Libya

10.01.12

Selective Intelligence at the White House

Guess who's cherry-picking intelligence now? Eli Lake reports that the Obama White House reached its conclusion that the 9/11 North Africa attacks were "spontaneous" reactions to a YouTube video by accepting the most convenient (and rejecting the inconvenient) parts of one single intelligence intercept.

The theory that the [Benghazi and Cairo] attacks were spontaneous was echoed by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Sept. 14, just three days after the attacks, and again on Sept. 16 by Ambassador Rice. On Sept. 18, Carney said, “Based on information that we—our initial information, and that includes all information—we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack.”

The intelligence that helped inform those talking points—and what the U.S. public would ultimately be told—came in part from an intercept of a phone call between one of the alleged attackers and a middle manager from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s north African affiliate, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intercept. In the call, the alleged attacker said the locals went forward with the attack only after watching the riots that same day at the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

However, the intercept was one of several monitored communications during and after the attacks between members of a local militia called Ansar al-Sharia and AQIM, which, taken together, suggest the assault was in fact a premeditated terrorist attack, according to U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials not authorized to talk to the press.

In one of the calls, for example, members of Ansar al-Sharia bragged about their successful attack against the American consulate and the U.S. ambassador.

It’s unclear why the talking points said the attacks were spontaneous and why they didn’t mention the possibility of al Qaeda involvement, given the content of the intercepts and the organizations the speakers were affiliated with. One U.S. intelligence officer said the widely distributed assessment was an example of “cherry picking,” or choosing one piece of intelligence and ignoring other pieces, to support a preferred thesis.