The division of the “Hillary for President” campaign known as the New York Times issued a lengthy white paper on Sunday, entitled “A Deadly Mix In Benghazi.” This article, the paper explained, was based on “months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there . . . ”
In other words, the article is centered on interviews with extremists and terrorists, whose words are taken as gospel. That they may have changed their stories, or be putting forth stories for their own benefit rather than because the new stories are true, is a subtlety beyond the Times.
The paper’s second conclusion is that “contrary to claims by some members of Congress, [the attack] was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.” This would be very convenient for National Security Adviser Susan Rice and for Hillary Clinton, were it true. But even the Times’ own story suggests that it is not. For one thing, the Times report says, “The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.” Moreover, the Times states that “surveillance of the American compound appears to have been underway at least 12 hours before the assault started.” In fact the Times story begins with Mohamed al-Gharabi, the leader of the Libyan militia called the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade, saying that he told American diplomats on September 9 that “since Benghazi isn’t safe, it is better for you to leave now.” “I specifically told the Americans myself that we hoped that they would leave Benghazi as soon as possible,” he said, also suggesting that trouble was brewing for September 11, 2012, before the video (and the rioting it caused in Cairo) came into the picture.
We’ll never know whom the Times thought it important to interview and whom it believed, but we do know that it had no access to the intelligence that members of Congress saw. And we are being told by members of Congress that the embassy staff had it right in saying the video was unimportant, and that there were some al-Qaeda links. So the much-ballyhooed Times story, based on months of reporting, seems to come down to this: Do you believe the intelligence our agencies collected and the reporting of our diplomats on the scene at the time, or do you believe what the New York Times was told by Libyans, many of them Islamic extremists and some of them terrorists, more than a year later? The answer to that question probably depends on what position you hold in the Hillary Clinton campaign.
— Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.