JERUSALEM – Information surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks against the U.S. mission in Benghazi has been so distorted by the Obama administration and so misreported by the news media that the issue was selected as WND's "Biggest Lie of the Year."
Immediately following the attacks, President Obama and other White House officials notoriously blamed supposed anti-American sentiment leading to the violent events on an obscure anti-Muhammad video on YouTube they claimed was responsible for supposedly popular civilian protests that they said took place outside the U.S. mission in Benghazi – protests, they claimed, that devolved into a jihadist onslaught.
However, vivid accounts provided by the State Department and intelligence officials later made clear no such popular demonstration took place. Instead, video footage from Benghazi reportedly shows an organized group of armed men attacking the compound, the officials said.
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Media coverage of the events has been so dismal that even the most basic understanding of what happened is being distorted. The vast majority of all news media coverage worldwide refer to the U.S. facility that was attacked as a "consulate," even though the government itself has been careful to call it a "mission."
WND has filed numerous reports quoting Middle East security sources describing the mission in Benghazi as serving as a meeting place to coordinate aid for the rebel-led insurgencies in the Middle East.
Among the tasks performed inside the building was collaborating with Arab countries on the recruitment of fighters – including jihadists – to target Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, the officials said.
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Whether the news media report on what was allegedly transpiring at the mission or not, their calling the building a "consulate" is misleading.
A consulate typically refers to the building that officially houses a consul, who is the official representatives of the government of one state in the territory of another. The U.S. consul in Libya, Jenny Cordell, works out of the embassy in Tripoli.
Consulates at times function as junior embassies, providing services related to visas, passports and citizen information.
On Aug. 26, about two weeks before his was killed, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens attended a ceremony marking the opening of consular services at the Tripoli embassy.
The main role of a consulate is to foster trade with the host and care for its own citizens who are traveling or living in the host nation.
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Diplomatic missions, on the other hand, maintain a more generalized role. A diplomatic mission is simply a group of people from one state or an international inter-governmental organization present in another state to represent matters of the sending state or organization in the receiving state.
However, according to a State Department report released last week, the U.S. facility in Benghazi did not fit the profile of a diplomatic mission, either.
According to the 39-page report released this week by independent investigators probing the attacks at the diplomatic facility, the U.S. mission in Benghazi was set up without the knowledge of the new Libyan government, as WND reported.
"Another key driver behind the weak security platform in Benghazi was the decision to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government, even though it was also a full-time office facility," the report states. "This resulted in the Special Mission compound being excepted from office facility standards and accountability under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 (SECCA) and the Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB)."
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The report, based on a probe led by former U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering, calls the facility a "Special U.S. Mission."
The report further refers to the attacked facility as a "U.S. Special Mission," adding yet another qualifier to the title of the building.
Violated international law?
WND also exclusively reported the facility may have violated the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which governs the establishment of overseas missions.
Like most nations, the U.S. is a signatory to the 1961 United Nations convention.
Article 2 of the convention makes clear the host government must be informed about the establishment of any permanent foreign mission on its soil: "The establishment of diplomatic relations between States, and of permanent diplomatic missions, takes place by mutual consent."
According to the State report, there was a decision "to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility," likely disqualifying the building from permanent mission status if the mission was indeed temporary.
However, the same sentence in the report notes the host government was not notified about the Benghazi mission "even though it was also a full-time office facility."
Article 12 of the Vienna Convention dictates, "The sending State may not, without the prior express consent of the receiving State, establish offices forming part of the mission in localities other than those in which the mission itself is established."
If the Benghazi mission was a "full-time office facility," it may violate Article 12 in that the mission most likely was considered an arm of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, which served as the main U.S. mission to Libya.
Rice in hot water
Obama was not the only White House official to mislead on Benghazi.
As WND reported, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice may have deliberately misled the public when she went on television news shows and called the facility that had been targeted a "consulate."
Much of the media attention and political criticism has been focused on Rice's other statements immediately after the Benghazi attacks, primarily her blaming an obscure YouTube film vilifying the Islamic figure Muhammad for what she claimed were popular protests outside the U.S. mission.
Video and intelligence evidence has demonstrated there were no popular protests outside the Benghazi facility that day and that the attack was carried out by jihadists.
However, in defending itself against recent claims that the White House scrubbed the CIA's initial intelligence assessment on the Benghazi attacks of references to al-Qaida, Obama administration officials might have unintentionally implicated themselves in another, largely unnoticed scandal.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes contended the White House made only small, factual edits to the CIA's intelligence assessment, referring to one edit in particular.
"We were provided with points by the intelligence community that represented their assessment," Rhodes said aboard Air Force One en route to Asia. "The only edit made by the White House was the factual edit about how to refer to the facility."
