News reports appeared, Friday night, that it was not al-Qaeda that was involved in the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month, but a local militia group that launched the assault after watching the violence in Egypt on television, earlier that day. “The attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo,” an unnamed U.S. intelligence official told the Los Angeles Times, in an article published Friday.
In a similar story, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes, “The senior intelligence official said the analysts’ judgment was based in part on monitoring of some of the Benghazi attackers, which showed they had been watching the Cairo protests live on television and talking about them before they assaulted the consulate.”
That report seems to add validity to the administration’s claims that this did not appear to be a preplanned, terrorist strike, but instead part of the fallout from the internet posting of a video clip insulting to Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.
It also means that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was giving the information she received when she taped her appearances on the Sunday talk shows, the Saturday after the attacks. [Odd that the Republicans always ignore that she taped her remarks just four days after the attacks, when information was still coming in, and not five days later, when the interviews aired.]
According to Ignatius, the day Rice made her statements, a C.I.A. briefing paper advised:
“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.”
Rather than a masterful, coordinated assault, that would indicate planning, the intelligence officials described for the L.A. Times “a high degree of disorganization. Some joined the attack in progress, some did not have weapons and others just seemed interested in looting.”
What lasting affect the Republican political exploitation of the Benghazi tragedy will have on the foreign policy debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Monday, in the short run, or the presidential election, as a whole, in the long run, remains to be seen. Even if this becomes a political “win” for the president and his administration, it is an ugly win – not so much because Congressional Republicans have snapped into a shit throwing “gotcha” mode (though they have, and they have to deal with that mess themselves), but because four Americans were killed, while serving their country.
Still, some of the drama of the past five weeks has had a noted affect on communications from the State Department. After the dust up at the last debate about when the president called what happened in Libya “acts of terror,” it is not that surprising that following the assassination of a Lebanese intelligence official with a car bomb in Beirut, Friday, Secretary Clinton’s condemnation press release was headlined, unequivocally, “Acts of Terrorism in Beirut.”