Benghazi Talking Points: Petraeus’ Revenge

It has taken three days for the bleating press corps in DC to wade through the roll-out of Benghazi talking point emails and realize that the tension behind the emails — as has been clear from just days after the attack — is that Benghazi was really a CIA, not a State, Mission, and therefore CIA bears responsibility for many of the security lapses. So State, in making changes to the emails, was making sure it didn’t get all the blame for CIA’s failures.

David Corn describes it this way.

The revisions—which deleted several lines noting that the CIA months before the attack had produced intelligence reports on the threat of Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi—appear to have been driven by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who, it should be noted, is a career Foggy Bottomer who has served Republican and Democratic administrations [ed: including Dick Cheney], not a political appointee. Her motive seems obvious: fend off a CIA CYA move that could make the State Department look lousy.

Yet it’s only now, several days into this frenzy, that some reporters are coming to report this.

And they’re still not noting ways in which the CIA’s initial emails were self-serving. For example, when the CIA said,

Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has [sic] previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.

They might have also said, “since February, people tied to CIA’s mission have twice been harassed by militia members, suggesting our OpSec was so bad they knew we were in Benghazi.”

And when CIA’s talking points said,

The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society. That being said, we do know that extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.

They might also have said that the “trusted” militia, February 17 Brigade, trained by David Petraeus’ CIA, whose career legacy is based on false claims of successfully training locals, appears to have allowed the attack to happen (and, critically, delayed CIA guards from heading to the State mission to help).

Note that Congressman Frank Wolf is just now showing some interest in why CIA’s vetting of the militia central to the mission’s defense was so bad. Maybe if CIA had included that detail in their self-serving initial talking points, Congress would have turned to this issue more quickly, particularly since we’re currently training more potentially suspect militias in Syria.

In other words, the story CIA — which had fucked up in big ways — wanted to tell was that it had warned State and State had done nothing in response (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is precisely the story Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz are trying to tell). The truthful story would have been (in part) that CIA had botched the militia scene in Benghazi, and that had gotten the Ambassador killed.

Yet that appears to be just the half of the self-serving function this email release has had for CIA.

Consider how this rolled out. While ABC got the credit for the scoop, Cheney propagandist Stephen Hayes first published some of the emails (which ABC notes). Then Hayes did a follow-up story that was downright literary, a tribute to its maligned hero, David Petraeus.

CIA director David Petraeus was surprised when he read the freshly rewritten talking points an aide had emailed him in the early afternoon of Saturday, September 15. One day earlier, analysts with the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis had drafted a set of unclassified talking points policymakers could use to discuss the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But this new version​—​produced with input from senior Obama administration policymakers​—​was a shadow of the original.

Hayes’ new story is one depicting Petraeus’ disappointment when his (self-serving and deceptive) preferred narrative did not survive review by the Department whose Ambassador Petraeus’ Agency had gotten killed. It emphasizes the enemy the CIA would like to highlight — Ansar al-Sharia — and not Petraeus’ militia whose inaction had been at least as important to the success of the attack. It claims (this entire campaign being evidence to the contrary) that Petraeus resigned himself to the messaging decisions the Administration made.

Finally, importantly, it at least appears to rely explicitly on the personal account of Petraeus himself.

This candid, real-time assessment from then-CIA director Petraeus offers a glimpse of what many intelligence officials were saying privately as top Obama officials set aside the truth about Benghazi and spun a fanciful tale about a movie that never mattered and a demonstration that never happened.

David Petraeus, who tried and failed to get his preferred spin of the attack in Benghazi accepted by the Obama Administration, who subsequently got fired, purportedly for fucking and possibly sharing classified information with his mistress, went to Dick Cheney’s propagandist to try to get his preferred spin adopted after the fact.

That’s what this Benghazi campaign has become.

