Michael Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, disputes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assertion that bad intelligence led her to blame the attack on the diplomatic facilities in Benghazi was a result of a You Tube video that ridiculed Islam.
In Morell’s 2015 book The Great War of Our Time, he writes that while the CIA knew “the demonstration and violence in Cairo were sparked by people upset over a YouTube video,” intelligence “analysts never said the video was a factor in the Benghazi attacks.” (p. 205-206)
Clinton told the Libyan President on the night of the attacks that “Ansar as-Sharia [sic] is claiming responsibility.” However, Clinton did not mention the video and Ansar al-Sharia’s senior leader in Benghazi, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, is the only person who was arrested for the attacks.
Clinton also sent an e-mail on the night of the attacks to her daughter Chelsea telling her that attacks were done by an “Al Qaeda-like group.” The e-mail did not reference the YouTube video.
One day after the attack, the Egyptian Prime Minister said the incident “had nothing to do with the film. It was a planed attack–not a protest…Based on the information we saw today we believe the group that claimed responsibility for this was affiliated with al Qaeda.”
Clinton, however, made public statements that were vastly different from private remarks about the attack. On the night of the attack, the State Department sent out a statement of Clinton’s where she blamed the attack on “inflammatory material posted on the internet.”
Clinton made a similar public statement the day after the attack.
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet.”
Secretary Clinton continued to blame the video with the attack in Benghazi during public remarks two and three days after the attacks. These statements happened at a transfer of remains ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base with family members of the victims present.
However, on the day the remains of the four Americans killed were brought to Andrews, a State Department official at the Embassy in Tripoli wrote an e-mail to colleagues in Washington saying:
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the series of events in Benghazi was much more terrorist attack than a protest which escalated into violence,” and urging them to “be cautious in our local messaging with regard to the inflammatory film trailer” because “the films [sic] not as explosive of an issue here as it appears to be in other countries…Relatively few [Libyans] have even mentioned the inflammatory video.”
The Benghazi Select Committee released the e-mail in full on Saturday for the first time with some redactions:
Subject: messaging on the attacks in Libya
Date: Friday, September 14, 2012 6:43:39 AM
Colleagues, I mentioned to [redacted] this morning, and want to share with all of you, our view at Embassy Tripoli that we must be cautious in our local messaging with regard to the inflammatory film trailer, adapting it to Libyan conditions. Our monitoring of the Libyan media and conversations with Libyans suggest that the films not as explosive of an issue here as it appears to be in other countries in the region.
The overwhelming majority of the FB comments and tweets we’ve received from Libyans since the Ambassador’s death have expressed deep sympathy, sorrow, and regret. They have expressed anger at the attackers, and emphasized that this attack does not represent Libyans or Islam. Relatively few have even mentioned the inflammatory video. So if we post messaging about the video specifically, we may draw unwanted attention to it. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the series of events in Benghazi was much more terrorist attack than a protest which escalated into violence. It is our opinion that in our messaging, we want to distinguish, not conflate, the events in other countries with this well-planned attack by militant extremists. I have discussed this with [redacted] and he shares PAS’s view.
Additionally, Morrell reveals in his book that CIA analysts “complet[ed] their first full report on what happened” and provided it to “senior policy-makers and to Congress on the morning of September 13.”
He writes, “The September 13 piece – the first piece to go beyond a simple factual update – said four things. First, that the assault on the TMF [Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi] had been a spontaneous event that evolved from a protest outside the TMF. Second, that the protest and subsequent attack had been motivated by what had happened in Cairo earlier in the day (there was no mention in the piece of the YouTube video defaming the Prophet Muhammad).”
Morrell’s assertion is backed up by news reports revealed on October 2012. According to The Guardian, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of the attack that there was an indication it was carried out by terrorists, not a spontaneous mob angry about a You Tube video mocking the Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
When asked at last week’s Benghazi Committee hearing why she blamed the You Tube video when she knew very well it was not the cause of the attack, Clinton proclaimed, she “needed to be talking about the video.”
“None of us can speak to the individual motivations of those terrorists who overran our compound and who attacked our CIA annex. There were probably a number of different motivations,” she said, adding that the intelligence community “took the lead” in analyzing the information at the time.
“We also knew, congressman, because my responsibility was what was happening throughout the region, I needed to be talking about the video, because I needed to put other governments and other people on notice that we were not going to let them get away with attacking us, as they did in Tunis, as they did in Khartoum,” she said.