JERUSALEM – Did CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell believe the claims of a terrorist organization over the account by his agency’s own Libya station chief regarding the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack?
That is the picture that emerges when Morell’s testimony from yesterday, his first public comments on Benghazi, is cross-referenced with the details of a recent Senate intelligence report on the murderous attack.
As has been widely reported, Morell yesterday repeatedly testified he mistakenly believed the Benghazi attack stemmed from a protest over an anti-Islam film. The mistaken belief purportedly led to Morell’s central role in crafting the now discredited talking points used by top Obama administration officials in their public comments about the attack.
Morell was challenged with information he and others at the CIA received in an email from the CIA’s Libya station chief stating the attack was “not/not an escalation of protests.”
The email was sent Sept. 15, 2012, one day before United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice infamously used Morell’s talking points when she went on five morning television programs to offer the official Obama administration response to the Benghazi attacks. In nearly identical statements, Rice asserted the attacks were a spontaneous protest in response to a “hateful video.”
When asked about the station chief’s email, Morell said he immediately responded to the transmission by asking the station chief for more information.
He claimed the station chief’s assertions were contradicted by news media accounts and by CIA analysts’ own estimations. He said he petitioned intelligence analysts to “revisit their judgment” about a popular protest but “based on a totality of the information available to them, they stuck with their initial conclusions.”
Those initial conclusions, WND has learned, were formed in part by the statements of Ansar Al-Sharia, the terrorist organization that initially claimed it was behind the Benghazi attacks.
Page 34 of the Jan. 15 report on the Benghazi attack by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence documents the CIA’s assessment of what happened in Benghazi was guided by the agency’s “Analytic Line Review.”
That document states: “Of the 11 reports cited by the CIA’s Analytic Line Review, six were press articles, two were the public statements of Ansar al-Sharia, and the three others were intelligence reports.”
Continues the Senate report: “Specific open source reports and intelligence on which analysts appear to have based their judgments include the public statements by Ansar al-Sharia that the attacks were a ‘spontaneous and popular uprising.’”
Ansar al Sharia at first took responsibility for the Benghazi attacks in social media. The organization later wrote it “didn’t participate [in the attack] as a sole entity,” claiming the assault “was a spontaneous popular uprising” to the anti-Muhammad film.
Meanwhile, Morell’s assertion that intelligence information initially concluded the attacks were in response to an anti-Islam film is further contradicted by others who were on the ground.
Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 U.S. official in Libya at the time of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, testified that he knew immediately the attacks were terror strikes, not a protest turned violent. According to Hicks, “everybody in the mission” believed it was an act of terror “from the get-go.”
The day after the attack, Libya’s deputy ambassador to London, Ahmad Jibril, told the BBC that Ansar al-Sharia carried out the assault.
Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif was even more direct, saying foreign jihadists who infiltrated Libya planned the attack and used local Libyans. He called the idea “that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous.”
The Libyan president said, “We firmly believe that this was a precalculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate.”
The claim of a spontaneous protest is further contradicted by logic. Spontaneous protesters usually do not show up with weapons, erect armed checkpoints surrounding a foreign compound and display insider knowledge of the facility while deploying military-style tactics.
It is further difficult to believe spontaneous protesters would know the exact location of a secretive CIA annex, including the specific coordinates of the building that were likely utilized to launch precision mortar strikes.
To believe the spontaneous protesters narrative, one must further accept such protesters were capable of mounting a fierce, hours-long gun battle with U.S. forces stationed inside the CIA annex.
Following his resignation from the CIA last year, Morell reemerged as a counselor to Beacon Global Strategies, a consulting group particularly close to Hillary Clinton. The firm is led by Philippe I. Reines, who served from 2009 to 2013 as Clinton’s deputy assistant secretary of state for strategic communications and senior communications adviser.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.