On January 15 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) produced its “Review of Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, September 11-12, 2012. It’s a nominal 85 pages long (some passages are blacked out for security reasons, some pages are left blank). There are fifteen member of this committee, seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one “Independent.” The party in the majority controls all committee assignments and makes sure that it has majority control of each committee. The Democrats are in the majority and the “Independent” they chose as fifteenth man is Angus King. Readers can make their own deductions.
Still, the SSCI is perhaps less partisan and ideological than most other committees. And lobbyists don’t spend a lot of time on it; it controls only a tiny percentage of the nation’s budget, where fortunes are made and lost. The core report was accepted by the whole committee, but the Democratic senators added an “Additional Views” section, as did six of the seven Republicans. Maine’s Senator Collins added an “Additional Views” section all of her own. Angus King signed the Democrats’ “Views”
As any moderately well-informed and moderately cynical citizen might guess, the Republicans were anxious to accentuate the parts of the report that reflected negatively on the administration; while the Democrats aimed to moderate and muffle the parts that reflected poorly on the Secretary of State they expect to win their party’s presidential nomination in 2016. I especially enjoyed their analysis of the administration’s “talking points,” which, they tell us, were “flawed but accurate.” Read the Talking Points section of the main report, then read the Democrats’ supplementary views and you will see that “false but true” covers the case.
The report is available at http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/ if you click on “Recent Action: Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, together with Additional Views.” If you read nothing else, pay attention to pages 45-52 of the core report. These pages contain the twelve changes made in the CIA talking points memo responding to the Benghazi tragedy before its release to the public. The hundred pages of e-mail messages summarized there were not about security or foreign policy. They were all about, and only about, what to tell the American people and how to tell it. All that editing, all that high-powered, top management input and they end-up with “flawed” talking points. “Flawed” is too polite. As a political exercise the effort was a flop from the day of its release. Nobody believed them, which is why the SSCI devoted so much space to their production fifteen months after they surfaced.
The administration would have done as well if they had given a pint of gin along with a pencil and some paper to a janitor at Foggy Bottom and told him to write some talking points. Hard to see how he could have done a worse job, drunk or sober.
Senator Collins’ “Additional Views” may have been independent of those written by her Republican colleagues, but they did not contradict them in any important respect. Steve Robinson at TheMaineWire.com provides complete coverage of our senator’s reaction to the Benghazi mess. Her statement is provided in full on that site. I append the key paragraph below:
“While I support the SSCI report and appreciate its thorough analysis of much of what went wrong, I believe that more emphasis should have been placed on the three issues I have discussed: (1) the Administration’s initial misleading of the American people about the terrorist nature of the attack, (2) the failure of the Administration to hold anyone at the State Department, particularly Under Secretary Kennedy, fully accountable for the security lapses, and (3) the unfulfilled promises of President Obama that he would bring the terrorists to justice.”
Number one tells us what she thinks of those talking points. Number two places due emphasis on responsibility and accountability. Her criticism of Hillary Clinton’s performance allows for little ambiguity: “The Secretary of State has failed to hold anyone accountable for the systemic failures and management deficiencies that contributed to the grossly inadequate security for the Benghazi facility.”
So far we can only guess what Angus King thinks about the accountability question.