Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell testified Wednesday that the spy agency knew almost immediately that al-Qaeda-linked terrorists had been involved in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, seemingly contradicting a widely-cited New York Times report published last year.
“The analysts said from the get-go that al-Qaeda was involved in this attack,” Morell said during a hearing on Capitol Hill before the House Intelligence Committee.
That contradicts the exhaustive piece reported on the ground by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick. It’s publication in December was seen as vindication for the Obama administration and helpful for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a possible future presidential campaign.
The New York Times piece suggested Republicans had taken their criticism — slamming the administration for initially claiming the attacks were the result of a spontaneous demonstration and not a preplanned attack — too far.
“Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault,” Kirkpatrick wrote. “The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi.”
After Wednesday’s hearing, Steve Hayes at The Weekly Standard pointed out the contradiction between Morell’s testimony and the New York Times’ reporting. “Morell’s testimony that CIA analysts knew immediately of al Qaeda involvement in Benghazi is another blow to NYT story claiming otherwise,” he tweeted.
Added Hayes: “That NYT story claimed there was no al Qaeda involvement in #Benghazi & the author claimed that no one in US intel comm thought there was.”
House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, who led the hearing with Morell on Wednesday, said the testimony “contradicts much of [the New York Times’] previous reporting and called on the paper to retract its story.
“We await a retraction…” Rogers tweeted on Wednesday.
Four Americans died in the Benghazi attacks of 2012, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Republicans have been been holding hearings to look into whether the Obama administration could have done more to prevent the attacks, and whether they attempted to cover up their failures.