One more detail. Hayes suggests he got this (and therefore, presumably, so did ABC) from a leaked version of a report the GOP did based in part on the emails GOP Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee got in exchange for letting John Brennan’s nomination to replace David Petraeus at CIA move out of committee.

The exchange of emails is laid out in a 43-page report from the chairmen of five committees in the House of Representatives.

[snip]

The White House provided the emails to members of the House and Senate intelligence committees for a limited time and with the stipulation that the documents were available for review only and would not be turned over to the committees. The White House and committee leadership agreed to that arrangement as part of a deal that would keep Republican senators from blocking the confirmation of John Brennan, the president’s choice to run the CIA.

Just as an aside, remember that the Administration preferred to turn over these emails — which predictably got leaked contrary to the agreement Senators made — rather than turning over OLC memos that SSCI ought to have in any case.

And now John Boehner is demanding the White House agree to release these emails publicly.

So Senate Intelligence Committee, to GOP report, to Cheney’s propagandist, and after a subpoena threat, public release.

Let me ask you: aside from the fact that Benghazi is a good fundraising vehicle, why did the GOP want these? More importantly, how do you think Saxby Chambliss and his friends knew to demand these emails?

It’s almost as if a little birdie — the guy who was fired, making way for John Brennan to take over — told Republicans in Congress the emails were there.

There are many more ironies and underlying issues, which I hope to cover in Part Two. But for the moment, note how neatly this all serves to let David Petraeus tell the story he tried to tell just before he got fired.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    You’d sort of think the reporters covering this might have asked why CIA was the one to write the first draft of the talking points if this was supposedly a State disaster.

  2. klynn says:

    Thank you. I hope we can also revisit the “generals” story and what was hapoening. P is treading in a territory which will come back and bite.

    Interesting to watch the, “I’m so smart you can’t catch me…” play out. I guess many forget how the story of The Gingerbread Man ended.

  3. What Constitution? says:

    @emptywheel: Obviously, the CIA was only trying to help. After all, those poor State people had lost an ambassador and were very unhappy — so the ever-selfless CIA folks just wanted to pitch in and undertake the thankless task of drafting initial possible points, you know, for comment, review and collaborative development in the interest of the public, and all that. Never a thought for themselves, only the Good Ole USofA. Such a pity that others with malevolent intent undertook to manipulate and spin the unvarnished truth of the CIA’s drafts which, as we all know, are historically presumed and regularly recognized for accuracy and veracity. And can you imagine how any member of our government could ever want to question any of that?

  4. What Constitution? says:

    Does anyone else mourn the passing of Dudley Moore, who was born to be cast as David Petraeus in whatever movie might get made about David Petraeus?

  5. Arbusto says:

    That it seems Benghazi was essentially a CIA station begs the question, especially after the Brits et al pulled out of Benghazi, WTF was Ambassador Stevens doing in the area at all. CIA, DIA and Bureau Diplomatic Security had a dramatic fail.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @Arbusto: Well one theory I’ve seen is that’s where he’d go to set up dates. Something about the Turkish man he met with.

    As with many of these stories, who knows? But it would explain why he wasn’t staffed better, and why people don’t want to get into that.

    Alternately, it was a meeting about how to privatize the oil, which would be interesting all by itself. Terrorists of all types, incl AQ, have gotten very good at preventing the profit off oil.

  7. Curious says:

    Well one theory I’ve seen is that’s where he’d go to set up dates. Something about the Turkish man he met with.

    Stevens was a homosexual?

  8. ess emm says:

    1. My natural cynicism is simply not up to the task of imagining the ruthless calculus that went into deciding who to throw under the bus (or hang out to dry) just in order to enable John Brennan(!) to get his cream-dream job.

    2. Petraeus must harbor a deep desire to run in 2016

  9. Snoopdido says:

    From yesterday’s Washington Post – Benghazi e-mails show clash between State Department, CIA: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/benghazi-e-mails-show-clash-between-state-department-cia/2013/05/10/5ac8a650-b989-11e2-b94c-b684dda07add_print.html

    “Behind the scenes, as a then-close presidential campaign entered its final stretch, State Department officials found themselves at a disadvantage in debating the CIA, whose deputy director, Mike Morell, took charge of organizing days of internal agency discussions into a coherent set of talking points for members of Congress.

