WASHINGTON—A Washington, D.C.–based watchdog group released explosive declassified emails showing the White House played an integral role in crafting false talking points in the aftermath of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya—attacks that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.
Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Oct. 18, 2012 (about two weeks before President Barack Obama’s reelection), sued the Department of State in June 2013, and finally obtained the documents last month. Administration emails reveal officials attempting to “reinforce” Obama and “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
Ben Rhodes, then–White House deputy strategic communications adviser, instructed then–UN Ambassador Susan Rice to portray Obama as “steady and statesmanlike” when she appeared on several Sunday talk shows five days after the attack. She has maintained her talking points were the best information the administration had at the time, but emails show Rice was aware of the nature of the attack on the day it happened.
The new information contradicts the sworn testimony of Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA, who edited the talking points and insisted the White House only made three stylistic changes.
Judicial Watch’s disclosure came one week after the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi announced another startling discovery: The unrest that led to the 2012 attack could have been avoided. According to retired Navy Adm. Chuck Kubic, the United States turned down an opportunity to negotiate a peaceful end to the 2011 Libyan revolution. Kubic, who was in the country on private business when the bombing began, acted as an information conduit between the U.S. military and Libyan intermediaries who requested a 72-hour cease-fire to negotiate Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s abdication. The United States wasn’t interested—even though Qaddafi only had two demands: assurance that Libya wouldn’t fall into the hands of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and legal protection for himself and his inner circle.
“Here we have a leader who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and he wasn’t willing to spend 72 hours to give peace a chance,” Kubic told me.
The commission established a direct line from the Transitional National Council, the lead rebel group supported by the United States, to known al-Qaeda militants, including Ahmed Abu Khattala, who led the Benghazi attack and is under a sealed Justice Department indictment. According to the report, the U.S. facilitated a $1 billion weapons deal from Qatar to the Transitional National Council, opening a Mediterranean naval blockade to allow in the shipment.
Commission member Clare Lopez, a former CIA officer, told me it’s impossible to know if some of those weapons were used in the Benghazi attack, but the decision to let them in the country had to come from the highest levels of government, including the White House, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and the State Department—which “was obviously involved because Christopher Stevens was working with the rebels.”
Lopez said the United States effectively switched sides in the war on terror when it teamed with al-Qaeda to topple a sovereign ruler who was working to suppress al-Qaeda. The net result has been “utter chaos” in Libya, including the spread of surface-to-air missiles and other dangerous weapons when Qaddafi fell.
The commission, comprised of retired military and intelligence officers, has filed 85 FOIA requests to get more information from the State Department, CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said given the damaging nature of the documents his organization obtained, “it is no surprise that we had to go to federal court to pry them loose.”