The Key Question the State Department Won't Answer on Libya

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The investigation surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya is not so much about what happend in the war-torn country, but why it took the Obama administration so long to tell the truth about what happened. Today, a hearing at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee attempted to wring an answer out of State Department officials on that issue, but failed to elicit a robust answer.

By now, everyone admits that the State Department and the White House disseminated inaccurate information in the aftermath of the deadly attack. They said the attack derived from a demonstration outside the U.S. compound in Benghazi that devolved into a deadly assault on the building. Now officials say it was a pre-planned attack with probable ties to Al Qaeda. What's more, they also say there was never a demonstration outside the U.S. compound. That makes this question very simple: Who created the myth that a demonstration ever existed? 

Last night, we came closer to that answer when senior State Department officials told reporters that State was not responsible for creating the bogus intelligence. "That was not our conclusion," the officials said. "That is the question you'd have to ask others."

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If the intelligence didn't come from the State Department, who did it come from? Today, the House committee tried to get to the bottom of this asking Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy where the intelligence that there was a demonstration came from. His answer: "There were reports that we received that there were protests." That's as far as he would go. He declined to tell Congress anything further in "open session," and it was unclear whether he would divulge the information in a classified meeting.

Over at WiredNoah Schachtman and Robert Beckhusen are very confused as to how the State Department could be duped into disseminating bogus information given the department's eyes on the ground there. "U.S. officials in Washington monitored the September 11 attack on the American mission in Benghazi as it was happening. But don’t blame American policymakers for initially blaming the unrest in Benghazi on protesters," they write sarcastically. The belief that the State Department had good on-the-ground intelligence stems from today's hearing, when the department's Charlene Lamb said, "I could follow what was happening in almost real-time" during the attack. 

To be fair, Lamb says the State Department began monitoring the event in "real-time" after the initial attack began, which means they may not have known what happened at the compound prior to the attack. Just to be clear: Nothing happened at the compound prior to the attack, officials now say everything was "calm." But it's possible State officials figured they missed something before the time the live feed was initiated.

If the State Department keeps stonewalling, it may never be definitively known who's responsible for the protest story. But one new report suggests the CIA was responsible. According to The Daily Beast's Eli Lake, "talking points written by the CIA and distributed to members of Congress and other government officials" mentioned the existence of protests. Here's what the talking points said: 

“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”

The CIA declined to comment on the veracity of the story, according to Lake. If true, it suggests that Kennedy may have avoided answering today's question to save the CIA from embarrassment. Of course, he could have also declined to comment for a number of other reasons. Did other agencies surface reports about protests, for instance? Either way, he made one thing perfectly clear: There were bogus "reports" circulating. He just doesn't want to say who's responsible for them.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.