WND reporter Aaron Klein's history of outrageous conspiracy theories has already cast serious doubt on the credibility of his new book, The REAL Benghazi Story. But the book itself contains major distortions of reality, including selectively-edited evidence and distorted facts, reconfirming Klein's commitment to pushing convoluted hoaxes.
Klein's book, which Media Matters obtained a copy of in advance of its September 9 release, claims to “expose” the “truth” about the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya, revealing “What The White House and Hillary Don't Want You To Know.” Included are a few of the more conspiratorial analyses that Klein has previously pushed at the birther website WND, such as the claim that Benghazi is linked to the Boston Marathon bombing -- because a handful of members of a jihadist group may have taken part in the Benghazi attacks, and that group also “is behind” a magazine “thought to have provided bomb-building instructions” for the accused marathon bombers.
Klein's book does include one seemingly “new” Benghazi theory, which is also entirely false. Klein attempts to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for what he claims is her previously “unreported role” in Benghazi, by falsely claiming she must have personally approved security conditions at the Benghazi compound.
The Benghazi mission was unusual for government buildings overseas, as it featured a CIA annex that was separate from the diplomatic compound, roughly a mile apart. Typically government agencies are housed together in the same building, which is called “co-location.” According to Klein, State Department regulations would have required Clinton to personally sign a waiver permitting the Benghazi mission to be set up like this, and thus provided “personal approval of security conditions at the compound”:
...it can now be said that Clinton personally provided the legal waivers for U.S. personnel to occupy that death trap of a mission. This largely unreported detail was confirmed in the Senate's January 2014 report on Benghazi. Senate investigators found the Benghazi facility required a special waiver since it did not meet the minimum official security standards set by the State Department.
Some of the necessary waivers, the Senate affirmed, could have been issued at lower levels within the State Department. However “other departures, such as the co-location requirement, could only be approved by the Secretary of State.” ... This means Clinton herself approved some aspects of the U.S. special mission, including separating the mission from the seemingly more protected CIA annex. In doing so, did Clinton know she was approving a woefully unprotected compound? If not, then at the very least she is guilty of dereliction of duty and the diplomatic equivalence of criminal negligence.
But the fact is the Benghazi mission did not require this kind of waiver. The State Department regulations Klein is referencing lay out the responsibilities of the Secretary under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act, or SECCA. But as the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) that investigated Benghazi explained, the Benghazi facility was exempted from SECCA. SECCA applies to diplomatic facilities, such as consulates, that are officially notified to the host government. Instead, the special mission in Benghazi was a “temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government,” and as such SECCA rules -- waivable or not -- did not apply.
In fact, the document approving the set up and security conditions for the compound has been public since at least September 2013, when it was posted online by Al Jazeera America. It clearly shows the signature of Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, as well as clearance from a number of other low-level officials.
State's ARB report acknowledged that the Benghazi mission's "'non-status' as a temporary, residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult." They recommended State develop minimum security standards for temporary facilities and encouraged co-location in the future. Clinton accepted the recommendation and began implementing it before leaving office.
Real flaws in security at Benghazi do not, however, justify Klein's attempt to ignore the facts and claim Clinton personally signed waivers approving the compound.
Beyond these details, Klein's book for the most part simply rehashes a number of the same debunked Benghazi myths conservatives have been pushing for almost two years.
For example, he devotes an entire chapter to the talking points controversy -- or what he calls the “duplicitous editing affair” in which the Obama administration “scrubb[ed] references to terrorism” while stressing the influence of an anti-Islam Youtube video. Klein claims that the inter-agency editing process that produced the talking points used by an Obama administration official during Sunday show interviews was not only “a large-scale, purposeful deception of the American public,” but stirred “further riots across the Islamic world.” In reality, it's long been clear that the talking points were edited to protect the ongoing law enforcement investigation of the attacks and that the video, which sparked worldwide protests killing at least 50 people, played a role in the attacks.
Klein also repeats the claim that the administration immediately had access to video footage of Benghazi which disproved their initial narrative that the assault had emerged out of a protest. But the protest claim originated with the CIA immediately after the attacks, while the video footage wasn't recovered from the site by the FBI for at least another two weeks. And he pushes the theory that the Obama administration didn't send in air support to assist the Americans when they came under fire because they “didn't want to draw more attention” to the U.S. mission. In fact, as military experts have repeatedly said, they did not have the capabilities to send in support, and doing so may have been more dangerous for Americans.
But one of Klein's shadiest tactics is to selectively edit claims from reputable sources to falsely suggest that they support his theories.
For example, Klein selectively quotes congressional testimony from Gregory Hicks, the foreign service officer who was second-in-command of the Libya mission to then-Ambassador Chrisopher Stevens on the night of the attack, to accuse Clinton of being “the very reason Ambassador Stevens was in the compound in the dangerous anniversary of 9/11.” Klein uses Hicks' words to argue that Stevens visited the Benghazi compound because Clinton wanted to turn it into a permanent post, and thus is responsible for him being there. But Klein hides the key part of Hicks' testimony, in which the deputy specifically said Stevens “chose to go” to Benghazi himself.
Similarly, Klein selectively quotes from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation into Benghazi. As the investigation explained, in the hours after the attacks the CIA station chief in Libya had sent an email to superiors revealing the attacks were preplanned terrorism. Klein uses this point to rehash the false claim that the Obama administration purposefully ignored that email for political purposes, supposedly covering up the realities of terrorism in the region. But as the Senate noted in the very same report, “as a standard practice” the CIA does “not base analysis on emails and other informal communications from the field,” so the email could not influence administration statements. Klein failed to include that crucial detail.
Reality is not a central focus of The REAL Benghazi Story, however. Given that Klein once suggested Obama was Satan because a fly landed on him during a press conference, perhaps that was to be expected.
Media Matters' Libby Watson contributed research.