Following the release of the final report by Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Fox News cited the report to rekindle a series of debunked myths about the Obama administration’s response to the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Republicans On House Benghazi Committee Release Final Report
Report Is “Culmination Of A Two-Year Investigation” Into The 2012 Terror Attacks. The Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi released their final report on the investigation into the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, detailing various alleged shortfalls by the CIA, Defense Department, State Department, and White House in responding to the attack. The report “offers a chronology of the events of the attack and new information gathered from interviews with more than 100 government officials and thousands of pages of documents.” [Politico, 6/28/16]
Fox News Cites Report To Push Long-Debunked Myths About Response To Attacks
MYTH: Obama Administration Misleadingly “Crafted” The “Video Explanation” To Explain The Attack
Fox’s Catherine Herridge: “Video Explanation” For Benghazi Attacks “Never Reflected The Real-Time Intelligence” And Was “Crafted In Washington By Political Appointees.” On the June 28 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Fox’s chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge said the Republicans’ committee report “found that the video explanation for the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack was crafted in Washington by political appointees and never reflected the real-time intelligence that was available from American personnel on the ground,” and said that “American personnel on the ground never reported a protest or a link to a video.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/28/16]
FACT: Intelligence Community, The Suspected Attackers, And Eyewitnesses All Linked The Inflammatory Anti-Islam Video To The Attacks
Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: Intel Reports Linked Inflammatory Video To Benghazi Attack. A Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review of the Benghazi attack found that “some intelligence suggests” an inflammatory video linked to violent protests around the region led terror groups to conduct “similar attacks with little advanced warning”:
It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning. [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Review Of The Terrorist Attacks On U.S. Facilities In Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, 1/15/14; Media Matters, 10/21/15]
NY Times: Suspected Benghazi Ringleader Told Witnesses The Benghazi Attack Was In Response To Inflammatory Anti-Islam Video. According to The New York Times, Ahmed Abu Khattala, who was captured in June 2014 by U.S. military on an indictment for murder in connection with his role as a suspected ringleader of the Benghazi attack, “told fellow Islamist fighters” on the night of the attack “and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video” mocking Islam that inspired demonstrations in Cairo:
During the assault on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, Mr. Abu Khattala was a vivid presence. Witnesses saw him directing the swarming attackers who ultimately killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy's walls -- images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.
As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.
In an interview a few days later, he pointedly declined to say whether an offensive online video might indeed warrant the destruction of the diplomatic mission or the killing of the ambassador. [The New York Times, 6/17/14]
NY Times: “The Attackers” In Benghazi “Did Tell Bystanders That They Were Attacking The Compound Because They Were Angry About The Video.” The New York Times reported that on the night of the Benghazi attack, attackers “did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video” (emphasis original):
What do eyewitnesses say about the events in Benghazi? Were they related to the insulting video, or is that a red herring? And was the assault planned for the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or was it spontaneous?
According to reporting by David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway of The New York Times, eyewitnesses have said there was no peaceful demonstration against the video outside the compound before the attack, though a crowd of Benghazi residents soon gathered, and some later looted the compound. But 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. They did not mention the Sept. 11 anniversary. Intelligence officials believe that planning for the attack probably began only a few hours before it took place. [The New York Times, 10/17/12]
Wash. Post's Ignatius: CIA Document Supported Rice's Description Of Attack As Reaction To Anti-Islam Video. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that the CIA confirmed that Rice's description of the Benghazi attack on the Sunday shows was accurate:
“Talking points” prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, “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. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” [The Washington Post, 10/19/12]
