The New York Times has done excellent reporting on Libya. The newspaper was among the first to reveal that U.S.-approved arms for the Libyan rebels had fallen into the hands of jihadi groups and, more generally, on the rise of al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Libya and North Africa. So the paper’s Dec. 28 “investigation” that determined with utter certainty that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi were caused by a YouTube video would be baffling if it weren’t so obvious an attempt to exonerate the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton from responsibility for the deadly failures in Libya that cost the lives of four brave Americans.
The Times’ report misconstrues known facts and simply sweeps under the table mountains of evidence of al Qaeda’s ties to Libyan jihadi groups.
In June 2012, for example, more than a dozen different jihadi groups put the black flag of al Qaeda on parade in Benghazi in what they hoped would be a three-day show of force. Thousands of jihadi fighters, many of them in Pakistani and Afghan dress, paraded through the streets of Benghazi with hundreds of gun trucks.
For The New York Times, though, the black flags were merely “the black flags of militant Islam” and apparently bore no relation to al Qaeda. “Benghazi was not infiltrated by al Qaeda,” The Times flatly asserted.
In August, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens put his name to a cable with the auspicious title, “The Guns of August,” that explicitly warned about the security vacuum in Benghazi and Tripoli. “What we have seen are not random crimes of opportunity, but rather targeted and discriminate attacks,” the cable warned.
It was one of dozens of cables detailing the growing chaos in Libya that were turned over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after repeated stonewalling by the State Department. My sources say it came on the heels of an alarming security briefing by the CIA chief of station for Stevens and the Embassy security team. But for The New York Times, the cable simply “struck an understanding tone about the absence of effective policing.”
Citing unnamed State Department sources, the newspaper claimed that Stevens and the 20-man CIA station in Benghazi had “little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests.” That is a breathtaking assertion, given the record of reporting by State Department diplomatic security officers, especially following the assassination attempt on the British ambassador in June that caused the British to evacuate Benghazi.
The New York Times goes on to assert that intelligence briefings failed to mention the threat from Ansar al-Shariah, the group that initially claimed responsibility for the attack. “I don’t know if we ever heard anything about Ansar al-Shariah,” an unnamed State Department source said.
That is understandable if you believe the newspaper’s reporting that Ansar al-Shariah “focused on charitable missionary work.”
“They are like Boy Scouts,” the Times quotes one of their sympathizers as saying. “Anything that promotes good, they support.”
As I will relate in my book, the CIA station chief in Tripoli and the chief of base in Benghazi were regularly briefing their bosses in Langley as well as U.S. diplomats in Libya on the al Qaeda presence and specifically on Ansar al-Shariah.
In one briefing, conducted in mid-June, the CIA presented a chart showing “money and fighters flowing to Ansar al-Shariah” from al Qaeda bases outside of Libya.
Altogether, the CIA briefed officials more than 70 times prior to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks regarding the infiltration of al Qaeda into the Libya jihadi and insurgent movement. These included six high-level briefings for President Obama and principals of the National Security Council (renamed the National Security Staff by Mr. Obama); 23 briefings to various CIA offices and units; nine briefings to the Defense Intelligence Agency; 11 briefings at the Department of State; seven briefings to the Pentagon’s Africa Command, then headed by Lt. Gen. Carter Ham; three briefings to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and eight briefings to the U.S. European Command.
Investigative reporting 101 starts by uncovering the facts — especially those facts that the government seeks to hide or obscure — and allowing them to lead you to conclusions. The New York Times expose starts with the conclusion that al Qaeda was not involved in the attacks, and that the administration fairy tale of the YouTube video was true, and desperately invents “facts” that might support it.
This is journalistic malpractice. It’s not surprising that none of The New York Times’ excellent stable of investigative reporters signed their name to this meretricious parody of journalism.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of “Shadow Warriors: Traitors, Saboteurs and the Party of Surrender” (Three Rivers Press, 2008) and is working on a book on the Benghazi attack.