Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let's call it like it is: Those Republicans attacking Susan Rice over Benghazi are full of shit

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The ridiculous Republican claim, made by the likes of John McCain and his buddy Lindsey Graham, among others, is that Ambassador Rice misled the American people by claiming on the Sunday talk shows that the attack was a spontaneous incident rather than a terrorist attack.

But as I wrote the other day, it's desperately partisan Republicans vs. Obama, the CIA, and the facts. Rice was only saying what she was being advised to say by the intelligence community. The talking point changes weren't politically motivated and reflected caution, which is really the sort of thing one wants and expects from those tasked with figuring out what the hell's going on around the world. A new report by CBS News backs this up:

CBS News has learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to "al Qaeda" and "terrorism" from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack - with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes.

There has been considerable discussion about who made the changes to the talking points that Rice stuck to in her television appearances on Sept. 16 (video), five days after the attack that killed American Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals.

Republicans have accused her of making misleading statements by referring to the assault as a "spontaneous" demonstration by extremists. Some have suggested she used the terminology she did for political reasons.

However, an intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too "tenuous" to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus, however, told Congress he agreed to release the information -- the reference to al Qaeda -- in an early draft of the talking points, which were also distributed to select lawmakers.

"The intelligence community assessed from the very beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack." DNI spokesman Shawn Turner tells CBS News. That information was shared at a classified level -- which Rice, as a member of President Obama's cabinet, would have been privy to.

An intelligence source says the talking points were passed from the CIA to the DNI, where the substantive edits were made, and then to FBI, which made more edits as part of "standard procedure."

People like John McCain should know better, and maybe do know better. Obviously, they're either completely delusional or trying to score political points by turning this into a major scandal (at the level of Watergate, some of them are crazily suggesting).

"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," [a senior U.S. official] tells CBS News, adding that there were "legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."

"Most people understand that saying 'extremists' were involved in a direct assault on the mission isn't shying away from the idea of terrorist involvement," added the official. "Because of the various elements involved in the attack, the term extremist was meant to capture the range of participants."

Makes sense, no? It's intelligence. It's messy. And it's all happening in a very messy part of the world. For her part, Rice did nothing wrong. She communicated what she thought was right -- and what in fact was right, in nuanced terms carefully chosen by those whose job it is to get it right. To attack her now is just partisan scapegoating, an effort on the part of Republicans to tarnish the credibility of one of President's Obama's chief foreign policy officials and quite possibly his nominee to replace Hillary as secretary of state -- and therefore an effort to tarnish the president himself, to bring him down with a manufactured scandal built, as is typical of Republicans, on lies.

They really are full of shit.

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