As reporters obsessed over Mitt Romney's "gaffe" in criticizing President Obama's initial handling of a national security crisis in Egypt and Libya, the chief executive and his top officials were misleading the media about the true nature of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Despite the public clues that the attack in Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were brutally murdered, was a highly coordinated, preplanned terrorist strike (most notable among the clues was the attackers' use of mortars and rocket-propelled grenades on Sept. 11), the Obama administration repeatedly tried to portray it as part of an impromptu response to an obscure anti-Islamic movie posted on YouTube. This was demonstrated in a timeline of official statements compiled by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.
The morning after the attacks, for example, Obama implicitly connected the video to the violence, stating, "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence." The next day, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "I think it's important to note with regards to that protest that there are protests taking place in different countries across the world that are responding to the movie that has circulated on the Internet." U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sept. 16, was explicit: "Based on the best information we have to date ... it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video." Then just four days later, Carney conceded, "It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack."
It's one thing if the Obama administration's narrative shifted as more information became available, but two blockbuster reports by Newsweek/Daily Beast national security reporter Eli Lake have shown that from the very early stages following the attack, evidence pointed toward preplanned terrorism. On Wednesday, Lake reported that, "Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda-affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers." On Friday, he reported that in the hours after the attack, U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications in which members of the Libyan group Ansar al-Sharia "bragged about their successful attack against the American consulate and the U.S. ambassador" to members of al Qaeda's North African affiliate.
One could argue that the initial evidence may not have been definitive enough to brand the event a terrorist attack. But ABC News also reported that "intelligence officials on the ground immediately suspected the attack was not tied to the movie at all" -- yet that didn't stop officials from Obama on down from publicly promoting the canard that the controversial film was the culprit.
It may be awhile until Americans get the full story of what happened in Libya. But the president's effort to cover up evidence of another terrorist attack against the U.S. on Sept. 11 just two months before the election is deeply troubling.