Weekly Standard Accidentally Disproves Central Right-Wing Benghazi Claim

HayesA central facet of the right-wing media's criticism of the Obama administration's response to the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya has been inadvertently disproved by The Weekly Standard.

For months, the right-wing media has suggested that the Obama administration had for political purposes attempted to link the Benghazi attacks to an anti-Islam YouTube video. According to this theory, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and other high-ranking members of the administration had highlighted the video as a “diversion tactic” to downplay the attack's connection to terrorism and cover up the supposed failure of American foreign policy that would indicate. But the original draft of talking points on the attacks generated by the CIA -- released last week by The Weekly Standard in an effort to demonstrate how those talking points were changed “to obscure the truth”-- prove that the intelligence community itself believed that such a link existed.

In the Weekly Standard article, Stephen F. Hayes highlighted how specifics about the involvement of members of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that were included in an initial September 14 draft of talking points by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis were later removed by administration officials. Included in Hayes' report are images of the various versions of those talking points, which serve to drastically undermine the right-wing media's critique. Here's the first bullet point from what The Weekly Standard terms “Version 1”:

We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.

In the final version of the document, that bullet reads:

The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.

The “protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo” were part of a series of global riots and protests in Muslim countries that came in response to increasing awareness of the anti-Islam video.

These talking points were used by Ambassador Rice for a series of September 16 television interviews. The right-wing media subsequently engaged in a witch hunt to portray her as untruthful and misleading for connecting the attack to the video. But as the Weekly Standard has now shown, it was the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis and not political appointees that introduced that link into the talking points.

Moreover, the involvement of al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the attack does not preclude the video's possible role as the proximate cause of the attack. The New York Times reported in October that while there was no peaceful demonstration outside the Benghazi facility before the attack began, “the attackers, recognized as members of a local militant group called Ansar al-Shariah, did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video.”

Note that contrary to the suggestion that the administration had sought to downplay the involvement of terrorists in the attack, President Obama called it an “act of terror” during his September 12 Rose Garden address.