Wash. Post Editorial: News Organizations Quoted People At The Burning Consulate Saying They “Were Angry About The Video.” A November 22, 2012, Washington Post editorial pointed out that several Western news organizations quoted people protesting outside the attacked Benghazi consulate saying that they were angry about the anti-Islam YouTube video:
Though investigations are not complete, what has emerged so far suggests that the attack was staged by local jihadists, not ordered by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Officials believe that it was inspired in part by demonstrations that took place that day in Cairo. That is not so far from Ms. Rice's explanation that “this began as a spontaneous . . . response to what transpired in Cairo.” Republicans claim that Ms. Rice “propagated a falsehood” that the attacks were connected to an anti-Islam YouTube video. How then to explain the contemporaneous reports from Western news organizations quoting people at the burning consulate saying that they were angry about the video? [The Washington Post, 11/22/12]
MYTH: “Immediate Information” Given To Administration Officials Contained “Nothing About A Video”
Fox’s Herridge: “Immediate Information That Was Circulated To Clinton And Others” Contained “Nothing About A Video Or A Protest.” Fox’s Herridge said the report claimed that “on the night of the attack there was immediate information that was circulated to Clinton and others which spoke about the suddenness of the assault, the number of terrorists involved, and how they were heavily armed. There was nothing about a video or a protest.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/28/16]
MYTH: Obama Administration Purposely “Latched Onto” Error-Ridden CIA Talking Points “To Justify What They Said” About Anti-Islam Video
Fox’s Herridge: The “Analysis From The CIA .. Had Errors” And “The White House Latched Onto Those Errors To Justify” Its Video Narrative. Fox’s Herridge said that “one of the key findings in the Republican majority report is that after the initial statement was put out by the White House and State Department on the night of the attack linking Benghazi to this video, a couple of days later there was analysis from the CIA that had errors and that the White House latched on to those errors to justify what they had said immediately after the attacks.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/28/16]
FACT: Intelligence Community’s Initial Analysis Was “Piecemeal” And “Conflicting,” But Initially Thought Video Was Involved
Wash. Post Editorial: White House Explanations Following The Attacks “Were Based On Talking Points Drawn Up By The Intelligence Community.” A November 22, 2012, Washington Post editorial noted that the White House’s and then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice's comments on a tour of the Sunday political talk shows “were based on talking points drawn up by the intelligence community”:
[A]s congressional testimony has established, Ms. Rice's comments on several Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 were based on talking points drawn up by the intelligence community. She was acting as an administration spokeswoman; there was nothing either incompetent or deliberately misleading about the way she presented the information she was given.
Nor was her account of what happened as far off the mark as Republicans claim. Though investigations are not complete, what has emerged so far suggests that the attack was staged by local jihadists, not ordered by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Officials believe that it was inspired in part by demonstrations that took place that day in Cairo. That is not so far from Ms. Rice's explanation that “this began as a spontaneous . . . response to what transpired in Cairo.” [The Washington Post, 11/22/12]
House Intelligence Committee: Initial Intelligence Surrounding The Attackers' Identities And Motives Was “Piecemeal” And “Conflicting.” The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's Benghazi investigation found that in the wake of the attacks, “intelligence analysts and policymakers received a stream of piecemeal intelligence regarding the identities/affiliations and motivations of the attackers,” and that “much of the early intelligence was conflicting”:
After reviewing hundreds of pages of raw intelligence, as well as open source information, it was clear that between the time when the attacks occurred and when the Administration, through Ambassador Susan Rice, appeared on the Sunday talk shows, intelligence analysts and policymakers received a stream of piecemeal intelligence regarding the identities/affiliations and motivations of the attackers, as well as the level of planning and/or coordination. Much of the early intelligence was conflicting, and two years later, intelligence gaps remain.
Various witnesses and senior military officials serving in the Obama Administration testified to this Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee that they knew from the moment the attacks began that the attacks were deliberate terrorist acts against U.S. interests. No witness has reported believing at any point that the attacks were anything but terrorist acts.
Along those lines, in the Rose Garden on September 12, 2012, President Obama said that four “extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi,” and said that: "[n]o acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."
