CIA Head: 'Analysts Never Said the Video was a Factor in the Benghazi Attacks'

October 31, 2015
Blog Post

As the Select Committee’s investigation continues, it has become necessary to clarify the facts and refute the misinformation being spread by those who seek to dismiss and discredit the new evidence revealed in last week’s hearing.

In the course of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony regarding the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, the American people learned that she:

  • Told a member of her family at 11:12 PM ET on the night of the attacks that “an Al Queda-like group” was responsible. She did not reference a video.
  • Told the Egyptian Prime Minister at 3:04 PM ET the day after the attacks that they “had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack – not a protest. … Based on the information we saw today we believe the group that claimed responsibility for this was affiliated with al Qaeda.”

These private statements are obviously quite different from what Secretary Clinton was saying in public at the same time, and what she was not saying – namely, that a terrorist group was involved and the attack had nothing to do with a video:

  • The day after the attacks, at 9:57 AM ET: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet.”

To explain the glaring difference between what Secretary Clinton was saying in private and what she was saying in public, some have argued that she was simply going by assessments provided by the CIA that changed over time. But this makes no sense. Consider:

  • In the hours after the attacks, Secretary Clinton’s private statements never changed, and neither did her public statements. In private, she said terrorists were responsible and the film had nothing to do with the attack. In public, she made no mention of terrorists and repeatedly referred to an internet video.
  • Michael Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, wrote in his May 2015 book The Great War of Our Time that while the CIA knew “the demonstration and violence in Cairo were sparked by people upset over a YouTube video,” intelligence “analysts never said the video was a factor in the Benghazi attacks.” (p. 205-206)
  • Morell also writes in his book that CIA analysts “complet[ed] their first full report on what happened” and provided it to “senior policy-makers and to Congress on the morning of September 13.” He continues (bolded text for emphasis):

“The September 13 piece – the first piece to go beyond a simple factual update – said four things. First, that the assault on the TMF [Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi] had been a spontaneous event that evolved from a protest outside the TMF. Second, that the protest and subsequent attack had been motivated by what had happened in Cairo earlier in the day (there was no mention in the piece of the YouTube video defaming the Prophet Muhammad). Third, that there was evidence of extremist involvement in the attack, and by 'extremists' the analysts absolutely meant terrorist involvement, because extremist and terrorist are synonyms to terrorism analysts. Indeed, the piece reported, that people with ties to al Qa'ida had been involved in the attack. The bottom line here is important: the analysts thought Benghazi was terrorism from the beginning. And whether or not the assault evolved from a protest, it was still very much a terrorist attack.” (p. 218-219)

All of this raises several important questions:

  • First, if the CIA and intelligence analysts never even mentioned the YouTube video, why did Secretary Clinton?
  • Second, if the first full intelligence assessment of what happened was not available until September 13, how can it be claimed that this assessment influenced Secretary Clinton’s statements on September 11 and 12? She couldn’t have read it before it was written.
  • Third, if intelligence analysts and Secretary Clinton believed from the beginning that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, why did Secretary Clinton not say so publicly until September 21?
  • Fourth, Secretary Clinton told the Egyptian Prime Minister on September 12 that “It was a planned attack – not a protest,” but when a reporter asked her on September 18 about the Libyan President saying it was a planned attack, she dodged the question, saying, “the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has said we had no actionable intelligence that an attack on our post in Benghazi was planned or imminent.” Why the dodge?

Secretary Clinton continued to associate the video with what happened in Benghazi in public remarks two and three days after the attacks, including at a transfer of remains ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base with family members of the victims present. But that same day, a State Department official at Embassy Tripoli in Libya wrote an email to colleagues in Washington, D.C., stating that “it is becoming increasingly clear that the series of events in Benghazi was much more terrorist attack than a protest which escalated into violence,” and urging them to “be cautious in our local messaging with regard to the inflammatory film trailer” because “the films [sic] not as explosive of an issue here as it appears to be in other countries …. Relatively few [Libyans] have even mentioned the inflammatory video.”

Here is the email in full, which was referenced in the hearing last week and is now being released publicly for the first time, with appropriate redactions:

From: [redacted]

To: [redacted]

Subject: messaging on the attacks in Libya

Date: Friday, September 14, 2012 6:43:39 AM

Colleagues, I mentioned to [redacted] this morning, and want to share with all of you, our view at Embassy Tripoli that we must be cautious in our local messaging with regard to the inflammatory film trailer, adapting it to Libyan conditions. Our monitoring of the Libyan media and conversations with Libyans suggest that the films not as explosive of an issue here as it appears to be in other countries in the region. The overwhelming majority of the FB comments and tweets we’ve received from Libyans since the Ambassador’s death have expressed deep sympathy, sorrow, and regret. They have expressed anger at the attackers, and emphasized that this attack does not represent Libyans or Islam. Relatively few have even mentioned the inflammatory video. So if we post messaging about the video specifically, we may draw unwanted attention to it. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the series of events in Benghazi was much more terrorist attack than a protest which escalated into violence. It is our opinion that in our messaging, we want to distinguish, not conflate, the events in other countries with this well-planned attack by militant extremists. I have discussed this with [redacted] and he shares PAS’s view.

114th Congress