The Conversation

Bureaucratic Knife Fight or Mutual Ass-Covering?

Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post argues that the bad talking points settled on by the administration were the result of a bureaucratic "knife fight." It's largely convincing except for the suggestion any bureaucrat was ever in danger of being knifed.

Kessler notes "The talking points through Friday begin to become rather fulsome, at which point there is sharp push-back from the State Department." He's correct that the early talking points do seem designed to insulate the CIA from criticism.

For instance, all the early talking points say the protest was spontaneous (read: not predictable). They also noted that "The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of Benghazi..." They even point out that the CIA had issued a warning about protests in Cairo "On 10 September the Agency notified Embassy Cairo of social media reports calling for a demonstration..."

As Kessler sees it "The clear implication is that State screwed up..." It's certainly true that, given the circumstances, the talking points seem to favor the CIA.

That changed once the State Department got involved. What Victoria Nuland wanted taken out, primarily, were the references to prior attacks in the region. Unlike other elements removed from the talking points, there was no investigatory reason to remove these facts. The bombing of the Red Cross and the British Ambassador's convoy were not ongoing investigations. The only reason to remove these facts was because they pointed a finger at State.

Kessler may be overstating his case by calling this a "knife fight." According to Steve Hayes report this morning the whole thing was rather congenial, "several officials in the meeting shared the concern of Nuland...that the CIA’s talking points might lead to criticism that the State Department had ignored the CIA’s warning about an attack." And so, representatives from State, the White House and the CIA agreed to work together toward a mutually agreeable solution.

That solution, as Kessler points out was, "Just about everything was cut, leaving virtually nothing." All that was left after everyone's rear was covered was a spontaneous demonstration by unknown assailants with no historical antecedents.

It's worth pointing out that just a few weeks later the State Dept. denied they had ever believed there was a spontaneous protest:

QUESTION: Hi, yes. You described several incidents you had with groups of men, armed men. What in all of these events that you’ve described led officials to believe for the first several days that this was prompted by protests against the video?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That is a question that you would have to ask others. That was not our conclusion. I’m not saying that we had a conclusion, but we outlined what happened. The Ambassador walked guests out around 8:30 or so, there was no one on the street at approximately 9:40, then there was the noise and then we saw on the cameras the – a large number of armed men assaulting the compound.

If State never believed this, why didn't they object during the inter-agency process? Again, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone involved cared more about covering their rears than they did about giving Americans a full, factual account.


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