    For one, State Department officials could not disclose that one of the two U.S. sites attacked in Benghazi was run by the CIA because of its secret designation.

    CIA operations in the area included disarming militias, including ones affiliated with Islamist extremist groups, several months after the U.S. military role in toppling Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. Virtually every U.S. official assigned to Benghazi was based in the CIA annex — where the agency, not the State Department, was in charge of security.”

  10. emptywheel says:

    @Snoopdido: Yes, another example of journos just catching up.

    I may have to return to Mike Morrell’s role in all this, but for now he’s in an institutional role.

  11. Frank33 says:

    We should not totally blame corrupt Generals. There will always be corrupt Generals and corrupt leaders. But the shills who pretend to be “reporters” deserve everlasting hatred.

    These dee cee press agents could not sell us a war. So they sold us a General. They praised him and assured us we could sleep safely at night because we were exceptional, and the Generals were exceptional. We can expect many more articles by the NY Times and WaPo telling us that the Great Generals have a Sad, a tragic Sad. The corruption of the Generals was discovered and they have to retire from the military to work for Lockheed.

    The real tragedy is what these propagandists and their patrons have done to Democracy.

    As for Benghazi, the “talking points” were made by Petraeus. They were meant to embarass and perhaps impeach a President. The Intelligence Community wants even more power, including choosing Presidents. But the CIA lost an Ambassador, lost classifed documents, possibly lost dangerous weapons, and even lost their “Al Qaeda” affiliate prisoners. It is Petraeus who is the Failure, in everything he has done.

    These same people of the Intelligence Community want to destroy Bradley Manning because he has knowledge of even more crimes by the Generals.

  12. joanneleon says:

    The thing that surprises me most is the lack of curiosity about why the militias attacked the consulate.

    Who was ordering the raids and targeted assassinations on leaders of Libyan militias? Where were the orders for that coming from? Was it kept secret from Stevens? Clinton? Maybe even Petraeus?

    Why was it so important to come up with the bogus reason about a video being the reason the militias attacked?

    Were any of the rumors about stand downs and Gen. Ham true?

  13. emptywheel says:

    @joanneleon: I’m going to hit that in my next piece.

    Though I’m not so sure the video was an unwarratned invention. After all, there were security breaches at at least 3 other diplomatic facilities. And no one still has answered why a bunch of right wingers would fund a video that was publicized just in time to inflame these riots.

  14. joanneleon says:

    @emptywheel: Very true. There may have been some honest mistakes, initially, and assumptions about the video given the other things going on at the time. It was a reasonable assumption. But there were other things going on, messing with those militias. Also, the statement that Broadwell made about members from the militias being held at the CIA annex — that makes a lot of sense in provoking an attack too, if it was true.

    Anyway, I’m just as disgusted at the way the right-wing is using it for political purposes, but as time goes on I’m getting more and more disgusted with the way the left is blowing it all off. There are layers and layers of issues around our foreign policy in this whole thing and I really wish that an independent commission could be appointed to deal with it. I definitely don’t think it should be blown off. I get the sense that the same thing could happen all over again because of the underlying issues. And you make a good point about the murky way that video was created. That kind of just disappeared from the radar.

  15. ess emm says:

    Feinstein on Meet the Press:

    Intelligence agencies should not be writing talking points

    SSCI will have a report on Benghazi

  16. GKJames says:

    Always good for the country to be reminded that, in the end, it’s all about the political knife-fights in Washington. Be it the unfortunates du jour (Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Somalis, Yemenis) or the previous decades’ equivalents who’ve received our affections — usually in the form of explosives — they’re mere props in the power games on Potomac shores.

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