However, it was not clear whether the terrorist attacks were committed by al-Qa'ida or by various groups of other bad actors, some of who may have been affiliated with al-Qa'ida. Early CIA, NCTC, DIA, and CJCS intelligence assessments on September 12th and 13th stated that members of AAS and various al-Qa'ida affiliates “likely,” “probably,” or “possibl[y]” participated in the attacks. [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Investigative Report on the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, 11/21/14]
Former CIA Acting Director Believed At The Time Video Might Have Motivated Attack. Former CIA acting director Mike Morrell has testified that the CIA chief of station in Libya believed at the time that the anti-Muslim video might have motivated the attackers. [The Daily Beast, 4/2/14]
MYTH: Clinton Intentionally Misled The Public About The Cause Of The Benghazi Attacks
Fox’s Andrew Napolitano: Clinton Misled The Public About The Attacks, But Told Chelsea Clinton And Egyptian Prime Minister Video Wasn’t Involved. Fox’s senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said that “Hillary Clinton knew the truth and lied about it and perpetuated the lie for weeks after Benghazi. We know that because we have seen an email she sent to her daughter Chelsea” saying that the attack did not have to do with a video. Fox host Brian Kilmeade also suggested Clinton intentionally misled the public by saying that Clinton told the Egyptian Prime Minister the attack had nothing to do with a video. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/28/16]
FACT: Clinton Has Repeatedly Addressed How Incomplete Intelligence Led Her To Go “Back And Forth On What Likely Happened, [And] Who Did It”
Clinton: “This Was The Fog Of War” And The Administration Relayed The Conclusion Of The Intelligence Community At The Time. During a June 17, 2014, interview on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Clinton told host Bret Baier that “this was the fog of war” and explained that the Obama administration told the public what it knew based on what the intelligence community thought at the time:
HILLARY CLINTON: This was the fog of war. You know, my own assessment careened from, the video had nothing to do with it -- it may have affected some people, it didn't affect other people. And I think the conclusion to draw, because we were not just monitoring what was happening in Benghazi once it began to unfold, but remember we had a very dangerous assault on our embassy in Cairo that same day, which was clearly linked to that video. So I was trying to make sense of it. And I think that the investigations that have been carried out basically conclude, we can't say that everybody was influenced and we can't say that everybody wasn't. But what the intelligence community said was spontaneous protest, and that is what, at the time, they thought. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 6/18/14]
In Her Recent Book, Clinton Explained That Her Views On The Attackers' Motivations Changed Several Times Throughout The Week. Clinton explained in her memoir, Hard Choices, that she “went back on forth on what likely happened, who did it, and what mix of factors -- like the video -- played a part.” Describing the administration's initial search for answers amid incomplete information, Clinton wrote that “in the days that followed administration officials continued to tell the American people that we had incomplete information and were still looking for answers”:
In her book, Secretary Clinton explained that she personally changed views several times that week about the possible motivations of the attackers, whether there was a protest, and whether the attacks were preplanned:
What about the attack in Benghazi? In the heat of the crisis we had no way of knowing for sure what combination of factors motivated the assault or whether and how long it had been planned. I was clear about this in my remarks the next morning, and in the days that followed administration officials continued to tell the American people that we had incomplete information and were still looking for answers. There were many theories-- but still little evidence. I myself went back and forth on what likely happened, who did it, and what mix of factors--like the video--played a part. But it was unquestionably inciting the region and triggering protests all over, so it would have been strange not to consider, as days of protests unfolded, that it might have had the same effect here, too. That's just common sense. Later investigation and reporting confirmed that the video was indeed a factor. All we knew at that time with complete certainty was that Americans had been killed and others were still in danger. [House Select Committee on Benghazi, Democratic Staff Report, October 2015]
MYTH: Obama Administration “Had An Opportunity To Watch” The Attack “Unfold Live”
Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: The Obama Administration “Had An Opportunity To Watch” The Attack “Unfold Live. They Didn’t.” Fox host Brian Kilmeade alleged that “for the first time … we found out that they were meeting three hours into the attack. They had an opportunity to watch it unfold live. They didn't. They watched the bin Laden thing unfold live in 2011, but not this.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/28/16]
FACT: Obama Administration Did Not Have Access To Live Feed Of Attacks In Real Time
The State Department Did Not Have Access To “Real-Time Video” Of Benghazi Attacks. During an October 2012 congressional hearing, State Department employee Charlene Lamb noted that she had been following the developments in Benghazi that night through a series of telephone calls “almost in real time.” According to an administration official, the Benghazi compound did have closed-circuit video surveillance, but it could not be monitored from outside the facility, and Clinton confirmed during her congressional testimony that no one at the State Department was watching real-time video of the attacks as they unfolded. [Media Matters, 1/24/13]
FACT: Fox Previously Attacked Administration, Falsely Suggesting It Did Watch Attacks Unfold Live
Fox Figures Previously Falsely Alleged The Administration Watched The Attack Unfold Live And Disparaged Them For Doing So. Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly, among others, previously and falsely suggested that the White House watched the attack unfold in “real time,” and strongly criticized the administration for doing so. Hillary Clinton testified that “There was no monitor, there was no real time.” [Media Matters, 1/24/13; 10/25/12]