The president sets the tone. Both Barack Obama and Jay Carney acknowledge as much. In Benghazi, the tone that the president set had lethal consequences.
CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson has produced a comprehensive behind-the-scenes report based on her interviews with many officials who were involved in the lack of response to the Benghazi attack. About two-thirds of the way in, Attkisson addresses the role played, or not, by the Counterterrorism Security Group.
Under presidential directive, an interagency task force called the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is to be convened when emergency terrorist events are suspected. According to a public military document, it’s part of a plan to “synchronize the efforts of all the government agencies that have a role to play in the Global War on Terrorism.” But on Sept. 11, 2012, the Obama administration did not convene this body of terrorism expert advisers.
One official associated with the State Department now acknowledges that the CSG would probably have advised decision makers that FEST “was not just backup generator and radios.” Said the official: “the CSG could have made the argument, they were upset that they weren’t heard.” Another former Defense Department official says he finds no merit to using the CSG. “I’d like to hear them say what they could have done.”
Last October, National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Tommy Vietor told CBS News that the CSG wasn’t needed because consultations were quickly underway at the highest levels. He indicated that, under the Obama administration, the function of the CSG has become a “lower level group” that “does different tasks” than under the Bush administration. “From the moment [President Obama] was briefed on the Benghazi attack, the response effort was handled by the most senior national security officials in governments. Members of the CSG were of course involved in these meetings and discussions to support their bosses,” said Vietor.
However, absent the CSG’s collective advice, there’s evidence that some high-level decision makers were unaware of all available resources. In October, on a phone call that included then-Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough (now White House Chief of Staff), Vietor initially told CBS News: “I don’t know what [FEST] is… it sounds antiquated.”
Barack Obama and many of his supporters believed that his election to the presidency would essentially end the war on terrorism. That belief rears its head here. What other tasks besides counterterrorism and security should the Counterterrorism Security Group be doing? Why was it pushed down the food chain? What are its current tasks? If they’re not counterterrorism and security, why does it still exist?
Tommy Vietor keeps turning up conspicuously in the Benghazi scandal, in part because the president sets the tone. Obama’s loyalist bus driver was heavily involved in the talking points discussion, playing the pivotal role of looping the State Department into what started as a vetting of intelligence-based talking points and quickly became a political discussion. The eventual outcome of that was a product that was useless on the facts, misleading to the public, but helpful to Obama and his tone on terrorism.
As Attkisson reports, Vietor acknowledges that under Obama the presidential Counterterrorism Security Group has been effectively demoted. This president has consistently downplayed the threat of terrorism, and his administration in fact doesn’t even acknowledge that the Ft. Hood massacre was an act of terrorism. To them, it was “workplace violence.” The Department of Homeland Security infamously tried describing terrorism as “man-caused disasters.”
Here is one consequence of a president going out of his way not to know what’s going on or why:
Vietor initially told CBS News: “I don’t know what [FEST] is… it sounds antiquated.”
Tommy Vietor was Obama’s National Security Council spokesman. His ignorance of the Foreign Emergency Support Team’s existence and capabilities is shocking. It’s his job to know. Obama put him in that position, based not on his national security credentials but on his loyalty to Obama. Vietor wasn’t doing his job and wasn’t even shy about expressing his ignorance. He had some reason to believe there would be no consequences for not knowing basic details directly relevant to his ability to do his job.
The president sets the tone, and raised his loyalist driver to become his NSC spokesman. His administration also just raised Jen Psaki to become a State Department spokesman, despite the fact that she has no foreign policy experience at all. What she is, though, is a loyal partisan who is not shy about attacking Americans who disagree with Obama.