Rhodes said the White House and State Department changed a reference in the CIA report from "consulate" to "diplomatic facility."
"Other than that, we were guided by the points that were provided by the intelligence community," Rhodes said. "So I can't speak to any other edits that may have been made."
Further, Politico reported Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was adamant that the White House only changed the reference to the Benghazi facility.
"There was only one thing that was changed … and that was, the word 'consulate' was changed to 'mission,'" Feinstein said. "That's the only change that anyone in the White House made, and I have checked this out."
If the White House intentionally changed the reference to the Benghazi facility from a "consulate" to a "mission," why did Rice repeatedly refer to the facility as a "consulate" when she engaged in a media blitz in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack?
In a Sept. 16 interview on NBC's "Meet The Press," Rice twice labeled the facility a "consulate":
In a subsequent interview on CBS's "This Morning," she again referred to the facility as a "consulate."
CBS, Reuters implicated in misleading, hiding info
The news media, meanwhile, may have been complicit in covering up the Benghazi tale.
Two days before last month's presidential election, CBS posted additional portions of a Sept. 12 "60 Minutes" interview where Obama made statements that contradicted his earlier claims on the attacks.
In the finally released portions of the interview, Obama would not say whether he thought the attack was terrorism. Yet he would later emphasize at a presidential debate that in the Rose Garden the same day, he had declared the attack an act of terror.
Reuters was also directly implicated by WND in possibly false reporting.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Reuters filed a report quoting a purported civilian protester by his first name who described a supposedly popular demonstration against an anti-Muhammad film outside the U.S. building – a popular protest that reportedly didn't take place and thus could not have been related to the film.
Aid to al-Qaida, other jihadists?
WND has published a series of investigations showing the Benghazi mission was highly involved in the rebel-led Mideast revolutions to which Pickering is tied.
WND was first to report the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi served as a meeting place to coordinate aid for rebel-led insurgencies in the Middle East, according to Middle Eastern security officials.
In September, WND also broke the story that the slain ambassador, Christopher Stevens, played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Assad's regime, according to Egyptian security officials.
Last month, Middle Eastern security sources further described both the U.S. mission and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi as the main intelligence and planning center for U.S. aid to the rebels that was being coordinated with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Many rebel fighters are openly members of terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.
Most news media outlets covering the results of Pickering's investigation did not note the possible non-diplomatic nature and status of the Benghazi mission.
The group reportedly concluded that systematic management and leadership failures at the State Department led to "grossly" inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi.
"Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the panel said.
The report pointed a finger at State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs, charging a lack of coordination and confusion over protecting the Benghazi mission.
WND's reporting showed how the distinction of the special status of the mission may help explain why there was no major public security presence at what has been described as a "consulate." Such a presence would draw attention to the shabby, nondescript building that was allegedly used for sensitive purposes such as coordinating aid to the opposition.
The security officials divulged the building was routinely used by Stevens and others to coordinate with the Turkish, Saudi and Qatari governments on supporting the insurgencies in the Middle East, most prominently the rebels opposing Assad's regime in Syria.
Stevens played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Assad's regime in Syria, according to Egyptian security officials.
Stevens served as a key contact with the Saudis to coordinate the recruitment by Saudi Arabia of Islamic fighters from North Africa and Libya. The jihadists were sent to Syria via Turkey to attack Assad's forces, said the security officials.
The officials said Stevens also worked with the Saudis to send names of potential jihadi recruits to U.S. security organizations for review. Names found to be directly involved in previous attacks against the U.S., including in Iraq and Afghanistan, were ultimately not recruited by the Saudis to fight in Syria, said the officials.
Questions remain about the nature of U.S. support for the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, including reports the U.S.-aided rebels that toppled Gadhafi's regime in Libya consisted of al-Qaida and jihad groups. The U.S. provided direct assistance, including weapons and finances, to the Libyan rebels.
Similarly, the Obama administration has aided the rebels fighting Assad's regime in Syria amid widespread reports that al-Qaida jihadists are included in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.
During the revolution against Gadhafi's regime, the U.S. admitted to directly arming the rebel groups.
At the time, rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi admitted in an interview that a significant number of the Libyan rebels were al-Qaida fighters, many of whom had fought U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He insisted his fighters "are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists," but he added that the "members of al-Qaida are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader."
Adm. James Stavridis, NATO supreme commander for Europe, admitted Libya's rebel force may include al-Qaida: "We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al-Qaida, Hezbollah."
Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel went even further, telling the Hindustan Times: "There is no question that al-Qaida's Libyan franchise, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is a part of the opposition. It has always been Gadhafi's biggest enemy, and its stronghold is Benghazi. What is unclear is how much of the opposition is al-Qaida/Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – 2 percent or 80 percent."
Read WND's other, year-end stories: