Lies, Spies and Politics: The Incredible Evolution of the Benghazi “Talking Points” Narrative–Part I


Intelligence agencies use deception as a standard operating procedure. CIA operations are by nature secret, and intelligence agencies go to great lenghts to keep them secret, even if their existence sometimes may be leaked if it suits the president’s purposes.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the reporting by American reporters on the Benghazi attacks has been mostly based on off-the-record interviews with administration officials, and that the latter have presented their revelations and confirmations in ways which pursue their own objectives, on background, usually on deep background where even the agency of the source is not revealed. Such reporters seem quite content to simply pass on the latest “revelations”, without vetting them against other known facts and statements. Often, it does not add up.

The constantly evolving narrative of the CIA “talking points” used by Susan Rice on the Sunday talk shows on September 16 illustrates the confusion of such spinning by intelligence officials whose modus operandi is deception and secrecy. First we learn that the so-called talking points were drafted by the CIA. Then we learn they were changed by someone, but all the intelligence chiefs testified that they didn’t know by whom. Then we learn that the CIA draft was not changed by the intelligence agencies, but sent up to the NSC Deputies Committee. Wednesday we learn that the DNI now says that they edited the talking points, as did other agencies.

None of the edits were necessary for national security reasons, in the original opinion of the CIA. Intelligence officials on background justify their edits on the grounds that leaving in the references to al-Queda affiliates and sympathizers would have revealed methods and sources, thereby revealing methods and sources.

On Wedneday, Susan Rice reiterates that she only told the talk shows what was in the talking points. The media fail to point out that she also included references in her statements on those shows to “armed individuals” and “small groups of armed individuals” in an effort to stress the disorganized nature of the attack, when such presumably classified information was not in her “talking points”.

The first duty of a journalist used to be to get to the bottom of things, to sort out all the conflicting evidence and tell the audience what it means, not simply to pass it on. The Washington press corps has, by and large, failed to get to the bottom of things. That is why, two months and 11 days after the attacks at Benghazi, we the public still don’t know for sure exactly what happened, or exactly what the CIA black operation was doing in Benghazi.

Were they providing arms to the Syrian rebels?

The press has failed, spectacularly, to provide an answer to this question, which lies at the heart of the Benghazi affair.They have done so, presumably, because they were asked to withhold those details by the Obama administration’s intelligence agencies. With very few and limited exceptions, the fact that they have published no further details about the CIA’s black operation in Benghazi demonstrates the extent to which the Washington press corps has become a servile instrument of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

The fact that the administration was able to control the media’s reporting of the CIA’s black operation in Benghazi should be a matter of extraordinary concern to citizens of a free country who are utterly dependent on a free press, and a free press which to be meaningful must aggressively seek out and publish the facts even when the government wants to keep them secret.

Indeed, more broadly, there has been precious little fundamental criticism of Obama’s foreign policies and the details and quality of their implementation.

What were the CIA’s operatives doing in Benghazi?

The answer is of overriding importance for the development and implementation of an effective U.S. foreign policy. From a policy perspective, there is a fundamental question of whether the nation’s interests have been served by Obama’s covert operations relating to Syria, or would have been better served by an open and public policy of support for those forces in Syria who are seeking to bring to an end al-assad’s barbarism, involving widespread commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Such attacks have not been seen in a modern state at least since the Balkan wars of the 1990’s, and possibly since the atrocities of the German Nazi state of Adolph Hitler before and during World War II.

Some 40,000 Syrians have died as a result of the inaction of the international community, and the failure of leadership of the Obama administration. Obama has even blocked the efforts of other states to bring force to bear to halt Bashar al-Assad’s assault on the civilization and people of Syria.

Quite simply, the United States has failed to lead, and whatever beneficial results it has achieved through covert operations have come at a heavy cost. The Saudi defense minister is reportedly playing a key role in coordinating the covert supply of weapons to the Syrian opposition, just as he did with respect to supplying the insurgents in Afghanistan in the 1980’s following the Soviet invasion of that country, when he was ambassador to Washington. We are still dealing with the “blowback” from that operation, as the war in Afghanistan grinds on in its 11th year.

It should come as no surprise that Islamist groups are benefitting from this arrangement at the expense of more secular groups. This is a direct result of the U.S. pursuit of a covert policy in Syria, instead of an open policy that might have led to early confrontation with al-Assad and the saving of tens of thousands of lives.

The spill-over effects of this covert war are being felt throughout the region. Hamas was emboldened by the visit of the leader of Qatar in recent weeks. A looming confrontation between Syria and Turkey, with NATO involvement in supplying Patriot missiles to Turkey while Russia vehemently objects, demonstrations in Jordan including calls for the end of the monarchy, and a continuing threat against the independence of Lebanon, are only some of the knock-on effects of Obama’s covert policy and lack of leadership on Syria. In the

The foreign policy of the United States towards Syria should be debated in public, and carried out in public.

The press has a crtical role to play in guaranteeing that this occurs. Its job is to search out the truth and to report it to its readers and its electronic audience. That truth, and only that truth, can guide the nation in choosing a wise and effective foreign policy.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.