The PJ Tatler

Benghazi: A Smoking Gun

For going on eight months now, we’ve pointed to one of our own posts as evidence that the Obama administration never should have believed that a YouTube movie had anything to do with the terrorist attack in Benghazi. That post, by Ray Ibrahim, pointed to a report in the Egyptian media published on September 10, 2012, that demonstrators would be converging on the US embassy in Cairo not to protest a movie, but to apply pressure and demand the release of Islamist terrorists who have been tried in American courts and/or are held in American prisons. Chief among them is Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Rahman is currently in federal prison in North Carolina, for his role in that first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

The September 10 post, republished in its entirety here, was a warning regarding riots that would take place the following day in Cairo, Egypt.

Jihadi groups in Egypt, including Islamic Jihad, the Sunni Group, and Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya have issued a statement threatening to burn the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to the ground.

According to El Fagr, they are calling for the immediate release of the Islamic jihadis who are imprisonment and in detention centers in the U.S. including Guantanamo Bay: “The group, which consists of many members from al-Qaeda, called [especially] for the quick release of the jihadi [mujahid] sheikh, Omar Abdul Rahman [the “Blind Sheikh”], whom they described as a scholar and jihadi who sacrificed his life for the Egyptian Umma, who was ignored by the Mubarak regime, and [President] Morsi is refusing to intervene on his behalf and release him, despite promising that he would. The Islamic Group has threatened to burn the U.S. Embassy in Cairo with those in it, and taking hostage those who remain [alive], unless the Blind Sheikh is immediately released.”

Bear in mind, we posted this on September 10. Neither the riot in Cairo nor the attack in Benghazi had happened yet. One of many warnings of attacks and threats in the Middle East, it went online with little notice.

The post constitutes proof that the Cairo riot was not about a YouTube movie. It was about jihadist groups organizing together to get incarcerated Islamist terrorists released from our jails. Those jihadists used the movie to stir up anger and turn out a crowd, but the movie was not the cause of the Cairo riot.

What we have wondered over the course of eight months, is whether the US government had the same intelligence that the PJ Tatler had. I have suspected all along that the Central Intelligence Agency at least, and probably the National Security Agency, had to be aware of the September 10 threat and its relevance to Benghazi. If we had it, they surely had it.

Our government was aware of the threat. The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes provides the proof in a blockbuster story about the talking points that the CIA wrote and which the Obama administration altered in the days following the attack. Hayes writes.

Within 24 hours of the attack, the U.S. government had intercepted communications between two al Qaeda-linked terrorists discussing the attacks in Benghazi. One of the jihadists, a member of Ansar al Sharia, reported to the other that he had participated in the assault on the U.S. diplomatic post. Solid evidence. And there was more. Later that same day, the CIA station chief in Libya had sent a memo back to Washington, reporting that eyewitnesses to the attack said the participants were known jihadists, with ties to al Qaeda.

Before circulating the talking points to administration policymakers in the early evening of Friday, September 14, CIA officials changed “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda” to simply “Islamic extremists.” But elsewhere, they added new contextual references to radical Islamists. They noted that initial press reports pointed to Ansar al Sharia involvement and added a bullet point highlighting the fact that the agency had warned about another potential attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the region. “On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the [Cairo] Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.” All told, the draft of the CIA talking points that was sent to top Obama administration officials that Friday evening included more than a half-dozen references to the enemy—al Qaeda, Ansar al Sharia, jihadists, Islamic extremists, and so on.

The version Petraeus received in his inbox Saturday, however, had none. The only remaining allusion to the bad guys noted that “extremists” might have participated in “violent demonstrations.” (emphasis added)

The social media reports must surely refer to the warning posted in El Faqr regarding the threat to riot in order to obtain the blind sheik’s release from US prison. The El Faqr warning never mentioned a YouTube movie. Not one time. When the CIA relayed that warning’s contents to Obama administration officials, its talking points never referenced a YouTube movie. Not one time.

Hayes writes that Gen. David Petraeus, then director of the CIA, was unhappy with the new version of the talking points.

In an email at 2:44 p.m. to Chip Walter, head of the CIA’s legislative affairs office, Petraeus expressed frustration at the new, scrubbed talking points, noting that they had been stripped of much of the content his agency had provided. Petraeus noted with evident disappointment that the policymakers had even taken out the line about the CIA’s warning on Cairo.

The warning regarding Cairo is salient to understanding the nature of the attack in Benghazi. If the Cairo assault had originated from a protest about a movie, then the attack in Benghazi could plausibly be believed to have a similar origin. But if Cairo itself had nothing to do with a movie, then the likelihood that Benghazi was sparked by a movie is drastically diminished.

According to career diplomat Greg Hicks, who assumed command in Libya upon the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens on the night of September 11, the YouTube movie “was a non-event in Libya” and had nothing to do with the pre-planned and organized terrorist assault on the US compound in Benghazi. In its talking points, the CIA agreed  — until political officials at the State Department had the agency change those talking points.