorist Attack Came In Response To The Video

FACT: Clinton Was Right -- Violence Was Directed Against U.S. Embassies In Response To The Video. The Washington Post reported on September 14, 2012:

From Tunis to Cairo to Jakarta, Indonesia, the Muslim world erupted in protests aimed at the United States on Friday as anger over a video that mocks the prophet Muhammad boiled over into assaults on embassies or demonstrations in nearly two dozen countries. As governments struggled to contain a wave of fury in which U.S. embassy compounds in Sudan and Tunisia were broken into and others were targeted, the violence appeared to overwhelm whatever goodwill was built up during the Arab Spring, when the United States tried to support many countries' efforts toward democracy and freedom....

Anti-U.S. protests spread to Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Britain, East Jerusalem, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, the West Bank and Yemen, according to U.S. officials and news reports, with many protesters chanting religious slogans and railing against the denigration of Islam in the obscure low-budget video." [The Washington Post, 9/14/12]

FACT: Media Reports Indicated That The Benghazi Attacks Came In Response To The Video. As late as October 2012, on-the-ground media accounts indicated that the terrorists who attacked the Benghazi diplomatic facilities were reacting to the anti-Muslim YouTube video.

  • New York Times: “To Libyans Who Witnessed The Attack And Know The Attackers, There Is Little Doubt” It Was “Retaliation For The Video.” The Times reported in an October 16, 2012 article datelined Benghazi: “To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.” [The New York Times10/16/13]
  • Reuters Reporter: “Almost Everybody Here Believes That It Was A Reaction To The Movie.” Hadeel Al-Shalchi of Reuters reported from Benghazi: “The majority of those people said two things. They said, first of all, why did the United States allow something like this movie to happen? Because at the end of the day, almost everybody here believes that it was a reaction to the movie that - and they believe that the United States had a responsibility to stop the production.” [NPR's Morning Edition9/13/12]

America Rising: “Clinton's State Department Pushed To Edit Intelligence Committee Talking Points To Removed [sic] References To Terrorism Or Previous Security Warnings To Avoid Bad Publicity”

From the America Rising research document:

#3: Clinton's State Department Pushed To Edit Intelligence Committee Talking Points To Removed [sic] References To Terrorism Or Previous Security Warnings To Avoid Bad Publicity

SPIN: In The Benghazi Hoax, Brock Argues That Misleading Talking Points Were Edited To Remove References To Terrorism “In Order To Preserve The Criminal Investigation.” “Over the next 24 hours, a set of talking points was drafted by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis, and then altered multiple times through an interagency process involving the State Department, the White House and others. In the end, much of the intelligence agency's specifics about the suspected perpetrators of the attack were removed in order to preserve the criminal investigation.” (David Brock and Ari-Rabin Havt, The Benghazi Hoax, 10/21/13)

FACT: State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland Objected To Talking Points Referencing CIA Warnings About Al-Qaeda Threats In Benghazi “Because It 'Could Be Abused By Members [Of Congress] To Beat Up The State Department For Not Paying Attention To Warnings.” “State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland raised specific objections to this paragraph drafted by the CIA in its earlier versions of the talking points: 'The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa'ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador's convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.' In an email to officials at the White House and the intelligence agencies, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland took issue with including that information because it 'could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either? Concerned ...' The paragraph was entirely deleted.” (Jonathan Karl, “Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed Of Terror Reference,” ABC News, 5/10/13)

  • Nuland Also Objected To Naming An Al Qaeda-Affiliated Group That The CIA Said Participated In The Attacks. “Like the final version used by Ambassador Rice on the Sunday shows, the CIA's first drafts said the attack appeared to have been 'spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo' but the CIA version went on to say, 'That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa'ida participated in the attack.' The draft went on to specifically name the al-Qaeda-affiliated group named Ansar al-Sharia. Once again, Nuland objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'” (Jonathan Karl, “Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed Of Terror Reference,” ABC News, 5/10/13)

FACT: Secretary Clinton, Argued Her Department Had A Minimal Role In Editing The Benghazi Talking Points Saying, “It Was An Intelligence Product.” CLINTON: “It was an intelligence product. They are, as I again understand it, working with their committees of jurisdiction to try to unpack that. But I will say that all of the senior administration officials, including Ambassador Rice, who spoke publicly to this terrible incident, had the same information from the intelligence community.” (Secretary Hillary Clinton, Testimony, House Committee On Foreign Affairs, 1/23/13)

  • Secretary Clinton: “The Intelligence Community Was The Principal Decider About What Went Into Talking Points.” CLINTON: “Well, there - there was evidence, and the evidence was being sifted and analyzed by the intelligence community, which is why the intelligence community was the principal decider about what went into talking points. And there was also the added problem of nobody wanting to say things that would undermine the investigation. So it was much more complex than I think we're giving it credit for, sir.” (Secretary Hillary Clinton, Testimony, House Committee On Foreign Affairs, 1/23/13)

REALITY: CIA Made Final Edits To Talking Points To Preserve Investigation

FACT: Clinton Was Right -- CIA Deputy Director Made Final Edits To The Talking Points. McClatchy Newspapers reported of the full set of White House emails detailing the editing of the talking points that were released in May:

The documents show that substantive changes to a set of talking points intended for use by Congress about the attacks were made by the Central Intelligence Agency. ... References to al Qaida, an al Qaida-linked terrorist group operating in eastern Libya, and prior terrorist attacks in the region were removed from the talking points by Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the CIA, who in a single editing effort shrank the list of bullet items in the document from five to three, according to the White House-released documents. [McClatchy Newspapers, 5/15/13]

FACT: Former CIA Director David Petraeus Said Final Changes Were Made To Preserve Investigation, Avoid Tipping Off Terrorists. In November 2012, The New York Times reported:

David H. Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Friday that classified intelligence reports revealed that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic mission in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration refrained from saying it suspected that the perpetrators of the attack were Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to avoid tipping off the groups. Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack -- including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah -- were 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, lawmakers said. [The New York Times11/16/12]

FACT: Victoria Nuland Is A Career Foreign Service Officer Who Worked For Dick Cheney And Was Confirmed By The Senate On A Voice Vote In September 2013. From the Associated Press:

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Victoria Nuland, President Barack Obama's choice as chief U.S. envoy for Europe who was widely criticized for her role in the talking points created after last year's deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya.

By voice vote and with no debate, the Senate approved the nomination of Nuland, who had served as State Department spokeswoman during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's tenure.


Testifying at her confirmation hearing in July, Nuland said she objected to some of the administration's talking points in the days after Benghazi because they were inconsistent, inaccurate and risked prejudicing the FBI investigation into those responsible for the attack.

“It was not for me to decide what we knew or what we could declassify,” Nuland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Nuland is a career foreign service officer who has held senior positions in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. She also has served as a foreign policy adviser to former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney. [Associated Press, 9/12/13]

America Rising: “State Department Punished An Employee Who Honestly Discussed Its Failures In Benghazi”

From the America Rising research document:

#4: State Department Punished An Employee Who Honestly Discussed Its Failures In Benghazi

SPIN: In The Benghazi Hoax, Brock Argues Calls Charges That State Department Personnel Were Silenced For Speaking Out “Bizarre.” “One bizarre aspect of the allegation that personnel had been 'muzzled' is the fact that arguably the most important witnesses of all - the five diplomatic security agents who survived the initial attack on the compound - testified to the FBI and the ARB.” (David Brock and Ari-Rabin Havt, The Benghazi Hoax, 10/21/13)

FACT: Former Deputy Chief Of Mission In Libya Gregory Hicks Believes He Was Punished For Speaking Out About The State Department's Failures. STEPHANOPOULOS: “State Department this was an assignment you requested, you're getting the same pay as before. But do you feel you're being punished for speaking out?” HICKS: “Yes I feel that I have been punished. I don't know why I was punished. I don't know why I was shunted aside. Put in a closet if you will.” (ABC's “This Week,” 9/9/13)

Hicks: “I've Been Effectively Demoted From Deputy Chief Of Mission To Desk Officer.” HICKS: “The job that I have right now the between my curtailment and my finding of this job that I have now, I had no meaningful employment. I was in a status called Near Eastern Affairs Over-complement. And the job now is a significant -- it's a demotion. Foreign affairs officer is a designation that is given to our civil service colleagues who are desk officers. So I've been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer.” (Gregory Hicks, Hearing, U.S. House of Representatives, Government Oversight And Reform Committee, 5/8/13)

REALITY: The Employee Testified He Voluntarily Chose Not To Return To Libya

FACT:  Hicks Testified That He Voluntarily Chose Not To Return To Libya And That The Overriding Reason Was Because Of His Family. During his testimony, Hicks said that “based on criticism that I received, I felt that if I went back, I would never be comfortable working there, and in addition, my family really didn't want me to go back. We had endured a year of separation when I was in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. That was the overriding factor. So I voluntarily curtailed.” [House Oversight Committee Hearing, 5/8/13, via Nexis] 

  • Embassy Staff Reportedly Said People Were Upset With Hicks' Management Style Before The Attacks. Think Progress reported in May: "Staff who served in Libya with Gregory Hicks, the GOP's primary “whistleblower” in this week's hearing on the Benghazi terror attacks, undercut his story that State Department officials demoted him as retribution for speaking out, instead telling ThinkProgress about a man who one described as “the worst manager I've ever seen in the Foreign Service.” ... Counter to Hicks' story of an unwarranted reassignment, the staff was upset with Hicks' performance since he was first assigned to Tripoli on July 31, and told Jones as much prior to her meeting with Hicks. [ThinkProgress, 5/10/13]

FACT: Hicks Has Same Pay And Rank, Lower Position Is Because He Sought A New Position Outside The Assignment Cycle. According to The Washington Post:

Hicks's decision took him out of the annual assignment cycle, and difficulty in finding a suitable assignment was 'not uncommon' in such situations, [State Department spokesperson] Ventrell said. “However, the Department worked with him to find a suitable temporary assignment and succeeded,” he said. “Mr. Hicks still receives the same salary and has the same employment status and rank as before. Per standard procedure, Mr. Hicks recently submitted a preference list for his next assignment and is under consideration along with other Foreign Service employees.” [The Washington Post5/8/13]