Call me a bigot (or a cab or a broach), but I tend to surmise many Richard Nixon Foundation members are also Fox News viewers. So it is interesting that the foundation tonight hosts Michael Morell at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, where the former CIA deputy director will get to share a central theme of his recent writings: that Fox News pundits are getting it all wrong on Benghazi.
Or, if all wrong is too strong to stomach, how about the Foxsters and Friends are too uninformed to be absolutely right about Benghazi? Yeah … that's the ticket.
Morell will be at what the cool kids call The Dick starting at 7 tonight to lecture about and sign copies of his new book The Great War of Our Time: The CIA's Fight Against Terrorism–From al Qa'ida to ISIS, which he wrote with Bill Harlow. As a warm-up to tonight's talk, Nixon Foundation promoters point members to this piece in Politico, where Morell seeks to "debunk the Benghazi myths."
Earlier last week a handful of number of news organizations, including Fox News, breathlessly reported that they had just gotten their hands on a Defense Intelligence Agency report–acquired through a FOIA request by Judicial Watch–that they say proves that the government knew very soon after the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12 that they had been planned 10 or more days in advance. These news organizations suggest that this document puts the lie to what I and other current and former intelligence officials have been saying–that there was little planning before the attacks.
But the only thing that newly released document proves is that the people who trot out these reports do not understand the world of intelligence and do not take the time to ask the right people the right questions before publishing the "news."
Morell goes on to write that the document in questions constitutes just one of many threats the Intelligence Community examines on the way to making an overall judgment. And when it comes to Benghazi, based on this and other information, the intelligence experts concluded there was not a significant amount of planning prior to the attacks. As Morell writes:
You don't have to take my word for it. You can look at the briefing slides produced by the National Counterterrorism Center (which is not part of CIA) and coordinated across the Intelligence Community. These slides were declassified over a year ago and were appended to the report on Benghazi produced by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee. In describing the attacks at the State Department facility, the slides say "attackers moving in multiple directions," "attackers do not appear well coordinated" and "no organized effort to breach every building." Not the words one would expect to see associated with an attack planned well in advance.
Morell also brings up an interview on Fox News that had him confronted with the Justice Department indictment of Abu Khattala, the lone participant in the attacks in U.S. custody.
The indictment says the object and purposes of Khattala and others was to kill U.S. citizens at the mission and the CIA annex and that they "intentionally participated in an act intending lethal force be used." It was alleged that either I was wrong or the indictment was wrong. Not necessarily. What my interviewer failed to share with his viewers were these words from the indictment: "Beginning on a date unknown to the Grand Jury but no later than on or about September 11, 2012…defendant Khatallah did knowingly and intentionally conspire…." (emphasis mine). What does this mean? It means that the grand jury found no evidence of planning before the day of the attack either. Exactly the point of the intelligence community analysts.
Later in the Politico piece, Morell weighs in on whether former Orange County conman Mark Basseley's anti-Islam YouTube video played any role in sparking the Benghazi attacks. (The Fox News crowd says "No way, Jose"–and then has Jose deported!)
The short answer is that we still don't know with absolute certainty. Intelligence community analysts in the days immediately after the attack said that the attackers were probably motivated by an attack that happened in Cairo earlier in the day. We know that that attack was motivated at least in part by the video. However the analysts also said that the attack in Libya might have been motivated by Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri's call just two days before the Benghazi attack for avenging the death of the terrorist Abu Yaya al-Libi earlier in the summer.
The most strident voices on Benghazi ridicule the notion that a video might have played any role. But among those who have argued that the video may have been a factor include the FBI, who told the House Intelligence Committee in February 2014 that the attacks were ordered in response the YouTube video and to Zawahiri's call for avenging the death of al-Libi. You can read that on page 18 of the House Intelligence Committee's report on Benghazi.
Now, keep in mind that this Morell fellow was a CIA insider who was actually with then-President George W. Bush during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Morell was also by Barack Obama's side on May 1, 2011, when Osama Bin Laden was finally brought to justice.
"You don't want to miss what the CIA insider has to say about recent Benghazi revelations, newly released emails from State Department and the uncovered documents from the Bin Laden hideaway," say the promoters of tonight's chat, which is $7.95 for Nixon Foundation members and $9.95 for everyone else; click here for tickets.
Hats off to those bringing open minds.